I’ve had this post in the queue for several months.* It’s one of those posts that I’ve needed to write, but haven’t wanted to write, and… Well, here’s the thing: I can be dumb, and insensitive, and I write from my own life’s perspective (which has been pretty darned good). Since I’m a writer, sometimes there are elements in my projects that can be dumb, or insensitive, or come from my own life’s perspective (which sometimes ignores that other peoples’ lives have not been pretty darned good).
Write a blog post.
Quiet, brain, I’m working.
Write a blog post!
Working. Hush. I’ll give you cookies.
Write a blog post or I’ll remind you about this thing you did when you were eight.
Fine. Okay. Right. Let’s organize the work schedule for the next few months, shall we?
Back in August (Wait, that can’t be right… Holy crap, yeah, August) I made a Futurama Head In A Jar template. And then I started working on heads-inna-jar. I finished and posted two of them, and then worked on a bunch of others. Two of these I sent to author Seanan McGuire when I sent her a copy of DIGITAL DIVIDE.
And her alter ego, Mira Grant.
Seanan has been amazing. We’ve been chatting back and forth since I featured her book cover in a comic strip. At the time, I hadn’t read any of her works and picked the cover of a popular zombie novel off of Amazon at random (because what the hell else would undead pixy Ben Franklin read?). Man, I am glad for that chance landing on Feed. Seanan has been nothing but awesome. She’s funny, helpful, and willing to say “Yes, that thing you are doing? Do not do that,” or “That other thing? Do that more.” And today she wrote up a hell of a fantastic review for DIGITAL DIVIDE.
I’m unbelievably appreciative both to Seanan and to her (insanely prolific) writing abilities, because I’ve been devouring her October Daye series like the scrumptious treats they are. BUY HER BOOKS!
So, November. How is it almost November?
I recently had a nice email exchange with a long-time reader where he introduced me to Patreon. I had never heard of this service before he clued me in; the nutshell version is a creator of a media project can set up an account, and their readers/fanbase/immediate family can become patrons. Sort of a subscription-based tip jar. I looked it over, checked around to see who else in Webcomicdom or SelfPublishingtopia is using this service, and said: Nope.
Here’s my reason: Patreon might catch on and be exactly what creator-types need to get a reliable source of income, but it also might sputter and fail. Remember Flattr? Same sort of patron-based tip jar service as Patreon, but it’s been out for several years and has never really caught on. The handful of hours it would take for me to read up on Patreon’s history, learn how to use its services, integrate it into my site, and push it on the readership? These would certainly pay off if Patreon attained Kickstarter levels of brand awareness among the community. If not? I’ve thrown those handful of hours away.
(There’s the valid argument that Patreon will only catch on if creators support it and push it as a welcomed form of support. Yes, yes, I get that, and every time Amanda Palmer or someone else with a bajillion followers signs up, this is another reason for me to join. I’m nobody’s tipping point. People may use this service to support me, true, but they aren’t going to join to support me. If the big guys go charging in and carry the crowds with them, I will happily sweep up after them. If not? Goodbye, handful of hours.)
I’m dying from death by a thousand timecuts over here, guys. I’m very, very lucky to have Brown, who is everything from my tech support to my prepress service, but I handle the rest. Comics, writing, product development, order fulfillment… and then I work on the stuff that actually pays the bills. And In my spare time, I paint my house. Guys, I am painting my house to relax.
And it’s NaNoWriMo time again. Oh lord.
There is a very good chance I can get a feasible draft of MAKER SPACE done by the end of November. I’m within word count, and it’s not like I have to do the whole 50,000 words or bust! but I do have some serious edits to do. NaNoWriMo is a great motivational technique, and if I edit and write 50,000 words within 30 days, I’m done.
But the hours, guys? Where am I going to find those hours? It’s not as though I have problems with time management, it’s that I have no more time to manage.
I had a jar template lying around after last night’s comic, and the Futurama heads-in-jars are too much fun to draw. So, naturally, I’ve been adding to the Head Museum.
The first was Frederick Douglass, who should be in the Head Museum already.
Then I decided to do people who are notable in the SFF community (it’s a short list, but only to save my sanity because otherwise I’d draw heads-in-jars forever, and I’ve put women at the top because change). Thus far, I’ve finished the head (SEE WHAT I DID THERE) editors at io9.com.
This could eat my day and I’ve got work to do, so I’m tabling this for now. Two more heads tomorrow.
I’ve got a running joke with a friend who’s a traditionally-published author. Whenever we talk about indie authors, each sentence ends with BUY MY BOOK.
Barnes and Noble’s new strategy of dumping all reviews when a minor revision is uploaded is messed up and wrong! BUY MY BOOK.
Traditional authors don’t understand they are being exploited by The Man. BUY MY BOOK.
And everybody’s favorite: Once you make it as an indie author, you’re obligated to help other indie authors succeed, too. BUY MY…
No. No. I am not doing this again. I have already done this dance with webcomics.
I’m spending a lot of time lurking in indie book communities to learn the tricks of the trade, and there are plenty of parallels between indie publishing and webcomics. Except indie publishing has only hit its stride in the past five years, while webcomics has a full fifteen-year head start. Let me go ahead and clarify this point: Yes, self-publishing (books and comics) has been around for a long, long time. Yes, writers and artists were both early adopters of the Internet as a place to post their work and distribute it to a wider readership. The introduction of the Kindle, the Nook, and other e-book readers, however, is a more recent phenomenon and has transformed the indie writer community from dedicated authors who just happen publish online to one in which anybody with a trunk novel can throw it up on Apple or Amazon. These e-book platforms, as well as the popularity of major e-book retailers, changed the nature of online publishing, both by increasing the number of potential readers and by dropping the barriers to putting a finished book in digital print.
You with me? Good. Back to webcomics.
Early webcomics faced many of the same stigma which characterize today’s indie publishing ventures. There was the general opinion that a webcomic was online only because Marvel or Image or a major newspaper didn’t think the product was good enough to publish, and the creator was forced to go online because Waaah! I’ll show them! Fast-forward fifteen years and now webcomics are just… comics. That’s all they are. My decision to refer to them as “webcomics” in this article is a designation of culture rather than of medium.
I came in after the “there are comics on the Internet?” argument had been settled (but right at the cusp of the “there are girls making comics on the Internet?” one, which was just as distasteful and depersonalizing but in a completely different way). A Girl and Her Fed launched in April of 2006, and it was a rich learning experience because damn! Some of the people in your own community can be vicious.
I’m one of the successful ones. I’ve got a dedicated readership, I enjoy a wonderful community of readers and fellow creators, and I have a diverse product line. My recent novel, Digital Divide (BUY MY BOOK), is part of this product line. I have not yet had a full fiscal year to evaluate book sales, so I don’t know how that will affect my net take, but I typically make between $5,000-$10,000 USD from my webcomic. The high end was a blip; it’s usually closer to $7,500 per year.
And I’m one of the successful ones!
I am too old to live on ramen, and I need health insurance and money to pay my mortgage, so I have a very horrible day job in which I edit dissertations, grant and business proposals, and peer-reviewed journal articles before these go to press. I hate it. I would much rather work on my comic and my novels and dig in my garden all day long, but that is not how the real world works.
I don’t think that many new indie authors realize this.
Newcomers to webcomics used to point to the rock stars, those big-name comics that are wildly popular and have a huge product line. Everyone used to see themselves as the next Penny Arcade, living off of their enthusiastic fanbase and nine measly panels per week. That attitude has changed over the last five years. Most of the serious newcomers to webcomics approach putting their product online as part of multi-phase marketing strategy, and they still have low expectations for financial success. For example, Axe Cop was picked up by Fox for a TV show, has a line of toys coming out, and creator Ethan Nicolle recently remarked that he made “a similar income as a shift manager at Starbucks.”
I no longer see the forum posts where a webcomics newbie put up fifty strips and then quit in a red rage because the work got to be too much, with no reward. The expectation of success has cratered. Ten years ago, the rule of thumb was that a webcomic could provide a decent living for its creator if it had 10,000 daily readers. Today, I have roughly twice that number. Please refer to the prior mention of my gross proceeds, where I can count on a minimum of $5,000 per year. That’s gross, mind you. Not net.
Webcomic creators have become thoroughly and rightfully disillusioned, but the expectation for success is still dangerously high in the indie author community. They have their rock stars, too, and the same names get trotted out in every article. E.L. James, Mark Edwards and Louise Voss, Beth Reekles… I’ll shut up now.
I’m not linking to any specifics here (it’d be a dick move if I did, considering), but many members of the indie community are clinging to the idea that these rock stars need to help the little guys succeed. This infuriates me. This has always infuriated me. There was a dude in the webcomics community (and yes, I will link to him) some years back who decided the easiest way to get traffic was via trolling, and he lunged straight at the rock stars’ throats. He demanded they were obligated to publicly recognize other, smaller webcomics, as it was their job to help them succeed.
I am so glad that dude has vanished off of the face of the Internet.
Listen. Success is your job. No one else’s. You should never feel that anyone is obligated to promote your work, or act as your mouthpiece. If you’ve decided to go the indie route, promotion is now part of your job. Now, how you decide to do your job is your business. One of the most depressing things I’ve read recently was from an indie author who complained that he was decently popular but sales weren’t enough, so he was thinking of licensing out his properties to other indie writers à la James Patterson. By doing so, he could realize a steady stream of books for his community, increasing his usual production line from six books per year to two or three times that. Now, to me, that is not writing. That’s mass-production. If I were to churn out a half-dozen books a year, it would strip the joy right out of the process. But if that’s how he wants to define success, more power to him, and let’s all send a little prayer to the carpal tunnel gods on his behalf.
Other indie authors attain success by promoting and supporting other indie authors. Good for them! This is a great, positive attitude, and I am all for community-building. But they have decided to do this as part of their business model, and you can guarantee that there is a ton of self-promotion in these positive messages (BUY MY BOOK!).
It is not the rock stars’ job to shill for you. They got to where they are by design or by accident, but they are not there to help you succeed.
In indie publishing, as with webcomics, there are no gatekeepers. There are no editors. There are no penalties for walking away from a project, other than those you put on yourself. There is you, your product, and your audience. Good products resonate with an audience and can help you become more successful, but these do not guarantee it: quality has never been a guarantee of popularity or of financial reward. And there is a very good chance that even if you are widely successful, you will still need to keep your day job (guys, don’t rush into the boss’s office and scream “I quit, suckers!” without waiting to see if your success is financially sustainable). But all of this is your responsibility. Define success to yourself and do what you need to do to reach it, but don’t hold grudges when a more popular colleague’s priorities differ from yours.
tl:dr version? There is nothing wrong with the phrase: BUY MY BOOK. Just decide when and how you want to say it.
EDITS: Done, I think? I removed a link and the reference to The Oatmeal, as that’s a relative newcomer to webcomics.
EDIT 2: Nope, one last edit. More of a comment, really. It is a huge pet peeve of mine how people will go to hear a published author speak and then ask that author how they can break into publishing, or try to shove a copy of their own book into that author’s hands. The fact that they share a profession (or hobby) seems to convey the right to receive help in it. I’m sure this happens in other professions, but it’s exactly the same as bringing cupcakes to a restaurant opening and demanding the chef help you promote your tasty wares. The author and the supplicant share trade skills and interests, but the published author does not have an obligation or an entitlement relationship with the supplicant because of this. If they should choose to give advice or help you in some way, that is their prerogative; be respectful and appreciative when it happens. If they do not, that does not mean they are evil incarnate. It just means their priorities are different from yours.