Talk Back

The recent upsurge of fan activism in response to some particularly egregious products makes me really happy. Yeah, it’ll die down a bitreally, it’s already begun tobut it’s nice to see more people standing up and demanding that creators and publishers take responsibility for their work. And it’s in that spirit that I’m going to talk about one of the most popular and time-honored channels of communication between fans and publishers: letters to the editor.
As an assistant editor, I read a whole, whole lot of these. Here’s my useful and highly subjective list of Dos and Don’ts for letters to comics editors:
-Be respectful. Nothing will piss off an editor or creator like a rude letter, no matter how valid the complaints within. I will cheerfully read, respond to, and even print negative or critical letters as long as they’re civil. I like criticism. I like knowing what people think, and I appreciate fans who take the time to tell us what does and doesn’t work for them. If, on the other hand, you have sent me a five-hundred-word diatribe on why a comic or creator ‘sucks’ or what a ‘faggot,’ ‘douche,’ or ‘idiot’ I, another editor, or a creator is, I will mock your letter mercilessly with my colleagues before throwing it away.
-Know what you’re talking about. If you have a complaintor a complimentbe able to provide some context. We get an awful lot of letters complaining about things that ‘don’t make sense’ in single issues but which are perfectly clear within the context of the stories in which they appear.
Editors put in forty-to-sixty-plus-hour weeks for relatively little money. While we are generally happy to help answer questions, please don’t ask us to do your homework for you or send us questions you could answer with a Google search. That’s just not cool.
That said, ‘I’ve just discovered your comic! Where should I start?’ letters are pretty rad. However, you might still have better luck on a message board, since our frames of reference are hopelessly skewed.
-Avoid unnecessary jargon or abbreviations, and make sure spelling and grammar are at least clear. You don’t have to be perfect, but it really helps if we know what you’re talking about. Obviously, you get more leeway if English isn’t your native languagethen we’re just really honored that you took the effort to write to us in ours. If you’re writing your letter by hand, please, please, please try to write legibly.
All of the above, plus:
-Be succinct. Most letters which find their way into letter-columns are going to be edited heavily for lengthwe try to publish letters from as many readers as possibleand although the editors will do their best to preserve your meaning, the best way to keep cuts to a minimum is to keep your letter clear and to-the-point. Avoid unnecessary qualifiers, rambling anecdotes, and unnecessarily strung-out descriptions.
Also, the shorter a letter is, the easier it is for me to find a place for it in a column, and the more likely it is to get published.
-Proofread. Ever notice that letters to the editor are always properly spelled and punctuated? That’s ’cause assistant editors go through them and make corrections before the columns go to press. But you’re much, much more likely to be taken seriously if you sound mature, and that means proofreading your own email and avoiding text-message-style abbreviations. It also makes my life much easier, and I’ll love you for it.
-Make character attacks. This should be self-explanatory. Calling an editoror a writer, or an artistnames is not going to make them want to make you happy, and it is not going to make them receptive to your ideas, no matter how good those ideas may be. This doesn’t just go for people on the creative team, either: it’s generally considered pretty bad form to talk too much smack about anyone in comics unless it’s clear that anything you’re saying is confidential and between friends. The whole industry is one big, incestuous family, and we all know each other. It’s okay to tell Editor X that you don’t like Creator Y’s artjust don’t talk about what a jackass you think Creator Y is.
-Use a letter to the editor as an opportunity to pitch your own comic or advertise your website / business / publication. Most publishers have fairly strict submission policies, and ignoring or attempting to bypass them will basically tell editors that you’re irresponsible and lazy (it’s usually fine to ask for informal feedback on your work, as long as you’re not actually trying to submit it). Querying is one thing, but sending a pitch in the guise of a fan letter is really bad form.
For a great example of an eloquent, civil, and very angry letter to the editor, I highly recommend checking out Katherine Keller’s ‘An Open Letter on the Topic of Stephanie Brown’ over at Sequential Tart.
And in the meantime, talk back to me!