Thursday, April 4, 2013
Self-Pubbing Resources: Web Comics
Back around 2008 when I was finishing up the first draft of A Brush of Darkness and learning the ropes of the publishing world, there were very defined lines drawn in the sand. If you wanted to be taken "seriously", then self-pubbing was to be avoided at all costs. It was something only desperate writers did (and often to their detriment. Ebooks were not a thing, so self-pubbing meant you had to shell out a lot of cash up front for print costs - and forget getting them on a shelf. Most self-pubbers were selling them out of the trunks of their cars.)
And then the Kindle came along and changed all that.
Say what you will about Amazon, their ebook reader turned the publishing world on its head - and it hasn't been the same since.
I haven't jumped on the self-publishing bandwagon yet though - at least not when it comes to books. However, I am definitely self-pubbling webcomics.
There's a caveat there, though. At the moment, my webcomic is free. Mostly because this is my first run-through and I would have felt a bit odd charging for a product that wasn't completed (and that I wasn't sure I could do.) But we're getting close to the 100 page mark now, and the first story-arc is wrapping up, which means things can change a bit.
So, how does one go about self-pubbing a webcomic?
1) Content is king. You need a story. And an artist. It can be helpful if you do both - but there are pros and cons to that. If it's all you, then you can do what you like. Write the story you want. Draw the story you want. The only bottleneck to your own creativity is you. If you're disciplined, this may work out fine. If you're not?
Well, there are a lot of webcomics that get started and then slow down and disappear completely. Real life has a way of rearing its head and suddenly the comic doesn't mean so much - particularly when you are just starting out and getting little feedback. Sometimes you can wonder why you're putting so much effort into something that no one is looking at. (Readers! Don't be shy about commenting on a web comic you like! It can take only a few seconds, but it is such a thrill for creators to realize people are enjoying their work, particularly if it free.)
This is where it can be helpful to have a partner in crime - if nothing else you can encourage each other when things seem like they're going nowhere.
In either case- decide your schedule - how frequently will you update? Once a week? a month? (Don't be random. You can't build up an audience if they don't know when to look for you.) Whatever you decide, stick with it. Don't bite off more than you can chew - it's easy to be gung ho and pump out a page a day at first, but not everyone has time for that. Try to come up with something that fits into your regular schedule.
2) No room for egos. If you have a team, you have to work together. The long and short of it is that often artists get more of the kudos when it comes to comics. It's a visual medium - so that's what people glomp onto first. That can be hard for a writer sometimes, but it's part of the deal. The last thing you want to do is destroy something awesome for the sake of attention. (And this is true for other types of visual media - movies, tv, etc. - Even though there would be no show without the writers, it's the actors who get to prance on that red carpet, right?)
3) Platform. Okay - you've got your story, you've got your art. You're ready to go. Where do you put it? If you're just starting out, there are plenty of places where you can upload your webcomic for free. Tapastic is a new service that looks like a good place to start, although there are certainly others. However, I do think that if you can afford to host it yourself, that's a good way to at least retain control The problem with hosting on other sites or services is that sometimes those sites/services go down. Or disappear. Even if your entire audience is built up on site x, there's something comforting knowing you've got a mirror on a site you control.
Just in case.
For Sad Sausage Dogs, we do host it separately. I've got it running on Word Press, with the Webcomic plugin, and then a highly modified Inkblot theme. (Incidentally, the guy who wrote and support them is fabulous. Always responsive whenever I've had a question, so huzzah.) Now, I do admit I have some advantages here - I used to do freelance web design, so setting up a website like that has a start up cost of basically nothing more than hosting and my time. If you're just beginning, it can be hard to justify paying a lot to get up and running, so that's where turning to a free solution may be a better bet.
4) Getting the Word Out. Just like self-published books, webcomics often find themselves in a sea of mixed-bag content. There's always going to be better comics than yours...and there's always going to be worse ones. The key is to get your voice out there and in front of readers. In the old days of self-pubbing print comics, it was just like self-pubbing books. You shelled out up front, got a certain number of copies printed and then sold them at conventions or local comic book stores, hoping for enough word-of-mouth to make it big.
Now we've got social media - Twitter and Facebook and Tumblr are certainly good ways to get started, but there are also plenty of webcomic sites and forums to try to get listed on. (Or take ads out on -> this page is a few years old, but the sites it refers to are all still up and running. Usually getting listed on them is free, so it should definitely be done. If you're interested in taking out ads, or providing them on your own site, take a look at Project Wonderful.)
Also? If there are webcomics out there that you like and are similar to yours, look at becoming affiliates or doing a link exchange.
Swag - it costs money up front, but definitely a requirement if you're attending a con. You never know if handing out a bookmark or a postcard or whatever will help spark another reader. Even a sample print out can be good, particularly if you want to pitch to editors who may be in attendance. (Appointments, yo - don't stalk editors in the bathrooms!)
Use the resources you have - in my case, being a published author is helpful, because I've got a fan base to start from. They may not be the same audience as for my urban fantasy novels, but it's nice to be able to tap into it. Same with Aimo - she has a massive Bioware fan-art following - over 30k followers on Deviantart alone. When she posts a page of the comic up on DA once in a while, we get a huge upswing in page hits - so it certainly makes sense for us to post it there as well. (Albeit at a much slower pace - we want to drive people to the main site as much as we can.)
5) Make it Easy. These days people have less and less time to spend surfing the web looking for your updated pages. Make it easy for them by delivering it direct. RSS feeds, email subscriptions, specific web-comic readers like Comic Rocket, or search engines like Oh No Robot. All of these are very important to get a hook into, and again, most things are free. You just have to put in the leg-work to get your comic in the listing.
The big thing these days is apps. If you can get your comic involved with an app (or you have the know how to write your own), that is pretty key.
I'm actually still working on that part myself. Once we finish this first story arc, we will package it up with some extras that you can't get on the website and look at actually selling it as a whole via Comixology Submit.This is a new service which is now out of beta and allows indie comic creators the ability to sell their work via the Comixology app. I'm still investigating it, but the basics are that it's free for content creators - we just submit the package and dictate what price we want to sell it at, and Comixology takes care of the rest. Now, they do take a 50% cut, BUT - they handle all the formatting and conversion for us. (And that can sometimes be pretty tricky.) Plus, we still retain our copyright and we are allowed to sell it anywhere else we want and in any other medium - which means we don't tie ourselves down to any sort of commitment or contract.
Now, why would anyone want to buy the whole issue when they can read it for free? Well, like I said - we will offer some additional content that can't be found on the website, but honestly, just having it on a site like Comixology should get us additional readers from people who don't have time to go to the website, or who might not discover it any other way. (We're going to give it a try, anyway - if it doesn't work out, then we haven't really lost anything.)
There's plenty of other stuff I could talk about (things like trademarks are a whole other thing, for example), but these five steps are essentially the main things I've learned over the past year. I imagine I've got a lot more to learn, but I'm really happy with the way things have been turning out. (And quite frankly, it's one of my favorite things to write - at the moment, that's worth a lot to me. And Aimo and I are going to start producing one-offs of 10 to 20 pages in a separate project eventually too, so it's nice to be able to know where to start, this time around.)
Anyway - new Fox & Willow page will be up today - you can always find the latest page here. :)