You’ve created a comic book. (Congrats, we all know the work that takes.) Maybe now you’re selling it, maybe you’re serializing it through the web, or maybe it’s about to hit the stands. So what now? You need buzz! You’re proud of what you did, and you’re ready for critical acclaim. But who do you send your book to? And how do you get them to actually review your book? And is it worth the trouble?
What Reviews are Good For (And What They Aren’t)
Artists in all walks of life have conflicted feelings about critics. I don’t know many who hate praise, and I know even fewer who love criticism. But even worse than criticism sometimes, is indifference, is being ignored completely. I don’t care if you love or hate my work, but I damn well care that the work is acknowledged as existing. Getting reviews is one affirmation that your work deserves to be counted.
What Reviews are Good For
1) Building Awareness for Your Book - The single best thing about reviews is that they build awareness for your book. At the indie level, EVERY SINGLE EYEBALL counts. When you’re just starting out, your reach is going to be limited to the visitors to your own website, your existing social network, and the conventions and other appearances you go to. Unless you’re Lady Gaga, that audience isn’t going to be big enough to launch your career. Reviews give you a chance to reach out to new audiences, and even if the reviews aren’t read, they at least start to build some name recognition for you and your titles.
2) Expanding Your Comics Network – Good things come from knowing people in this industry. Connecting with taste-makers and genuine enthuisiasts can pay long term dividends for your career. And hey, who doesn’t like to meet more people who love comics?
3) Critical feedback - Getting feedback is crucial to the development of creators. Now, feedback is obviously most useful at the development stage, as it gives you an opportunity to course correct and improve your product. However, the feedback you get on the product YOU ACTUALLY PRODUCE (as opposed to the grandest vision of it that was in your head during development) can be a valuable waystone on your development as a creator. In most cases, reviewers are giving you their honest, unbiased opinion on the work you’ve shared with them, and that feedback can be valuable in judging the extent to which you’ve met your storytelling goals.
What Reviews are NOT Good For
1) Influencing Retailers - Retailers could care less about which comic website gave your book a 4 star review. A quote of endorsement from Joey Esposito at IGN.com, as good as Joey is at what he does, isn’t going to get you on the shelves of your local four-color funny book shop. Retailers trust their gut, they evaluate books themselves based on the five keys of direct market success I’ve written about before, and perhaps most importantly, listen to OTHER RETAILERS. No retailer wants to miss out on a hot book. But very few listen to the comic critics on measures of hotness…they’re looking for books that are actually selling.
2) Influencing Publishers - Likewise, publishers don’t really care what the critics are saying about your book. Because a half-dozen comic sites said they like your book isn’t going to sway my decision whether or not to publish it. I know what I’m looking for in a book. So does Eric Stephenson at Image, and every other publisher worth his or her salt. Great reviews don’t hurt, but they really don’t help either. We’re going to make our own judgments on properties…and if you’re submitting your work to publishers, you want them to have strong convictions that they are in the best position to judge whether or not they can help your work by publishing it.
3) Critical Feedback - Not a contradiction. All reviews are not created equally, and some will be of absolutely no help whatsoever from a feedback perspective. So “reviews” are nothing more than synopses…scene by scene recaps of your story. Some are so short or limited in content that they are no help at all.
It’s important to have a realistic understanding of what reviews can and can’t do for you. On the whole, I believe reviews for your work ARE worth pursuing. And for that, you’ll need to start building your Advance Reviewers List.
Building Your Advanced Reviewers List
If you’re like me, you really don’t have time for all this PR baloney. You have worlds to create and minds to blow, damn it! And yet, unless you have the budget for a publicist, you are probably going to have to suck it up and do the leg work to build your own Advanced Reviewers List.
But Tyler, can’t you just be a sport and give me YOUR advanced reviewers list? You’re a nice guy…c’mon, just hand it over. Whaddaya say?
And you know what, I could. (And below, I’m going to give you a few of names you should be looking into.) But the thing is, I’ve built MY list from the ground up. In most cases, I’ve had direct contact, in person, at cons, on social media, or via email, with everyone on MY list. So MY list might not work for you.
Don’t be lazy. Do the work. Build your own damn list.
Soliciting Advanced Reviews
Your inclination is going to be to write one form email, and bulk send it to a massive list of emails you collect one Sunday afternoon. (You’re lazy, remember.) I don’t recommend that approach.
Instead, for your first contact with a prospective reviewer, I recommend you send a personalized email, crafted with care, in which you introduce yourself and your book, and you make the compelling case that the reviewer should entertain THEIR readers with a review about your book. This approach is going to be far more effective than a BCCed generic email.
Remember, you are selling here…and when you’re selling, it’s not about what YOU want, it’s what they want.
Here’s an example of an email I sent to Matthew Meylikhov, E-I-C of MultiversityComics.com, back in November of 2011:
Hello! I want to commend you, and the rest of the gang at Multiversity for the killer comics coverage you guys have done this year. Multiversity has grown into quite the prolific site. I’m trying to build off a successful NYCC debut of my new book THE RED TEN #1. It’d be awesome if you or someone at Multiversity could give it a read and review. We’re doing some cool stuff on the local level, partnering with the New England Comic Retailers Alliance (31 shops) to build buzz for the title, before going nationwide with the series.
All the key details about the book are below. Thanks for the consideration. Talk soon.
THE RED TEN is a superhero re-imagining of Agatha Christie’s classic novel “And Then There Were None.”
When the world’s greatest detective is violently murdered by her nemesis, the world’s foremost super team and her former sidekick band together to bring the villain to justice. However, the mission goes terribly wrong, and before the night is out each of the ten “heroes” will pay dearly for past transgressions.
THE RED TEN is an independent, creator owned ten issue maxi-series by Tyler James (writer) and Cesar Feliciano (artist), with color by Miguel Marques, and featuring stunning covers byCharles Paul Wilson, III (Stuff of Legend).
The Red Ten is being published by ComixTribe, and can be purchased at a number of fine comic book shops, including members of the New England Comic Retailers Alliance (NECRA.) Books may also be purchased online at Shop.ComixTribe.Com.
THE RED TEN #1 Variants Available
- Standard Version (First Printing) - $3.99
- Artist Edition (First Printing) - $24.99 (featuring one-of-a-kind original art/sketch cover by creators Tyler James or Cesar Feliciano.) Artist Editions are Signed, Number and Limited to 50 Copies.
Visit theredten.comixtribe.com for an extended preview, trailers, free digital ashcan, blog and more.
Now let’s break it down:
Section 1 – has been personalized to a limited degree. I took the time to actually look at their site and the stuff they are doing, and try to connect it to what I’m doing. Answer in the first paragraph why you’re writing, what you can do for them. Compliments don’t hurt either.
Section 2 – Get them the book! Don’t bury your comic in a long-winded email. Get them a copy to take a look at as soon as you can.
Section 3 and Beyond – Get them the boilerplate. What is the book about, where can they get it, what are the selling points, etc. Many reviewers are busy, and more often than not, if they decide to review their book, they’re going to cut and paste what you say about it. So don’t hem and haw…SELL IT!
Note the length: Keep it short and sweet. My example is a little long, and while long-windedness is a fault of mine, it’s something I’ve tried to work on over the past few years. Yes, this book is your baby and you could wax poetic on its virtues for days…but a wall of text will turn off the reviewer.
Also, a note on attachments, as a general rule, people don’t like getting unsolicited emails with attachments. (One bad click on a SPAM message will do that to a person.) Anything over a MB or two could also raise some flags. Instead, I suggest you get a Drop Box account, and post your file to your public folder, then share the link to that file with your reviewers. People don’t like their in-boxes gummed up with huge files (and neither do email service providers.)
On Video – If I have a video trailer for my book, I like to slip it’s Youtube URL into email, because Gmail and other mail services will automatically shows a preview of that trailer in the email. A lot of us can’t resist making with the clicky.
Now, I said that first email to every reviewer should be personalized. But, let’s face it, writing a personalized email to hundreds of sites for every single book you put out is going to be extremely time consuming. (Might still be effective though, so if you’re willing to put in the work…) I don’t have the time for that, and I’m guessing neither do you.
Once I’ve established a relationship with a reviewer, I add them to my Advanced Review Contact List, managed with Mail Chimp, a freemium email contact service. (I can’t speak highly enough about Mail Chimp.)
Subsequent emails will looks something like this one I sent out, in this case previewing the upcoming SCAM #3. (On sale in 2 weeks!)
And the great thing about Mail Chimp is that it tracks EVERYTHING. Opens, clicks, downloads, you name it. So you’re not just sending it out and praying…you can actually see who is reading and downloading your books, and what marketing seems to resonate.
Understanding Why Reviewers Review
Remember when I said you need to treat the review request like it’s about the reviewer, not about you or your book? That’s important. It’s worth understanding WHY reviewers review in the first place.
Now, there certainly isn’t one reason all reviewers share. DeWayne Feenstra, of the Image Addiction Podcast, simply “likes discussing books with his friends, and if anyone wants to listen, it’s gravy.” Most reviewers aren’t doing it for money or fame, they’re doing it for a general love of the medium, and a desire to spread that love far and wide. Since the dawn of time, people have always loved telling others about the things they enjoy. (And the things they despise…)
Keith Callbeck of the We Talk… Network sees reviews as a chance to stay topical. “It motivates me to try a lot of new things instead of talking about 20 year old stuff.” These are the reviewers YOU need to find, because they’re the ones who will be most receptive to taking a look at what you have.
Then there are others, often fellow creators like Sam Read and the Creator Owned Zone‘s John Lees, use reviews as an opportunity to think critically about the medium of comics. These are the reviews, from an improving your craft standpoint, that are most likely to give you some actionable feedback.
It’s also important to know that depending on the sites reviewers write for and the readership those sites have, the chances of you getting a review from them will vary wildly. Some sites, such as CBR, have a formal policy that the weekly reviews section are reserved for ONLY books distributed through Diamond and available in shops. (And not even every one of those gets covered.)
Know that reviewers at high readership sites often get access to advanced/review copies of nearly EVERYTHING: Every book from Image, Marvel, DC, Boom, IDW, etc… No one can read all of that, and even if they could, they wouldn’t .
It may seem like a small thing you and I are asking, “Hey man, here’s a free copy of my book. Why don’t you read and review it?” But its not. Any time you ask a complete stranger for ANYTHING, you are going out on a limb. You’re not owed, or entitled to, a single minute of ANYONE’s time. So act accordingly.
GIMME SOME NAMES: An Advanced Review Starter Pack
Now, I said you need to go build your own list, but I’m going to give you some places to start with. These are all sites that have reviewed ComixTribe books in the past year. While that’s no guarantee that they’ll review your book, it’s as good an indicator as any that they might be receptive.
- Creator-Owned Zone on ComixTribe – John Lees – Submissions Info Here
- Comicosity - comicosity.com - Aaron Long
- Graphic Policy – graphicpolicy.com Brett Schenker
- Kitty’s Pride http://www.kittyspryde.com Troy Osgood
- We Talk Comics http://www.wetalkpodcasts.com Brett, Mo, & Keith
Like I said, it was just a starter pack… Go out there, do the homework, and find reviewers who cover books like yours. They’re out there!
And if YOU are a comic reviewer, and would like to let it be known that you are open to receiving Advanced Review Copies of independent comic books, please let us know in the comments below!
Category: Comix Counsel