Monday, October 24, 2016

How to Be a Hustler

A comics hustler, that is.

When I decided to pursue comics for a living, I had no idea that I'd end up wearing so many hats.  I figured I'd work in-house for a larger studio, saving my personal projects for nights and weekends, and I figured I'd have a steady income.  Unfortunately, for many of us, the days of in-house, steady employment are a thing of the past, and we have to find our own path towards paying the bills. 

What's Involved in Becca's Comic Hustle:
  • Comics (of course~!):  Print only right now, but soon to be web. 7" Kara Volume 1 is available for purchase through my online shop and through Gumroad, Volume 2 is in progress and is the source of inspiration behind the Watercolor Basics series.  The majority of my comics are sold in person at conventions.
  • Conventions: You can always find a list of what's coming up in my left hand side bar, and I try to make con announcements the week before on my Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook fan page, and here on the blog.   After the con, I generally try to write con recaps, which are often posted to How To Be a Con Artist.   At a really good con, I'll make about $1,500, but that's before subtracting travel costs, hotel costs, food, table costs, additional badges, or the cost of making what I'm selling at the table.  Mini comics, mini prints, original mini watercolors, original illustrations, comics, sassy buttons, stickers, small impulse items all of which require....
  • Design- Designing graphics for this blog and the YouTube channel, book layout and design, product design, designing promotional material like postcards, stickers, banners.  I do not offer outside design services.
  • Commissions- Pencil, Ink, Watercolor, Marker, Digital.  The majority of these are ordered at conventions and filled after the show, although I offer many commission options through my online shop.  As I complete commissions, I post them to my Instagram, tagging the convention they were from, and in an ideal world, drumming up future commissions.
  • Freelance work- usually digital.  Pencils, Inks, Flats, Shading for other studios.  This used to be a steady addition to my income, but has dried up for now. 
  • Comic Anthologies-  Anthologies give me an opportunity to collaborate with other artists, promote a larger project, and get involved in the comic community!  So far, I have comics in six comic anthologies: Travel, Once Upon a Time, Hana Doki Kira, Chainmail Bikini, 1001 Knights, Ladies Night Volume 6.  These days, many anthologies include pay increases for the artists in their stretch goals, so anthologies can be a good way to make a little extra money throughout the year, provided they pay when they say they will, and send out books in a timely fashion.  Unfortunately, while my signal boosting and promotion may be great for the anthologies I'm in, the anthologies haven't done much for me career wise.  Still, it's fun to write short comics, and it's a great opportunity to collaborate with other creators.
  • This Blog- ads, seeking sponsorship, building an audience, demonstrating skills, creating tutorials, teaching others, reviewing product, knowledge of product, self promotion.  Outside of the ad services and Patreon mentioned below, I see no compensation for running this blog.
  • The YouTube Channel- ads, seeking sponsorship, building an audience, demonstrating skills, creating tutorials, teaching others, reviewing product, knowledge of product, editing video, writing descriptions, promoting videos to Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, maintaining a friendly, approachable persona, answering comments in a timely manner, encouraging community.  Outside of the ad services and Patreon mentioned below, I see no compensation for running the YouTube channel.
  • Twitter- Interacting with other artists, promoting my work and the work of others like myself
  • Individual Illustrations in a variety of media- content for the blog and YouTube, serve as fodder for tutorials and promotion, give me the chance to learn new skills without committing to a longterm project.  I offer many of my originals for sale through my online shop and at conventions.
  • Instagram- A way to cultivate an audience based almost solely on my artistic abilities.  Instagram seems to be mostly about taking staged photos of art supplies, finding the right hashtags to use, and occasionally posting short videos.  Most of what I post is promotional for the YouTube channel or comic progress.
  • Patreon- A direct way for readers to become involved in the Blog and the YouTube.  I don't utilize Patreon the way many artists do- many will share sneak peeks and tutorials to their Patrons only.  As this would make my workload unbearable, I mostly share weekly recaps, offer them the chance to decide on upcoming content, and release popular videos early.  Many artists will release monthly digital sketchbooks to Patron, and this may be something I investigate in the future.  I am currently right on the edge of $90 this month, but previous months were much lower.  The Patreon makes this blog self sustaining.
  • Google Adsense-  Allows me to put ads on this blog, which in theory, should earn me a little bit of money based on how many clicks they get.  Unfortunately, if readers are using ad blockers, that doesn't happen.  The amount of money I earn through Adsense is pretty miniscule- less than a dollar a month.
  • Amazon Ads-  Pretty similar to Google Adsense, but with curated Amazon products.  If you're using an adblocker, you won't see these ads, and I won't see that money.
  • Amazon Affiliates- For years, I wrote art supply reviews completely out of my own pocket, with no way to earn any money for my trouble, as Jetpens didn't have an affiliates or reward program.  Amazon Affiliates allows me to make a small bounty on every item sold through one of my affiliates links- it doesn't have to be exactly the item linked, without costing the customer any additional money (Amazon pays the bounty out of their cut).  Some months, I see as much as $30 from Amazon for my Affiliate Links.
  • Youtube Ads- I try not to select ads that will negatively effect my audience's experience, but since my YouTube videos require a lot of work, I do allow video ads on most of my tutorials, reviews, and unboxing videos.  I only see money if the viewer watches at least 30 seconds of the ad, so this is a really cheap way to help support creators on YouTube.  I usually see about $20-25 a month from this.
  • Gumroad- My Gumroad is where you can find digital copies of my physical comics and mini comics (7" Kara Volume 1, Magical Girl March, Favorite Fictional Femmes, Let Sleeping Cats Lie, Or They'll Drink Your Watercolor Water) as well as digital assets like Color Along With Me Lineart (lineart from popular tutorials, so you can follow along exactly) and digital design assets like watercolor paper scans, watercolor splotches. 
  • Online Shop for physical items-
  • How to be a Con Artist- Doesn't actually make me any money, takes a lot of time to curate properly, and doesn't really promote my work, but hey, we all need to pay it forward somehow, right?  These days, Kiriska does the majority of the work by finding relevant articles, keeping the tags and archive in order, and screening for asks.
  • Teaching- In person workshops, demonstrations, and panels at conventions, libraries, and schools.




In a good year, all of these things should cover the majority of my bills (in theory).   And all of these things require frequent updates to stay viable, require nurturing and promotion to succeed.  The blog requires frequent updates on topics that readers should find interesting, the YouTube requires that AND an engaging personality (something I'm still working on acquiring)  And when possible, I try to get multiple uses out of new content, as that content takes so long to create.  Illustrations created for YouTube tutorials get shared on Instagram and Twitter.  Good Twitter conversations may be the inspiration for blogposts or tutorials, or may be Storified into a post.

Handout for library and school visits


It took a long time for me to find a way for this blog to pay for itself.  Last year I tried contacting companies for sponsorships, and my readers have written in to companies on my behalf for sponsorships, and although we never received a firm 'no', the answer was pretty crystal clear that they were not only not interested, but assumed I only did this for what I could get for free.  After sponsorships, I introduced the Paypal tip jar, and after that, ads.  I've tried to be tasteful in my ad placement and selection of what I allow- choosing to limit the types of ads displayed (and taking a paycut) in order to ensure that they're appropriate for this blog and my readers.

After doing a large amount of research (generally produced by mommy blogs that benefitted from others signing up for these services), I decided to sign up for Amazon Affiliates and found a way to sign up for an affiliate program that worked with DickBlick.  Part of this was born of frustration- I was tired of writing detailed reviews that only served to sell products for someone else- I wanted a commission for my work, or at least some recognition for services rendered.  Given Amazon's increasing reach into the art and craft market, using Amazon Affiliates links allows me to see some some compensation for all the hours spent reviewing art supplies.  Signing up for Amazon Affiliates is fairly easy- you need a tax ID in good order (so if you have a financial planning company like MetLife handling your investments, you need to make sure they have your social security number correct lest you fall on the wrong side of the IRS), and a place to share those links.  It also helps if you have an audience that understands that using those links helps support your work while costing them nothing, and it helps even more if you have an audience willing to use one of your links as their starting point for all Amazon purchases.  If you're interested in helping support this blog in that manner, you can set this link as your Amazon starting point.

In November of 2015, tired after a year of trying to find solutions for engagement and monetization for the blog, I branched out onto YouTube.  We've shared artist interviews there for years, but due to the lack of interest, I assumed I didn't have anything the YouTube audience would find valuable.  This is probably a bit surprising, because even then, I used YouTube as one of my information resources, and I could see that there was a gap in the market for the sort of content I produced (straightforward, no frills tutorials, a deep understanding of both artistic skills and art supplies, and educated art supply reviews not biased by sponsorships or donations).  At the encouragement of several friends, I decided to give YouTube a shot.

YouTube offers two things I did not have access to before:  An entirely new audience (YouTube is among the top 10 search engines), and better adrates.  It also offered me a platform for live demonstrations- all I had to do was leave my camcorder running, I didn't have to stop and take photos or stop and take notes.  YouTube is honestly so much easier to keep updated (other than editing, color correction, and audio issues, which are Joseph's domain), that it's easier to update than this blog.

It's worth noting that although YouTube is easier and more profitable in many ways, it's been difficult building up an audience, and I only recently hit 2,500 subscribers.  I am constantly thinking of ways to plug and promote it, including the above promotional postcards that I intend to hand out at conventions. 

In December, stumped at my mom's demands to know what I wanted for Christmas, I finally settled on a yearlong subscription to ArtSnacks, and opted to purchase a yearlong subscription to SketchBox.  I hoped that unboxing, demonstrating, and utilizing the materials inside the monthly boxes in a meticulous manner might attract views to my channel, and wanted to monetize

YouTube channel header

Upcoming YouTube endcard

The real turning point came when I finally decided to launch a Patreon.  I had a lot of misgivings about doing so- I've had difficulty encouraging audience interaction on this blog, I felt like I couldn't necessarily rely on this audience for support as engagement was hit or miss.  When I first launched the Patreon in February 2016, I even asked Joseph to chip in a couple bucks if no on pledged.

Fortunately, he didn't have to toss in a pity pledge, as some of my wonderful online friends saved me from embarrassment (and not hitting that $15 community goal to release ArtSnacks Vs SketchBox videos to the public).  Although support for my Patreon has been very encouraging, I am still working to find goals that are sustainable for me to fill, and enticing for potential backers.  There's still a lot of work to be done on my Patreon site, including an introduction video, so there's room for growth.

The Patreon has been useful for several things- I'm able to distribute early access videos to my backers (as I've done all October for Inktober tutorials), able to contact them for input on what series to focus on next, and it gives me a specific audience to write and create for.  My Patreons are given priority over all other requests, as they're willing to put their money where their support is.  That money goes towards purchasing supplies for review, offsetting costs like Google storage (necessarily for hosting the massive amount of photos on this blog), purchasing new equipment like SD cards, card readers, mics, and color correction cards, and if there's anything left over, paying myself a bit of a wage for my hard work.   I wasn't sure how monetizing something that is free to the public would be handled, but I think I'm learning some valuable new tricks, and hope to update the campaign next year with some exciting and sustainable new incentives. 

Its easy to become discouraged when so much of your life revolves around the goodwill and generosity of your audience.    And I often forget to promote what I most love-my comic, 7" Kara.  In order to pursue my goals, I have to be a bit of a hustler, a bit of a charmer, and a lot of a barker.  This can be difficult with anxiety and depression dragging me down, and sometimes I have to pretend that I'm promoting someone else's work, rather than shaking the same old tree and expecting new fruit.  I have to be outgoing, fun, and supportive of other artists even when I feel like my own work isn't up to snuff, and especially at public appearances like cons, I have to wear a grin and fake it til I make it.  This is no small feat for me- I do love people, and I do believe in the value of my work, but I'm sensitive and I take things personally.  Small setbacks really knock me down, and I'm fortunate to have a fantastic support group of fellow comic creators on Twitter.

And of course, I am massively glossing over in-person appearances like conventions.  Longtime readers know I attend many, and know that they as often go pearshaped as they go well.  The intersection between YouTube, How to be a Con Artist, this blog, and conventions seems to be non-existent- few blog readers come by to say hi, it's rare that a HTBACA reader will purchase something, most con sales are to new faces- repeat customers tend to be most familiar with my convention persona.  I am always interested in creating overlap between my demographics, but have struggled to find ways to do so.

Keeping all these things going, while producing comics and illustrations, is a full time job for me.  I'm fortunate to be in a position where I can work from home, and I've worked hard to find ways to achieve a steady income.  My goal is to be self sufficient through a combination of the blog, the YouTube channel, conventions, and comics, and while I'm a far way away from that, there are times when the goal seems closer than others.

All this isn't to say that artists who work day jobs are somehow less than artists who don't.  It all boils down to privilege- where you live, what your audience is willing to pay, and luck- who you know, who's willing to publicly admit they know you.  I know many hardworking artists who are killer comic artists and work a day job, and I know many hardworking artists who are supported by their parents or their spouse.  Comics isn't an easy game, and we all do what we need to do to get by.

Working the comics hustle has made me appreciative of others who do so, and has made me sensitive to ways I can help.  Although money is usually the most helpful, there are loads of ways you can help support artists and creators whose work you appreciate.  In this post, I go over loads of free ways you can help creators from YouTubers to Bloggers, to Webcomic artists, to Game Devs.

Find Me Elsewhere:

For Daily Updates: www.instagram.com/Nattosoup
To chat: www.twitter.com/Nattosoup
For more art tutorials, supply reviews, and con recaps: www.nattosoup.blogspot.com
For convention how-tos: www.howtobeaconartist.tumblr.com
To help support online art education: www.patreon.com/Nattosoup
For my portfolio: www.behance.com/Nattosoup
For digital downloads: www.gumroad.com/nattosoup
For physical goodies: www.nattosoup.com/products
For my comic: www.nattosoup.com/kara-comic

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