- Posted by Johanna on February 8, 2007 at 11:45 am
- Category: Graphic Novel News
As frequent readers know, I get a lot of review copies of comics and graphic novels, and I am perpetually behind. As a result, I’m not able to review everything I’ve been sent… and with the greater variety of terrific books available these days, I’m not inclined to, either. Why spend time talking about something I hated (especially if it’s because of a mismatch between the work and my tastes) or worse yet, something that left me apathetic, when I can talk about something that I found wonderful or a deserving book that hasn’t gotten enough attention?
I also have more comics in my house than I’m ever going to be able to read, and shelf space is at a premium. As a result, I’m not likely to keep things around that I don’t expect to return to. Books that I’m discarding may be donated to the library, I may trade them for things I do want to own, or I may sell them, if there’s a market for them. The funds contribute to maintaining this website and keeping me interested in writing.
I mention all this as background to a letter I got yesterday from a creator. I’m keeping him anonymous because, while I disagree with everything he says and tries to make me feel, I don’t want to beat on him. Instead, I want to make a couple of points about the reviewing business.
I know you’ve never been a fan of my work…but despite that…I took my marketing guy’s advice and added you to our review copy list. I just wanted to say that I was quite disappointed when I saw not even a week later that you had both [books] up for sale on Amazon.
I waited weeks to see if you would do the right thing and either write a review (good or bad) or at least contact me to let me know that you received them. All you had to do was say “thank you but no thank you” and I would have paid to ship them back.
I’m sure you understand that all of this is done out of pocket and I wasn’t sending you $40 worth of books because I had nothing better to do. I just don’t understand how someone who deals with creators on a daily basis could be so thoughtless. It takes a lot of effort, time, and hard-earned money to put these books together.
I’m very disappointed in you Johanna. You should have known better.
Nice attempt at a guilt trip at the end, hunh? Sadly for him, I’m shameless. I’ve never before seen anyone argue against the idea that review copies become the property of the reviewer to do with what they will.
If you’re worried about cost, send PDFs (after querying, please, because large unexpected email attachments are bad) or links to hidden websites. Of course, then critics get accused of fueling piracy, even though I would never pass along a file given to me in such circumstances. I’ve had another creator request that, if I didn’t want to keep the books, to please donate them to a school or library, which I thought was a nice touch.
If you want the reviewer to see how the work looks in print (which is a big help if you’re doing anything unusual with printing or presentation), then send items marked “Advance Review Copy/Not for Resale”, which will cut down on the secondary market options.
Let’s look at his letter in more detail. Here’s the first problem: if I’ve never been a fan of your work, then why do you expect that I’ll suddenly have a change of heart when you’re sending me more of the same? It’s not like you were trying a different approach or subject matter or had a radical breakthrough or change in art style.
This is why I ask people to query me before sending me books for review. These days, I am just as likely to say “no, thank you” as I am to accept. I try to do that politely, although I suppose “I don’t want to see your comic” is always going to sting. In my case, it’s a valuable filter to weed out projects I’m not going to like. (Zombie and horror comics, superhero books with nothing unusual or new about them, that kind of thing.) It saves creators time and money, although I doubt they’re thinking about the benefits at the time.
This leads to a reminder: research the site you’re planning to submit to. If you’re publishing, for example, comics about a mostly-naked female hero who gets drenched in blood every other issue, I am not a good choice for potential review. If you’ve got a well-drawn new series about high school girls, on the other hand, I’d love to see that. If I’ve not liked your books in the past and you think I might be more receptive now or you’re trying something different, ask first. Emails with website links to description pages with samples are best, so I can do some research.
I also try to make it clear that anything sent to me is a submission for “possible review”, because I don’t and can’t promise to cover everything. When I receive an unsolicited package that I’m not interested in, I don’t have time to contact the sender, say “I don’t want these”, and try to arrange for postage reimbursement. (I can only imagine how well THAT email would be taken.) I’ve tried sending polite “I got the books, thank you, but I’m not planning to cover them” emails in the past, and the responses are either rude (“you’re stupid for not seeing my genius”), pathetic (“why not? please?”), or silent. I don’t blame them. It’s a tough situation to be in, on both sides.
I know that many writers would love to have this problem, and I hope I don’t sound ungrateful. If I’m harsh, it’s because I do envision a creator, working hard and following his dream, every time I open a cover. I’ve adopted this attitude in part to prevent myself from being overtaken by guilt. I need to be able to allow myself to do other things on evenings and weekends than review comics the whole time.
I really do appreciate being exposed to the wide variety of titles out there at little cost to myself. I do contact submitters when I have posted a review of their work, and if someone emails me after a reasonable period of time to say “do you have plans to cover my book?”, I will update them.
As for lessons others can take away: make your promotional budget sensibly. Figure out which outlets are likely to give you the response you want, and allot the number of books you need and can afford. If you worry about how much mailings cost, look at other options — although they may not be as well-received as the books themselves. Ask ahead of time about policies if you have concerns.
I also welcome feedback from other reviewers who agree or disagree with my take on things.