Starting tomorrow afternoon I’ll be heading off to a hotel in downtown San Diego for four days of reading and judging comics and graphic novels, to help pick the nominees for last year’s titles. I’ve been plowing through a lot of books in the last couple of months. And I have to say, I have a new appreciation of the Eisners in terms of why so many books fail to get nominated. There are several metric tons of comics that come out each year. And many don’t even get submitted by the publishers. Some publishers just send a list of their books they want to submit without any of the books themselves. Good luck with that.
While the judges are usually picked from people in the industry who are exposed to comics regularly (there are usually at least one of two retailers), that doesn’t mean they’ve seen or even heard of half the books out there. I was amazed by all the good books I never heard of that came from companies I was unaware of. Let alone from book publishers who are now getting into the act.
Just sample the web comics list below and you can see there is a wide range of diversity just in that category. I was planning (and still am) to submit my two weekly web strips next year, but yikes, the competition is pretty fierce. There’s some amazing talent out there, just on the web.
I used to get annoyed when my books weren’t nominated (I’ve only had one nomination in my entire career so far, for Sinking) but then I found out that most editors don’t even submit your work. Even at the big publishers, especially at the big publishers. You need to submit them yourself.
Even then you’re up against some tough odds. Not only do the judges have to pour through, and remember, tons of books; a lot of it happens in the last four days. They sit in a room with stacks of books that are usually on recommended reading lists. Not all books make it to that room. Because the judges pre-screen a lot of it beforehand to narrow it down. Even then it’s a lot of material.
They talk amongst themselves about what they liked best and then they vote on what should make the nomination list. The top vote getters get through, which usually leaves room for a couple more books on the list, so they vote on those and the top vote getters make it in.
Naturally, books that the judges like stand a better chance of making it on that list. So a lot of popular fan titles usually get nominated. Because people remember them. If they get a good mix in the judges that year, and Jackie Estrada who runs the Eisners tries to do that, you may get more unique titles getting nominated.
As someone who has been creating comics since 1986, I’m very impressed by how far the industry has come. The kind of material I dreamed of doing myself some day, when there was no market for it, is becoming more common place. As one creator once quipped to me, it’s the best of times and the worst of times, because while diversity is greater than ever, the business is still in the doldrums. But that hasn’t stopped a lot of people from following their dreams and producing great material.
Still, many creators who fail to make the cut think there is some kind of conspiracy when they don’t make it. Let me tell you what helps a book make it based on my experience so far:
1. You have to stand out in some way, through excellence, creativity, writing, design, style, etc. The more positive qualities you have the better.
2. Don’t submit your stuff just by letter.
3. Don’t wait till the last second to submit. That will not help your chances, it will probably hurt them.
4. Try to get on somebody’s recommended reading lists. Achieving #1 helps you do that.
5. Try to get your book noticed by as many people as you can. That is your job too. Comics require fierce self promotion, alas.
As far as I’m concerned, you should try to do numbers 1, 4 and 5 anyway. Awards are only another form of promotion in the end. You need to stand apart from the crowd on your own in some way, anyway. I know that’s not easy, I am someone who was never into self promotion. Just doing the work. But if you care about awards, you need to know how the system works.
I will be blogging and checking in while I am gone, but blogging may be light the next 4 days. Don’t worry, our strips will still come out.