PR: What Not to Do: Badger Reviewers Into Ignoring You

I was really really tempted to bring the old “Stupid Publisher Tricks” label out of storage for this one, because boy, do they deserve it.

I’ve talked before about how dumb it is to require reviewers to jump through hoops before you let them see your comic. I understand that some small companies may be paranoid about copies of their work getting put online for free, so they want to use DRM copies and individual secret passwords and other worthless junk but

  • I have never known a reviewer to do this. The leaks usually come from elsewhere.
  • If you don’t trust me, why do you care about my opinion? (Answer: you don’t, you just want free press and don’t yet realize how to get that effectively.)
  • Putting roadblocks in my way to reading your comic means I’m not going to bother with your work. I have plenty of other stuff to read, thanks.
  • Even if none of the above was true, there are worse things to worry about. People swapping files of your comic means someone wants to read it, and you have an audience. Most publishers starting out have the opposite problem, that of obscurity. If no one knows who you are, no one wants to read your comic for free. They’re going to download Batman instead.

So anyway, here’s a brief history of the correspondence I received from a company that sends out too many press releases and announcements but doesn’t want anyone to review their comic without password tracking. Sometime last week, I got an email stating they had a review copy for me. It was clearly a mass mailing, not something in response to my submission guidelines, so I guessed that they were hitting anyone and everyone they could. Usually I respond better to queries (may I send you a copy of our comic?) than declarations (here’s your copy of our comic!), but ok, maybe they’re just over-enthusiastic.

Said email announced that this “transmedia company” (first warning sign) was putting out a horror comic (a genre I don’t cover) with a licensed name attached with little connection to the content. (I can’t be the only one who remembers Tekno Comix and their use of this pointless gimmick, can I?) My “watermarked and password-protected PDF of the entire 48 pages (and ad free!)” first issue was ready for me — all I had to do was respond to get the password, supplying “your name and the company or news service that you represent.” (Another warning sign, that they can’t keep track of who they’re spamming.)

Along with this came the usual pr blather about how great the book was and how they were releasing a week late (thereby missing the key on-sale date before Halloween). Included was this pointless sentence: “We apologize but learned from it and are already putting together the second terrific issue.” I say that’s pointless because, while a polite gesture and a learning experience, they aren’t the ones screwed by shipping late out of the gate. Retailers are. And they’re the ones who determine whether you’ll get to produce continuing issues — or at least, whether Diamond will carry them. Piss them off, as a young, unknown company, and they’ll stop buying quickly.

I didn’t care about any of this, so I ignored the email and thought no more of it. Until I got two more emails this weekend. The first started “This is our second attempt to send you a PDF REVIEW COPY” — I guess some people can’t take a hint when they don’t get a response. I wasn’t interested. Especially in working with a company that included sections like this in their “invitations”:

Accepting our invitation to read and review the book means it is for your eyes only and will not be printed or passed along to anyone else under penalty of law. If you wish to suggest the pdf of this book for review to another please have them contact us and we’ll supply them with the necessary information.

Under penalty of law? Yeah, that’s a great opening to putting a critic in a positive frame of mind to review your work. I laughed and again prepared to ignore them. Until I got another email the next day that appeared to be a press release announcing the changed release date that once again had all the same information about getting a review copy. Plus links to what seemed to be any and every time someone had mentioned them online and a YouTube trailer. Almost 1200 words (which is kind of dementedly impressive) telling me information they’d already sent me twice before.

At that point, I thought “if I don’t stop this now, who knows what I’ll get next?” I responded brusquely as follows:

I’m not interested. I don’t cover horror. Even if I did, having to jump through all these hoops to do you the favor of reviewing your comic is a turnoff. I have plenty of stuff to cover that doesn’t make things so difficult nor is so pushy.

Sorry to be blunt, but I figured you ought to know in case other people are turned off as well but not telling you why. Please take me off your mailing list.

Note that last phrase, there. You’ll never guess what I got in return. A 900-word essay justifying their approach. (To be fair, it wasn’t a mass mailing. But I would think any such response, if sent at all, should be shorter and, well, acknowledge my request.) “We thought we were making it as easy as possible to have a copy to review,” said the verbose idiot handling their press, before launching into pages of copy about how they saved to raise money to start their “small independent comic company” and how their comic is “a labor of love” — in short, everything you’ve ever heard before about any publishing startup. Plus, he included bios of their founders and a glowing pull quote. Remember, this is in response to a message that said “I don’t want to hear from you any more.” If this is how he handles a brush-off, I shudder to think what his dating life is like.

He seemed to think I was demanding a print copy, which they “can’t afford” to send. (Warning! A company with no marketing costs planned into their budget won’t be around long!) He didn’t get the bit about the password thing at all, nor does he seem to understand “stop sending me your marketing materials.”

Please note, other people learning from this mistake: It is much preferable to email an inquiry before sending a large PDF to a reviewer. It’s even better to have a linked download location, so no one’s email gets swamped. But if someone doesn’t answer your query, they’re not interested. Don’t badger them. (Three invites? Way too many.) And if someone says, “stop emailing me”, that’s not an invitation to give them your company’s life story and press a review copy on them once again. You really don’t want to drive people to the extent of telling their ISP you’re a spammer and getting your domain blocked. That’s going to make it extremely difficult for your struggling new comic company to get the word out.

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