How to Get Review Copies

I was asked recently, by someone starting a comic review blog, how to get review copies. Here’s my answer.

1. Write.

You look cheap and greedy if you start asking for review copies before you have a substantial body of reviews to show your ability and dedication. Write well, a lot, and regularly.

When you put up your site, there’s nothing wrong with including a brief notice in the sidebar, something to the effect of “Review copies may be sent to me at (address)” or “Please email me for information on where to submit review copies” (if you don’t want to publish your address; if you do, I suggest using a PO Box). But don’t start asking everyone and their dog for free comics until you’ve been doing this a while and can show consistent publication.

2. Ask.

Find the right email address (left as an exercise for the reader) and write a polite query note. Be sure they know who you are, where to find your reviews, and what you’re asking for. You want them to realize that giving you their publication will benefit them in exposing their work to your readers. You also want them to think that you’ll actually cover their comic.

If you’re going to a convention, take business cards. Also, if publishers are going to be there whose work you’ve reviewed favorably, you may want to take one or two printouts of your best reviews of their books. (This doesn’t mean your most suck-up piece, although I would select positive reviews; it means good writing that got favorable response from readers.) Make sure your contact information (URL and email) is on the materials.

3. Cover what you want to request.

Don’t start asking for Fantagraphics books if you’ve only written about Marvel superhero comics. Publishers/Creators want to know that their work will be promoted to a suitable audience. If you only cover books of type X, then your readers will likely be those looking for more information about books of type X, so their benefit from giving you a free comic is minimal.

That said, there are publishers who are very generous with comp copies and appreciate the chance to do outreach to other kinds of readers, so they may be interested anyway.

4. Follow up.

I was surprised recently to be told that I was one of very few reviewers who sent out notices after I reviewed something. Especially with a good review, email the publisher, the creators, and/or the marketing person. (These roles may be the same person.) You may not want to be as giving if you write a slam, but in the case where you got a free copy, especially if you requested it, it’s polite to show that you did the work, regardless of what you said about it.

5. Be clear.

Tell your readers when you’re reviewing a complimentary copy. It helps them better evaluate your opinions. They’ll see what you chose to buy and what you got for free.

Other Tips

You won’t get on DC or Marvel’s comp list. Last I heard, Marvel doesn’t even send their comics to the professionals that work for them. DC will send the occasional item they want to promote, particularly first issues that are getting big launches and graphic novels. From what I’ve seen, DC is more likely to provide Vertigo and CMX titles than superheroes, but that may just be what I get due to the focus of my site.

The people who sent out review copies fall into one of three categories:
1. The professional. “Real” book publishers who are now doing comics/graphic novels have established review copy procedures. So do manga publishers.

2. The generous. There are some independent publishers who are very giving with review copies. Sometimes, you can tell who they are, because you’ll see a bunch of reviews of the same title around the same time. That’s what publishers want.

3. The desperate. Much of what you’ll get, especially starting out, are publishers who can’t get coverage any other way, which means very small press or those who put out poor quality material.

Similar Posts: Now Accepting Review Copies § PR: What Not to Do: Omit Key Info From Review Copies § Another Argument Against Review Copies § Win John Carter on Blu-ray! § PR: What Not to Do: Review Copies and Guilt Trips


28 Responses to “How to Get Review Copies”

  1. ADD Says:

    Very good piece, Johanna. I also send out notices for positive reviews, it seems only fair to take that extra moment to make it worth the publisher’s while for sending you a comp.

    My favourite subset of the desperate in your final point are the ones who ask you to either not review the book if you don’t like it, or even ask you to send it back. I recently got an extremely loathsome book in the mail that actually included a SASE, but the book was so awful and wrongheaded that I feel more responsible using the SASE for something else and destroying the book…the first time THAT’S ever happened, but one of those truly rare books with zero value at all and no chance of anyone at all, anywhere finding it worth reading…

  2. Johanna Says:

    That’s new to me. I’ve often chosen not to review something in lieu of panning it, but I’ve never had anyone with the gumption to ask for positive or nothing. (If I did, I’d probably write about that instead of the comic.) An SASE would be fine with me. That’s better for the publisher than the other current choices for me: trade for store credit or donate to Goodwill.

  3. Adam_Y Says:

    When I used to review small press titles for Redeye, the proceedure was to return all comics… It’s not like you’re trying to build a collection and besides, whilst it is fine to take free stuff from big companies, indy-press types need to make every copy count.

    That and only write what you believe — if you’re writing what you think people want to read, or you’re trying to impress a big press you’ll end up regretting it.

    At the last convention I went to I found myself on a table with a creator whose comic I savaged a couple of months earlier… it would have been awkward if I couldn’t back up my arguments…

  4. Johanna Says:

    Return? ALL? My goodness, with the cheapest postal mailing rate at $2.13, and assuming only 2 copies received per week… I don’t have a mailing budget of over $200 just to send back submissions.

    Writing honestly (but not aggressively) is great advice. But I covered more of that in my How to Review post.

  5. Peter Says:

    Thank you so much for the awesome post! It’s very helpful and now I feel like I know where to start. Thanks again!

  6. Bill D. Says:

    This is very good information and advice, Johanna. I’ve always wondered how to go about doing this… I’ve been sent comp copies for review only once or twice, and I really enjoyed doing it. After all, the best way to get better at writing reviews is to write more reviews. I never knew how to (hopefully) get the ball rolling on more, though, so I appreciate your insight.

  7. Marc Mason Says:

    Interesting. I agree with Johanna on pretty much all of this, though I never note that I’m working from a complimentary copy in my reviews. I have generally assumed that the reader likely realizes this up front, but perhaps that isn’t true.

    I think, for me, it dates back to the fact that I was a film reviewer at one point. I wasn’t editorially directed to note that I had seen the film at a press junket or press screening, and that carried over to the comics stuff. Also, I rarely actually review something I’ve purchased myself- I have enough trouble keeping up with publisher comps.

    This is a subject I’d like to hear more opinions on.

  8. Johanna Says:

    I think film expectations are very different from comics (especially online). Comics has a history of not doing widespread comp copies and a lot of fan journalists.

  9. odessa steps magazine Says:

    Oddly enough, I’ve never really asked for review copies. The only time I really used them was back when I did a store’s newsletter and used the DC b/w previews, when they used to send those out.

  10. badMike Says:

    I concur. Nice article.

    I have a website on which I review obscure, independently produced movies and, less often, self-published and indie comics.

    I never ask anybody for a review copy of anything. Not that I think there’s anything wrong with doing that, but it’s just the policy I thought was the most fair for my situation. I can also usually tell from the “pitch email” whether or not the film or comic is something that will appeal to my sensibilities. If I feel it won’t, then I just I won’t ask for the film/comic.

    That’s also interesting that it’s rare practice for reviewers to send out notices to the publisher that the review is up. I do that every time (except if it’s an extremely bad review, then I’ll conveniently put it off and “forget”). But I’m usually dealing with people who are extraordinarily attached to the material, e.g. the same person produces, directs and distributes their film. So, I feel they deserve to know. Also, by letting creators know I’ve put up a good or decent review, then I’m more likely to get quoted and linked to from the film/comic’s website.

  11. Richard Krauss Says:

    Johanna, thanks for sharing your experiences. Your advice is spot on. I’ve been reviewing books on my site for over a year now. Most of the items are books that I bought. I welcome review copies and I receive several every month now that I have established a solid weekly update schedule. I try to include sample panels of most of the contributor’s artwork so that readers can better judge for themselves whether or not they’d like to buy the comic. Thanks!

  12. Johanna Says:

    Odessa, oh, I remember those. And I remember back in 1993 or 94 when I first visited DC’s offices and how Patty Jeres told me that she wanted to start getting some Usenet reviewers on the mailing for those B&W previews. Ah, memories.

    Bad, well, I was told it was rare by someone. His perspective may have been different from others. I dunno.

    And I’m glad so many people found this article helpful. Thank you, that’s rewarding to hear.

  13. James Schee Says:

    Good piece Johanna. I like that you point out that one shouldn’t expect to get on the DC/Marvel comp lists. It really should come down to why do you want review copies.

    Do you want to get them because you want to be exposed to books you wouldn’t be otherwise. (after all no one can buy everything) Or do you want them because “hey its free comics!”

    One doesn’t have to be a big name either to get review copies though. So don’t think you have to be as known as Johanna, or Alan or the like before anyone knows you. Work hard, network with others and you’ll get noticed as the point of review copies is to get the word out. I found myself getting some incredible opporunitites at the time I was reviewing. I got some fairly odd ones too, but it was interesting.

    Something someone starting out might want to consider doing is getting in with your library/librarian. I wish I’d of used that resource back when I was reviewing, something I’ve thought about returning to, as there is just such a wealth there of books for people that seems to be rarely used.

  14. Blog@Newsarama » How To Get People To Give You Things For Free. Says:

    [...] Draper-Carlson explains how to get yourself added to review comp lists: You look cheap and greedy if you start asking for review copies before you have a substantial body [...]

  15. Ryan Dunlavey Says:

    Thanks for posting this Johanna -as a publisher it’s really cool to get a reviewer’s perspective.

    I’ve always gotten follow-ups from people who have asked for review copies, and if it’s an interesting well-written review (positive or negative) I’ll link to it from my website. CBG always sends me a comp copy when they review my work, which is very classy.

    A couple of weeks ago someone who I’d never communicated with sent me a copy of his review of Comic Book Comics #1 – this wasn’t a fan letter but an actual review that was posted on a comics website. No other communication, no explanation. Kind of unsettling actually.

  16. The Dane Says:

    This is nothing, but my favourite part of the article (which was very clear and helpful!) was that it took me a long time before I realized that Point 5 said “Be clear” instead of “Be dear.” Crazy fonting… grr. I kept thinking, I get what she’s saying but what does she mean by “dear”?

  17. Jason Green Says:

    An excellent article, Johanna, and much in line with my own experience. I was lucky in that when the comics review section I run started up, we were part of a print magazine with a 4-year publishing history, where it’s far easier to get the attention of publishers. We’re web-only now, but luckily we had made so many connections while we were a print concern that the groundwork was already laid.

    Now I’m two and a half years in, and I’ve got established relationships with twenty different publishers, all gained by using the tactics Johanna describes above.

    Another good tactic to get in good with publishers: offering interviews. Often, requesting an interview with a creator whose book a publisher was releasing was my foot in the door with said publisher, and then they were much more prone to seek us out when they had new releases they wanted reviewed.

    I’m also one who follows up with all publishers, and I find they appreciate it as well. It’s also a good way to get your reviews linked from the publisher’s website, which results in more people reading what you write. Everybody wins.

  18. Johanna Says:

    Ryan: good reminder that one should explain themselves anytime one’s emailing a stranger.

    Dane: haha! Oxymoron there, hunh.

    Jason: good advice, thanks.

  19. Kat Kan Says:

    I’ve been reviewing graphic novels for library publications since 1994. I have a column in Voice of Youth Advocates (a library professional journal for those who work with teens) that has run continuously since 1994. In the library world, the assumption is that the publisher has sent review copies. However, when I started my column, I used the books I had purchased. Over the years, I guess I built up enough of a reputation that some publishers started sending me books without my asking. Now that I’m a grizzled veteran (literally, I’ve been reading comics for more than 45 years), I feel comfortable asking publishers for review copies. However, for very small companies and for self-published works, I often buy the books, to support the creators. Most comic fans won’t know me from anybody; but quite a few publishers who want to get their books into libraries do know me. I try to follow up with publishers, because VOYA isn’t really known outside the library world. I suppose I pretty much followed what you have suggested here, Johanna.

  20. Chip Mosher Says:

    BOOM! has a handy-dandy contact form where you can request review copies. It can be found here: http://www.boom-studios.com/contact

    BOOM! is very blog friendly and though we do have a fairly strict policy of only providing PDF only review copies.

    So anyone wanting to review our books – hit me up!

    Best,

    Chip Mosher
    Marketing and Sales Director
    BOOM! Studios

  21. Chris Beckett Says:

    Johanna,

    Coming a bit late to the comments, but I wanted to add my own “nicely put” stamp on your article. All of your points seem like a common sense approach, and it amazes me that people would need to be told what would seem only common courtesty – especially the point of following up when the review goes live. With the column I do at the Pulse, I always include a short Q&A with the creators, so it only seems fitting that if they took the time to answer my questions, I should take a minute and send along a link to the piece.

  22. Johanna Says:

    I think sometimes it just takes putting it down for people to go “oh, yeah, never thought of that”. And I’m grateful for the reader who asked the question in the first place, or I wouldn’t have thought to write it all up.

  23. Comics Should Be Good! » Manga Before Flowers — Ask not what the manga industry can do for you… Says:

    [...] a wonderfully practical guide for how mature bloggers should treat / request review copies here.  I did try to get 801 Media to send me review copies but I think they realized the audience here [...]

  24. Josette Says:

    Hi there! I found your blog via Google.

    This is certainly an informative post. I learnt new things from it. I only started receiving review copies late last year and have been receiving more since. Getting free books is fun and it’s not all that hard to read and review them. Reading, after all, is something I love to do.

    After reviewing, I do send an e-mail to the person who sent it to me, informing them that I’ve already reviewed the book and I also provide the link to my review.

    Anyway, have fun reviewing! =)

  25. Chris Galvan Says:

    Hi Johanna,

    I have been reviewing comics for Comics Buyer’s Guide for the past two years and just found this website while doing a google search. Although you posted this a few years ago, it is the most helpful information I have been able to find anywhere on how to obtain review copies.

    Only a few smaller independent publishers have sent me review copies, and I sometimes receive material that is too old to include in a current issue of CBG.

    Thanks for providing these useful tips!

    Chris Galvan
    Secret Identity Comics

  26. Johanna Says:

    Thank you for letting me know that you found it helpful! I’d forgotten about this post, but now that I’ve reread it, hey, it was some good advice.

  27. Chris Galvan Says:

    Hi Johanna,

    Over the past month, I’ve managed to get on a couple more publishers’ review lists. As a result, I just handed in two graphic novel reviews for a future issue of CBG that I would have not been able to purchase otherwise. It’s definitely a slow process and not always easy to get a response, but I’m making some progress!

    Thanks again,
    Chris Galvan

  28. The Struggles of Reviewing and Kingyo Used Books Podcast » Manga Worth Reading Says:

    [...] I enjoyed listening to Ed Sizemore and Phillip Anthony talk about reviewing in this episode of the Eeeper’s Choice podcast. They discuss the issues with keeping up with a tide of material, whether it’s work you’re interested in or not, and the question of review copies, especially for an international site. (Phillip is Irish.) If you’d like to consider struggling with the problem yourself, here’s my advice on how to get review copies. [...]

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