ymmv .23 – Run the Game Solo
No one is going to ask you to make comics.
At first, this idea fuels my desire to self-motivate and stay up late every night to kick ass. But soon it also becomes a way of life when you don’t have a dozen publishing deals lined up.
Literally, no one is asking you to make the comics. So, what do you do? Thankfully, there are answers to this question.
If you have the power, ability, quality, motivation, cash, or any combination of that list to get comics made, then you are pretty well beholden to yourself to do that. But I know a lot of young people coming up in the game who tell me they’re submitting to Image and they can’t wait to land that deal – and I have to break the news to them that the deal they’re waiting on is a dream, a ghost, second cousin to Harvey Rabbit.
It sounds harsh, but count for me how many people broke in with an Image book straight up. Now count for me the number of Image books that have proven financially untenable in this decade alone. Then count for me how many people had to hustle their ass doing DIY comics and the like before they got the bigger gigs. Notice a pattern?
No one is going to ask you, invite you, demand you, or care if you make comics. But you’re going to do it anyway [I know, me, too] so let’s look at your options.
You have to remember, that while no one’s asking you, no one’s ever stopping you, either. You can always complete a comic and here are some options I’d like to chew on:
- put it up online free
- sell the comic through ComiXology Submit
- run a Kickstarter campaign
Well, I know there are other options available – stuffing t-shirt cannons with them for game day, establishing your own publishing empire just to distribute your stuff, Patreon, etc – but for the sake of this article, my sanity, my experience/knowledge spheres, and a safely digestible word count, let’s run with these 3 options, okay?
For my money, here’s the tl;dr on these paths, some of my experiences, my fears, and overall where I know I’ll be going and why. Strap your helmets on, we’re into the breach with sales numbers and honest truth/fear bombs dropping. Sully forth.
FREE ONLINE COMICS
The amount of people I tell to just throw their comics up online for all to see is very close to forming a Venn diagram that’s just a circle with the amount of people who turn up their noses visibly to my face because they expect to get paid for their first work.
The good thing about a free comic online is: the price is right. People read free stuff online, webcomics do some crazy numbers, and you can build a readership this way. But it’s a long con to get the coin.
You need to lure people in with free comics, make sure they are good free comics, and then you slowly level up to something that requires a little pay to play.
I’m an advocate for free comics online, though if you scrub my history you’ll see I’m not as big an actual deliverer of them. I have some shorts up online, but not too much, and not a lot of sustainable heft. That doesn’t stop me thinking it’s the best way to get eyes on your stuff in the early days.
Someone once told me they’d rather put it on ComiXology Submit for 99c than just drop it for free and I told them that for free it might reach thousands, but on Submit it could only earn you in the double digits. What’s worth more realistically to you in the long run?
They say comics is a marathon, not a sprint, so consider how you play that early work because erecting a firewall of monetary investment can see you left out in the cold.
I’ll also point to one of the rarest of cases for free online success I can think of that is the Image/Skybound book Witch Doctor. The creative team of Lukas Ketner and Brandon Seifert just had an issue or short or something sitting around online and it happened to surf its way in front of the eyeballs of Robert Kirkman, and that’s how he sought them out to help launch Skybound. So that’s pretty cool, and would not have happened if it was a $1 pdf, or only sold at cons, or whatever.
Don’t put everything up online for free, but consider how much skin you need to put in the game. A few well placed shorts or one-shots could really engender some goodwill in others, so it’s definitely worth considering.
I give this a score of 7/10 – though not necessarily for every single thing you make, do show some discretion.
I’ll admit, when ComiXology opened its doors to indie comics, I was floored. This was the ability to land a global audience, and over a very long shelf life, that hadn’t really been afforded many indie creators before.
Sure, the internet existed, and you could get traffic to your site, but this was prime real estate on the front page of the biggest digital comics sales site in the world. This was big news and I got in as quickly as I could.
I was excited to put Fatherhood [a one-shot comic I created with Daniel Schneider, Paulina Ganucheau, and Brandon DeStefano] up through Submit, and I was floored when people bought it, but let’s run these numbers hard and see how they helped me.
Now, also consider, Fatherhood was my first real work, and when it landed on Submit I was a complete unknown, so my numbers might not be indicative of anyone else who’s used the program.
In the first month of being on ComiXology, Fatherhood sold 133 issues. Now, taking into account the big wet bite Apple takes from all sales through its devices, and most people were clicking a purchase button in the app back then, and then skim more off the top that went to ComiXology, this wild sales month probably netted a profit of maybe $40 if I was lucky.
Y’see what I meant above now about holding your work back from being freely available so you can get paid what you think you are worth? Yeah, I hope you think you’re worth $40.
Now, for me, selling 133 copies of a comic felt great, and I had nothing to compare it to [I still don’t for I haven’t been into Submit again – but not because I dislike or don’t find it valuable, it just hasn’t come up yet]. I was pleased enough, but when subsequent sales months all totalled in the single digits each time, well, I could see that any cash coming in had run its course.
So it seems you get a solid month out of the exposure – and maybe that’s all concentrated into the one week while the book appears on the front page, I don’t know – but the tail droops very quickly after that.
Though I should admit to one fortuitous thing – Fatherhood was eventually, months later, selected as one of the Top 100 Submit sellers [yikes if those numbers constituted a good time] and as such the issue was placed into the very first Submit Bundle that debuted at SXSW, and saw the issue get into another 5394 hands. I think I made maybe $5 after the split with all the other 99 comics, but getting the book into all those hands was the victory for that day – especially as I shortly after started up a conversation with a very well known author and we got chatting and he said my name seemed familiar, and he soon realised he’d just download onto his iPad Fatherhood from out of the bundle [he loved the cover].
So Submit isn’t a bad idea – you get a hub for people to find/buy your work, you get a great shelf life to be found forevermore, and you might get a few pennies for your effort, but it’s hardly the way to launch a comic and retire off the funds. Which reminds me that someone was asking about sales numbers for Submit and whether a creator could go full time using this platform and I surely did a spittake at the consideration.
I give this a 6/10 – because it has its perks but it just isn’t the best game in town anymore as the Submit shelves are clogged, often with clogable offences, and it’s something to put in the wholistic strategy file, but it’s not your “go to” move by any stretch. You don’t launch here, you make this your back catalogue, and for that purpose it’s a rock solid 10/10.
KICKSTART MY HEART
Then there’s the idea of placing your head on the chopping block, your heart in a blender, and your idea in a car cubing machine, and hoping no one presses an ON switch.
Crowd funding is a wild venture, and that’s because the possibilities seem to be endless. Maybe you’ll not get a single backer, maybe you’ll blow up and crest near 100k. It’s all happened before, and I’m not here to tell you how to run a successful KS campaign, I’ll just talk about whether it’s decent to do for your unsigned work.
Well, actually, I lie – I will say/ask one thing. Are you being realistic about your campaign? This means: do you have enough of an audience to reach on this one? Have you done your homework about running a KS campaign? Is your project actually good enough?
If you feel: yeah, probably, sure, why not? Then let’s roll forward.
Kickstarter is great because it proves to you if you, your comic, and all your hard work have enough legs to make it in the industry.
I ran my first comic KS campaign in September 2014. I was still a relative nobody, I had a handful of publications under my belt, and I put Deer Editor up to see how it would fare. I was unknown, Sami Kivelä was better known than me but still a newcomer, the book was anthropomorphic journalism/crime, and it was black and white.
But I worked my ass off to do the campaign right and we ended up after 30 days with $2318 raised from 326 backers, and Sami got paid, and I took a little something something, and everyone was happy.
So, let’s run those numbers.
326 is a hell of a lot more than 133. So in a few months I levelled up there. But to put it into better context, right before this I had a book picked up by Monkeybrain Comics – a great digital imprint in the States that hit it big with some ComiXology partnered buzz, quality books, they had hype and were selling decently, and even had a few Eisner nommed/winning titles. Headspace [the mini I did with Eric Zawadzki, Sebastian Piriz, Marissa Louise, and Dee Cunniffe] launched through them in March.
Now you’d think that with a buzzing publisher backing things, and in the easy ComiXology environment that you’d do okay, and we did, outstripping Fatherhood, but only just pipping our antlered friend with 356.
So getting a great [and Monkeybrain are great, look at High Crimes, Strange Nation, D4VE and others for proof] publisher feels fantastic, but half a year later I generated my own buzz to similar numbers. And with ComiXology you get the standard meals Apple eats out of your ass, etc, so on each issue I’m clearing cents whereas on Kickstarter you lose ~10% on fees, and the rest is yours to do with as you wish. This means on a monetary scale, Deer Editor is the greater success by far.
Granted, you have to work harder for Kickstarter backers, and I hustled to do tiered PDFs of growing quality, extras featuring art and script crits, and even a radio drama. I worked my ass off for every single backer, and it was totally worth it.
For me, the thing about Kickstarter is that you get to prove yourself alongside the work. When someone chooses to run their campaign [with just an idea, or with the finished book], what goal someone chooses, how expensive the pdf/digital options are, this all tells me a lot about the creator. I like to imagine these things mean something to editors watching also. If you do your homework, hustle hard enough, and don’t have a complete Cleveland Steamer for a comic, then you should be gold on KS to meet goals and get funded, and more importantly, in people’s hands.
There is also the added bonus that running a Kickstarter is about more than just the comic. It’s about prints, and sketches, and edits, and UV spot treatment on your cover, etc. You get to upsell you and your work in ways you can’t as just a ComiXology Submit book because you are offering extras, and more, and that selling platform doesn’t cater to that in the slightest. I use it to sell deeper layers of me and the work – script pdfs, process extras as free downloads. Anyone who has backed a Deer Editor campaign can attest to the fact you end up walking away with over half a dozen different downloads from more comics, ebooks, PDFs of pitches, and such. And this is really the only place you can do all of this with such immediacy and chance for profit.
To further prove the point, you can look to the second Deer Editor KS campaign we ran which raised more money, and got more backers [$3363 and 346 respectively]. Because data shows that successful peeps on KS are more likely to do better again on their next go, and we avoided the second issue slump in readers which for me is just huge. Huge.
But I have to stress those initial questions: do you have the audience, have you done your homework, and if your work good enough?
If you say no to any/all of these, then you can really tank on any of the options outlaid above, but it’ll be glaringly obvious on Kickstarter.
If you do your due diligence, then Kickstarter is a solid 8.5/10 for me – though it is dependent on probably having done some other work beforehand, and also having a decent audience reach – whether in person or online.
WHAT DO I ULTIMATELY RECOMMEND?
In the end, make up your own mind on what works for you, what you dig, and how you wanna roll – we all got them ymmv knuckle tatts, right?
But for my money, I’d do this with my first work:
Start by rolling some stuff out online for free first – see how you feel with your work getting readers, see what feedback/response is, and get past that fear of having eyes on your work. Also, build an audience, or have somewhere to point potential readers if they want to sample.
Once you’ve got the reach, run a smart/modest KS campaign. A one-shot, not a 12 issue maxi, and make this your first big mountain to climb – and as such do the legwork and properly prepare because people die on these summits, y’know?
I’d use ComiXology Submit as the next step, the place to leave your work once it’s done being active in your hands. And if you don’t feel you’ve got the legs to run a campaign yet, your audience is thin, you still haven’t done bupkis to show for free, then feel free to go straight to Submit first. It won’t go well, you’ll earn a few bucks, but it’s better than failing on KS and earning zero dollars.
Though, the alternative is to throw the bigger stuff up online to build that audience to point towards the campaigns for later.
These are the steps I’d take if I had my time over. Free, then KS for the break out work, followed by a Submit chaser for perpetuity.
Because no one’s asking you to make comics, but a lot of people will facilitate it happening, and dammit, a whole boatload of peeps out there wanna read your work, so do it right, stay the course, and have some fun.
Ryan K. Lindsay is a comics writer who has logged time at Dark Horse, Monkeybrain, Vertigo and other esteemed publishers. He currently writes Negative Space, a comic we here at Loser City love quite a bit. You can (and should) pick Negative Space up from your local comic shop or directly through Dark Horse.