Preparing for Launch
Don’t buy a domain, don’t build a website, don’t worry about a title – until you have a great premise for your strip. Make no mistake, pursuing a project like this is a long-tern relationship. You really want to be sure that this project is one you wan to commit to, and one that can grow with you as your life changes.
Not sure? Read the Webcomics Handbook.
Three years ago, I drew the first sketches for this comic at a Skeptics convention. The first working title was “Sex and Dinosaurs” which featured a bachelor paleontologist. I did buy the domain, then did a google search for the title, and was pretty shocked by the results. Rule 34. Then it was called “Empirically Single”. Then when it became a love story, it changed again to “Empirically Yours” before finally becoming Carbon Dating. The point is, don’t buy your domain too soon.
The lesson here is to do your research. Are there other comics or blogs out there with the title you want? Has somebody done a better job of the same premise? How will the strip develop and grow over the next five years? You may not have throughout that far ahead, but you need to. There’s nothing worse than writing a great strip that build a following, then hitting a ceiling after two years and being forced to either reboot or jump the shark.
Map Out Year 1
I’ll skip all the details about character design, which is personal and crazy important.
Map out your first year. If you post twice per week, like me, then this will be around a hundred strips. Most authors plan their plot arcs out this way, which generally coincide with the length of a compilation book.
How will your characters change? What storylines and character arcs will you explore? What is the climactic resolution of these 100 strips? The first year goes by very fast.
I’m fairly certain what every webcomic artist does is to choose an update schedule of a comic they like, and do what they do.
Here’s the thing – THIS IS A CONTRACT WITH YOUR READERS. If you miss a week, you will lose 50% of your audience and it will take months for them to check back in. A ‘hiatus’ sounds the death knell of most webcomics.
Preparing a Backlog
I recommend six month’s worth of comics, before you put ANYTHING online. Before I launched, I had printed a sample booklet of my first 50 strips, my goal was to stay ahead by this amount and my buffer is now completely gone a year later. I was half a year ahead, and now I’m struggling to stay a few days ahead. It’s dangerous.
Why is this? Because more than half your time and effort will not be spent on the scripts and art, it will be on the blog posts, website, and promotion.
If you were to write a novel, your work is only half done. The following year is the book tour, interviews, promotions, signings, admin, and lots of travel. Why would your webcomic be different? Nobody is going to promote for you, so you have to account for all the time it’s going to take. Trust me.
Ready to Launch?
You think you’re ready? Ok, let’s do this.
Now you can buy a web domain (yes, you need one) and hosting. Install WordPress and use your new domain as the URL, then install the Comic Easel theme. This theme allows a LOT of control of the look and functionality of your site, while automating things like an archive and navigation. Sure, there are plenty of webcomic hosting services out there for amateurs. These are great to cut your teeth if you’re brand new and you’re still working on improving your writing and art. Otherwise, pay for your own hosting like an adult.
The site is built and looks sharp? Good, now get your promotional ducks in a row. Get your Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ ready (only have as many as you can reliable keep up with. Consider blasting to all of them together with a social media service like HootSuite). Install Google Analytics.
Make a list of all the webcomic list sites, blogs, and friends that you will submit your new comic to right away. Here are a few (in my order of personal preference):
HIT THE RED BUTTON!
Post your first comment with a thoughtful blog commentary. Get on your schedule, tell all your friends. But don’t promote yet.
What? Yes, I know, you’re all ready to go. But here’s the thing, new readers will binge read. Don’t post your comic to all these other sites or promote until you have twenty or so online. This gives those first new members plenty to read all at once.
Now the work begins.
Participate in a few forums, join some webcomic groups, and be personable on social media. Everything you post should be consistent with the personality of your comic. You are selling this personality, NOT THE COMIC ITSELF. Stay positive and upbeat, and respond to everyone (especially criticism) with kindness. Interact with your audience whenever possible, and enjoy the slow growth. I recommend not looking at your Analytics at all for the first month or two.
“But I’m impatient!”
Me too. Read the last post!