14 February 2007

On Soliciting Reviews, Entitlement and Reaction Sheets

"You get what you get, and you don't get upset."
--Isaac D. Gonzalez, 6 years old
An interesting debate broke out over the weekend at Johanna Draper Carlson's blog, Comics Worth Reading, in response to a post entitled, Stupid Publisher Tricks: Review Copies and Guilt Trips (and its follow-up, Another Argument Against Review Copies), that took an unnamed creator to task for attempting to make her feel guilty about not having reviewed his unsolicited work:

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.
Johanna is one of a handful of comics bloggers I genuinely respect, as do many professionals in the industry, so I was surprised by the creator's wrongheaded approach to the situation.

An overblown sense of entitlement isn't something that's limited to continuity obsessed fans, and the worst thing a creator (or publisher) can do assume that their work deserves a review. Challenging a reviewer on anything other than a purely factual level is a no-win situation; the creator is usually the one with more at stake, especially if the challenge occurs in a public forum. While this particular communication was via a backchannel email, the tone of it suggests someone who is prone to getting into public pissing matches*, which is an excellent example of bad marketing.

Remember, "marketing is everything a company does to acquire customers and maintain a relationship with them", and that includes interactions with the Press, especially online where Google remembers everything.

One interesting point that came out of the discussion was the suggestion that creators offer "reaction sheets" to simplify the process of getting feedback from reviewers who may, for a variety of reasons, decide to not review a particular piece of work.

A typical reaction sheet I sent out would have sections for the individual tracks on the record, if the DJ/reviewer liked it, how often he played it, if he liked the sound, and what the crowd reaction in the club was.

Like it, hate it, don't ever send something to me again.

That could easily be translated to sections for artwork, writing, design, plot/story, genre and whatever else you want to know. 5-10 boxes filled and one send button later you have your reaction, the reviewer doesn't feel bad and everyone's... well, at least not unhappy.

You can weed out the people who don't like your work, or keep people in mind, who enjoy your art/writing but maybe not the genre of your story, for future output. Also, that's how I handled it, two times no reaction and you're off the list.
This is a great idea, and one I'm going to implement for myself in the hopes that creators (and publishers, publicists, etc.) pick up on it and incorporate it into their regular solicitation process. There have been many times where I've read something that I decided against reviewing, either because 1) it wasn't very good, but not so bad as to deserve being taken to the Woodshed; 2) it defied a brief review but didn't inspire or merit an in-depth look; 3) it was clearly an early effort to build up one's skills and/or resume.

That last one is the trickiest, I think. Because of the relatively low barrier for entry, comics, like poetry, seems to encourage people to "publish" before they're actually ready for broad consumption, resulting in something that is more portfolio piece than viable end product. While I love to read such work because I can sometimes find the promise of something greater to come and adjust my radar accordingly, I have a different set of criteria for judging it that, in the spirit of encouragement, tends to skew a review to seem more positive than perhaps it should be and is more appropriate for direct feedback.

Plus, I do tend to fall behind on things I actually want to review, never mind the things I'd simply like to review because someone asked for my feedback, so the ability to offer feedback without the pressure of an outright review for public consumption is appealing. The prospect of receiving constructive criticism behind the scenes instead of in a public forum should be appealing to creators, too.

So, reaction sheets it shall be from now on when I can't get to a full review; a simple 5-point diagnostic with a sentence or two for each and a brief, blurbable summary:

Comic Book Commentary Feedback

1) Concept
2) Presentation
3) Script
4) Art
5) Synergy

Summary: _________________
Positive feedback I'll likely post here in some manner as a brief review, while the negative feedback will stay between the creator and I. With few exceptions, there's no good reason to savage anybody's hard work, no matter how amateurish it is, unless it's clearly an opportunistic cash grab or ridiculously overrated dreck, in which case it deserves its 40 lashes!

On a side note, I want to point out that Johanna's "How to Review" primer has served as my personal guide to reviewing since I first came across it a couple of years ago and, I think, has served me pretty well in my efforts. It should be required reading for all reviewers.

*NOTE, the second: I'm not speculating on the creator's identity; the linked confrontation is simply an example of how not to handle such situations. For more examples of bad marketing, check out Johanna's Stupid Publisher Tricks archive.

18 comments:

DanAlbert said...

What sort of cheap bitch whacks a review copy on e-bay? Seriously, you're defending this behavior?!? Even if the comic sucked balls, making you puke within seconds of reading the first page, you don't go and offer it on e-bay so you can make some cash, someone that had nothing to do with the creative process. Have a little fucking respect.
That's a good way not to get sent anymore review copies imo. Reviewers need artists as much as artists need arse hats to shit all over their books.

"there's no good reason to savage anybody's hard work, no matter how amateurish it is, unless it's clearly an opportunistic cash grab or ridiculously overrated dreck, in which case it deserves its 40 lashes!"

But the reviewer can profit from someone's hard work, without offering any opinion whatsoever?

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

I didn't comment on the reselling aspect of the situation because I have mixed emotions about it and it wasn't what I was focusing on in this post. There are several interesting comments about it on her original post that argue both sides rather convincingly.

On the one hand, it does seem a bit...tacky, but on the other hand, it's an understandable middle ground between throwing it away and giving it away. By offering it for sale, she's at least giving it a shot at finding an appreciative home, which is what every creator ultimately wants. Being a review copy, it should have been factored into the marketing budget and not footnoted as a potential sale.

As for not being sent any more review copies, Johanna is well-established as a credible reviewer so the only concern there would be not getting unsolicited review copies from creators who know they're not her cup of tea.

PS: "Cheap bitch" was unnecessary and immediately weakened your point.

Erech said...

Yeah selling the review copy was pretty weak sauce, even after reading through the whole article that really stuck out to me. Give that shit away, at least.

Or at the very least, don't get caught selling it by the guy who just gave it to you, sheesh.

Erech said...

and ps - this line, in regards to selling review copies: "The funds contribute to maintaining this website and keeping me interested in writing" - the first half of it better have been a joke. That's a wordpress blog and her monthly server costs can't be more than 7-8 bucks a month. .

And the first person that brings up "bandwidth costs" is getting slapped with my stupid stick :)

James Meeley said...

Can't say I'm surprised to hear about this.

Personally, I think she's highly overrated as a reviewer and completely underwhelming as a person. Her reviews often come off as those of someone who has no passion for this industry and has no joy in any of it, even if the review is "positive." She seems to only see fault in just about everything outside of her own "comfort zone" and is more of a negative force, not only in blogging, but the comic community in general, as far as I'm concerned.

The tacky nature of selling the review copy in question is just another example of this, IMO.

Guy, maybe you should comment on the reselling aspect of this, as it seems to be the biggest bone of contention the creator had about what she had done with the review copy. Because, while I know you are a very stand up person, and you make a lot of good points concerning how creators need to be mindful of how what they say plays into the marketing aspect of thier work, it does seem like you are defending her tasteless actions in this, even if it's just from avoiding the point itself, and I don't think you intend to come off that way.

The creator certainly made some boneheaded mistakes in how he handled this, but she is not some "paragon of virtue" in this situation. And that should be noted.

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

James, I did comment on the reselling aspect, both on her original post and here in response to danalbert's comments. What more would you like me to say?

Johanna's reviews, like the comics themselves, are a simple matter of taste. What you call dispassionate, I call a dash of fully justified jaded cynicism. And she's far from a "negative force" in the comic community. I don't get your logic on that at all.

I will say that, as a person, the two times I've hung out with her and the dozen or so other times we've corresponded, I've found her to be an engaging personality with intelligent opinions on a variety of subjects. Your mileage, as they say, may vary.

IIRC, you have had your fair share of critics in the blogiverse, too, no?

James Meeley said...

James, I did comment on the reselling aspect, both on her original post and here in response to danalbert's comments. What more would you like me to say?

Maybe a little more on these mixed emotions you say you had regarding it. I mean, while I fully agree with you about how said creator handled this matter (that being, incorrectly), I don't see anything in what she did (i.e. selling the review copy) that would merit any "mixed feelings." They both were wrong. In different ways and for different reasons, but both were wrong nonetheless. I guess I'd like to better understand what you seem to think makes a conflicting sense about what she did, where it seems there was none for how the creator handled it.

And I didn't know you talked about this at her blog. I, personally, refuse to ever go there. I don't make a habit of going to the blogs of people I have no respect for.

Johanna's reviews, like the comics themselves, are a simple matter of taste. What you call dispassionate, I call a dash of fully justified jaded cynicism.

It seems more than just a "dash", from where I sit. Personally, if I felt the way she does (or, at least, the way she portrays herself to feel), I'd just walk away from comics completely. Life's way too short to waste it spewing constant cynicism about soemthing that brings you no joy and you can only find fault in. That's why I find her rep as a reviewer is so highly overrated. It takes little or no skill to constantly find fault with something. There's plenty of other bloggers out there doing exactly what she does, only they don't get praised for it (nor should they OR her).

IIRC, you have had your fair share of critics in the blogiverse, too, no?

Yes, but no one held up up as some supposed beacon for comic review blogging, or cited me as profound, for being a cynical and jaded "soapbox hound", either.

You said that in your personal dealings with her, you've found her to be intelligent. Maybe that's the problem. She seems to come off that she's so much smarter than everyone else (or, at least, the ones she disagrees with). That, somehow, she's the one who knows better than the "mindless sheep" who still might have some joy for this hobby and industry. It's that type of snobby attitude, coupled with her cynical and joyless tone, which makes me see her as a negative force. And it's the proliferation of that type of mentality within the blogging community, which is why I don't blog anymore. I don't want to be fodder for them creating more of the same.

Most of those types, however, are usually seen for what they really are. But she, somehow, has made a virtual career out of it and gained recognition and acclaim for it. Sorry, but I'm not willing to give her a pass, the way many others have done.

Of course, as you said, "Your Miles May Vary."

Erech said...

Life's way too short to waste it spewing constant cynicism about soemthing that brings you no joy and you can only find fault in.


Waaaaait for it... no, wait...


That's why I find her rep as a reviewer is so highly overrated. It takes little or no skill to constantly find fault with something. There's plenty of other bloggers out there doing exactly what she does, only they don't get praised for it

AW SNAP! :)

James Meeley said...

Erech:

I don't get the joke. I mean, i know WHAT you were going for, just not sure how you got there. I mean, I don't blog.

And if it was merely my comments here which you were trying to compare me with, well, it's kind of hard to have a discussion without stating your feelings.

I stand by what I said. She has no joy for this hobby and industry. I, however, do. Hardly a "pot meet kettle" situation.

Erech said...

Cheap joke, yes. But I see you counter-point. Life is only too short to waste spewing constant cynicism about soemthing that brings you no joy and you can only find fault in IF it's comics or a blogger.

Gotcha.

James Meeley said...

Erech:

I think my problem with the joke and why it doesn't work, is due to the use of "constant".

See, I've made two posts talking about this. Hardly constant. She, OTOH, has a blog she writes in, multiple times, daily. That much more fits a constant pattern.

And the "life's too short" thing can apply to just about any hobby or pasttime. It's not limited to comics or blogging (although, that is what the discussion here has been about).

I still don't think your joke works, but hey, whatever. If it amused you, at least you are taking joy in something. ;)

Erech said...

Well in a moment of seriousness, I do take issue with you saying her blog is constantly filled with whatever blah blah. I think she can be harsh, and I don't agree with her views enough to say they reflect mine, but she is just as positive about the stuff she likes as anyone else. Even more so, since she chooses to write about the crap all the time, I would think.

And just as constant, in THIS comment thread, is the 2 posts here that I've seen from you, trying to drag the issue on. Why do you care if Guy goes further into detail about the selling of the swag? I could be TOTALLY MISTAKEN but it just seems as if you are trying to either stir something up, or there is some kind of e-vendetta waged against Johanna.

So yes, in the overall, grand human lifetime of things, you may have me on the definition of constant. But in the actual, the usage here - that in 2 of the 3 posts I've ever witnessed from you on this site (and ever), you've voiced how much you dislike her - so it's just as valid a definition.

Erech said...

I can't believe I am arguing about an obvious throwaway joke on here. Holy jebus. Ban me from the comments Guy, do it!!!!!!!!!! :)

James Meeley said...

And just as constant, in THIS comment thread, is the 2 posts here that I've seen from you, trying to drag the issue on.

Um, not really. I made my original point/comment. Guy them replied back and asked me some questions in it. I then replied back to him, out of courtesy and to (hopefully) better explain my original post. I'm pretty much done with this now, unless Guy has some burning desire to talk about this further with me. And if he does, let me ask now that he email me and we can discuss it as long as he'd like.

Why do you care if Guy goes further into detail about the selling of the swag?

Because I didn't (and still don't, to some degree) understand why he had mized feelings over something that was so obvuiously, at least, in bad taste (at most, outright wrong). I wanted to get more insight into why he felt these mixed emotions. The only way to do that, would be to ask him to talk about it more. If he doesn't want to, that's fine. I wasn't demanding anything, merely making a request. One Guy is perfectly free to deny.

I could be TOTALLY MISTAKEN but it just seems as if you are trying to either stir something up, or there is some kind of e-vendetta waged against Johanna.

Well, happily you are correct. You are totally mistaken. E-vendettas are pretty pointless. Any vendettas I have, I make sure to handle up close and personal. So, if I have one with Johanna, it's not on the web it will be handled, but right to her face, if the oppertunity ever comes. That's just how I roll.

So yes, in the overall, grand human lifetime of things, you may have me on the definition of constant. But in the actual, the usage here - that in 2 of the 3 posts I've ever witnessed from you on this site (and ever), you've voiced how much you dislike her - so it's just as valid a definition.

The key there is "that you've ever witnessed." I've posted on here in the past and about things that had nothing to do with Johanna. Guy can probably even back me up on that. I'll grant you I don't post here OFTEN or REGULARLY, but I don't do that at ANY blogs nowadays.

I make no secret or denial about my disdain of Johanna, or her type of blogger in general. But that isn't what this was all about. I saw Guy go into great detail about the creator's role in this farce, but very little said about her's. I just wanted to get a fuller picture of Guy's thoughts on this, since my own seem pretty clear to me that both parties were wrong and should equally share the blame in this stupidity, as well as the harsh light of the public spectacle from engaing in it to begin with.

If you equate that with "stirring something up", well, that's up to you. Judge me however you will.

James Meeley said...

I can't believe I am arguing about an obvious throwaway joke on here. Holy jebus. Ban me from the comments Guy, do it!!!!!!!!!! :)

How's that old adage go...? Any joke you have to explain... ;)

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

James, I didn't focus on Johanna's actions a) because of the mixed emotions I already explained -- "in bad taste", perhaps; "outright wrong", I don't think so -- and b) I was more interested in the forest than any one tree.

You've made it clear that you don't care for Johanna and you've presented your reasons in a relatively rational manner, I simply disagree with your opinion. Like Erech, I think you're wrong in thinking that she has no joy for the hobby or the industry. She doesn't suffer perceived fools lightly, perhaps, but I have seen many examples of her expressing joy about particular work and creators on a regular basis.

And yes, while you have commented here before, in this instance it does feel like you're hammering Johanna with something resembling a vengeance.

James Meeley said...

James, I didn't focus on Johanna's actions a) because of the mixed emotions I already explained -- "in bad taste", perhaps; "outright wrong", I don't think so -- and b) I was more interested in the forest than any one tree.

That's cool then, Guy. Guess we'll have to agree to disagree at this point. And while i still don't fully understand your feeling mixed emotions, I respect you to let it end with that, if it's how you feel.

And yes, while you have commented here before, in this instance it does feel like you're hammering Johanna with something resembling a vengeance.

Well, like with Erech, I'm sorry if you feel that way, but that wasn't what I was out for. Guess it might just be another "agree to disagree" point.

But I do thank you for civil discourse in this discussion. I know that may not sound like a lot, but it's something I've come to not expect from most. It's good to know that there are still people who don't see a disagreement in views, as just cause for public ridicule and humiliation of the one they disagree with. You are a class act. :)

Myk said...

Interrupting the Roberta-bashing for a minute here, as one of the people cited in the article, I´m glad you liked my idea. Unfortunately I can´t find my reaction sheet anymore, or I´d have put it online for people to use and modify. (But then again, creating a reaction sheet isn´t rocket science.)

Including those sheets with my send-outs was about the only way, to get reactions at all. Most DJs get between 100 and 200 records a week and they have to REALLY like your stuff to contact you about it.

(Oh, and your comment was held in my moderation queue, I only saw it later.)