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 to the publisher. Be sure they know who you are, where to find your reviews, and what you’re asking for. If you have good traffic numbers (or a high count of Twitter followers or similar figures), you might share those. If you have outreach to a particularly desirable audience (you write for a library journal, for example), say that. You want publishers 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 may be the same person.) You may not want to be as giving if you write a slam, but if 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 honest.

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

Many publishers have moved to PDF review copies, which they’re more willing to give out. However, if you’re talking about a comic with a particularly artistic presentation, you’ll want to find a way to see the physical object, so you can accurately discuss it.

If you can’t afford to buy what you want to cover, check out your local library, which often has a surprising number of comics available to check out. (This works better for graphic novels, not periodical comics, obviously, although they may be available as well.)

If you love the publisher, especially smaller companies or the self-published, you may want to buy the work anyway. Every dollar counts in keeping good comics alive.

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. Be prepared to be kind.