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Webcomics as a hobby
Topic Started: Jan 18 2008, 09:44 PM (34,039 Views)
Otter
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This piece was fully edited with new content added at Livejournal on May 29, 2008.

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I was working on a piece for a webcomics journalism website and then realized that everything I was writing might not be applicable for all webcomics or their respective creators . So take these for what they are... observations on what I've picked up over the last nineteen months of doing a webcomic as a hobby. If these are relevant for your webcomic (or blog, or online project, etc.), then I hope they can be of use.

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First - Traffic doesnít really matter. This is a hard one to wrap our minds around because itís very counterintuitive. We recognize that the single greatest purpose of our webcomics is to have a readership, and that the more readers we have, the more the comic will thrive. Because of this we make the leap that traffic matters because traffic equates to readers.

Well, no, it doesnít. Not really. Not even close, actually. Traffic does matter to some extent because itís the lifeblood of your comicís potential, where more eyeballs equals a greater potential overall readership. However, surges in traffic are typically fleeting and maybe one out of every fifty persons who initially ďStumbled UponĒ your website will bookmark your page and come back later. Any traffic spikes you receive are, essentially, nothing but advertisements for your site, and we all know how quickly we forget about commercials.

You arenít aiming for traffic. Youíre aiming for readers. As a webcartoonist, your purpose is to build a relationship with your audience because your audience is comprised of people who take the time out of their day to visit your website and, sometimes, write an email. These people are readers. Yeah, we all want more readers. More readers implies that you will be able to get your message out to more people, sell more products, and not be resigned to doing that sad twiddle-thumb thing at conventions. But the ones you already have should be important enough so you donít have to get hung up on how much traffic you get. The number of visitors you receive is ego-candy, but it's the readers who make your comic an actual experience as opposed to a one-shot ad campaign.

Second, most things you try to put in your store will experience some degree of failure. And I donít mean in terms of sales. I mean in terms of acquiring distributors, meeting deadlines, anything on the production side. Even if someone tells you straight out that they can make a product for you by a specific date and time, do not believe them. If youíre received confirmation from the manufacturer that the package with all of your custom-made goodies is in the mail and headed for your doorstep, do not believe them. Announce your product when it is actually in your cold, dead hands and no sooner, except when Ö

Third, preorders are sometimes necessary. I shied away from preorders for over a year until a Respectable Fellow in Webcomics sat me down and gave me the what-for. He spelled it out for me:

( A ) People who make webcomics are artists and writers;
( B ) Artists and writers are historically poorer than dirt;
( C ) Your fans want product;
( D ) Products cost money up front to put into production;
( E ) You will never be able to get product to your fans unless you charge for the product prior to production.

So yes, I feel rotten doing preorders. Thereís about three days of time between the day when I finish collecting preorder information and before I send it out to the printerís where I could take your money and run it up and down my naked body in a frenzy of gluttonous theft, and believe me, Iíve been tempted (see B, above) [joke, joke! of course I'm kidding!] . Iíve also come to terms with the fact that they are a Necessary Evil until I am filthy rich, but I have faith that day will at some point arrive.

Fourth, donít whine. Ever (or as close to ever as humanly possible). We all have bad days but people are reading this stuff. The salt of human drama doesnít have to get purged all over your news post. Sure, it sometimes makes for interesting reading but is it really necessary to tell the world about the minutia of your love affairs, breakups, and family issues? Hell, over the last two years Iíve had two minor car accidents and Brown and I hit some extremely significant milestones in our lives, but the only time Iíve gotten really personal was vaguely sorta not-really confessing that I was dealing with a very scary health issue. Remember, those eyeballs reading your comic are attached to living people, and it's very easy to alienate people by whining. Whenever I get stuck for content, I make fun of my parents' dog; everyone knows at least one awful animal so I'm bringing people into a universal form of mild suffering which is also amusing (at my expense).

Last and most important, donít expect people to do things for you. The fact that you have a webcomic does not obligate anyone to thank you, pay you, or link to you. The fact that you have linked to them does not obligate them to thank you, pay you, or link to you. The fact that you have created guest art for them does not obligate them to thank you, pay you, or link to youÖ I could go on, and maybe I should go on, because itís a message that some people simply do not seem to understand. If this is a hobby for you, then anything you do in the context of your webcomic should be motivated by personal enjoyment and not by the notion that youíll get any other sort of payout. Similarly, other people with websites and so forth do not make decisions about their content based on what is good for you; for example, if you met a popular webcomic author at a convention and he didnít send any traffic your way when he did the writeup, thatís his prerogative. It doesnít mean he didnít like you as a person, or didnít value your work, or so onÖ itís just that he offers content based on his goals, not yours. And don't carry a grudge because someone didn't shill for you or pimp your work - that's your job, not theirs. The open nature of the Internet makes it easy to think we are all participating in a "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" transaction and this is just not the case. No one is obligated to make your projects work except for you and maybe your mom, and isn't she busy with her own stuff by now?
- Never send a ferret to do a weasel's work.

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an island
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He Who Wears Boots
true for podcasting, though the last one is kinda off... i mean, don't EXPECT it.... but i've got a lot of great fans that keep it worth my while with thank-yous and such... i even get the occasional "why the hell isn't the show up yet this week?!?!?!" :)

i love teh intarnetz
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Otter
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an island
Jan 19 2008, 02:14 AM
true for podcasting, though the last one is kinda off... i mean, don't EXPECT it.... but i've got a lot of great fans that keep it worth my while with thank-yous and such... i even get the occasional "why the hell isn't the show up yet this week?!?!?!" :)

i love teh intarnetz

Well, yeah, the people who take the time to write an email (or drop a Christmas card, or make fan art) are part of what makes it worthwhile, but they fall into the first tip because they are readers (or your return podcast audience). I also love teh intarnetz because it's such a warm fuzzy when someone takes a few minutes to write and comment.

But I think it's inappropriate to do something as a hobby with the expectation that you're entitled to get something out of it, or that other people are obligated to do things for you because of it.* I've made tons of fan art for other webcomics (it's really good drawing practice) and most of the time it's like dropping labor and effort into a black hole. People just have better things to do than pimp your site for you; it doesn't mean that they didn't appreciate what you did for them, just that they might not want to do anything for you in return. There's absolutely nothing wrong with this.

*This is why I always try to make donation gifts when there's a donation drive, so people can get something in return in addition to the strip.
- Never send a ferret to do a weasel's work.

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an island
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He Who Wears Boots
heard dat, g.

absolutely right
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mckenzee
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Interesting read. I'll have to come back and study this some...
"There is a cryptic ingredient in many of our modern improvements - We are awed and pleased without knowing quite what we are enjoying" - E. B. White 1939

Sinister Bedfellows
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GreyKnight
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This is absolutely a great piece you wrote. I don't personally find points 2 and 3 applicable to me, since I don't intend to sell merchandise, but I'm sure they're entirely as good as the other points. Is it OK if I reproduce this (with attribution) as a page on my website? I'd quite like to use it as a basis for a "charter" detailing how I promise to manage my comic.
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Otter
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GreyKnight
Jan 22 2008, 06:07 PM
This is absolutely a great piece you wrote. I don't personally find points 2 and 3 applicable to me, since I don't intend to sell merchandise, but I'm sure they're entirely as good as the other points. Is it OK if I reproduce this (with attribution) as a page on my website? I'd quite like to use it as a basis for a "charter" detailing how I promise to manage my comic.

Please feel free! I also don't mind adaptation as long as there is proper citation. :-)
- Never send a ferret to do a weasel's work.

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Otter
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Updated version of this is available here
- Never send a ferret to do a weasel's work.

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