Last Minute Advice for a Webcomic Creator: Before You Launch

A reader asked me this question via email:

my first set of pages for my webcomic is almost completed. As a first-timer, I would like to ask a well-loved veteran like you: Do you have any last advice for me before my launch?

I wrote some advice for potential webcomic creators before, but after you’ve already created the art, etc., there are certainly some things I’d suggest you have in place before you launch. Buckle your seatbelts, I’m going to try to be thorough…

This was my response (with referral links so that I may line my pockets with silver and gold):

Thank you for the kind words! I think I already gave you my biggest advice, which is to have as big a buffer of pages as you can. At least 20 pages, more is always better (I started with 50). And that’s for after posting enough of a healthy chunk of pages on the first day so that readers can get a feel for your comic right away. (With Artifice, I started with the first scene, thus six pages.) Unless your art is spectacular or you already have a following, one or two pages aren’t going to be enough to hook a reader to bookmark your comic and thus any ad money (and personal time) you’re spending to promote your comic aren’t gong to be used very efficiently until you get that “satisfying chunk.”

(And just FYI, both Artifice and my new comic The Young Protectors didn’t really start to take off reader-numbers-wise [and donation bar wise] until I was fifteen to twenty pages in and it wasn’t until I was around page 40 of both comics that things really clicked. People need time to get invested in the characters and to start to understand what you’re going for. So just be prepared for that. As in pretty much ever other endeavor in life, persistence is the most reliable determinant of success in webcomics.)

As you already know from my previous post, I’m a big believer in the Project Wonderful ad platform thus, before you launch, I think it’d be a good idea to have ads already created in the sizes that Project Wonderful offers so you can hit the ground running to get the word out. At the very least make sure you have a Skyscraper-sized ad (160×600), a Banner-sized ad (468×60), a Leaderboard-sized ad (728×90) and a small Square ad (125×125). Also, you should have figured out where you will host ads on your own site and have that already set up for launch. It takes many months for enough advertisers to find you before the bids become worthwhile money so you might as well start that process off right at the beginning. I think space for a Skyscraper Ad and a Banner Ad are the minimum you’ll want to host.

(Also, for the record, I strongly recommend against setting a “minimum bid” for the PW ads you host on your own site. I understand why it is tempting, but what gets people hooked on advertising on your site is seeing the actual number of folks your ads bring to their site. If you have a high minimum set, they won’t even bother to try and frankly, if you’re asking for a $5.00 minimum bid per day on an ad and you’re pulling in less than 10K page views a day on your site, it just looks like you don’t have a realistic idea of what your traffic is actually worth.

Trust me on this: let people get the free or low-cost advertising that a no-minimum ad offers them; let them get hooked on your sweet, candy-like traffic. If your webcomic is good (which of course it will be), they’ll stick around as others discover you.  And as the bids pile on, you’ll start to see some real numbers. I started out with bids of pennies a day but after a year, I was pulling in around $10/day from my combination of ads and now, two years after launching my first webcomic, I’m getting over $20/day. Certainly not “quit your day-job” money, but definitely helpful. And for the record, I tend to plow about half of that money back into PW ads on other sites to keep spreading the word about my own comic.)

Both listing and hosting on PW will, of course, require a Project Wonderful account. Setting that up and basically the whole process of creating and hosting ads is easy-peasy, so there’s no reason not to do it, IMHO.

You may, of course, choose not to run ads on your site, but I personally think that unless you are going to allow annoying animated banners, there’s not much reason to take that stand. Ads are the norm for webcomics and people expect them. Also, if you use a webcomic-friendly service like PW, ads will actually add an appeal for your readers [“look, other cool webcomics!”] and by choosing not to host them, you miss a major way to connect with other webcomic creators.

(And just FYI, I notice what seems to be a trend among the bigger webcomic creators to switch from PW to Google Ads which I assume means that those ads are pulling in more money. If the content of your site isn’t outside Google’s terms and conditions, you should probably give them a look too. But like I said, hosting PW ads is a great way to connect with other webcomic creators, so don’t rule them out completely.)

By the same token, make sure you have a Facebook page, a Tumblr account and a Twitter account to direct readers to (and which you’ll use to notify folks of page updates which they can then share, if they like what they see). Setting up a Feedburner or Feedblitz RSS-to-email subscription feed for your comic, so that readers can subscribe by email, is also a must. You want to give folks lots of “subscription” options.

It’s a very good idea to make sure you have your stat tracking methods in place. It’s important feedback to know if your readership is growing and exactly where they are coming from. I use both Google Analytics and Statcounter for this. I like Google Analytics because it’s free and very conservative, so you know you can trust the numbers it’s giving you. (“Unique Visitors” is the number I care about. “Page Views” is what your advertisers will care about.) And I like the (for-pay service) Statcounter because of how it displays links from incoming visitors to your site. Statcounter’s “Recently Came From” tab shows those incoming links as a real-time list which I find a lot more accessible than what’s in GA. If you get a big spike of traffic, you want to know where it’s coming from, particularly if you run ads on sites that don’t have their own stat-tracking. And it’s fun to know the moment you’ve been linked to on a big site!

Something you might want to look into is an alternative commenting system like Disqus. I’ve used both WordPress’ default comment system and also Disqus and have found that using Disqus, with its large user base, significantly increased the amount of comments (and thus engagement) on my site while still giving me protection against spam, etc. (PRO TIP: When you only update a page a week, a major draw to your webcomic is going to be the community that forms in the comments, so making your comment system accessible is crucial.) And Disqus is free.

There are a couple downsides, of course—you don’t have as much control over the format as you would using WordPress’ default (for example, there’s no way to get rid of the “down vote” button, which I’m not wild about) and if Disqus goes down (very, very rare for me) no one will be able to post or access comments—but it’s what I use and I think it’s the right choice. (Other alternatives include IntenseDebate and LiveFyre.)

Once you have that in place, be sure to come up with a comment policy that let’s folks know how you will handle personal attacks and other anti-social activities. I don’t allow any ad-hominem attacks on my site and through my own responses to comments, I do my best to set a tone of respect and warmth. Of course, you can’t 100% prevent trolls, etc. but I’ve found that your own responses do a lot to set the tone for all the comments on the site. (Thus, I also very strongly recommend that you never, ever respond to criticism with a defensive attitude—there’s no upside to that, IMHO, and lots of downside—but that’s a whole Tumblr post in itself. 😉 )

It’s of course very good to have an About Page and a FAQ already in place where you answer questions most folks will have like “What’s this comic about?” and “How often does it update?” Webcomics are inherently social so you’ll also want to include biographical information about yourself; people will naturally be curious. (Add a nice picture of yourself too if you’re comfortable with that.)

I think it’s a good idea to come up with a Fan Works policy about whether you allow (or even encourage) Fan Art and Fan Fiction of your work and if so, what are the “rules.” I myself am a believer that allowing (and yes, even encouraging) Fan Work is pretty much all upside so long as your fans include appropriate credit and a link, but smart people disagree over this and you should choose what feels most comfortable for you. Almost no one gets rich in webcomics so you should set things up so that they are pleasurable for you. It’s the fun that will keep you creating and you owe it to yourself and your readers to make your work enjoyable so you finish what you start.

Finally, if you’re smart (smarter than me, anyway), you’ll also be thinking of what kind of merchandise you’ll want to create, but that’s a subject for another time. And, once you pull in larger numbers, there are other technical things to look into such as more robust web hosting (like a VPS) and caching plugins, but hopefully this is enough to get you started. 🙂

Good luck!

Alex

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