Sunday, December 21, 2008

A few thoughts on best-of list assemblage, and how publishers can best position themselves to get on them

(Above: This is a subtle metaphor. The tiny little superhero represents the blogger, and the watch represents time and the gun does not represent a penis)

It’s 10:30 p.m., and I’m trying to stockpile enough posts that I can keep a daily-ish schedule both here and at Blog@Newsarama* over the holidays while taking a few days off. I’m planning and preparing for a short car trip out of town to visit my family for a few days. And I’m staring at a small stack of books I want to get read before I start assembling my final best-of list of the year, and I’m not sure I’m going to make it through all of them in the next few days.

I’m only on page 179 of Emanuel Guibert’s Alan’s War. Beneath that is Dash Shaw’s Bottomless Belly Button, which looks to be more endless than bottomless, based on its thickness ( tells me its 720 pages long). Then there’s Mariko and Jillian Tamaki’s Skim, which I just got from the library, and Jason Lutes’ Berlin book two, which I’ve had been meaning to start off and on for months now.

I’d kinda like to give Lynda Barry’s What It Is one more chance, since I tried it and gave up after only a few pages, and I know my library has a copy of Art Spiegleman’s Breakdowns, although I haven’t managed to check it out. Ditto Tim Lane’s Abandoned Cars, which I’ve heard a lot of good things about.

If I do get through this little stack I’m staring at, I wonder if the way I read these books will affect the way I judge them. That is, I’ll be reading them under something of a deadline—a self-imposed one, sure, but still—and am at this point approaching them as something of a chore that I need to hurry up and get through.

Will that make me read them too fast and miss out on details? Will I bear a subconscious grudge against them, for sucking up my time during a week and a half where free time is in far shorter supply than the rest of the year, and judge them more harshly than I would were I reading and reviewing them in September or March?

I don’t know; maybe.

It got me thinking if there’s an ideal time for publisher’s to release books to increase their chances of making it on to best-of lists though. Based on my own experience and best-of naming method (which I’ll go into in excruciating detail in a December 31 post), it seems that releasing books earlier in the year is better, as it gives me more time to read them and process my thoughts on them in full reviews I can look back on in December.

But then, if you release books in January, February or spring, then they’re less likely to be in the minds of critics and list-makers in December. That’s definitely a factor in the way the film industry courts not only awards, but slots on best-of lists: November and December see a deluge of the good stuff, so these holiday season releases are thus foremost in critics’ and award-assigners’ minds.

So maybe late summer to early fall is best, as that gives everyone plenty of time to read the books, review them, and, perhaps most importantly, tell other people about them (I’ve noticed peer pressure is a great factor in assembling these lists, at least in as much that if a critic I respect gives something a glowing review, I’m more likely to seek it out, even if it’s from a creator I’m unfamiliar with or on a subject I wouldn’t normally be interested in).

Length is also important. If I don’t get through Bottomless Belly Button, it’s going to be because it’s a gigantic fucking book, whereas flipping through them, it looks like I can knock out Skim and Berlin in a sitting or three, depending how much time I have to spend on the sitting (and if I can resist the siren call of Showcase Presents: The Brave and The Bold—The Batman Team-Ups Vol. 3 long enough to read these completely Batman-free books).

So to any publishers in the reading audience wondering how they can best get books on to my best of the year lists—a coveted honor, I know—I guess I’d offer the following advice:

1.) Make sure the book is really, really, really good. That’s important.

2.) Don’t release it too early in the year, nor too late in the year.

3.) Make it shorter than 700-pages


4.) Give me a copy of your book. I strive to read as many comics as I can a year, but, being something of a hobo—I’m typing this in a boxcar that just so happens to have wireless, and that stack of graphic novels I mentioned up top are tied up in my bindle—I rely pretty heavily on my local libraries for access to graphic novels.

This concludes tonight’s post about nothing. Now I better see how if Batman and the Metal Men can survive a one-way journey toward oblivion and the doomsday express—No! Not until I see how G.I. Alan Cope makes out at the end of WWII! Be strong Caleb, be strong!

*Oh yeah, speaking of which, I have reviews of The Manga Guide to Statistics and The Complete Ro-Busters posted there this weekend, if that sounds like the sort of thing you might prefer to read about.


Tucker Stone said...

I'm curious as to what you'll have to say about Belly Button after reading it--I was intimidated by the size at first, but as soon as you dive in, I think you'll find it's a pretty quick, compulsive read. The time factor comes in when you start cruising backwards to look at the art.

Unknown said...

I'm with Tucker on Belly Button, for the record. It seems huge, but it goes by pretty fast. I think I read an interview with Dash Shaw where he said that was his intent, inspired by the quick pace of manga.

Also, I find this sort of thing interesting, since I'm also trying to get through a few more books before I can finish my best of list. That's the problem with these things, and why they often seem slanted toward more recent stuff, just because so much of it is fresh in the memory. But that's what we gotta deal with, I guess.