Finally, a question that has actually qualified for a Frequently-Asked-Questions section! I think this deserves its own page, though, and will be updated as I start to know what I’m talking about.
The basics for starting a webcomic:
- Make sure you enjoy it, because it takes years to be profitable, if at all. The hard truth of webcomics is that only a tiny percent actually become profitable. For instance, Kenny Chronicles still makes less than what I spend and I’ve been at it for over 2 years(10 years, if you count all the planning). If you’re a professional artist, a webcomic can be a tool for practice, experimentation, and promotion. If you’re not, it can be a tool for practice, experimentation, and getting a foot in the door. Or just for fun. A comic won’t be good if you’re not having fun with it anyway. Enjoying your own comic is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING. If you like what you make, there are thousands out there who will also like it(if they find it). Even if your comic changes and loses readers, it’ll find new readers. The most important fan, is YOU. Speaking of fans…
- Interact with your fans, build a community. Respond to your email. Interaction gets readers, which leads to the next point…
- Find forums related to the topic of your comic(not just webcomic forums, either!). Ask for reviews, but PLEASE wait until you have a month’s worth of comics before asking, maybe even 30. It’s hard to give a good review of 5 comics unless it’s a complete story, and it’s harder to feel like subscribing with such a small example. With your archive in hand, evaluate what your comic is about. Is it about knitting? Find some knitting forums! Does it feature talking animals? Furaffinity.net is a strong community for that(careful with the content ratings, it’s an art site, after all). Webcomic forums are invaluable, but be sure to branch out as well. With any forum, get to know the community before promoting yourself. See what forms of promotion are accepted. Are people putting a blurb about their site in the signature? If so, feel free to use that.
- Don’t create a “gamer” comic. That genre has been saturated. There are a LOT of un-tapped topics for comics. Comics about games are fine, but not if that’s ALL your comic is about, because there are thousands of comics that are just like yours, if you go that route. In webcomics, the more niche your audience is, the better. I’m not a doctor, but I read Doc Rat because it’s funny, well-drawn, and is UNIQUE. Jenner can make jokes that would be out of place in other comics. “Write what you know” applies here. One place it doesn’t apply, however, is…
- Don’t create a comic based on your friends. First off, hurt feelings can occur, especially if your comic’s characters branch off from their inspirations. My characters are each based off of at least 2 people, if they’re based on anybody at all, and that’s just for a template. Second, and more importantly, your friends aren’t good characters. Sorry to tell you that. Friends rely on similarities to each other, characters rely on contrast. Read up on creating a good cast of characters. They must have different traits, in both appearance and personality. Speaking of creating good characters…
- Just say “no” to Mary Sue! A Mary Sue character is based on the author, and is designed to have absolutely no flaws. A good character has flaws. Any time your character starts to look perfect, knock them to the ground! I do my best to make Kenny NOT be a Mary Sue, and he’s lost a tooth in that endeavor. As of this writing, the character of Death is starting to look too perfect in my opinion, but she’s still a new character, and I’m still establishing a few traits. She does have a character flaw of being controlling, and is dangerous to piss off(may be a strength, but can be viewed as a flaw too). From the start of her design, I wanted to give her a disability. Trouble is, 117 years in the future, many of today’s disabilities would be cured. She is short, as a minor thing(I’m short, so I know the limitations that brings). I’ve also given her one other defect that I have yet to reveal.
- Update regularly. People expect the comic at a set schedule. Even more important than keeping to your schedule is choosing the right schedule. You should make several comics before making the website, so use that time to figure out what a comfortable schedule is. Generally, webcomics will update 1, 2, 3, or 5 days a week(3 is popular). The more you update, the more likely you’ll get higher traffic. However, the more updates you miss, the more people will give up on the comic. Balance. You can counteract a low update schedule with blog posts on the off-days, as long as they’re interesting and relevant. ALSO, you can change your schedule when needed, but not too often, and give your readers warning.
- Listen to all of the Webcomics Weekly podcasts, starting with the first ones. There’s some really good stuff in that podcast, both informative and entertaining(non-cartoonists will find lots of laughs too, lol). The first ones are at Talkshoe and the later ones are at Libsyn. Probably the only out-of-date info is their opinions on Twitter, which they now all use heavily(as do I). They also have a great book called How To Make Webcomics. Unfortunately, it seems out of print, and the cheapest price is $25 used. Erm, I paid half that. I hope it gets printed again, it’s very useful. For a podcast on creating a great comic(not as much focus on the web & promotion aspect), check out Art & Story. These guys give great tips with every podcast(unless the podcast is about a convention, which in that case it’s about the convention).
- Need webspace? You’ll likely want to have paid webspace eventually, but if you want good free comic hosting, go to ComicDish.com, use the “account” mouse-over menu and choose “create account”. At Comic Dish, the comic account is the same as the forum account, so you also have access to the community and events. I haven’t used them before, but I listen to their podcast regularly, so I know it’s a great community and the control panel allows for nice customization. I pay for my web space and use WordPress with ComicPress. ComicPress isn’t the only good comic tool for WordPress, so feel free to check out “Webcomic” and “stripShow“, too. There’s also a plugin coming up called “Comic Easel“, but it’s not ready for showtime yet. Great developer, though. I’ll be keeping an eye on it. Oh, and a domain name is important if you’re really serious about your comic. Godaddy.com is basically THE place to get one. It’s a good idea to buy your domain name from a different company than your host, to make it easier to switch hosts later on. I don’t consider Godaddy to be a great web host. They’ve had some hacking issues lately, but also the interface isn’t very simple, and it’s clear they’re more interested in selling domain names than hosting. Would you like 3 domain names with your renewal? No, not really. Who do I recommend for web hosting? There are many great options, Dreamhost being the most popular with webcomics currently. If you get less than 5000 visitors per day, shared hosting is great. That number is different per host, and depends mostly on how much data is sent out, but around there, hosts start to urge you to upgrade your plan. Sometimes they drop your speed with no warning. Depends on the host. I rarely see 1000 page views in a day. Oh, and on the subject of hacking, here are two lists of plugins that are of use: one and two. I personally love Limit Login Attempts and WP-Firewall. The firewall sometimes prevents me from making template edits(have to whitelist your IP address), but it has blocked a few attacks so it’s worth it.
- Advertise! Like I mentioned, forums are good. If you really want huge numbers, though, spend several dollars a month on Project Wonderful. With PW, you bid on an ad space per day. It’s actually per minute, but the rate is per day, so an ad space can have several ads hold the spot throughout the day, depending on who’s the current high bidder. Yes, this gets expensive, and I’ve only deposited $5 on it. For a steady, moderate traffic increase, put a few PW ads on your site and just recycle your advertising income into advertising on other websites. It’s less effective, but it costs nothing. I generally pay 1¢ per thousand viewers, which also equals 1¢ per click. If my bid is costing me more than 5¢ per click, I cancel it. If bid well, you might get 100 visitors for each dollar you spend, although that performance takes practice. I’ve also found that Google Adwords gets me equally good rates of return(My ad got on Garfield.com!), but you can’t recycle your advertising income like with Project Wonderful. In fact, Project Wonderful is the best match for webcomics because it’s mostly other webcomics advertising on it! You will NOT see “One Simple Rule” ads, and for me, the income is better than Google Adsense. Now, if you have merchandise, feel free to raise your ad spending. Generally, merchandise isn’t very worthwhile unless you have over 1000 steady visitors. If you keep stock of your merchandise(not print-on-demand), raise that number past 5000.
So there you have my tips for webcomic success, or at least for preventing failure. I’ll be sure to expand/edit this as time goes on, so I figured this should be a page instead of a blog post.