I recently got off the phone with the trophy designer who crafts my annual Isotope Award for Excellence in Mini-Comics and I got to thinking about the multitude of other prestigious awards that comic creators have the potential to be recognized by. When you generally think of comic awards it's hard not to instantly think about the Eisners the Harveys and the Ignatz Awards but talking about our own industry awards is just scratching the surface; funnybooks represent and walk away with the gold in a multitude of prestigious different literary and arts awards year after year.
The profound goodness that is comic books and graphic novels have been recognized by everything from the ultra-prestigious Guardian Literary Awards, to the Horror Writers' Association Bram Stoker Awards to the Hugo Science Fiction Achievement Awards, to the World Fantasy Awards, to the Parent's Choice Awards, to the National Book Awards, to the big daddy of all awards, the Pulitzer Prize.
And we're still barely scratching the surface here. Recently the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) announced their 2004 Best Books for Young Adults and you guessed it… four well-deserving graphic novels bring the gold home for the comic book industry once again!
I've been ranting and preaching in this column on using guerrilla marketing to reach a broader audience and convert the non-readers of today into the comic addicts of tomorrow. And smart readers understand that one of the best ways to do just that is to get yourself some mainstream press and some big time exposure and win yourself something shiny to put on your mantle place.
Now I couldn't tell you the first thing about how a creator can go about winning a National Book Award or a Bram Stoker Award or even a Pulitzer Prize (sorry kids!), but I do know a thing or two about those YALSA awards thanks to Isotope Special Projects Director and Librarian Kirsten Baldock. I can't tell you how to win one, but I can tell you how to get your work considered for YALSA's 2005 Best Books for Young Adults.
So why don't we put those YALSA awards under the microscope and see what we can do about walking you through the process of getting your book noticed?
First up, let's get back into the libraries!
As regular readers of this column will no doubt remember, when I was covering my series on going guerilla, I mentioned libraries as a way to get comics some great mainstream attention. As I mentioned in one of these library-centric columns, comics at the library do not decrease comic sales for your local brick and mortar comic dealer, but instead do an excellent job at converting fresh turn-outs and inspiring these new comic junkies to get the next part of a series or get the latest work by their favorite artist or writer. Libraries are not just a great way to introduce new readers to the comic art form, but can also be a great way for publishers and creators to get their own books some more attention. Think about it, libraries are simply the most consistent book buying customer you can find. What other group of customers can you think of that set aside tens of thousands of dollars annually to buy books?
In the book industry, the importance of libraries is well known and some books are even produced solely with libraries in mind. Publishers who can break into the libraries get some serious bread and butter, and they also get to have a couple layers of ham and cheese to go with it too. Any publisher worth his or her salt knows that in order to make more funnybooks you've gotta make some Benjamins as well… and libraries are a great place to do just that.
Of course, as I mentioned previously, one way to get comics into your library is to donate them. This, however, is best done with some personal attention, which means that it can only really work on a local level. How, then, does a publisher or a creator get their books into the minds of the librarians who make collection development decisions?
There is really only one answer. Get some good press within library media.
Of course, the best press that you can get is to win a library related award. And I know I said it earlier and gave you the link already, but I'm going to do it all over again because I think it's important. Four fucking great comic books made it onto YALSA's 2004 list of Best Books for Young Adults. Craig Thompson's "Blankets," Marjane Satrapi's "Persepolis," Jason Little's "Shutterbug Follies" and Jeff Parker's "Interman." I think it's very significant that these books made it on this list, and I'm not the only one who thinks so. Because if you are a publisher or self-publisher or a creator you think it's important, too… because this list is taken very seriously by Young Adult Services Librarians when they make selections for their collections.
And that means, these four books are damn well sure to get into libraries everywhere.
Of course we all know that these are excellent books we're talking about here and each one is absolutely worthy of all the recognition that they get. But how did they end up on this list when other great comics were overlooked?
It's time we get that microscope out and find out, shall we?
YALSA takes nominations for their Best Books for Young Adults list up until September 30th for books published within their assigned calendar year, January 1st to December 31st. Those nominations that come in from the general public require a second nomination from a Best Books for Young Adults (BBYA) committee member. In other words, if a Librarian nominates a book for consideration for the 2005 Best Books for Young Adults list, at least one BBYA committee member must agree with the nomination or the title is dropped from consideration. And before you get any fancy ideas, publishers are not allowed to nominate the books that they publish.
But because we're talking about the general public who can make nominations (aside from those who publish the actua books) that means that anyone can nominate great comic books for this consideration. Anyone. Perhaps you could find someone who likes your books to nominate them for you. Perhaps a retailer, perhaps your mailman, or perhaps even your best friend who wants your self-published graphic novel to get all the love and appreciation it deserves.
Now there is no evidence to support this, but friends of the Comic Pimp believe that nominations made by Librarians might hold more weight than those from the general public. And that these nominations will be more likely to receive a second nomination. So if you've been sufficiently charming and friendly to your local Librarian perhaps you're better off getting him or her to do that nomination for you!
When you're thinking about books that deserve nomination keep in mind that YALSA stands for "Young Adult Library Services Association" so the target audience for these books is primarily teenagers, ages 12 to 18. This means that if you want a prayer of getting the love that those other books received this year the books you nominate shouldn't be too violent, or contain adult situations that aren't appropriate for that age group, and they probably shouldn't contain too much Comic Pimp style swearing. The judges are Librarians, though, and as a rule they are not prone to censorship if the adult nature of the book is within reason. The committee members will also be looking for believable dialog and characterizations in works of fiction.
Finally to be included in the Best Books for Young Adults list, a book must receive a minimum of 9 favorable, regardless of the number of the 15-member committee present and voting.
As you can see, it is a great honor to be selected from the several hundreds of nominees for inclusion on the list. But considering the number of comics that are read and loved by teenagers, comics tend to be rather under-represented on the YALSA list. You know what that says to me? It says "golden opportunity." It's only a matter of time before some smart comic industry professionals find out about the YALSA list and learn how to get their books recognized.
Creators and publishers, you're paying attention here, right? Good.
Okay, remember how I said that books that get nominated by the general public are going to need a second nomination? Well if you ever hope to be a part of the BBYA list, the librarians on the committee will need to be familiar enough with your book to give it a second nomination.
Which means that you will need to have a review of your book show up in other library media. And even if you don't end up getting on the YALSA's list, it's good business to keep in mind that Libraries buy more than just the 100 or so books that show up on the BBYA list. So even if a great comic book is never selected for the list, getting a review in the right place can easily get those great comics onto libraries shelves.
I've consulted with Kirsten on how to get comics reviewed in library journals and I'm going to arm you with all the information you need to get those Librarians and those massive library budgets all looking in the direction of those sequential art treasures. The smarter creators and publishers out there might want to write a couple of these links and mailing addresses down.
Booklist is a book review magazine published by the American Library Association. It is widely read and used by Adult, Young Adult, and Children's Librarians since it contains reviews for all levels of books.
In answer to the age-old question of whether graphic novels are too violent or contain too much adult content for teens, Booklist says "fiction titles for children and young adults that contain potentially controversial elements, including sexual, religious, political, or racial subject matter, or that formulate a worldview or life philosophy of hopelessness, may be recommended for purchase depending on artistic value."
In other words, if it's violent, it better damn well be good. I like how these Librarians think!
Booklist requires that a publication slip specifying prices, ISBN's for all editions, publication date (month and year), and publisher/distributor be sent with two copies of the book to be reviewed. Also send Booklist four copies of your Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer seasonal catalogs and include Booklist on your mailing list for all other catalogs, announcements, press releases, and brochures.
Here's that mailing address to send your review materials to:
American Library Association
Attn: Stephanie Zvirin, Books for Youth Editor
50 E. Huron
Chicago, IL 60611
Let's say your book skews a little on the "non-youth" side and you're pretty sure that your book is not acceptable for teen audience. No problem. Simply address the review materials to Brad Hooper, the Adult Books Editor, instead. However, be aware that graphic novels remain considered kids' material in the libraries and you are less likely to get a review in the Adult section.
You will not be notified if your book was not selected for review since Booklist receives so many books for review in a year. However, if your book is reviewed, you will receive copy of the review.
Voice of Youth Advocates VOYA is a library journal specifically dedicated to Young Adult services. This is one of the main resources available to Librarians serving teenagers. They are also the most likely journal to cover graphic novels.
To submit your books for review send two copies to:
Voice of Youth Advocates
Linda Benson, Review Editor
4501 Forbes Blvd., Suite 200
Lanham, MD 20706
If you have published a graphic novel that you think is appropriate for middle school and junior high school kids (aged eleven to thirteen or in grades six to eight), you can nominate your book for VOYA's Top Shelf Fiction for Middle School Readers Award. Each publisher can nominate up to five books published between October 2003 and September 2004 for the 2004 Top Shelf Fiction for Middle School Readers Award. The winning entries will be published in the February 2005 issue of VOYA.
Send six copies of each title you wish to nominate for 2004 to the current selection committee chair by September 3, 2004:
Top Shelf Fiction for Middle School Readers
c/o East Greenbush Community Library
10 Community Way
East Greenbush, NY 12061
School Library Journal
School Library Journal is primarily for Librarians working at a school library, however, many Children's Services and Young Adult Services Librarians at public libraries also use this resource. School Library Journal is unique in that it attempts to review as much of the resources available for children and young adults as possible, rather than only reviewing that which they think that they will recommend. Which means you might be more likely to get in, but the review can be negative or positive and make recommendations both for and against purchase.
It will take a minimum of 12 weeks from the time a book arrives for it to be reviewed. Send your catalog, two copies of the book for review, and the following bibliographic information: author, title, binding(s), price(s), publication month and year, ISBN(s), Library of Congress number (or notice that there will not be one) and whether or not Cataloging in Publication data will appear in the book. Sometimes, a third copy of a book may be requested.
Send materials to:
School Library Journal
360 Park Avenue South
New York, NY 10010-1710
Horn Book Magazine
Horn Book Magazine, though it primarily used by Children's Librarians, but some Young Adult Librarians use it to make selections for the younger teens, as well.
Send two copies of all titles to be considered for review to:
The Horn Book, Inc.
56 Roland Street, Suite 200,
Boston, MA 02129, 617-628-0225.
Be sure to include complete publication information, including prices, publication date, and ISBN.
Getting into any one of these library journals is sure to increase your sales to libraries exponentially. And good press in the library journals may also help your book come to mind when the library community starts handing out the gold!
Feel free to pontificate on industry issues, preach the gospel of great comic books or discuss this article on the Comic Pimp Forum.