For discussions related to the novel go to the Fates Abound subredit here.
It has been six months since I released the first issue of Fates Abound. Getting my first ever publication out was a very interesting, difficult and rewarding experience but I have to admit that it was not a success, at least in the terms that that I expected. On other terms, especially as an education, I guess it was a success and at least it was well received by those who read it.
So I’ll tell you about my mistakes and successes. The way I tried to go about releasing Issue 1 was, now I can see, flawed. My understanding of the indie graphic novel landscape left a lot to be desired and as a results my expectations were completely out of alignment with reality. Initially I thought that I could just release the issue through a number of different channels, namely a website, Amazon Kindle and DriveThruComics.com, then do some minimal amount of promotion and voila, the fantastic story Fates Abound would be a massive hit and get thousands of downloads. I initially wanted to sell the issue at $1.99. Then I dropped the price down to 99 cents when I realised no one was downloading it. At 99 cents still nobody was downloading it and I begun to get depressed.
Now promotion is not my strong suite. I simply don’t have the perseverance to continuously promote something and I get a bad taste in my mouth from sticking my neck out into the world and telling people they need to get the thing I made. I’m not a sales person. Never was. I don’t know what that says about my personality. Too empathetic or a lack of conviction? At first I thought it meant I didn’t believe the comic was any good and I felt somewhat subconsciously embarrassed about putting it out there. But thinking about it a bit more I realised it was just because I’m lazy. I’m too lazy to do the hard boring work of promotion. But that’s what this story needs to get a foothold and a following. A good strong sustained push out into the world. But alas, that’s not me. But it can be, I’m not lazy in other parts of my life.
So what did I do? What worked and what didn’t? I spent some time putting together a site that had some over the top and unnecessary features. Fancy integration with downloading through Amazon S3 and payment through PayPal. All bespoke Java code I wrote myself. I got bogged down in this and it consumed a lot of my time. Time better spent on more important things for promoting a comic. I’m an IT consultant by trade so I believed leveraging my skills in this area to the max would be a big advantage. In reality, my skills in this area should have been a slight time saver so that I wouldn’t waste my time learning some of the IT related things but in retrospect I was suffering the “everything looks like a nail” syndrome.
For example, I spent a lot of time writing a feature for the site where the user could get a discount on the comic by Tweeting about it. A great idea on paper and potentially a great spin-off project in the future but a complete waste of time for getting my first comic out. I should have been focusing on total exposure rather than some intricate and unproven reward feature. I just got hooked on the smell of my own farts.
What did give me a lot of traction was going to Reddit with the project, especially the fantastic subreddit r/Cyberpunk. I’m a frequenter of this small eclectic but interesting community and decided it was a great first place for promoting the comic. On the first post to the subreddit I didn’t get many follow-throughs to my site. Looking at my Google Analytics for the site at the time, I could see people were landing on the first page and stopping there. A small handful of people downloaded the comic and I actually got some good feedback from them, but overall I was disappointed at the lack of interest.
I resolved to get this story out there by any means necessary and began to realise that if you don’t have any kind of established following, then no one is going to give a shit if you’re selling something, regardless of how appealing it appears from the outside. I was going to have to give it away for free in order to get people into it and this is exactly the sentiment I was receiving from commenters on the r/Cyberpunk.
I reorganised, composed myself and went back to r/Cyberpunk. I posted a new link to the site, stated that I “concede to the hive mind” and was giving away the comic for free. It took off. I started seeing a lot of activity on the site and the r/Cyberpunk thread was exploding with feedback. Some good, some neutral, some bad and some great. Being new to this craft I was absorbing the criticism without deflecting any of it, and then trying to sort it all out in my head. The thing about fans of the Cyberpunk genre is that they’re generally smart and articulate, probably more so than regulars of most other subreddits. I was genuinely impressed the well thought out and intelligent feedback I was getting.
All of this was very encouraging and drove me to continue my promotional activities. I started contacting review websites and asking them to give Fates Abound a going over. A few sites took it up and FA generally got a decent review. But, I was running out of steam. I was hoping that this thing would start getting some self momentum but what I was seeing was a direct correlation between the time I was spending on promoting the comic and the number of hits on the site. And the numbers were small, no matter what I tried. By the way, don’t waste your time with YouTube ads if you’re thinking of using it for promoting a comic.
So, I’ve learned from this venture that developing your own indie graphic comic is a labour of love so you’d better enjoy it if you’re going to be realistic about churning them out. The thing is though, I love doing it. That’s right, the thing I just spent several paragraphs complaining about how disappointed it was, is an activity I gladly spend my evenings on. I’m just not any good at the promotional end of things yet but saying that, I’m determined to continue building my reader-base. I’ve had people contact me, asking me if I’m going to release another issue. I’ve been generally silent about this but there is nothing short of becoming homeless that will stop me from continuing this series. I just love writing and producing it and I especially love working with Juan, chapter by chapter. I’ll continue to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to promote it and try to beat my lazy urges to not spend that evening emailing reviewers and writing on social media sites.
Ok so how has development of Issue 2 gone? Great. In fact really great. I can’t wait to get this out and start getting receiving feedback from (my not so many) fans. I want to build on the numbers that read the first Issue six months ago and I want to enthrall my existing readers with the new chapters myself and Juan have worked so hard on (especially Juan). I’m relaunching the site but this time I’m taking a new approach with it. The site will not provide a download to the comic but rather will have it right there on the site itself. Users will be able to scroll down the panels and the pages will automatically appear as they scroll. The site will also respond nicely to being viewed on any device, from phones to large monitors. My goal is to grab as many readers as possible and make it easy for them to read the entire story without having to download large files, sign up or any other barriers. One guys on r/Cyberpunk said “never underestimate the laziness of internet surfers”. Just go to the site, click on the Issue you want and read that shit. Readers can download the issues on other formats if they so wish, but will have to pay (PDF on DriveThruComics, or Kindle version from Amazon).
To promote the comic, I’m going back to r/Cyberpunk for starters. I want to get the input from these guys before I venture further out. I then plan to do the rounds on the review sites again and try to pick up some new reviewers. I’ll give FA another big push to other subreddits, Tumblr, Twitter and (gulp) maybe even Facebook and Google Plus. This time I’ll do a press release and get that out to some of the more “serious” review publications and see if I can stir up some wider interest. I’m also finally getting FA up onto Comixology which will be a huge boost.
All of this promotional stuff is a prelude to the big daddy of channels that I’m building towards. Kickstarter. As all indie graphic novelists know, Kickstarter has been an undeniable massive boon to the genre and we must gravitate towards it. Development of Issue 3 is beginning soon and this will be the final part of the first volume. I want to publish the story of the first three issues in book form. I want to get as many fans as possible together at this stage before launching the Kickstarter project so Fates Abounds gets the best possible chance. I can’t wait.