Editor’s Note: Paul Levitz returns to Blog@Newsarama with some advice on giving feedback to companies.
by Paul Levitz
The incoming mail folder this morning prompts my blogging subject, with apologies to David Letterman, whose marquee shines outside my office window, a top ten list for folks planning letter-writing campaigns:
Ten. Try to figure out whether what you’re asking for is a practical possibility. When the Teen Titans animated television show ended, I got some letters begging for its return (inspired perhaps by the success of the campaign for Teen Titans Go!, more on which later). But the letters came in after the last episode aired…which meant that the team which had produced the show had broken up about a year earlier, and gone on to other gigs. There are sound business reasons why most animated tv shows only last for a certain maximum number of episodes (though the exceptions to the rule, like THE SIMPSONS, defy any form of gravity or entropy), but if you can’t keep the creative team together, you can’t replicate what the viewer loves. So asking for the show to come back after the team’s gone is self-defeating. Same thing’s true for comics.
Nine. Form letters get form responses, and not much credibility. If you want to be persuasive, make a case that shows why you care and why we care about you. In the TEEN TITANS GO! Campaign, we got an extraordinary batch of letters from young people, often complete with their drawings of the characters. They were passionate, individual, and many made interesting cases about how the title was a good springboard for a lifetime of reading comics. It wasn’t enough to keep the comic around forever, but it did extend the lifespan. Nothing gets less attention than a stack of identically-phrased which demonstrate no real reader connection.
Eight. Be civil. If you’re trying to persuade someone, calling them names doesn’t help. Admittedly all publishers are deserving of a variety of nasty names, and editors are used to it, but we do listen more closely to the polite folks.
Seven. Try to offer constructive advice, above and beyond the specific request. It’s always interesting, and often useful, to hear readers’ views of how our lines are being perceived and how they can be done better. Have your best writer and best artist do every title doesn’t help much…but when the Legion Outpost gang went out and found Jim Shooter to lure him back to the world of comics (and the Legion) in my fan days, they changed the game.
Six. Keep your advice a reasonable length, focused, and easy to read. Sometimes a five or ten page handwritten letter comes in, with references to a half dozen or more different developments in our comics, and what should be done about all of them. That’s much less likely to affect the course of the company than a cogent, one or two page argument on a specific point. There are a couple of Archive program supporters who are in the habit of sending in one or two short letters a year, listing projects they’d like to see in future Archives. We can’t always oblige them, but their brevity and consistent focus ensures that we don’t forget about the projects they’re supporting.
Five. Be prepared to support your advice, and if your efforts and ours aren’t enough to achieve success, don’t focus too much on what else could have been done. There’s never enough marketing done for any specific project in the view of its passionate fans (and talent), and it’s always arguable from a distance whether the “right” marketing’s been done. But if you love something, there’s no stronger way to support it than by word of mouth and handing a friend or customer a reading copy, and that’s a tool available to all of us.
Four. Consider communicating without an agenda, to build up credibility for when you want to use it. Some of the most effective communications we get from fans are simply brief pieces on their current likes and dislikes.
Three. Don’t bombard the world. I was one of the “lucky” ten or twenty executives listed on a website inviting people to petition Warner Bros. when the studio decided to put out exclusively Blu-Ray DVDs. Never mind that the hundreds of nearly identical e-mails that resulted made it hard to find the real mail in my in-box, or that I had nothing to do with that particular decision process—there’s rarely going to be a situation where you can get more consideration by sending the same plea to more than the one or two most relevant people.
Two. And picking up on that note, try to figure out who the right people are. Send a petition too high in the system, and it’ll just get sent back down to the person responsible, and lose time, urgency, and credibility in the process. Send it off to the side, and you may get sympathy, but not any active response. Do as much research as you can to understand who actually is involved in the decision you want changed.
One. Don’t preach hate or exclusion. You won’t get anywhere telling us you won’t buy our comics because we include those (fill in the blank) people…except an invitation not to buy them anymore.
All of this won’t ensure that Manhunter gets to live another dozen issues after we’ve already extended the title a couple of times, or get us to guarantee that Chloe will get Clark on Smallville, but it’ll make for a much more productive conversation, and a better chance of you getting what you want.
Hope this helps.