The webcomics blog about webcomics

I’m Doing Great, How ‘Bout You?

Aw, geeze, what’s Gary so damn happy about? Well, I’ll tell ya, Sparky, it’s because every once in a while I get an email or meet a reader that tells me I’m producing the occasional nugget of enjoyable infotainment here on Fleen. And every once in a great while, it’s somebody whose work I really respect and have enjoyed for a long period of time.

Case in point: Colleen Doran, who’s been doing the independent, creator-owned thing for about as long as I’ve been seriously reading comics (and I’ve been seriously reading comics since the early ’80s). We’ve mentioned Ms Doran’s tendency to provide useful information (cf: bad publishers and how to recognize them; sharing webcomic traffic data; how to get health insurance as a self-employed creator) in the past, so when she writes with information to share, we at Fleen pay attention:

[T]hanks for linking to some of my nuts and bolts discussions. You might find this post with comments thread interesting. I try to be candid about the earnings on my comic, and think this may be of use to your readers.

Unless you really enjoy wallowing in stupid, you can skip past the first couple of paragraphs, which deal with Rob Granito trying desperately to pretend that his fifteen minutes aren’t up; the interesting part starts when you hit:

Not too long ago, a webcomics artist I never heard of whose principle activity seems to be trolling for fun, went on a public rampage, claiming A Distant Soil would never go anywhere online, had never been popular in the first place, and I’d never made any money on it. I took a look at his site. He gets about 5 page views a day. Clearly, he’s an unimpeachable source for how to be a pro.

Interesting because Doran is willing to share income numbers to start the discussion; tl,dr version: A Distant Soil has about US$3,000,000 in lifetime sales, which works out to an average (and averages are slippery things and I hate them) of US$30,000/year over ten years, once things like publishers and distributors and taxes get paid. In the comment thread, she’s honest about the ups and downs of website traffic and what effects it may have on her bottom line (and at times, the correlation factor looks really low). The real gem, though, is this:

Anyone who claims they have The Magic Formula is full of it. I felt the same way about the whole self publishing phenom. There is no one size fits all solution for anyone. Some people who had great mainstream careers bombed self publishing. Some people who do well on the web do crap in print. Some people who do crap on the web do well in print.

Whatever works.

These people who puff themselves up and make themselves out to be gurus with ridiculous stories about big sales and huge money, sheesh! Some are making money getting hired to speak about how you can get rich. Might as well listen to Tony Robbins. [emphasis added]

So that’s today’s lesson — you can’t try to catch the lightning in a bottle that somebody else caught, because that particular bit of luck/hard work/right place, right time was for them and not you. At MoCCA Festival over the weekend, I saw more than one creator getting grilled by a would-be up-and-comer about their success where it was immediately obvious that the questioner’s thought process when something like:

  1. Find out how _______ does it
  2. Do exactly what he/she does, but with my comics plugged into the Magic Secret Success Formula
  3. Sit back and let the money roll in

Yeah, hate to break it to you, would-be up-and-comer, but Underpants Gnomery doesn’t really work. And somebody else’s success in excess of your own doesn’t mean that there’s a conspiracy to keep you down, or that they’re lying about how they’re doing — it means that you haven’t found the formulation that will work for you.

By all means, pay attention to what those who’ve come before you have done (and especially what they tried to do and failed), but don’t think that a career in comics (or anything else) is plug-and-play replicable. Your success is dependent on nobody but yourself and Lady Luck (NB: she can be pretty capricious at times), so stop interrogating and start creating. Maybe you catch your own lightning. Maybe you don’t. But for certain you will not if you spend your time trying to make success into an algorithm.

“you will not if you spend your time trying to make success into an algorithm.”

This reminds me of an article I read recently that Scott Kurtz linked too: http://blog.wilshipley.com/2011/04/success-and-farming-vs-mining.html

It’s a rephrasing of the turtle/hair race applied to coding. I think it still holds for comics.

I set out to do what I like, because I knew, or at least suspected, that trying to match someone else’s formula (a) wouldn’t work (b) wouldn’t be any fun. You know how the business-successful webcartoonists (and writers, and actors, and …) all say they’re lucky to get paid for doing what they’d do anyway? I’m the one who does it anyway.

For a nominal fee, I am happy to explain how to sell bottles that are [i]guaranteed to catch lightning[/i].

Good advice. It seems to me that more creators would succeed if they focused on creating first and worried about marketing once they had something to market.

Whoa, whoa, whoa—that’s two references to Wil Shipley in two days (look at the domain you can download “literature” from; he’s providing the bandwidth, and doing it directly from his corporate domain name). Add to that the fact the book-related screenshots for Delicious Library proeminently feature webcomics (like this one, on his site: http://www.delicious-monster.com/images/librarypage/screenshots/Delicious-Library.png ), the dinner parties he occasionally throws for webcartoonists ( http://www.sheldoncomics.com/archive/080512.html ) (and, though it doesn’t benefit webcartoonists directly, his three appearances in Penny Arcade he won in as many Child’s play auctions), and I have to conclude Wil Shipley is one of the foremost webcomic sponsors.

[...] to her own experiences, I imagine we’ll get more of her finely considered opinion and instructive [...]

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