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An interview with: Teresa Focarile

By Michael David Sims
Ever wonder where your submissions go?

There's the idea that some schlub intern picks and chooses what goes through based on his mood, or, worse yet, by humming enie meanie minie mo and placing a blind finger on whichever script it should land on. And maybe that was the case a few years ago — I don't know. But what I do know is that mindset couldn't be more off when it comes to Marvel.

Several years ago Marvel held a talent search, where the winners enjoyed the opportunity of penning tales for Thor and Wolverine. More recently, Epic was re-launched (complete with a grand submission drive) and seemed to herald in a new age for would-be scribes. Ultimately, Epic vanished but Marvel's open-door submissions policy remained, as did Teresa Focarile — the Submissions Editor.

Chances are you didn't know her name until now, but, if you're a budding comic book writer, she is the most important person in the world. Every script, screenplay, short story, pitch, whatever you might send falls into her lap, and, if it meets her strict standards, she filters it on to the appropriate editor.

So take heed, because Teresa took time out of her schedule to answer the following questions for you, for me, and every would-be comic book writer. If you've ever thought about submitting or have submitted writing samples to Marvel, now's your chance to read a Q&A with the Submissions Editor, and find out exactly what you should and should not be doing.

MDS: Before coming to Marvel you worked at The Gersh Agency in New York as a literary agent — so how did you become involved with Marvel? More specifically, how did you become the Submissions Editor?
TF: First, just to clarify, I did represent some writers on my own, but I also worked with an agent there and his clients. Marvel came to Gersh looking for writers, which started Bill Jemas and I talking about Marvel's need for writers, and then I became the person charged with finding them. And here I am!

MDS: When you were with The Gersh Agency you dealt with the up-and-comers in the literary world, and at Marvel you're doing pretty much the same thing — seeking out the best new talent — but I have to assume the two jobs are quite different if only because you're handling niche writers. Or is this not the case?
TF: In a way, it is the same thing. Finding writers for one medium or another is pretty much the same process. You just have to understand what the particular medium is looking for and then go out and find it.

MDS: Over the past few years writers from other industries have made quite a splash in comics — such as Kevin Smith, Greg Rucka, J. Michael Straczynski, and Brad Meltzer. With talent like that floating around, has it become more difficult for up-and-coming writers to break in?
TF: Not really. A lot of the new writers that have done work for Marvel in the past year are not well known in the medium in which they were working (playwrights, screenwriters, fiction writers, etc.). Like anything, it helps if people have heard of you, but we are honestly looking for new talent, and are happy to be the ones to discover it!

MDS: While we're on the topic, what writer would you like to see try his/her hand at comic books?
TF: Hmmmmm... I wouldn't want to give anything away — we may still get them and I can't give away any secrets!

MDS: You recently spoke at a Friends of Lulu event concerning writing opportunities for women. What is Marvel doing to attract more female creators?
TF: There are a variety of projects that we are developing here that we hope will attract female readers. As for attracting female creators, we hope they will be a part of these new titles, but we also hope to attract them with our characters, our history, and our openness to new voices.

MDS: Why is Marvel specifically looking for short stories, screenplays, and the like instead of comic book scripts?
TF: What I really look for when reading a writing sample is the clarity of the storytelling. Because our characters are so well known, and because a lot of the people submitting to us are so familiar with them, it is sometimes hard to judge a writers' storytelling skill when they are playing with our characters. Sometimes they take too much for granted and don't feel they have to introduce the characters afresh. So, I like to see the kinds of characters and stories a writer creates on their own, when they are not burdened with decades of continuity. It gives me a better sense of what they can do.

MDS: If a writer comes to you with a cold pitch that blows you away, how do you deal with it considering that Marvel is editorially driven?
TF: I would certainly pass it on to an editor to review. While it's not impossible that a cold pitch would move forward, it's highly unlikely given the fact that our production schedule, right now, is so editorially driven. But, if someone has a dynamite idea, then I would certainly read it.

MDS: When did Marvel become editorially driven, and what benefits have come from this?
TF: I don't know if I've been here long enough to answer the time question. I think the benefits (not knowing what it was like before) are that we can plan our production schedule months in advance and make thoughtful decisions about the characters and talent we want to highlight. Then we can find the right talent/book for the job.

MDS: How do you decide what writer will work best with what editor?
TF: As you can tell from the books we produce, each editor has their own style and goals. By talking to the editors about the projects they are developing, I get a good sense of what they are looking for in a writer and try to make suggestions based on those discussions.

MDS: What's the most common mistake writers make when submitting to Marvel? (If forgetting to send along/sign the Marvel Idea Submission Form would have been your answer, then what would be the second most common mistake?)
TF: Ha! That would have been my first answer! Hmmm... I've already talked about people sending in ideas about Marvel comics characters. That, at this point, is not the most useful way to get work here. I would say that the best thing to do is to send something that is original to you, that you think shows off your storytelling skills the best.

MDS: Has a rejected writer ever contacted you to argue for his/her story?
TF: Oh yes — I've gotten a few responses to rejections. Which is fine — I appreciate their determination to write for Marvel. I usually suggest that they submit something else for me to review.

MDS: What are your feelings about comic book companies that have a closed door policy when it comes to writing samples?
TF: Each company works its own way, so I couldn't really speak to that. What we are doing right now, reviewing submissions and recruiting new talent, works for us.

MDS: Generally, what kind of work experience/educational background do you look for in a writer?
TF: I have no hard and fast rule on this. A writer with some professional experience is great, but it's not necessary. I make my judgments on the writing sample, not the writer's résumé.

MDS: What realistic chance does an unpublished writer stand of getting work at Marvel? What path would you recommend?
TF: All writers who submit to Marvel stand a chance. Again, I would recommend that you follow the submission guidelines and present yourself and your work in the most professional way possible. And then send me work that you think shows off what a great storyteller you are!

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Much thanks to Teresa Focarile for the interview, Andrew Lis for setting it up and Marvel. I would also like to thank forum members Electronaut and Darque Edge for suggesting the last two questions.

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