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Secrets to Webcomic Success

Like any other business -- don’t let yourself be fooled, webcomics are a business -- it takes about three years before you know if you are going to be successful. Some people are lucky and their business takes off running from the git-go, but for the rest of us it’s usually a long, hard, slog to get to the point where our business is actually supporting itself, and us. Some webcomics never really become that successful, but the author/artist decides to persist because it is a source of work for them, either by referrals or as advertising for their artistic services. Many regard whatever they earn off their webcomic as extra “pocket-money” for the month, their “mad-money” if you prefer. In any case, it’s going to take about three years before you’ll know for sure that your future is as a wedcomic artist or not.

Unfortunately, as with any other business, there are an infinite number of ways you can contrive to sabotage your success without really meaning to do so. The web is littered with webcomics that might have been a success except the author/artist persisted in making mistakes, ignoring advice, and generally managing to chase away the very people they wanted to read their webcomic. Eventually, those webcomics end up abandoned, with both the author/artist and the readers discouraged--with the author/artist thinking “That was a great concept, but I guess nobody liked it” and the readers thinking “It was a great concept, but there were too many mistakes and time-offs.”

Below is a list of things you need to keep in mind to avoid that self-sabotage, and also advice on things you can do to help bring about your success as a webcomic artist.

  1. Webcomics are advertising, not a product. They are about building an audience that trusts and likes what you do.
  2. Copying a popular webcomic will not work because that webcomic already has an audience.
  3. To build an audience you must bring people back to your site regularly with new and engaging content.
  4. Most new viewers to your site only spend 45 seconds on your site. You must catch their interest in that time.
  5. The art and web design must be clean, understandable, evocative, and consistent in style to catch a reader in 45 seconds.
  6. Make sure your webcomic website or blog has good navigation for readers. “Hide and seek” isn’t a game that readers like to play.
  7. Art does not have to be good--it just has to be easy to understand and matching the comic theme to catch new readers.
  8. The harder you make it for people to view your site the smaller your audience will be and the less successful you will be.
  9. Flash viewers, animation, and sounds make it harder for people to view your comic, thus lowering your audience.
  10. Put your comic up today. It will never be “good” in your eyes, but it is “good enough” right now.
  11. Update your comic on a regular schedule--taking frequent breaks, irregular updates, gaps between updates, all chase viewers away. Readers hate any hiatus of any sort.
  12. Build a buffer of extra “pages” before you start, create “filler” art to use in emergencies. At least you’ll be updating on schedule when you use them.
  13. Dont put filler art in your archives, it slows down the new reader whos trying to catch up And it emphasizes the number of times you were late updating.
  14. You should have a plot, a plan, or at least more than a vague idea of what your webcomic is about. Stale jokes, over-worked cliches, and bad writing will chase away readers.
  15. Good writing will help keep readers, trust and like will help market your comic virally. It will not catch new readers.
  16. Nothing says amateur like obvious typos--too many and people stop reading. Type your dialogue into a word processor with spell-check turned on. Then copy it to your comic.
  17. Comics and manga are different from books, so concentrate more on artwork and less on words. Too much conversation and exposition will chase away your audience.
  18. Unless your comic is about politics or religion, do not use your webcomic to preach or moralize to your audience, like #17 above it will chase away your audience.
  19. Prompt your readers to add you to their Bookmarks/Favorites list. Some Browsers let you add code to your website that makes it simple for the reader to do so.
  20. Make it easy for readers to tell others about your comic, add  Social Media links to your webcomic pages (FB, LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter, and so forth).
  21. The easiest way for people to know when you update your webcomic is an RSS feed. With RSS, Webcomic Link Sites will check your site and tell people when you update.
  22. Not everyone uses or likes Social Media (or their parents won't let them), so prompt your readers to send their friends an email (like this example - Simple code is here).
  23. Make your comic stand-alone, it shouldn’t need a blog, Wikipedia, Urban Dictionary, or Google access for the reader to understand what’s happening.
  24. Your skill will improve through practice and dedication to putting your comic online.  It will become easier to hit regular dealines.
  25. Be open to criticism. Your readers will tell you what you are doing right and wrong.
  26. Don’t be bullied by your readers when it comes to your story. Technical flaws, though, should be corrected.
  27. Participating in forums/twitter/facebook can be free advertising for your site, provided you don’t look like you’re advertising.
  28. To advertise without looking like you’re advertising, have intelligent conversations and put your comic link in your signature.
  29. To successfully build trust you must stay active in online communities related to your comic. Pick a few that interest you, and participate!
  30. The more you cater to a community the more they will trust you.
  31. Set up a blog, FB, Twitter, or other Social Media account and use it to tell your readers when you update your comic, include a link back to it.
  32. Use your webcomic Social Media account only for the webcomic and related items--your personal account is where you put your dating problems, not this one.
  33. Once you have that trust (~5K viewers) you can sell them things to make money.
  34. It generally takes 3 years for a webcomic to begin to see financial success (as in, it begins to pay for itself).
  35. No one will buy anything from a comic that has been around for less than half a year or has less than 30 comics--unless you are famous, or very, very good.
  36. You can only sell things that the audience would normally buy, and the product must be of good quality. Selling crap will destroy the trust you worked so hard to build.
  37. People won’t buy things with your logo/characters on it--unless you are famous, very funny, or very, very good.
  38. Paysites, T-shirts, prints, etc., can sell to a receptive audience provided you have free content to bring people back regularly.
  39. Sex sells, but sex with no substance of story and/or quality of art behind it will chase your readers away.
  40. Paying for advertising works as long as you spread your money out over a long time instead of spending it all in a flashy splurge.
  41. Putting advertising on your website earns you money, but won’t even pay for your advertising unless you have tens of thousands of views per day.
  42. Don’t forget the real world: Make an 8-page mini-comic on 8.5"x11" or 8.5"x14" quarter-folded paper and hand it out at conventions and other places. Use the last page as advertising.
  43. For a cool business card, make a 16-page mini-comic (fold the quarter-fold one more time). You could make it more impressive by creating a color cover out of card-stock.
  44. Let people know they can buy your comic strip original-pencils and inks (if you draw by hand and scan the finished work, people are more willing to buy your originals).
  45. Showcase your illustrations and other artwork at image publishing websites, such as Deviantart or Flickr. Include your url in the images at the side.
  46. Name your artwork appropriately (not things like “12-14-2011_b.jpg”). Search engines note image filenames, and a well-named image file can attract viewers to your comic.
  47. Hold contests, using your originals as prizes or offering commissions. If you want to appeal solely to your fans, have them do something to promote you to be eligible to win.
  48. Go to conventions. Reserve a table in artist alley, if you’re up to it, otherwise take note of which artists’ displays and companies impressed you.
  49. Make large posters advertising your webcomic and put them up near the convention freebie tables. Or make 11"x14" posters and leave them on the freebie table.
  50. Engage in conversations with comic and art fans whenever you meet them. Don’t be too much of a salesman. Find out what they’re into. Give them your business card.
  51. Submit your webcomic to directories. The more webcomic directories linking to your webcomic the better ranking you get from search engines. You’ll also get more traffic.
  52. Everything you need to know about making webcomics is online for free. You don’t need to pay for the knowledge (but there are some good books out there).
  53. Trolls are to be ignored. Do not speak to them or of them. Anything else will encourage them.
  54. Webcomic creators are lonely people. Send them questions on email. If they have time, they will respond and help you.
  55. It is possible that you suck and you won’t have a career as a webcartoonist. You will never know until you try for 3 years.

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Adapted from an original post by Drowemos (Exiern) as “The secret to webcomic success in 30 tweets” 

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