A) Dote on every word I write,
B) Really desire to know my thoughts on the WCCA's, or
C) Need a diversion that is more interesting than watching mold grow (if only marginally).
I'll think none the less of you if you choose to skip this one, as few of my Loyal Readers are all that entwined in the Webcomics Subculture. It's up to you.
The following is a letter I sent to the Web Cartoonists' Choice Award Committee members today, expressing my thoughts on how the awards process went in 2007, and what should change for the future.
How I Think The WCCAs Can Be Better
I appreciate the opportunity to present the following suggestions. I realize that the future of the WCCAs is up to the Committee, and you may disregard all of these recommendations, but I think you’re doing the right thing by asking for input. I would point out that I come from an IT background, and favor structured, organized systems over ambiguity with hopes for serendipity. And I do understand that the Committee has neither a large budget nor a paid staff to devote lots of time to development. I hope you can glean some useful ideas from these thoughts, because I think the WCCAs are a great thing, and I hope they continue to grow and flourish.
The Executive Summary of my Recommendations:
- Always clearly display the status of the current phase and when it will end.
- Announce all nominees at the same time.
- Clearly document procedures and categories.
- Create a one-sentence Mission Statement.
- Start promoting the WCCAs earlier, before the Nomination Phase.
- Have a ‘Comics For Consideration’ venue prior to the Nomination Phase.
- Add a “Latest Updates” section to the front page of the website.
- Formalize and explain the process for selection of artists to do award presentations.
- Survey the voting members for their ideas.
Status: One of my big complaints was that the status updates weren’t always very clear. I would have liked to know what phase we were in, and when the next phase would begin, particularly when things were delayed. I know the calendar was on the right side of the main page, but when the nomination phase was postponed, it would have been nice to have the status presented like “Nomination period delayed until (date). Voting period changed to start on (date) and go through (date).”
Timing: I know there were technical issues that complicated the process. Still, having the nominees announced a few at a time was frustrating and annoying. And saying that they were being released in small groups to allow the readers time to go through them felt patronizing and disingenuous. If they weren’t announced all at once because the categories weren’t all tabulated yet; say so. If they’re already counted; announce them. It felt like when a corporation says they’re doing something “to serve you better,” but they’re actually doing it to help themselves.
Categories: I think you all did the right thing by mostly staying out of the debates about which categories should exist and how many categories there should be. There were lots of opinions, but I got the sense that most people’s arguments boiled down to “it’s too complicated to have more than X categories so I don’t like it.” I would recommend making very clear instructions and definitions of the categories. I understand the idea that leaving things open-ended allows for people to make their own interpretations, but I don’t think that’s really helping things. At least one tech writer volunteered to help develop procedures and documentation; I think you’d be well served by taking him up on that offer.
Detailed Notes on 2008 and Beyond:
Mission Statement: I highly recommend creating a Mission Statement that is a one-sentence summation of what the WCCA Committee is trying to achieve. Not only will this help the Committee agree on the focus, but it will help the voting members understand why things are done the way they are. (Many corporate Mission Statements are useless, laden with buzz-words or lofty but vague generalizations. A useful statement would concisely identify the purpose of the WCCAs and the means to achieve that purpose.)
Pre-Nomination Promotional Activities: Not only do I suggest sending out reminders at the end of the calendar year to all the voting members, but I think there should be a PR campaign announcing the upcoming WCCAs. This will remind webcomic artists to start promoting nomination of their comics in advance of the Nomination Period. Sending out early press releases to webcomic bloggers and commentary sites should increase the awareness and participation at all levels.
Pre-Nomination Listing Venue: Before the nomination period starts, I’d suggest having lists of “Comics for Consideration,” sort of a pre-nomination. Readers and webcomic artists could submit comics in each category that they think are worthy of attention and consideration, and the entire list shows up in one place. If possible, this wouldn’t be in the forums (so it’s moderated, and visitors don’t have to scroll through many posts to read all the suggestions). These lists would help voting members who don’t follow certain types of comics (e.g. Slice of Life) find ones to read. It would also allow excellent-but-relatively-unknown comics to be seen by more voting members prior to nominations. This does mean maintaining twenty-some lists, but may greatly reduce the complaints that excellent comics are being passed over for nomination because nobody knows about them.
Reevaluate your website design: At the least, I’d recommend an eye-catching panel in the top center of the home page, with current status and a link to the latest item of interest. When anyone lands on the site, they’ll be drawn right to it, and can easily see where things stand and can get to the current info. You may rotate through the following, or always have these links in the high-focus area:
Pre-Nomination Lists: Comics For Consideration
Winners List/Online Presentation
These wouldn’t replace the navigation links down the left side, but supplement them. They’ll make getting around easier for those visitors who aren’t as familiar with the site.
Selecting artists to do Award Presentations: There seemed to be a bit of confusion about where and how to submit one’s name to do an award presentation. I’d guess that future years will have only more and more artists interested in presenting, so having a very clear “This is how to be considered for presenting an award” statement with detailed information on what to do and what to expect in response will keep the confusion to a minimum.
Survey: I think asking for input is an excellent thing. I’d also reiterate my suggestion from the forums that sending out a survey to the voting members would be a great way to get a better distribution of perspectives. The vocal few from the boards may not be giving you a complete picture of the participant’s experience of the following activities:
Considering comics to nominate
Reviewing nominated comics
Voting on comics
Volunteering for Award Presentations
Creating/Submitting Award Presentations
Participating in Forum Discussions
I’d suggest asking about everyone thoughts on how these went, and what could be done differently, and their perceptions on how organized, fair and significant the awards are in general. If nobody on the Committee has experience in creating and evaluating surveys, I expect that someone in your readership does.
I imagine that you all want the WCCAs to be perceived as meaningful awards that are consistently given to the most-deserving comics. It’s impossible to please everyone, but I think a focused campaign to seek out suggestions for improvement, adopt the best ones, and shape public perception by publicizing those changes will only strengthen your standing in the webcomics community.
Best of luck,
Ask Dr. Eldritch