Shop Talk: The power of Webcomics and why stores, publishing companies, hobbyist and the old indy publishing model doesn’t get it yet.
This last year has been quite an eye opener for me. These last two years have really been a break out for indy/webcomics. Many of these creators have found how to make their stories a good income source and some cases a permanent income source. Being one of them I have found how vital it is for the print and web industries to work together. They need each other.
Creators of outstanding stories need to be paid for their efforts. Yet the distribution for independents is facing some uphill battles. Diamond is no longer friendly to them and most comic stores stock the top 4 or 5 publishers in this order Marvel/DC, Image, Dark horse, Archaia Entertainment (which i love), and then well known independents, minor independents (only about 3 to 5% on the list if that) and then well you get it. Indy’s are not high the list. Plus all the indy distributors are drying up. Does this mean that your books won’t get into a store- not always- but it is the biggest uphill battle you have to face. Plus the return on your work is low… So really what is the motivation for an indy publisher these days. Well it might surprise you.
Several indy creators have found a way to carve out a nitch in the industry. We have found a way to bring in income as well and we all for the most part have the same mind frame on how to make it work. Yet it goes against the grain and very slowly an industry that refuses to change in way of doing business is starting to take notice. Yet, I am not writing this for the industry, I am writing this for the indy’s, with hopes that you to can make your dreams of being a story creator become a reality.
So let’s talk shop.
As an artist, I need to make a living. It is what I do. There are peaks and valleys in my career. I have to constantly promote and many times listen to the negative feedback that seems to stalk artist about our goals being unrealistic. Yet it all boils down to 2 things.
First- Dont tell me how bad you want it, show me.
Second- This is a career not a hobby. For the most part webcomic-hobbyist disappear after a few years. Those that treat it like a job – stick around.
With that being said how do I make my comic into a webcomic that generates income, builds my artistic career, and fulfills the needs of my fans.
1. Give it away for free online. What? Give it a way for free are you nuts? How does one make money when you are giving it away for free online so everyone can read it? Simple…. You are building an audience. Most indy’s don’t have audiences, except their friends and families. Honest fact. So if no one knows your story exists, how can they buy it when it comes out in print?
The power of giving your story away for free helps you on many fronts. The first is audience growth. You jump from being just a small local story teller to an international story teller. If the work is clean, the story good, and updates consistent people keep coming back. They become attached to your world and many want you to succeed that when you do print books and create digital books they support them.
Next it gives people a reason to remember you, especially in-between issues. The longer the wait in between books the quicker people forget you exist, no matter how good the story is. Regular updates help keep people invested in what you are creating and motivates you to keep producing-
The big companies are starting to offer online- but a lot of them charge. That’s fine. I will still offer my tale for free, because I want more and more people to become familiar with my story and my art.
2. The power of community. For the most part the webcomic community is pretty open. In fact several of the successful creators are always willing to give advice. Jason Brubaker of remind has created and entire site dedicated to making webcomics and comics. The web comic is also very supportive of one another. We plug each others comics, yet this is usually by taste. DONT BE PUSHY- if someone doesn’t plug you it might be because we are also picky. I plug webcomics I read, yet I am a stickler for story and good illustrations.
Be willing to plug others as well, without expecting anything in return. It’s get’s noticed. Those that expect things find out that people avoid them.
We also all are trying to tell our own stories. Each different and unique. This creates a common bond, as we all try to be successful in our story telling. Be respectful of this the web can be rather harsh at times as people push their own agendas.
There is also many creators who have created tutorials or blogs and how to make it work. You just have to find them and read them. I already linked to a great set of resources with Jason.
Stay away from comparing. Everyone is at their own spot in the game and sometimes the biggest killer of a webcomic is the creator itself. You got to focus on your own game not someone else. Let other creators inspire you to improve yourself and then apply what you learn, but keep it your own style and creation.
3. Patience- Your audience will show up. You just have to put the time in to make it happen. Like planting a garden, the fruit of the labor does not happen overnight. It takes time. Audiences start small. Yet there are many ways to plug your work. You need to be consistent with your updates and art. Don’t disappear or be unreliable, that kills the audience quick. Sometimes it can take several years before your audience grows and you start generating income. Stick it out.
4. Print still sells- Print books will never go away. In fact the web and print work very well together. Yet you can just throw in out on a whim – you need to build up your audience. Once your audience has grown, it might be time to print. The cool thing is many indy’s no longer use stores and distributors. We build our own stores and sell from there, we are cutting out distributors and sales are direct. It gives me a chance to offer a store a bigger cut, if they want to carry it, but as the web audience grows, you find that you dont have to be in a small comic shop. Plus there are other ways to get into bigger stores.
Just be careful about jumping the gun. Establish your comic and your audience first. Build up the page count and pull from there and add tidbits here and there.
Yet you still have to print the books. Hence the power of kickstarter. The key to success with kickstarter is the importance of building an audience and having a good looking product. (ok there is more but you have to read about it in my kickstarter topic here).
5. You still have to push your comic- Once you have to comics- you head to cons. Start small. Once again we see the importance of building up an audience. People find you though, especially fans. It is quite cool when people you have never met in a city come up to you and say they have been following you for year and want to support you. Just make sure when you come back the next year you have something new for them. The killer of most small press is they are a one book press… This is solved if you are doing a web comic and can keep producing books.
Is it fool proof…. no. It’s constantly evolving and changing. We need to adapt and honestly it is those creators that can adapt that survive. Patience, and the drive to figure things out. Yet that’s what makes webcomics a possible realistic source of income. You just got to put the effort into your own work.
Is it easy… no. Will you get frustrated… yes. Will you almost quit…possibly. Yet in the end, if you are willing to put the effort in and are willing to show people that you want it bad enough – you will make it happen. Things only look better for webcomics, especially with more and more support options out there to help with getting the word out. You will might be pleasantly surprised.
There is so much more to this. I plan to go into it as well because I want to see others succeed. I believe in the webcomic/kickstarter model. I am product of it working. I think now is the time for more great stories to get out there, just be true to work and your updating schedule. Treat it like a job and in time (no destination given cause we are all different) and it will eventually become one.
Are webcomics good for the industry- you bet they are… in fact they are breathing new life to a broken model already in place. They bring in new readers to comics and help reach audiences that normally would never know that your work exist.
So there is life for the indy’s. You can survive the comic industry and still make a dent as indy. You can still get your story out there and sell your books. You just get creative , go against the grain and not be afraid to offer your comic for free.