One of the difficulties in producing a webcomic is that it’s generally a one-person operation. You might say that makes sense, as many of the webcomics you’ve likely read have the same person writing and drawing it. But when you start putting in perspective relative to the whole process, it’s quite an impressive list of skills that’s actually needed.
Once the comic is written and drawn, it needs to be formatted for the final production. Making sure it’s the right size and format, of course, but also things like compression and color optimization need to be considered as well. These are typical procedures for any graphics designed for the web, but it’s still a somewhat different skillset than drawing. As is the page layout and user interface for the site.
Then there’s some technical things to set up like establishing a good format for an RSS feed, the functionality of an ongoing archive, upload procedures... Fortunately, here, there are a number of existing packages that help to take care of that.
But then there’s the marketing. Getting the comic’s name and link out there. While it’s easy enough to set up a Twitter account and a Facebook page and all that, there’s the difficulty in getting others to follow that account. And once they do, then there’s the difficulty in getting them to click on the links back to the comic on an ongoing basis.
There was an author of some comic book histories whose work I liked. His writing wasn’t exactly stellar, but he had done some really ground-breaking research that no one else had even really attempted. I found his website, read his blog, and generally tried to follow what his most up-to-date research was.
All well and good, but then I emailed him to ask him some questions. Follow-ups from one of his books. He responded fairly promptly but quickly spun his response into a pitch for another one of his books. One which I already noted I had.
Some time later, I emailed him some new questions. He again responded promptly, but again spun his response into a pitch for his books. His answer to a third email later resulted in yet another pitch.
I no longer follow him online because even his most individualized responses were shilling for his own work. He came across a lot like a stereotypical used car salesman.
The problem he was facing was that he was confusing salesmanship with marketing. Salesmanship is primarily focused on the closing the immediate sale. “What do I have to do to put your in this car today?” There’s a time and a place for that, but in a venue which you have to repeatedly go back to the same audience -- a venue like, say, webcomics -- the short term gains of the immediate sale deteriorate quickly. The salesman develops a reputation, and people learn to avoid him/her.
Marketing, on the other hand, is about developing a relationship. It’s about connecting with the audience on a level that makes the audience want to continue. It’s about developing a rapport that extends beyond the webcomic itself. It can be a different relationship than what readers have with the comic, but it needs some warmth to it to allow readers to connect.
There’s a webcomic I follow whose creator is on Twitter. I started following her there to make sure I didn’t miss out on any of her projects beyond the webcomic I was already reading. She understood the difference between sales and marketing, and used the venue to be a little more social and engaging with her readers.
However, she spent a lot of time going off on angry tirades about various socio-political issues. But even though I agreed with her most of the time, there were such heavy doses of ongoing negativity, I stopped following her. I still read her comic, but anything else that she might want to direct me to? I never see anything about it. If she has another project she wants to promote, or a friends’ comic, or something she just thinks is super-cool, I won’t see it.
While her engagement with me (and others on Twitter) was not simply an attempt at crass commercialization, over time, she showed that that venue was primarily an outlet for issues that upset her. And frankly, I’ve got enough of my own issues that I get upset over, thankyouverymuch. Even if she had something worthwhile to look at, I wouldn’t be likely to follow the link because she established herself as a rage machine. I wasn’t likely to find anything but more rage behind any link she might send out.
The marketing of a webcomic is not limited to just tweeting links to the latest installments. It’s about cultivating a relationship with the audience that tells them that the voice behind a webcomic is one worth listening to. That such a voice has built up some credibility by continuing to talk about and point to interesting things. Some of those things will likely be webcomics, some perhaps not. But that voice needs to speak to people in a way that gets them to come back for more. Curiosity might get readers to click through the first few links, but it’s that relationship that gets them to click on the 100th.