The Webcomicker

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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Webcomickry: The Importance of Keeping Your Word

I haven't talked about webcomickry lately (by which I mean the actual work of making webcomics, and all the various challenges and joys that come with it), and I suppose now's as good a time as any to pick it up again, since this particular aspect has been brought up in several locations and seems to be on people's minds.

What am I talking about? Consistent updates, or as I like to call it: keeping your word. And pretty much every professional in the webcomics community save one (Mr. Fred Gallagher) agrees that this is one of the single most important steps that a creator must take for their comic to be popular. Why? Because people don't like being lied to. I honestly think that's the truth behind the story. If people visit your site and they see a little tagline either in the site's title or somewhere on the main page that says "Updated every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday" and then they come and visit your site on one of the days and don't see an update, they're going to be a little perturbed. If it happens more than a few times, they'll just give up on you altogether, not because your comic is bad, but because you haven't kept your promise of new content. They'll feel somehow slighted by the fact that you told them you'd have a new comic up and you didn't deliver.

In a Blank Label Comics podcast, Eric Burns said that to be successful you need to have some sort of new content on your site every day, whether it be a comic or an insightful newspost or a sketch, just SOMETHING. I'm not sure I entirely agree with that, there are any number of very successful comics that update on a MWF, TuTh, or even once a week schedule. VGCats and Nodwick are good examples of once-a-weekers. So while providing new content on a daily basis is one way to drive more traffic to your site, providing very high quality content once a week can be successful as well. Sticking to your update schedule is much more important than the frequency of the updates.

This is what The Daily Grind is all about. It's not so much about updating every day as it is giving people added incentive to be rock-solid consistent in their updates because hey, there's 1100 dollars on the line here. The ultimate achievement of The Daily Grind is not going to be the glorification and subsequent enrichment of a single winner, it's going to be the production of 40 or so webcartoonists who know how to put up a comic every weekday, rain or shine. In the long run, that's a much better result.

Jeph Jaques made mention of this in a LiveJournal post which has been circulating the internet about how to be successful in webcomics. In it he says, as his number 2 recommendation:

Find a reasonable update schedule and stick with it. Updating
on time, every time is the single most important part of getting people to
read your comic. Start out on a schedule that you know for 100% certain you
can maintain with no problems. If it feels too "easy", try doing a few extra
comics each update cycle for a couple weeks/months. I started out at 2x per
week, then moved to 3x, and now that it's my full time job I have time to do
5 strips a week.

And I guess I really can't sum it up any better than that. It's not important what your update schedule is, it's important that you stick to it. If you're not going to be consistent in your updates, DON'T ANNOUNCE ANY SORT OF SCHEDULE. EVER. It's really tempting to be optimistic and put up a schedule of when you hope to get comics up, but people will be much more willing to deal with sporadic updates if you say "I'll put up a new comic as I have time" than if you say "I'll have a new comic up every MWF" because they won't feel lied to. You probably won't be as popular updating sporadically as you will consistently, but you can maintain a readership that way. For instance, my goal here on The Webcomicker is to provide an interesting and content-rich post related to webcomics every day. But I can't always do that because I read a limited number of comics and their are days in which nothing terribly interesting is going on in any of them. Also, I am a graduate student and I do have some terribly busy days (Thursdays are typically murder). And I absolutely refuse to put up filler posts. The closest I'll come to a filler post is one of my "Updates!" posts, and even in those I try to provide at least some commentary on the stuff I've been reading, even if it may be brief. but the point is that I can't get something decent up every day. So I don't advertise any sort of schedule anywhere on this site. Nowhere on this site will you see anything saying "New reviews and commentary every day!" or "Get your daily dose of webcomics criticism" or even "Salient articles every MWF". I don't announce a schedule because I know I can't keep to it.

This is not to say that I'm a model in any regard. For instance, my main project, Gideon D. Ragon, Private Eye, has been lying fallow for a couple months now, but for a long time on the site it still said "New pages every Sunday and Thursday!" Which was an out-and-out lie because we NEVER got a page up on a Sunday and a Thursday in any week.

But now, I'm going to try to put my money where my mouth is. As of this week, I'm officially announcing that my "other" webcomic (which has actually been my main project of late), MiSTEam, is going from its shady "once a week, when I have time" schedule to a rock-solid "every Wednesday and Friday" schedule. I've been inspired by all the successful creators encouraging me (not me personally, but the collective "me") to have a consistent schedule, and I'm going to go for it. I don't have any classes on Wednesdays or Fridays, so they are good days to get a comic done, and I worked hard last week and got myself a one strip buffer, so I'm comfortable now announcing an official WF schedule. Now let's just see how long I can keep it up.

And yes, I do understand how ironic it is that I'm announcing this in the middle of a monumental failure to be consistent on NaNoWriMo. But I can deal with a little inconsistency in my life.

By the way, if anyone wants to do a MiSTEam guest strip, just let me know. Guest strips are a great way to build up a buffer without taking a lot of your own time. :-)


At 10:22 AM, Anonymous Philippe Gaboury said...

This post I have to reply to.

I have been doing webcomics for a little over six months, starting up as part of the Daily Grind. I had a hell of a time keeping up the five days a week schedule and eventually dropped.

In an effort not to lose the readership I had gained through the experience, I decided to announce a MWF schedule. I haven't been able to maintain it throughout since the announcement suffering an terrible computer crash at one point and getting sick two weeks ago. I find that some readers do react strongly to a missed update while some don't seem to react to anything. The key to keeping the reactionary public, I think, is to come clean about your shortcomings. If you don't think you can post, tell your readers; more often than not, they'll understand.

Another thing I find is that announcing a schedule keeps me, as a webcomicker, working on my stuff. I am sure that I would not be producing as much otherwise. The announced comic schedule forces me to work draw time into my agenda. I also find that, among the losers of the competition, I am among those who update most often.

An announced schedule also comes handy when dealing with real life in the rest of the world. There have been two or three instances where I had to refuse "sorties" between friends because of a late comic. Friends are much more understanding once they understand that you have a schedule to keep and you're not just leaving them by the side for no reason.

All in all, I don't think people should shy away from schedules. I DO think it's important to keep your word to your readers while letting them know that real life does interfere at times.

At 11:42 AM, Anonymous Starline said...

Your right, updating consistantly is really important. I've found in order to keep a really good buffer I draw one extra comic a week than I should. I update 4 times a week, so I draw 5 a week. This way I gradually keep make the buffer bigger, so if I have an emergency, I'm still way ahead.

At 11:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you're not going to be consistent in your updates, DON'T ANNOUNCE ANY SORT OF SCHEDULE. EVER.

That's how I always did it.


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