Recently, I’ve been giving some special thought to my hidden readers, the people who buy my books and/or read my blog and/or watch my YouTube channel but don’t say anything or make themselves known in any way. They’re the readers I’ll never know about other than through the number of books sold or the number of times a post is read or a video is watched. If you’re one of those people, know that I do think about you and do appreciate you spending your time and money on me. You are considered every bit as important to my little operation of heroes and monsters as the people I do know about.
You are not unnoticed and you are valued and you are one of the reasons I try and do my best with everything I create.
Today, you are visible. Tomorrow, you will be, too. You were yesterday along with other times in the past, and you will be as the Timeline of All Things unfolds.
For what seems like ages, I’ve wanted to get back into webcomics. I briefly had one when I aired the first issues of Axiom-man many years back (along with some Canister X Comix stuff), then took everything down for various reasons. Recently, I’ve been wanting to do a comic again but know it’s a long slog and one that may or may not pay off, whether via viewership or compensation. (Ideally both.)
As I mentioned in my Patreon reflections article, if I didn’t have bills to pay, I’d gladly give away my work for free. But I can’t. I have myself and a family to take care of.
I love comics . . . but they take a long time to create. It takes anywhere from approximately eight to twenty-four hours to make a single page depending on your process and how many people you’re working with. Twenty-four hours. A whole day . . . just for the page to be read in a minute or less. And that’s the main hangup with webcomics: Time. Comics take a ton of time and unless you are independently wealthy, a good chunk of that time is taken up by a part- or full-time job so you can fund the basic essentials for life.
The standard model for webcomics–which typically make money from ads and merchandise while the comic itself is on-line for free–only works for a tiny percentage of webcomikers. All those other webcomics you love have someone behind them who stays up to all hours working on pages and making enough money off it for a few items but not enough to make a full-time living (if they make any money at all).
And this is the conundrum: How do I make my webcomic monetarily worthwhile so I have the time to make more of the comic on a regular basis?
I have some ideas, but thus far they all cater to the standard webcomics’ long game. And by “long game” I mean that getting traction can take anywhere from a few months to several years. There is no recipe I can think of that will shrink that time frame, and I’ve done my research.
This blog post isn’t a complaint, by the way. It’s just getting my thoughts on webcomics out in front of me so I can see them.
I’d like to be able to share with you my still-formulating webcomic plan–which incorporates old ideas with [hopefully] new ones–but I can’t because it’s still formulating.
I’ve had a webcomic in my head for coming up on a week–or maybe it has already been a week? I don’t know–that’s slowly being added to every day, my subconscious bringing ideas and notions to my conscious brain and filing them away as both solid form and possibilities. I’m also not overthinking this stuff either because overthinking and painfully analyzing something leads to disaster, if not immediately then inevitably.
All I know is there is room for innovation in webcomics. I think what happened was webcomics came out under a certain model thus that model became the norm for comic readers. It’s going to take time to break that norm.
After being in publishing for sixteen years, I know the industry is constantly changing. What worked for book authors ten years ago doesn’t work now so writers made changes. The same holds true for comics: What worked in the old webcomics model doesn’t work now so it needs an upgrade.
Back to formulating. Will post more thoughts when I have them.
On September 14, 2019, I launched my first Patreon page. It was a thrilling day and one filled with hope and excitement. Sure, part of the reason to create the page was to supplement my writing and drawing income, but, having been part of Web culture since close to the beginning of my career (circa 2000), it was an opportunity for me to create a place on the Web to share cool stuff with people in a kind of “club” format.
See, I have this problem of creating a ton of stuff for free and putting in on the Web whether via this blog or social media. As of today’s date, I’m on here blogging articles, essays, and musings Monday to Friday, my free weekly newsletter goes out on Saturdays, I started up a YouTube channel again, and I’m doing Inktober and sharing those sketches on social media (see the icons on the right). I enjoy entertaining people and, if I was in a place where money was no object, I’d gladly share all my work for free. But I can’t. I need to eat, need to buy supplies, need to cover costs, etc. so I have no choice but to charge for my work hence adding Patreon as part of my platform.
If there is one major aspect of Patreon I truly enjoy, it is the idea of having a special place on the Web where people use a key (money) to unlock a door (my Patreon) to get stuff only available on the other side of that door. It’s an opportunity for me to virtually sit down with a group of people several times a month and go, “Look what I made. Hope it entertains you. Hope it educates you.” Almost like show-and-tell but, hopefully, much more entertaining. And, in the end, that’s what Patreon stands for for me: My patrons. They’re a special group of people who were willing to shell out a few beans to help a northern jackass like myself keep making entertainment for them and others.
(Side note to explain what creators mean when they say buying their work or supporting their Patreon enables them to keep creating. They are not saying that without the support they can no longer create. A creator creates and always will. Just how it is. What they are saying is your support buys them the greatest and most precious of all commodities: Time. Time is the most valuable thing on the planet. Once a moment passes, it’s gone forever. No going back. No storing it up. It’s not even in abundant supply because we all die. If a creator spends their time doing everything but creating–I’m talking surviving life stuff not blowing hours on social media–then we’d have no entertainment. By supporting a creator, you’re filling up their Time Bank Account instead of them spending their Time Dollars on things that hinder the hours needed to create something. Even if ten hours a week can be supplemented, if the creator is responsible, they now have ten extra hours to make stuff for you. It’s win-win on both ends.)
I’m only about a month into my Patreon journey. It’s been wonderful so far and I look forward to the days that are scheduled to upload new content. Right now, a new chapter of my creature feature serial novel, Gigantigator Death Machine, airs every two weeks (a new chapter went up today). On the off weeks, I put up essays on the creative industry and also treat patrons to behind-the-scenes stuff here at the Central. Of course, there are also extra blog posts for everyone as well as patron-first announcements where my patrons receive news before the general public. I’m still finding my footing regarding what else to offer. I have a plan for an ongoing special something for patrons but it’s not ready yet. Perhaps in the New Year, perhaps sooner. Regardless, I’m pleased with my current offerings and am excited to share more as time goes on.
My patrons are my special group. They are those who’ve gone the extra mile by way of monthly support, and for that I am grateful. I want to publicly thank them here and I want to offer a thanks to future patrons as well.
Though this demands a full article, here is the brief version on creative freelancing for a living.
It’s a job. A fun one, but a job. The common misconception people have of those working from home is that it’s all playtime and games, sleeping in and working here and there. This isn’t true. During the day, home becomes my workplace. There is a start-of-work time and an end-of-work time. (Except during deadline season, then it’s work until it’s done.) I have clients who have me on the clock. I have personal projects on the clock. Everything is scheduled. If I don’t adhere to the schedule, I lose the job with a client and/or I lose income generated from regularly releasing books. I have my Patreon to attend to with hard-earned money being spent by people who have trusted me with it in exchange for entertaining them. I have a career built on a reputation and if I wreck that reputation, I can’t get it back. This is all taken very seriously. My career is zero without my readers and clients. My ability to eat rests on ensuring they are treated well and quality work is being brought to them.
While working at home has some advantages like not needing to commute or not needing to pack a lunch, or endless coffee and the ability to vape inside, it’s still treated like an out-of-home job. It has to be. I’m working whether I feel like it or not. I’m putting the time in whether I feel like it or not. This idea that working from home isn’t the same as a “real” job needs to stop. What is a job? It’s a task(s) you do in exchange for something. It’s a task(s) you’re depended upon to do. Any freelancer who knows their next meal is dependent on getting the job done knows this.
“Wait . . . what?” you say. “If I don’t sell my book, who’s going to read it? Isn’t selling my book and making money what authors are supposed to do after publication?”
I don’t know. Is it?
If you want to ensure your book won’t sell, sell your book.
Here’s what I mean:
The on-line world is loaded with authors whining and begging people to, “Buy my book!” They form groups on Facebook, which amount to nothing more than broke writers marketing their books to other broke writers. They tweet purchase links all day and hit up social networks with ads . . . then cry at night because it did absolutely nothing for them.
How do you get a following these days with everyone and their dog writing a book, publishing it and calling themselves an author?
Or how does someone who starts from scratch come out of nowhere and move copies of their work without shoving it in people’s faces? (And we’ve all seen them: those authors whom we’ve never heard of move a gazillion copies.)
To build a following, marketing your book will get you nowhere. Sure, you might catch a few sales and feel like a success story all your own—and rightly you should, to be honest—but to keep those sales going and to build a readership, you need to switch up your game plan.
You need to start marketing yourself.
Some people call this branding. What are we? Cattle? I don’t want a brand for my books. I don’t want my books to be what I’m known for. I want me to be what I’m known for. When I’m dead and gone, that’s the thing that matters, not how many books I sold.
Stop chasing the almighty dollar and start chasing the reader.
You don’t want to be known as that distant author behind a desk somewhere. You don’t want to be that high-and-lofty literary guest at some convention. You want to be that down-to-earth extra awesome person who’s a familiar face at shows and signings. You want to be that friendly and approachable on-line personality who’s a class act and is genuinely interested in interacting with their readers.
“But all I want to do is write!”
Then get out of the business, frankly. Or, if you must write, then don’t publish. As much as I’m an art-first-money-later guy, I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t want to make a few bucks off what I do. The motivation to make cash isn’t to be rich, though. I don’t care about that stuff. I just want to make enough to live on. But I can’t do that selling my book. I have to sell me.
Let me break it down for you in really simple terms:
When you first started writing, you went through a lot of trial and error and a lot of drafts. As you wrote a few books, you noticed your style started changing and at one point you reached that magical book where everything was different and you found your voice. Since then, your voice has been your style. Writing is easier, editing is easier, coming up with stories is easier, too.
This applies to your marketing efforts. You need to find your voice. You can’t just be another author spamming the world. There are ads everywhere for everything. People ignore that stuff. But they don’t tune out unique voices . . . especially if that voice has something of value to say. This is how followings are made and grown. You become known as the author “who’s like that.” Not the author “who’s like so-and-so . . . and a million others.”
I’ve been publishing since 2003, and indie publishing since 2004. I’ve seen it all. People have come and gone. There’s been successes and failures. Ups and downs. Yet there is one thing that has remained consistent throughout all of it: the authors who found their marketing voice are the ones who are still doing well today, who have a following, and have cultivated loyal readers based on who they are and not just their work.
To be clear, I’m not diminishing the importance of putting out good books. Sometimes that can indeed be enough to build a readership (i.e. it initiates word-of-mouth, etc.). But if you’re an author lost to the din of the flooded publishing world, writing a damn good book is probably not going to cut it. You need to get yourself out there and expose yourself to readers by showing them who you are behind the page.
Some writers niche themselves and become known for a certain thing or a certain personality. Others are more broad-brush. Whatever the case, simply blasting ads everywhere isn’t going to do anything for you. But if you meet people, whether on-line or off-, and not just use it as a means to pitch them your book, you’ll be surprised at how many copies you’ll move.
Put the people first, your book/comic/whatever second. This is so important. This about reputation and, at least for me, I never, ever buy books from people who blatantly shove it in my face. I don’t care how good the cover is or what the synopsis is about. As a reader, I want to be cared for. I want to know this isn’t just a money game to the writer.
Art first, book(s) second.
And if you’ve somehow missed the point of everything above, all I’m saying is be yourself, share yourself, then share info about your book after that.
Connect with readers first, then point them to the page.
Since about the spring of 2009, I’ve been working full time as a writer and publisher. There have been a couple out-of-the-house gigs here and there since 2014, but otherwise I’ve been on my own. Even after the past seven years or so, it still all feels kinda new. If you know my journey and all that went on behind-the-scenes, you know it hasn’t been an easy road, so to finally be able to live my creative dream after all those obstacles is surreal. There are days I feel like I’m doing something wrong; decades of being conditioned to think that all jobs need to occur at a place of business instead of in a home office still creeps into my brain once in a while. Calling my own shots and my own hours is something I’m still getting used to even after years of doing it.
On Working for a Living:
I’ve never been opposed to working for a living. I believe everyone needs to earn their own way through life and not live on handouts. To clarify, “earning their own way” is meant as don’t be one of those people who sit around all day or count every day as play time. A person needs to work and that doesn’t necessarily mean at a job-job. If you’re a stay-at-home parent, you have my admiration because I did the stay-at-home dad thing for a long time and know how hard it is to maintain a home plus take care of a couple rugrats. Actually, stay-at-home parents work harder than anyone else if you count all the tasks and stresses associated with it. They make a living for everyone else around them even though they don’t collect dollars and cents every two weeks.
The world owes you nothing.
If you want something, you have to go and get it.
On Living Without a Regular Paycheck:
My needs are small and, in recent years especially, I’ve become something of a minimalist in terms of being content and fulfilled by the basics: food, shelter, clothes, a means to work. All the rest is window dressing, and I don’t chase the dollar sign nor do I want a rich lifestyle. Heck, I go to some friends’ houses who are way more well off than I am and within a few minutes I feel out of place. Same with fancy restaurants or venues. I get uncomfortable. I’m good with my 110-year-old house with a crappy paint job and holes in my socks.
But in terms of working without knowing where the next paycheck is coming from, I’ve gotten used it and I’ve always been provided for even when I’ve hit lean times now and then. The basics have always been met and, at the end of the day, those are the most important.
Living without security has also taught me to ensure I get my butt in gear and produce books and items to keep those books selling which, when the payday comes, makes it even more rewarding than a guaranteed salary because I know had I not made the effort to move the books, I wouldn’t be able to buy my next box of cereal.
It was a hard leap to plunge into what was essentially the world of sales and commission. When you’re used to a regular 9-5 and have been brainwashed by everyone in your circle that security is the way to go, it was a challenge to start working without a net.
Nowadays, I like the thrill of the chase. Even as I type this, my June is up in the air monetarily speaking, but I know I’ll be okay once it rolls around.
The greatest reward is the creative community I’ve plugged myself into over the years. If I were to corral the people together into categories, they fall into two major groups: my on-line horror buddies whom I spent hours and hours with over the computer back in the early days, and the second group is a local one I started getting involved with in the fall of 2014. (Social media killed that first one.)
Writing is an incredibly lonely job. It’s fun while you’re doing it and is best done by yourself, but when you’re doing all the peripheral tasks of independent publishing, it can get lonesome sitting there at a computer all day. Having a group to connect with now and then in the real world has enabled me to get out of the house and be an off-line human being. It has filled me up in ways digital connection cannot, and since I’m generally opposed to living my whole life on the Internet, has been quite welcome.
I don’t know what the future looks like creatively-speaking. Truthfully, I don’t want to know. But what I do know is come the day I’m lying on my deathbed, I get to lay there and look back over my career and know I had a fulfilling working life doing what I love on my own terms. That’s something money can’t buy, is something I can take with me as I leave this world, and an example I can leave behind on what it truly means to be rich.
6. Long gone are the days of just writing and nothing else.
Like I said before, unless you catch a break or find yourself in Amazon’s “also bought” loop and bestseller lists, you’ll have to market your work. This goes beyond just having a website and telling your friends on Facebook and Twitter about it (though those items are a good start). Even if you score a traditional deal, you’ll need to put in the time to market your work until you have such a large fan base you know they’ll pick up everything you write regardless of what it is and all that’s needed is an announcement.
A suggestion is to dedicate at least one day a week to marketing or, if you can spare it, do a minimum of two things a day to tell others about your book, two things that involve both the on-line and off-line worlds. Marketing on-line is harder, actually, because you’re competing with so many more voices. Local off-line marketing is much easier—unless there are two hundred thousand authors all shouting about their books in your local bookstore.
Take the time to set up things like:
– newspaper/radio/magazine/blog/website interviews
– book signings
– convention appearances
– social media efforts
– trunk-of-car sales
– magazine ads
It takes time. It takes work. But that’s what it takes. Simply uploading your book to one or two platforms doesn’t cut it anymore.
7. Utilize both the on- and off-line worlds.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing solely on on-line sales. I’ve seen it, I’ve lived it, and I’ve had good times and bad times with it.
Like I said about diversifying, you need to be both on-line and off-line with your book.
My book, Getting Down and Digital: How to Self-publish Your Book, walks you through both processes step-by-step with your average self-publisher’s budget (a few hundred bucks). It gives a well-rounded approach to publishing and emphasizes using both the virtual and real worlds.
I will admit, however, there is an on-line bias and that’s because of the off-line world’s system of book returns. You can be in every bookstore in every country, but unless your book sells and stays sold—bookstores allow customers to return books after all—you face the potential nightmare of having a ton of books returned to you at your expense.
At the same time, off-line sales pose the chance to make a good buck per book. Like I mentioned about my convention experience—and I’ve been doing conventions steadily for seven years—I net $8-10 a book. Can’t do that on-line because even books sold through on-line retailers require the retailers get a cut.
The following should be part of a self-publisher’s arsenal on top of on-line sales through the usual suspects, whether those on-line sales are for eBooks or paperbacks:
– book signings
– convention signings
– book events
– public readings
– direct sales to family, friends, co-workers, strangers
8. Publishing costs money.
A lot of writers struggle with cash. I totally get that. I was once homeless because of me chasing this dream and have lived close to the breadline a few times as I pursued it. It’s hard when you look in your cupboard and there’s not much there and you have a family to feed. It’s hard when part of your income is walking back alleys looking for beer cans to cash in. I fully sympathize with any writer struggling right now and those who have struggled. However, the one thing that has always been consistent is it costs money to publish whether one is struggling or not. You need to either save up, work a few extra hours at the day job, get a second job, sell some stuff, do pre-orders or something else to raise capital.
Some people you’ll need to pay:
– an editor
– book cover artist and/or book cover designer
– printer set up
– office supplies
– paper and ink to print out your manuscripts
– marketing expenses
It costs money, too, if you want to get in books for events, signings and other things. However, you can quickly make it back if you get in small quantities like, say, twenty books a pop. (i.e. print books at $4 a book, sell them at $15. I’ve made back my $100 printer bill and then some after the tenth copy sells. Copies eleven through twenty are all gravy.)
9. Stick to your own thing.
Like I mentioned earlier, trends come and go. Recently, there was a huge zombie boom in literature and doing zombie books was like printing money. Now that bubble’s burst and the sales aren’t there like before. I know this from personal experience and from talking to those in my publishing circles.
Vampires were huge for a while and those books were moving like crazy. Now, not as much on the whole. Urban fantasy is the new thing. Those are moving like hotcakes at the moment. But you know what? That’ll change, too, so unless you’re willing to write whatever is hot at the moment, you’re better off just writing what you enjoy. While it’s true some genres sell better than others (i.e. romance has always been a solid seller), you’re better off just doing your own thing. Your joy in writing whatever your genre is will come through on the page and make a better book. You’ll build your brand as “that guy/girl who writes thriller/mystery/superhero/weird” fiction and will develop your following of readers who love that stuff as a result. That’s the trick: finding that niche market of readers who’ll support you for each release. The goal after finding them is to grow that group and sticking to one or two genres goes a long way in making that happen.
If your genre isn’t hot right now, odds are it will be at some point. I never thought I’d see the day when superheroes were all over popular culture. Thanks to Marvel’s efforts at the box office—and if DC gets their act together, them too, and Man of Steel was a sign their new shared universe is off to a good start—they’re everywhere, more than at any other point in history, and it’s put a spotlight into my main genre: superhero fiction (The Axiom-man Saga). Good deal for me. I stuck to my thing and now it’s poised to pay off.
10. Have fun.
Nothing kills creativity like discouragement. When we first start out writing, we’re all gung ho and looking to make a career. We’re hungry for it and sacrifice anything to get it—I was homeless trying to make this happen, remember? Sometimes success comes right away, other times you got to toil away for years and years. Look at J.A. Konrath. He put in around twenty years before things really came together. I’m sure there were times the fun stopped and, dare I say, he even considered quitting. But he didn’t. He made it work, made it fun and kept on going. Now it’s paid off.
Writing is an art form above all else and there are many writers who never catch a break and just toil away at it their whole lives. They’ll say it’s because “they can’t help themselves but write,” but what does that mean? It means they’re having fun regardless of payoff. Writing is a source of joy for them and completes them in some way. Whether you publish or not, there needs to be a fun element. Very, very few writers write solely for money.
Publishing should be fun, too, even if success doesn’t happen right away. Transforming a book from a manuscript into an actual book with two covers is also an art form, a fun art form, and should be part of the joy of creating something from nothing just like writing the story is. In fact, it’s becomes highly addictive after a while.
Writing should be about honesty and good times. If it’s not, why bother?
Anyway, thanks for reading my Top Ten List of Truths for Self-publishers. There are more, but these are the big ones. Others can be found in my book, Getting Down and Digital: How to Self-publish Your Book, which walks you step-by-step through the publishing process for print and eBooks, formatting, cover design, marketing and more. It’s an entire self-publisher’s education between two covers, one that covers multiple eBook and paperback markets, and is meant to be the ultimate go-to guide for the career indie author.
This entry was prompted because I’ve come across it more than once. Three times, to be exact, so I figure it’s worth blogging about–
Authors and starting their own publishing company.
This is the approach to publishing I strongly advocate in Getting Down and Digital: How to Self-publish Your Book. It’s my opinion that taking the time to set up a publishing business the proper way opens doors to taking your self-publishing career in multiple positive directions, on-line and off-.
However, on three separate occasions I’ve seen authors simply “start companies,” that is, just making up a business name and start and/or plan to publish under it without registering it through the proper channels.
While the nuances of business start-up rules vary country to country, state to state, province to province, if a person wants to start a company, there is a certain way to go about it because each industry functions on different rules of trade and sales depending on where you live.
When I started Coscom Entertainment and any if its imprints, I had to go to the Companies Office downtown, fill out paperwork, explain what my business was and pay a fee. This was in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
I know from speaking with other Canadian and US publishers that they, too, had to go through a formal procedure to get their company up and running.
But I have also seen authors pull a company out of thin air and aim to start using it. I don’t know if this is simply because they don’t know any better or if it’s because of all the Kindle talk that people think all areas of publishing are free and one can do whatever they want when it comes to it. Or maybe, like most writers and artists, money is hard to come by so they want to do things as cheaply as possible and free is about as cheap as it gets. Perhaps it’s the Internet mentality because a lot of people view the Web as a “place to get stuff free” so why not start up a company for free, too? The problem with this kind of free is it’s unethical. Why create the groundwork of your career on something that’s wrong? It’ll only lead to problems down the road.
The publishing industry is changing, this is true, and things are not what they used to be–and this extends past the whole eBook thing–but other things have remained, and that is the need to properly start a business if setting up a publishing house is part of your self-publishing plan.
If you’re not sure what to do, pull out your phone book and look up your local Companies Office. Tell them what you plan on doing–publish books–and they’ll let you know what you need to do so that if your business is ever looked into, you can produce the proper paperwork that states you are allowed to run your business whether out of your home or an outside office. Likewise, when it comes tax time and you claim your writing income, claiming it under a company might work to your advantage in terms of write-offs. Talk to an accountant about this as the rules vary place to place.
In the end, if you wish to self-publish via your own imprint, part of the deal is registering that imprint with the proper authorities.
Start your career on the right foot. It can only payoff in the end.