What Are You Doing?

We’ve talked about conventions a lot here at the Webcomic Alliance.  They can be an essential tool in promoting your comic and your drawing career.  But they can also be a huge loss-leader and can take some balancing to know which ones work for you.  But recently I got an email from a reader of my comic, and he is also a successful webcomic creator himself, and I wanted to share some of the things I took away from our exchange.  I will not share his name or website out of respect for privacy, but the overall concepts are worthy of sharing.

The email from this reader essentially started off “What the hell are you doing?”  I was a bit stunned and intrigued.  This guy runs a successful webcomic, and one I admire, so seeing this in an email was an eye opener.  What he was pointing out was my complete lack of regular updates in the past year.  Guilty as charged.

Now, since 2009, I have planned on taking summers off to recharge myself and create the next year’s worth of storylines.  It also allows me time to balance out my family life as well, which is hectic and extremely complex.  But in 2011, due to taking on a large outside project and preparing heavily for a convention in March of this year, I really fell behind on updates.  Then life got in the way again and I ended up taking the summer off, so, even MORE missed updates.

Now, I was quietly upset with this and took the summer to plan a new format for my comic that allowed me to present a greater variety of stories.  It seemed to be working so far, but then I get this email.

What triggered the email was I missed an update by a day.  I had been at a convention for 4 days and put the comic up on Tuesday instead of Monday.  Now, NORMALLY this would not be an issue, but in light of my bad performance of late, it triggered this reader to write me and kinda bitch me out… rightly so I have to admit.

He pointed out that I was putting all this effort into preparing and attending conventions when what I really needed to do was get back to my comic and, more importantly, its readers.  We comic creators have an unwritten contract to create our comic on an update schedule (a schedule we creators choose by the way) and if we miss that promised update on a consistent basis (as I was doing) then I was essentially chasing readers away.

And he was right.  My readership had dropped significantly.  It can be rebuilt, but I’ve lost that momentum I had built up.  It forced me to sit down and rethink my marketing strategy and to really ponder where comic conventions fit into the overall scheme of building my readership, and consequently my drawing career.

What I deduced from the past 18 months of work was that doing three major conventions, while good for building my brand and great exposure for me as an artist, was killing my comic instead of helping it.  Stupid in any sense of the word.

We have chatted on the Podcast about doing smaller, local events; such as comic book store appearances or “drink and draw” events, and how these can actually be more beneficial to your comic and to your career.  In my case, I can plainly see that I was not ready for major conventions and needed to refocus on creating a solid comic on a consistent schedule while looking into and participating in local events.  Even it’s just 5 artists in a pub drinking and drawing.

Sometimes a good kick in the butt is needed to help us clear our heads and take a look at ourselves from “another set of eyes” and I hope this article will motivate you to “step outside your box” and look at and evaluate what you’re doing to market and promote your comic.  What works for me may not work for you, but I think it’s a great way of looking at what we do as a whole.

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Posted in Conventions, Featured News, Helpful Hints.

18 Comments

  1. It’s my personal belief, as the creators we owe our readers somewhat. (And other creators probably think I’m crazy for it.) But also in owing them it’s challenging ourselves. We keep to a schedule. We get better in speed and quality. We write better… To get more readers, but it helps us. I always think, what this was a salary job? Would my boss accept “I was out to dinner with a friend couldn’t do my work.”?

    I definitely think if you have a comic that only posts a page a week there shouldn’t be much(barring catastrophe) holding you back from doing it. Perhaps it shows my naivete. *I see so many comics out there that miss pages sometimes multiple weeks in a row and it’s because of cons or something completely silly like a concert. I don’t see how one 2-4 hour concert stopped you from making your page the rest of the week? Usually those people are the ones that wait the day before the update day to work on it when they could have spread the work out over the week.

    I usually don’t hold people to high standards if they don’t try to sell any books or merch but if someone is touting a book while skipping an update (or more)? Nah. I’m not going to buy that.

    For the longest time I never actually said my comic had an update schedule for fear I might miss updates. I just tried to keep to one for myself. When I got my own page it was pretty apparent what those days were.

    Then again there’s a comic I know of that hasn’t updated in 6 months and it still gets more daily pages views than all the comics I read combined. I guess you just have to attract the patient audience or have something amazing they are compelled to check for daily, despite disappointment.

    *Just as a note, none of my examples are about people here. Sorry if it made anyone feel guilty.

    • No guilt on my part, for sure.

      But you’re right. If the creator of a single page comic (like mine) misses an update for a concert, then yeah, that’s slacking off. But, to miss one due to spending 5 days at a con, then hey, that’s another story.

      I do two full pages a week now as a way of my showing my readers that I’m back and I’m focused and I’m going to delivery. That’s most important: have a quality product and deliver what you promise. As you read, I slipped off that track and it cost me.

      But you can recover. Thanks for reading!

      • 5 day con? Ouch. That’s reasonable.

        My opinion has been building up as a reader when I see creators saying they “don’t owe their readers anything” if they receive a bad comment. Your readers are worthless? Gee thanks.

        It’s nice to see someone not immediately jump to the defensive and actually think about what led a reader to say something.

  2. I’ve been thinking a lot about the reader/creator relationship. The conclusion I have come to is this: Webcomic creators must wear multiple hats.

    When making the work, I’m the Creative. I have my own personal vision, and that should not be influenced by the reader. The story and content I produce should be what I love and what I want to do.

    When posting the work, replying to comments, etc, I’m no longer the Creative, but the Customer Service Rep. If something the Creative part did offends a reader, I can’t respond from the Creative side. (Besides, have you seen the ego of writer/artists? Sheesh!) Instead, I need to acknowledge that the reader is my customer and has a right to their opinions and feelings. NOT a right to change the work (that’s not my job as a Customer Service Rep anyway) but deserves to have their concern addressed and, if valid, conveyed to the Creative at the next mental board meeting. Such as scheduling, content, or quality issues.

    I know I’ve presented it in a schizophrenic fashion here, but the mind-sets are so completely different. When dealing with a customer, I can be right, or I can win. Being right is just being self-justified and “correct”. Winning is finding solutions to problems. As a Creative, I’m ALWAYS right. As a Customer Service Rep, the customer is.

    • Aren’t all artists split personalities? I mean we have all these characters running around in our heads, it’s amazing we don’t go stark raving mad some days…
      😛

      Good analogy. We do play two roles. I agree 100% about it’s our work and we’ll do what we want. If a reader doesn’t like it, they can move on. But delivering on promises, then we are customer service people and the customer is always right (to a certain point).

      Well said!

      • I was listening to a podcast about Penny Arcade and their marketing/managing/magic-man Robert Khoo. One of the things that really struck me was he said (paraphrased):

        “Don’t change the creative. The job of marketing is to sell the creative, no matter what it’s like.”

        Delivering on time, responding respectfully, and engaging our readership is our marketing. The content? That’s all ours, and nobody else has the right to change it. Besides, if I tried I’d just become MORE crazy, and I don’t know if the world can handle that. 😉

  3. I’ve been getting a lot of work done while listening to the Alliance podcasts (thanks for keeping me focused, by the way), and my thoughts have drifted to this very subject.

    I’ve updated seven days a week for about a year and a half now. In my mind, I think that if I were a syndicated cartoonist I would have to do this in addition to a full time job, so if they can do it I can too. However, I don’t have a contract or a business manager who can tell me when my readership has peaked or if it’s time to switch gears to something else.

    Most comics online are labors of love. It’s the love of doing it that keeps me going. If people like what I’m doing, that’s better than money.

    But I do need money. And if I need to recharge my batteries and take a break, I think I should do that. It might result in rethinking what I’m doing and make a dramatic switch to something else that’s possibly more successful. Or it might result in me taking too much time off and just getting crappier.

    What can I say? I’m wishy washy on the whole subject. Sorry for the long post!

    • Type all you want… the internet is free for the moment… 🙂

      I have a Broadcasting background and there’s a reason TV shows take the summers off. It’s a ton of work to produce quality shows and you have to have time to organize and write a solid story. Each year I’ve taken the summer off, I’ve come back with a stronger storyline. That motivates me and my readers.

      Planned breaks are necessary in my book or you just burn out. The key word there is PLANNED. Make a plan and then stick to it. You’ll feel better, your product will be better and in the long run, you’ll have a stronger readership for it.

      But then, I’m just an old fart typing away on some damn keyboard…
      😛

      • I’ve always been on the same page with you regarding breaks. I’m a firm believer that quality trumps quantity. I take summer breaks every year as well, but I’ve slowly been making them shorter (as I become more organized with what I’m doing in part). I found I can get away with say, no August activity, but anything longer seems to disenchant the reader base (for me at least). It took me not time to bounce back this season from the August break as opposed to last year where I did July and August (to long).

        Breaks are fine, I simply suggest taking them when you know your readers are off focusing on other things, like end of summer, back to school and holidays. When you are in your production period, stick to it- period!

        The only real rule you need to follow is keeping your readers engaged and aware of your activity. Make your word, your bond with them!

        • I think breaks are fine when they are planned and expectations are set. I see several who just stop drawing and then months later they put up a couple more and then nothing again.

  4. It’s hard to balance the line of “I’m enjoying making these comics” and “Gawd! I gotta draw another one?! How much FREE do these people want from me? Can I live?!”

    I’ve been fortunate that “life” hasn’t gotten in the way of me updating yet. Well, either that or I’m a hard-boiled, cold bastard who’s sitting right outside Divorce Court without even knowing it. I know that there WILL come a time where I’ll be slipping in my posting schedule, or either I’ll just get tired of butting my head against the wall for seemingly little or no reward.

    I don’t want to get burned out, but I can certainly see how it can happen to the best of us to where we just wanna pick up our toys and run home. It’s hard when this hobby we want to share when it’s all good transforms into a burgeoning yoke of an obligation that we must fulfill.

    I update seven days a week as part of a personal promise I made to myself. I have a very short attention span and I never like doing hardly anything for any great length of time. I’ll be good for a few months, and then I don’t wanna do it anymore.

    I had to realistically look at my dream of becoming a pro/syndicated cartoonist. I’ve read the stories of the younger pros having to cancel parties and joyous occasions because they have to work on their comics. They say that the dream of being a cartoonist isn’t as much fun as you think it would be. You miss out on a lot just trying to complete your deadline.

    I do what I do to see if I actually have what it takes to make my dream come true. So far so good, but i see that my comic work does put a strain on my personal relationships. My wife is patiently waiting for this thing to pay off big. I haven’t had the nerve to tell her the statistics of success in the webcomic world.

    And don’t you tell her either! 😀

    • I’ve said it before George, but I totally respect that you do a comic 7 days a week… in color and sometimes double/triple sized. You are a machine!

      You’ve proven you can do it to yourself and to your readers, so now it’s time to think about what schedule works for you. Maybe 6 weeks on, one week off? Or a week off between major stories? All I know is we do need time to recharge. And if we present it to our readers in that aspect, they’ll understand and come back hungry for more… especially if the breaks help improve things.

      Give it thought and that may be a way to smooth things over with the wife/family.

  5. I’ve found that whenever I have trouble keeping to my update schedule, I do two things.

    1. BUILD A BUFFER. FIRST AND FOREMOST. Only working on comics part time, you’re not always going to get time to work on your comics because your life gets in the way. Keep at least a couple weeks’ worth of stuff in the buffer in case stuff happens. If you run out of your buffer, I come to my second point…

    2. LET READERS KNOW WHAT’S UP. They don’t need to know that you killed your buffer because you went on a two-week bender and you have yet to locate your pants or wallet from the Tijuana police. That’s too much information. Just let your readers know your comic will be going out on a short hiatus for a couple of weeks while you work on rebuilding that buffer. And when you start updating again, don’t let the schedule slide. Lather, rinse, repeat.

    The reason why readers don’t like it when webcomics slip their schedules is because it messes with their expectations. I know when I read webcomics, I like it when they update on time. Being in the same biz, you have to meet your readers’ expectations. Otherwise, you’re murdering your audience. Live and die by the update schedule.

    • What happens in Tijuana, stays in Tijuana… including wallets and pants it seems. Travel note added to my itinerary.
      🙂

      Man, I’d kill for a buffer. Had one once and then got a huge freelance project and burned through it. But if I hadn’t been such a bad boy this year with my time off, I’d would have had a buffer made. You’re on the nose with your point though, a buffer is something we should all have and we just need to make the time to do it and then keep to that schedule. Great point!

      Yes, communication is key to our readers. My problem was life was way too complicated and people get tired of excuses. So that brings us back to point one: BUFFER.

      I need to make that a t-shirt and wear it all the time: “Make a buffer, dummy!”

      Thanks for reading, Jules!

    • YES on the buffer! I’d argue on buffer-building even before the comic starts. When I wanted to start LeyLines, I laid out a 5-month goal. I wanted 15 pages for a batch-start when I launched, and then 25 pages in addition to that. I also wanted to update 2-times-a-week. So 15+25 = 40/2 per week = 40 pages in 20 weeks. If I couldn’t reach that, then I knew I’d have to change my original plan.

      I’ve since had RL kick me in the head and lost about 7 of those buffer pages…which is almost 4 weeks worth of comics, but thanks to the buffer, the updates carry on regardless. Now if I could just build back up and then expand to THREE times a week, I would be truly happy. 🙂

  6. I agree with Jules. You ABSOLUTELY need a buffer because life ha a funny way of derailing you when you’re settled and comfortable. Once that buffer begins to be depleted, you have to make up that lost gap IMMEDIATELY – the moment you have free time, get to work on building yourself back up to that comfort zone (1-2 weeks). By nature, we want to be lazy, so if you don’t bother to put back that which you take from, you’re going to get pinched.

    I know, because it happened to me earlier this summer upon my return from my holidays. I missed 2 updates and I was so pissed off with myself that I worked my ass off to rebuild the buffer I had.

    People notice these things. If you don’t treat your comic updates as if you’re serving customers in a store, you’re not going to get repeat sales and you’re gonna have to close up shop. Granted, personal issues can cause serious problems, and readers are understanding of that – but you have to give them something to make them want to come back.

    If you’re not ready to commit full time to a proper schedule, then you’ll never be taken seriously by readers.

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