Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

And the Wiener Is…

Posted by Don MacPherson on March 12th, 2009

Though the focus of this website is reviews and commentary, I get a lot of comics-related news releases. It’s understandable that my e-mail address would find its way onto certain distribution lists. I get specific requests for publicity on the site, which I decline, since it’s outside the mission I’ve set out for Eye on Comics. So it was no big deal when a news release about a graphic novel from Head Press Publishing popped up in my inbox. I scanned it quickly, and I was immediately struck by the fact that it begged so many questions and didn’t hold water even on the most cursory glance.

The news release is titled “EYE WITNESS: RISE OF THE APOSTLE FINALIST FOR NATIONAL BOOK AWARD.” The first thing that struck me as odd was the fact that I’d never head of Eye Witness: Rise of the Apostle. While I admit that I don’t know the details about every single title published by major, smaller or even indy publishers in the realm of comics, I do keep up enough on industry news to recognize the titles of much lauded and noteworthy releases. Not only hadn’t I heard of Rise of the Apostle, but it’s apparently the third installment in a series of four “award-winning” graphic novels.

Quoting the news release:

“ForeWord Magazine, just announced that the third book in Robert James Luedke’s, Eye Witness series…Rise of the Apostle….is a finalist in the category of Graphic Novels in their 2008 Book of the Year Awards. This is the second industry honor to come to Luedke’s, Rise of the Apostle…which has already won The 2008 National Best Book Award (for Graphic Novels), sponsored by USABookNews.com.”

I have to admit that the poor grammar and punctuation served as red flags as well. And as I was questioning what Rise of the Apostle was, I also started to ask what ForeWord Magazine‘s book awards were as well. The Head Press news release continues:

“More than 1,400 books were entered in 61 categories for FOREWORD MAGAZINE’S annual book awards. These were narrowed to 668 finalists from 376 publishers. These books represent some of the best work coming from today’s independent press community! The winners will be determined by a panel of librarians and booksellers, selected from FOREWORD’S readership. Gold, Silver, and Bronze winners, as well as Editor’s Choice Prizes for Fiction and Nonfiction will be announced at a special program at BookExpo America at the Javits Center in New York City on May 29, 2009. The winners of the two Editor’s Choice Prizes will be awarded $1,500 each. The ceremony is open to all BEA attendees.”

The fact that the winners will be announced at an established book industry event brings some credibility to these awards, as do the cash prizes. I turned to ForeWord‘s website to find out what other graphic novels made the cut. In addition to Eye Witness, up for the ForeWord’s 2008 graphic-novel award are:

Cleburne, by Justin Murphy, published by Rampart Press
Good and Evil, by Michael Pearl, published No Greater Joy Ministries
Gunnerkrigg Court, by Tom Siddell, Archaia Studios Press
No Girls Allowed, by Susan Hughes, published by Kids Can Press
One Thousand Years of Manga, by Brigitte Koyama-Richard Flammarion, distributed by Rizzoli New York
The Clockwork Girl, by Sean O’Reilly and Kevin Hanna, published by Arcana Studios
The Grand Inquisitor, by John Zmirak, published by The Crossroad Publishing Company
The Spirit: A Pop-Up Graphic Novel, by Will Eisner, published by Insight Editions

I recognize a couple of titles and names. I’ve read an issue of The Clockwork Girl; while it was cute and entertaining, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who would suggest it was among the best and most innovative independent releases of 2008.

So that begs the question: how does a book qualify for consideration for these awards? I found some important information on ForeWord‘s Wikipedia page. It states:

“ForeWord holds an annual contest, the Book of the Year Awards. Self-published books and those from small, independent, and university presses published between January and December of the contest year are eligible and can be entered for a small fee.”

I’m struck by two elements: that the Book of the Year Awards are referred to as “a contest,” and that any indy or small-press book is eligible “for a small fee.” Now, these wouldn’t be the first awards to charge a fee for entry, but it certainly highlights the fact that it’s far from a comprehensive review of eligible and outstanding material. Of course, there are awards with flawed requirements or assessments, both in the world of comics and outside in other areas of pop culture.

What really gives me cause for concern about ForeWord’s impartiality and propriety when it comes to assessing material, both for the awards and for review in general, is its Clarion program. Clarion is ForeWord’s review-for-fee service. Yes, that means that if an author or small-press publisher pays ForeWord to review a book, ForeWord will. Quoting from ForeWord’s website:

“If you are an author or publisher experiencing trouble getting your titles reviewed through traditional outlets, consider Clarion. For $305, we will provide you with a professional review, guaranteeing the same quality and word-length offered in the magazine.

Paying $305 for a professional 400+ word critique is the best marketing value available in this industry. Use the review in your press kit, back cover endorsement, or on your Web site. With your permission, the review will also be archived with the top three title information databases used by booksellers and librarians who make purchasing decisions: Bowker’s Books-In-Print online, Baker & Taylor’s Titlesource 3, and Ingram’s iPage, in addition to www.forewordmagazine.com.

Authors and publishers who are unsure whether they’re ready for a full review may be interested in the Clarion Preview service. For $79, bound books will receive a 2-page evaluation by one of our senior editorial staff.”

Now, the Clarion page doesn’t actually state that your $305 will buy you a positive review, but the inference is there. ForeWord promises that the review will be of use in marketing one’s book. So forgive me if I don’t place too much faith in what ForeWord views as the best books and graphic novels of 2008.

Speaking of faith, let’s turn our attention back to the Eye Witness series, and specifically, its creator, Robert James Luedke. From the Head Press Publishing website, I found this bio:

“Robert James Luedke is one of those special individuals that only come around once in a great while…a true groundbreaker! He has dedicated the last six years of his life to sharing the gospel with young people, through a format that is very popular with teen and young adult readers, but until recently has largely been devoid of works with Christian content…the graphic novel. Partly through his efforts the genre of Christian based comic books and graphic novels is beginning to blossom, as not only are other independent writers and artists using the literary style to express their faith, but major publishers, like Thomas Nelson and Zondervon, have also launched entire lines of titles to address this growing market.”

I suppose one could view Luedke as a groundbreaker, if one ignores any of the Christian comics that have come before his Eye Witness series. One-time Marvel and Archie writer/artist Al Hartley crafted Christian stories for Spire Christian Comics in the 1970s, and seven years ago, a series of graphic novels based on the popular Left Behind brand began a successful run. Those are just two examples off the top of my head; I’m sure there are innumerable others. I’m not suggesting Christian comics are prevalent in the industry by any means, but Luedke certainly hasn’t broken any major ground either.

The main page of Luedke’s Head Press Publishing website features the following slogan for the writer/publisher’s latest Eye Witness graphic novel: “Don’t believe everything you think.”

While I wisely don’t believe everything that shows up in my inbox, Luedke would be well advised to keep his own promotional tagline in mind.

41 Responses to “And the Wiener Is…”

  1. Bob Luedke Says:

    Don:

    Just a bit of FYI. I don’t make any claim that I somehow created the genre of Christian based graphic novels, rather the unique construction of the Eye Witness series…which combines a fresh take on the Biblical Adaptation and pairs it with a modern day action-thriller…and the fact that I’ve generated quite a bit of press for the genre even on the national level.

    Since you took the time to poke around a couple pages of the website, dig a bit deeper (in the Press Room) and you’ll get a better idea of how the books have been received by those who have had the pleasure of reviewing them as well as some of our press coverage…which has ranged from local papers here in DFW, to articles in the Washington Post and the L.A. Times (which was picked up nationally by the AP) and a Fox News feature, (which origininated in Dallas and ran in over a dozen other markets, including NYC).

    It’s not that hard to miss an Indy comic or GN, as there seem to be about 1000 solicated each month in Diamond’s catalog alone…and if you don’t visit a store that has carried Eye Witness, you certainly could have missed it. Have these books been best sellers? Not by any shade of the imagination, but for a indy press book, with a miniscule marketing budget, they’ve done pretty well.

    And yes, there are quite a few book award programs that ask for a fee and for us in the “small-indy press”, they can serve as valuable tools to draw attention to our books, since we (the editorial we) don’t have 5-figure marketing budgets to do so. Are there some out there not quite legit?…yes of course, but with a little research you can weed those out. And despite what “you think” about FOREWORD Magazine and their award, this magazine is quite well regarded in the book trade and they do attract the attention of librarians, book buyers and even retailers…to worthy books that may pass under the radar of the bigger awards or trade publications that cater mainly to the larger presses.

    We personally have never used their pay review services, just in case you think that has something to do with getting nominated by them.

    If you’d rather not recieve future press mailing from us, please shoot us an email and we’ll take you off our data base and of course acccept our apologies for inconveniencing you.

  2. Don MacPherson Says:

    Bob Luedke wrote:
    I don’t make any claim that I somehow created the genre of Christian based graphic novels, rather the unique construction of the Eye Witness series…which combines a fresh take on the Biblical Adaptation and pairs it with a modern day action-thriller…and the fact that I’ve generated quite a bit of press for the genre even on the national level.

    Thanks for the clarification. I should point out that while you don’t claim to have created Christian-based GNs, your bio makes no mention of “the unique construction” of the Eye Witness books.

    As for the news release, don’t sweat it. Receiving it was no inconvenience; in fact, it served as fodder for a column, as you can see. I would suggest that you might want your marketing people to familiarize themselves with the sites and publications with which they’re to communicate. They might have discovered that it might have been more productive for them to offer to send a review copy to a reviewer rather than a news release full of hyberbole.

    And despite what “you think” about FOREWORD Magazine and their award, this magazine is quite well regarded in the book trade and they do attract the attention of librarians, book buyers and even retailers…to worthy books that may pass under the radar of the bigger awards or trade publications that cater mainly to the larger presses.

    My biggest problem with ForeWord, now that I’ve become aware of it, is that its staff promises to review books for a fee (and a hefty one at that). That’s not on you, I know. But it’s disconcerting. If I offered to review small-press comics in return for a few hundred bucks a pop, I’d be lambasted for it. That’s why ForeWord‘s role in an awards program/”contest” gives me pause.

  3. Rick Klaw Says:

    Don,

    Excellent piece. I was not aware of ForeWord and their awards. Thank you for the valuable information.

    Rick

  4. Alan Coil Says:

    I find this quote from Bob Luedke to be very telling:

    “If you’d rather not recieve future press mailing from us, please shoot us an email and we’ll take you off our data base and of course acccept our apologies for inconveniencing you.”

    That quote says Bob Luedke IS ForeWord.

    So he created a company to give himself an award. Very shrewd.

    And I see a few errors in his message that show he is either a lousy typist or a very poor wordsmith at that. I think the latter.

  5. Ray Says:

    $305? $79? Somebody likes to make change.

  6. Don MacPherson Says:

    Alan wrote:
    That quote says Bob Luedke IS ForeWord. So he created a company to give himself an award. Very shrewd.

    I don’t think you can make that leap. In fact, perusals of the two sites don’t reveal common links. I actually wondered at first if what you suggest might be case, but it certainly doesn’t appear to be. To be fair, Luedke definitely gets the benefit of the doubt in that regard.

    Since writing the essay, I learned that comics critic Johanna Draper Carlson took ForeWord to task almost two years ago for their awards. As Ray also points out, there’s some serious cash passing through that magazine for questionable purposes.

  7. Randy Lander Says:

    Damn, Don. You mean we could have been *charging* for reviews all this time? ;)

    More seriously… nice piece.

  8. Don MacPherson Says:

    Randy wrote:
    Damn, Don. You mean we could have been *charging* for reviews all this time? :)

    Well technically, we were charging during the Psycomic and Comics Newsarama days. We just weren’t charging the people publishing the comics. :)

    But yeah, think of the bundles we could’ve made with all those reviews on The Fourth Rail for five years. :)

    Thanks for the kind words, Randy (and others as well).

  9. Bob Luedke Says:

    I sorry to disappoint Alan, but I am not ForeWord Magazine, nor have I ever worked for them in any way, shape or form. Do you think the other 360+ publishers who had books named as finalists this year also have a stake in that publication?

    In 2006, the second book in the Eye Witness series, (Acts of the Spirit http://www.headpress.info/eyewitness2.html), was named as one of the “42 Things You Need to Know About Indy Comics”, by Wizard Magazine (#174). Do you think I secretly own them also? Just trying to make a point.

    I am simply one man creating a graphic novel series, that happened to be mentioned as a finalist in ForeWord‘s annual Book Awards.

    For those not familiar with the book trade (as opposed to the direct comic market…which operate quite differently on many levels) the fact that there is a fee involved in a book award program, is hardly news by any means. The Ben Franklin Awards, given annually by the IBPA (formerly the PMA) is quite well regarded within the industry and attracts entries from publishers of all sizes, as is the Indpendent Publisher Awards (the IPPY’s)…which also charge a nominal fee.

    Would I love to get a nomination from the Eisners or the National Book Awards? For sure, but until that happens, I’ll use the resources available to us to further promote our books to those who read, buy and recommend them.

    And FYI…yes, I’m a terrible typist!

  10. Don MacPherson Says:

    Bob Luedke wrote:
    I am simply one man creating a graphic novel series, that happened to be mentioned as a finalist in ForeWord’s annual Book Awards.

    While I agree that it was unfair for anyone to suggest you were officially connected to ForeWord in any way, it’s also misleading to state that Eye Witness “happened to be mentioned” in the book-awards program. That would suggest it was singled out without any kind of prompting or application process.

    For those not familiar with the book trade (as opposed to the direct comic market…which operate quite differently on many levels) the fact that there is a fee involved in a book award program, is hardly news by any means. The Ben Franklin Awards, given annually by the IBPA (formerly the PMA) is quite well regarded within the industry and attracts entries from publishers of all sizes, as is the Indpendent Publisher Awards (the IPPY’s)…which also charge a nominal fee.

    As I state in the original essay, it’s true that entry fees for awards programs aren’t unheard of or even uncommon. I also see the value in such a fee when there’s a nomination process, as it keeps the program from being bombarded with an unwieldy number of entries. However, the credibility of these awards are called into question by the fact that the outfit running them also offers a review-for-fee service.

    Would I love to get a nomination from the Eisners or the National Book Awards? For sure, but until that happens, I’ll use the resources available to us to further promote our books to those who read, buy and recommend them.

    Language on ForeWord‘s mirrors your above comment, Bob. These awards seem to be viewed primarily as a marketing tool, not a genuine effort to recognize the best and the brightest in the field of small-press/indy comics storytelling. I acknowledge that any award — from the Eisner to the Oscar — presents marketing opportunities for the products and people earning recognition, but that’s usually seen as a secondary or spinoff element, not the primary purpose.

  11. Steven R. Stahl Says:

    Note that ForeWord Magazine describes its readership as being primarily librarians and booksellers. The Wikipedia entry on ForeWord states that the majority of the reviews are of nonfiction books, just as most small press publications are non-fiction.

    The $305 fee for participating in ForeWord’s Clarion program might seen strange to a reviewer concerned about bias, but consider the situation a small press publisher or book self-publisher will find himself in, trying to market a book about lawn care, gardening, macramé, etc. Assuming that the review in ForeWord will be unbiased, paying the fee to get the book some attention makes as much sense as paying for ads in commercial publications.

    Don’t let the context in which ForeWord was presented make you think that the magazine is a dubious enterprise.

    SRS

  12. Don MacPherson Says:

    Steven Stahl wrote:
    The $305 fee for participating in ForeWord’s Clarion program might seen strange to a reviewer concerned about bias, but consider the situation a small press publisher or book self-publisher will find himself in, trying to market a book about lawn care, gardening, macramé, etc. Assuming that the review in ForeWord will be unbiased, paying the fee to get the book some attention makes as much sense as paying for ads in commercial publications.

    The Clarion service information specifically mentions how such paid-for reviews are invaluable tools for marketing. A negative review wouldn’t be quite so useful, so one is left to infer that the review will be positive. I’m left to conclude that (a) ForeWord will provide a positive review in exchange for payment, or (b) it’s misleading publishers and authors to believe that a positive review awaits them in exchange for payment. Maybe a review-for-fee service isn’t an ethical problem, but the way ForeWord markets that service presents one.

  13. chris Says:

    Longest posting thread in a time. So have you gotten a review copy yet? Without the fertile indy pub field, where would all the new stuff come from? Eeck gads, what is out there in the indy realm? Now you have me wondering.

  14. Steven R. Stahl Says:

    The context in which Clarion is mentioned in your excerpt can be perceived as negative, but ForeWord also has the $79 “Clarion Preview” program. Getting the book into the commercial (Bowker, B&T, Ingram) databases used by institutions to place orders would also be useful for a small publisher.

    The primary question is whether ForeWord provides useful services and information to small publishers and its readers. From what I’ve seen online, the magazine probably does.

  15. Don MacPherson Says:

    Chris wrote:
    So have you gotten a review copy yet? Without the fertile indy pub field, where would all the new stuff come from? Eeck gads, what is out there in the indy realm? Now you have me wondering.

    No, I haven’t received a review copy. The tone of your response would seem to suggest that my essay takes issue with the world of indy comics; that’s certainly not the case. Furthermore, the definition of “indy comics” varies. I try to include small-press and indy comics along with the better known comics titles. Most recently, I reviewed Smuggling Spirits, a small-press graphic novel blending supernatural and noir elements.

  16. Don MacPherson Says:

    Steven Stahl wrote:
    The context in which Clarion is mentioned in your excerpt can be perceived as negative, but ForeWord also has the $79 “Clarion Preview” program.

    $305, $79… either way, it’s paying for a review. I note that you don’t address the easy inference that a paid-for review will be positive in tone.

    Getting the book into the commercial (Bowker, B&T, Ingram) databases used by institutions to place orders would also be useful for a small publisher.

    Agreed. But that begs the question: can an author or publisher arrange for inclusion in such databases without ForeWord‘s paid-for assistance? I get e-mails every day from services promising to get my website listed at the top of search-engine results, but if I wanted to, I could accomplish the same thing on my own.

  17. Steven R. Stahl Says:

    Actually, I addressed that inference with the word “context.”

    You’re being extremely negative about the idea of paying for an evaluation, which is what the $79 “Clarion Preview” program is, or for a review. The cost for the evaluation is nothing but the fee that would be charged for any professional service.

    Take a look at the list of publishers (on ForeWord’s Web site) whose books are reviewed in the Jan/Feb issue. All of those university presses certainly aren’t paying to have their books reviewed.

    Whatever doubts you might have about the value of paying for a review, you shouldn’t extend them to raising doubts about the worth of the publication generally. Nothing you’ve written justifies that.

  18. Don MacPherson Says:

    Steven Stahl wrote:
    Whatever doubts you might have about the value of paying for a review, you shouldn’t extend them to raising doubts about the worth of the publication generally. Nothing you’ve written justifies that.

    Actually, I was raising doubts about the worth of ForeWord‘s awards program.

  19. Steven R. Stahl Says:

    Don MacPherson wrote:

    “What really gives me cause for concern about ForeWord’s impartiality and propriety when it comes to assessing material, both for the awards and for review in general, is its Clarion program.”

  20. Don MacPherson Says:

    I was referring to the assessment and propriety of material reviewed specifically in connection with the Clarion program. Reviews generated without authors or publishers paying for them obviously have greater credibility.

  21. Bob Luedke Says:

    Don wrote:
    “These awards seem to be viewed primarily as a marketing tool, not a genuine effort to recognize the best and the brightest in the field of small-press/indy comics storytelling. I acknowledge that any award — from the Eisner to the Oscar — presents marketing opportunities for the products and people earning recognition, but that’s usually seen as a secondary or spinoff element, not the primary purpose.”

    That’s kind of a simplistic viewpoint, don’t you think? Since you brought up the Oscars in this thread, we’ll use it as an example. Do you realize how much time, effort and and advertising $$$ is invested by the studios for their movies just to be nominated for the award?

    And why do you think the studio’s do that? Is it to reward the participants in the movies for a job well done, (rewarding the best and the brightest) or to develop additional elements to help them better market (or to continue to market) their products?

    Now something like the Eisners is a bit different of course than the oscars, but don’t kid yourself that publishers of all sizes don’t view the nomination as a HUGE marketing tool for their books…as do the individual creators. Sure it’s nice to be reconized for your hard work by a panel of your peers, but it also never hurts when negociating the next contract with Marvel, DC etc…!

    BTW…thanks for an unexpectedly interesting discussion. And people say Press Releases don’t attract attention!

  22. Nick Sousanis Says:

    Following along with interest. While i sympathize with Bob and Steven in the difficulty of getting attention, press etc., as an art critic for the last 6 years, I stand firmly with Don on the ethical issues raised in paying for a review. The minute that line is crossed, what’s the point of a review? Why not just reprint the press release? (Which sadly, i think, is what a lot of journalism devolves into.) On a similar note, I’m thinking of the phrase “in the interest of full disclosure” where the writer divulges a connection to the subject being written about. In the example being debated – it would seem every review would need to come with such a line “in the interest of full disclosure, this author received $79/$305 from the subject for writing this,” would that then be followed by another disclaimer stating that “despite the payment, the review still is impartial and unbiased?” Hmmm…

    For me, it comes down to integrity. Critics are seldom the best paid folks out there (if paid at all), but what they do have is integrity in their words and thoughts. Without it, their words become meaningless and as a result do no service at all to the legion of small presses/artists/writers struggling to make their voices heard. Even if they make their voices heard. As we see from the comments here, no one quite believes the paid-for critic, even if the review is entirely honest. The integrity of all parties becomes subject to question. Transaction of that nature devalues the system and it’s not worth it.

    I wish Bob all the best in getting his work out to more folks, and Don, please keep doing what you’re doing, the way that you’re doing it. It’s important work. And it’s appreciated. – Nick

  23. Bob Luedke Says:

    Nick, I appreciate your thoughts and do agree with your basic premise, but I think the conversation (in regards to me and our Eye Witness graphic novels) has digressed down an unrelated path.

    This is not about my “paying for a review” from ForeWord. Just so there is no confusion on the issue, once again, we have not. All we did was submit Rise of the Apostle for their book awards, just like hundreds of other publishers, (including, Thomas Nelson, Duke Univ. Press, Museam of Modern Art, Yale Univ. Press etc…).

    And when all is said and done I think trying to paint ForeWord‘s book awards as anything but ethical just because they “also” offer a review services is an argument entirely without merit, unless there is actual data to support it.

    But hey, that’s the great thing about these type of forums…we all get to share our opinions!

  24. Nick Sousanis Says:

    Bob,

    You’re correct – this conversation has transformed into something more general in terms of the ethics of paying for such services. That’s what raised my interest in contributing some words to the discussion. I don’t know how you came to be involved in the awards and don’t wish to insinuate anything unethical about that in the least. My concern is only with the more general notion of such practices, and as i said in my post, i wish you the best in getting your work out to more readers. – Nick

  25. Steven R. Stahl Says:

    Yes, the topic “digressed” into the ethics of paying to have something reviewed, but people have also been making sloppy assumptions about ForeWord’s practices. The $79 evaluation of a book is not a review — the description of the evaluation on the Web site is very specific in that respect — and assuming that it is a review is simply failure to do proper research. Such mistakes seriously weaken the argument one tries to make.

    Also note that the fee for the review is hardly a secret, or this discussion would never have occurred. People need to consider such reviews within the contexts of the books ForeWord reviews and ForeWord’s readership. Unwarranted assumptions lead to faulty conclusions. Nothing sinister is going on.

    SRS

  26. Brian Woods Says:

    Let’s not forget that just because there is suspicion that ForeWord would provide a good review if you paid them, it doesn’t mean they really do. At least those of us from the USA should have been brought up with the notion of “innocent until proven guilty.” Actually, you might get more than just a single column, if you took a selection of their reviews and compared them to your own opinions of titles. Then you’d have a fair guess into their review quality.

    On one hand, I feel bad for Bob getting pulled into a discussion over the policies of a magazine (or service) he is using to help promote his book. On the other hand, if his books are good, here’s hoping they get a sales spike from all this.

    Bob, you should definitely send Don a review copy!

  27. Martin Says:

    As an ordinary comics fan who is probably out of his depth, following this discussion with interest and not really picking any sides…I’d just like to echo Don’s legitimate query which no one seems to have addressed:

    What happens when you pay $305 and get a negative review? If they let that happen at all?

  28. Martin Says:

    And, sorry, but just to clarify, by the “if they let that happen at all” I don’t mean to accuse ForeWord again of giving good reviews so long as they get the mean. I’m honestly wondering if they’ll turn down the offer of payment for a review if they don’t find the submitted material any good, and therefore just not publish anything.

    Either way…I gotta say, $305 sounds hefty. Especially for a magazine that, gathered from the comments, is popular enough with a certain class of distributor but not something that raises the eye of the common buyer in the mass market.

  29. Don MacPherson Says:

    Whoa, a lot of comments to catch up on after the weekend…

    Bob Luedke wrote:
    Since you brought up the Oscars in this thread, we’ll use it as an example. Do you realize how much time, effort and and advertising $$$ is invested by the studios for their movies just to be nominated for the award?

    As I already noted in an earlier comment in the thread, I fully acknowledge any awards program offers marketing opportunities.

    Bob also wrote:
    And when all is said and done I think trying to paint ForeWord’s book awards as anything but ethical just because they “also” offer a review services is an argument entirely without merit, unless there is actual data to support it.

    I haven’t portrayed ForeWord‘s awards as unethical, but rather as questionable. I think there’s merit in asking these questions, in bringing them to light. The main point of the original essay — about your news release and about ForeWord‘s awards — is that one shouldn’t accept things at face value.

    Steven Stahl wrote:
    The $79 evaluation of a book is not a review — the description of the evaluation on the Web site is very specific in that respect — and assuming that it is a review is simply failure to do proper research. Such mistakes seriously weaken the argument one tries to make.

    I completely disagree. Here’s what the site says about the $79 “evaluation”:

    For $79, authors and publishers can submit works and receive a quick, qualified evaluation. Each work submitted will be examined by one of our senior editorial staff for interior and exterior layout design, content, and proofing concerns. Each work will also be examined for plot and dialogue coherence, in the case of fiction, and organization and originality in the case of nonfiction. Finally, all works will be appraised as to their competitiveness in the marketplace, including packaging and pricing.

    Accompanying images seem to show the evaluation is in point form. It looks to me like the evaluation could essentially serve as notes for more comprehensive review. Evaluation and review — synonyms, says I. You’re arguing semantics.

    Brian Woods wrote:
    Let’s not forget that just because there is suspicion that ForeWord would provide a good review if you paid them, it doesn’t mean they really do. At least those of us from the USA should have been brought up with the notion of “innocent until proven guilty.”

    True, Brian, but that doesn’t mean one shouldn’t raise legitimate questions.

    To Nick: Thanks for the kind words!

  30. Brian Woods Says:

    It’s true what you say about raising questions, but as a journalist, you know there is a line there you don’t need to cross without facts lest you turn into Page 6. I’m in the Peace Corps now, but prior to that, I was a photojournalist in television. I know that just because *everyone* says the mayor is sleeping with that woman who he just kissed on the cheek doesn’t mean you run with it without doing some research first. If you went on air and simply said, “Is the mayor sleeping with this woman?” you’ve already done the damage, rightly or wrongly.

    I can entirely see why the magazine would omit the phrase, “If your book sucks, we will trash it and you will know exactly how many long months you will have to toil before it’s good enough for you to resubmit it.” That would kill their business because people would be afraid to pay $305 for a review that didn’t help them any.

    Of course all that is just playing devil’s advocate. The bottom line is the internet has provided people with an avenue to get reviews of their works without having to pay for them. I’ve seen ads that touted quotes from Fourth Rail. I’d encourage everyone to send off a copy to these websites and see what happens. Even if you overnighted it, you are likely spending much less than $305.

  31. Don MacPherson Says:

    Brian wrote:
    I know that just because *everyone* says the mayor is sleeping with that woman who he just kissed on the cheek doesn’t mean you run with it without doing some research first. If you went on air and simply said, “Is the mayor sleeping with this woman?” you’ve already done the damage, rightly or wrongly.

    The two situations aren’t analogous. Here’s a better analogy: the mayor has a consulting firm that offers developers a service to evaluate proposals they plan to bring before city council for zoning approval. Maybe the evaluation is impartial and has no bearing on the council’s decision, maybe not. But it’s valid to point out a potential conflict or that all may not be as it appears.

    The bottom line is the internet has provided people with an avenue to get reviews of their works without having to pay for them. I’ve seen ads that touted quotes from Fourth Rail. I’d encourage everyone to send off a copy to these websites and see what happens. Even if you overnighted it, you are likely spending much less than $305.

    Bear in mind that there’s no way for any reviewer or critic to cover *everything* that’s submitted. Even when I was reviewing comics for a living, it was impossible to cover everything. Now that I do it in my spare time for nothing, I write about only a tiny fraction of comics and graphic novels that I read. And yes, sometimes submitted material doesn’t get covered. Just sending a review copy doesn’t guarantee a review. If I find I have little to say about a particular book, why force a review? It would do a disservice to the creators of the material and to my readers.

  32. Brian Woods Says:

    I didn’t mean that people should just deluge you. Hopefully protocol is to email and ask if you minded taking a look at a book and you say yes or no based on your schedule at the time.

    But there are a lot of comics organizations popping up now, like the PoP guys and the former Blog@ folks are around somewhere, too, right? You have Newsarama and CBR. I am sure there are more that are off my radar. It shouldn’t be too hard to get a legit review without having to pay $305 is all I am trying to say.

  33. Brian Woods Says:

    Your comparison strikes me as the same as mine: Suggesting impropriety when there may not be any. None of the varied news outlets I worked at would run with it without some corroborating info. Of course they did it out of fear of getting sued. My personal opinion is you don’t besmirch someone’s name without proof.

    This is a blog, though, and blogs by their nature are pretty much all editorial which adds a big * next to everything I said.

  34. knifight Says:

    Wow. As an unknown who is toiling away at home on his first GN, you guys have given me a ton to think about regarding my potential marketing tactics and the integrity of reviews/critics depending on who solicited whom to get the review process started. I was just going to self-publish and sell copies out of the trunk of my car, send free copies to some of the web-blog-reviewers out there if they agreed ahead of time they had time to take a look at it, and publish it online as as webcomic. Now I hear about fee-entry contests and paid-for-reviews in one-off trade buyer lists, and read snark about who could maybe be sheisty, and responses from those who insist they aren’t review/minor-award whores (or johns) just because they are low budget… I guess I need to come here more often!:-)

  35. Whitney Hallberg Says:

    I’m glad to see all the interest in ForeWord and our services. Congratulations again to Robert Luedke for having his book named as a finalist! Unfortunately the Book of the Year Awards can’t recognize every good book from 2008, but with finalists from publishers like Candlewick, Thomas Nelson, and Yale University Press, I’d say Bob is in pretty good company—-and our librarian readers agree; they tell us every year that they make large orders from the list of winning books.

    Even after all these years, there seems to be some confusion about Clarion Reviews! Purchasing a Clarion review does not guarantee a positive review—-just read some of the Clarion reviews at our website. The value of the service is that authors receive an objective review from a qualified source. The reviews aren’t published in the magazine (those books are selected by our editors), they are online only, and the author has the right to reproduce the review, or excerpts, in their own marketing materials. If they think the review is too negative, we don’t post the review on our site or license it to Bowker, Baker & Taylor, or Ingram. We aren’t the only fee for review service any longer (Kirkus and Bowker also offer) but we were the original service. It gives a chance to the 500,000+ titles being published each year to get a critique from a recognized trade source if they’ve exhausted all other options.

    I’m happy to answer any other questions about ForeWord and the services we offer to independent publishers.

    Whitney Hallberg, Managing Editor, ForeWord Magazine

  36. Bob Luedke Says:

    Knifight:

    Don’t let all this put you off your plan. All of this back and forth over ethics of pay for review sites and pay award programs doesn’t add up to a hill of beans without quality books to get the whole process started.

    Selling to whom you know, (our of the trunk of your car) is a wonderful way to get your project started, especially if you’re on a shoe-string budget, as is sending out review copies to as many on-line sites dealing with comics/gn’s as you can afford. Don’t worry about the pay for review offers, there are plenty of sites and bloggers willing to do it for free. That kind of thing can always come later, if you need it once the cash is flowing.

    Also, publishing as a webcomic, is a tool that nobody had 5 years ago, so once again, if the cost of publishing is prohibitive to you, that is a wonderful alternative and has the potential to reach many more prosective readers.

    Carry on!

  37. Shawn Says:

    Interesting article.

    I will say in ForeWord‘s defense that I got a great review of my book Innocent in last year’s January issue and didn’t pay a dollar. Unless you count the postage for sending the book. I don’t think they’re pay to play sort of outfit.

    Sadly I forgot to send in my application to have the graphic novel entered into this year’s contest. Live and learn.

    Other than that I don’t have much to add except that most awards these days have some sort of fee involved (Nichols, Sundance, IPPY, most music awards, probably a lot of others). Even if the Grammys or Oscars don’t have entry fees, there is definitely a lot of $$ that goes into those wins. Personally I don’t like it but I understand that they’ve got to cover costs and find those most serious about their work.

    The Eisners are very nice, just fill out the entry and send in a sample. Best man wins. Hopefully. That is probably one reason it’s so well respected.

  38. Martin Says:

    Whitney Hallberg:

    Thanks for clearing up my question on negative reviews. If it’s not a stupid question :) I’d also like to ask: why exactly the $305 price? It just sounds really heavy.

  39. Whitney Hallberg Says:

    Martin,
    Considering the reviewer’s fee, the cost of sending the package, editorial costs, web hosting expenses, etc. it isn’t such a hefty fee. For the chance at some honest feedback with the ForeWord name attached, and the opportunity to have a review placed in TitleSouce 3, Ingram’s iPage, and BooksInPrint, it’s really a great deal. Our price is lower than our competitors’ and our reviews are nice and long–about 400 words.

  40. Dan Clark Says:

    Thank you Whitney for weighing in on this one. Why can’t the discussion get back to Bob? Bob Loedke’s Eye Witness is an outstanding piece on its own merits….and it’s getting some well deserved attention. Let the readers evaluate and discover this themselves.

  41. Don MacPherson Says:

    Whitney wrote:
    Considering the reviewer’s fee, the cost of sending the package, editorial costs, web hosting expenses, etc. it isn’t such a hefty fee.

    I’ve been told the Clarion reviewer fee is $50. Given that, I find it hard to believe that all of those costs you cite would even come close to totalling half of what you’re bringing in for the review. Your comment indicates others offer such services as well, and I’m surprised by that.

    While you say negative reviews are possible, certainly you can see how the fact that an author/publisher is paying for a review could call the credibility of such reviews into question.