Friday, June 01, 2012

Using Your Influence To Help Others

Working Towards A Better Comic Community 

Everyone has a bit of influence, no matter how obscure they think they are.  Some of us work hard to build up a reputation- posting regular blog articles, participating actively in Twitter conversations, retumbling great art and useful tips on Tumblr, organizing events through Facebook- and others have fame thrust upon them thanks to a meme gone viral, a particularly well timed comic, or an unintentionally hilarious video.  What we do with this influence is up to us- we can use it to hurt others (popular artists inciting fans to attack other artists as is the case wtih Tom Preston) or we can use it to help others get a headstart.  A leg up from a more popular friend can make a huge difference in an artist's career- quite a few editors admit that many of their new hires come via recommendation or word of mouth.  Popular Kickstarter projects are usually spearheaded or backed by influential internet figures, and new web comics can rise in the ranks fast if a more established fan gives it a shout-out.  On a personal level,  I see a huge spike in pageviews when a more popular blog posts a link, and my Twitter stats jump when someone more influential retweets me.

I'm a big believer in making the comic community better for everyone involved.  I do this through a variety of methods- I try to write timely and useful blog posts aimed at helping newer artists, offering other student artists the opportunity to write blog posts to build credibility and to send traffic to their sites, occasionally promoting my peers directly, and I will often provide links to useful and relevant blogs and Youtube videos.  I use my Twitter for a variety of functions- to promote other artists, to serve as a community cheerleader, to be a sounding board for my more distant comic friends, to rally for change, and to share useful information.  I may be a mediocre artist at times, but I have found that I am great at using what influence I have to help others, making a difference in my own small way, and I do this using my blog.  I go out of my way to promote the other comic blogs that uphold the ideals I hold so dear, posting them to my Facebook, sharing them on Twitter, and recommending them here.  Sending readers to useful sites does not lose me readers even though they are clicking away from my blog, it instead helps me build credibility, builds goodwill in the blogging community, and introduces my readers to a helpful resource.

Since I have started utilizing my blog to help others, instead of only promoting my own work, I have noticed a huge spike in page views, several more comments, and a steady increase in Twitter followers.  I've also found that I have met more people that I consider friends, people I admire, and a new reason to look forward to conventions.  Posting tutorials and reviews gives me unique content that helps me improve my SEO, which increases my Google rank, leading more people to my blog.  Hopefully this will result in an increase in commissions, and better recognition (and hopefully increased sales) at conventions. 

Self Publishing And Influence

The self-publishing industry in particular can benefit from the sharing of influence.  Self-publishing, including web publishing (such as web comics and blogs), relies on word of mouth in order to gain readership.  An artist can spend many years hunched over their tablet drawing a consistently updated web comic with great content and still languish in obscurity, or years tip tapping away at a blog that no one ever reads.  Many believe that great talent always rises to the top, but this is often not the case, and there is a counter argument that it takes ten years to become an overnight success.  A little publicity can reduce that ten years, and well timed publicity can help an artist explode in a very short period of time.  The key often lies in knowing the 'right' people, but in this day and age, being a fellow artist is often not enough.  This is where generously sharing influence can really make a difference.

A Precocious Situation


My friend Chris Paulsen  (the creator of Precocious) recently published a book through RCSI Publishing.  RCSI Publishing is a small publishing run by Darcy and Matt.  Darcy's the creator of Code Name: Hunter and the author of the blog Between the Panels, both of which you should check out.  I asked Chris about his experience publishing the first volume of Precocious, and he said:
"They [Darcy and Matt] are experienced with putting books together and doing the publishing thing.  By working with them, the book was done far faster - and better - than if I had taken the project on my own.  I got to avoid a bunch of rookie mistakes with their advice.  (Granted, even with them I still made a ton of 'em.)"- Chris Paulsen

Darcy and Matt used their experience in self-publishing to help Chris get Precocious ready, and are using their influence at conventions to help Chris promote and sell his book.  Without their help, it would have taken Chris much longer to get the book ready, and he would have stumbled through the process using trial and error.  By sharing their experience and influence, Darcy and Matt made it possible for Chris to produce his first volume quickly and efficiently, and their publishing company benefits from the sale of his books.

A Kickstarter Success Story

A friend of mine, who's a fantastic comic artist, but not so great at online self promotion, recently had a Kickstarter for her comic, Star Power.  Sarah's goal was $7k, a tall order for an artist with little online presence.   Although none of her comic friends are internet celebrities, we all pooled our efforts to help Sarah achieve her $7k goal, each in a different way.  One friend introduced Sarah to a couple more influential online artists who were willing to retweet a link to her Kickstarter, three others forced her to email prominent webcomic artists asking for a small plug, and several of us constantly harassed our Twitter followers to donate.  It took the entire month, but Sarah did reach her goal, and Star Power will see the light of day.  I do not believe this would have been possible without all of us using our influence to help our friend.  A little influence can be a powerful thing.

We Can All Use A Little Help Now and Then

 
I'm writing this blog post as a plea that others follow my example, and use their influence not just to promote those greater than they are, but those smaller as well.  There are many small, insular cliques in the comics industry (particularly the indie comics industry) which make breaking in even harder than it already is.  Those bitter that they had to struggle hard to achieve their success are often resentful of new artists, and may horde advice, tutorials,opportunities, and resources.  When artists do this, it isn't giving them any real advantage, its simply souring our communal pool.  I believe that to increase sales and improve the community, we need to be more transparent.
 

Sharing your influence is not limited to retweeting links and reblogging posts.  By sharing your experiences, your ups and your downs, you are influencing and inspiring others.  I've noticed a trend among younger artists- if they don't get that first job right away, they give up.  While this may mean there's less competition, it also means that we're potentially losing out on some great works, and as a comics fan, I find this depressing.  If we are more open about our failures as well as our successes, aspiring artists will not expect success right away, and may take heart in our struggles.

10 Ways to Share Your Influence


1. Participate in #Follow Fridays on Twitter, and mix up your lineup- recommend aspiring artists as well as professionals, strangers as well as friends.  Follow Friday can also be applied to blogging, with a regular article dedicated to introducing readers to new blogs.
2. Volunteer your experience and know how- offer critiques and draw-overs to a limited few.  Putting yourself out there doesn't necessarily mean expending your energy on those who would not utilize it.  If you offer these critiques via a public venue, both parties will gain exposure as well as experience.
3. Share your ups and your downs equally.  It's all about the journey to success, the struggles, the trial and error.  The hero's journey makes for compelling reading.
4. Offer to write a guest post for other art blogs.  Your unique point of view may inspire someone new.
5. Respond to @replys regardless of the popularity or influence of the other party.  Your fans are just as worthy of your time as those you admire- its a give-take relationship.  By developing a friendship outside of pure admiration, you'll have more loyal fans.
6. Share useful, inspiring information on a regular basis.  A reputation for being a good source of great stuff isn't too shabby.
7. Promote an air of positivity, but don't lie.  Bitterness grows old quick. 
8. Engage your readers and thank them for their interaction.  Their insights may surprise you in delightful ways.
9. Consider creating tutorials and process posts.  Content like this gets reblogged, retweeted, and retumbled often, gaining you a lot of exposure from new sources.
10. Promote the work of others,  as well as your own on social networking sites.  This increases the amount of possible exposure significantly. 

Coming Home To the Comics Community

Comics is a small industry, and complaining can cost an artist friends and job opportunities.  Writing about your failures with the benefit of hindsight does not have to degrade into whining if handled properly.  By sharing your experiences openly, you have added to genuinely useful content to the internet.  It may not become instantly popular like a silly meme or fanart, but it will gain you longterm respect from other artists.

Comics should not be a popularity contest--we experienced enough of that in highschool.  Comics should be the welcoming community that feels like home, for everyone, not just the lucky few.  In an internet so large and full of seemingly endless resources, it is easy to take without giving, but these resources require time to create, and may be an energy drain on the creator.  

The Benefits of Helping Others

Generous artists and authors often enjoy a more dedicated fanbase, creating True Fans.  According to Kevin Kelly,
A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author - in other words, anyone producing works of art - needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.
A True Fan is defined as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce. They will drive 200 miles to see you sing. They will buy the super deluxe re-issued hi-res box set of your stuff even though they have the low-res version. They have a Google Alert set for your name. They bookmark the eBay page where your out-of-print editions show up. They come to your openings. They have you sign their copies. They buy the t-shirt, and the mug, and the hat. They can’t wait till you issue your next work. They are true fans.

 I have found that one of the best ways to inspire fans to become True Fans is by being a supporter yourself.  Recently I talked about being as awesome a customer as you are a seller and how that builds goodwill in the comic community, and utilizing your influence to help others is a great way to do that.  Scott McCloud has used his knowledge to help comic artists for over a generation, and is one of the most quoted comic theorists in the industry.  In SEQA, there's a joke that every thesis paper must include one of his works as a source, and in comic circles, his name is a household word.  He's achieved this level of prominence by writing books that change how comic artists think about their craft (Understanding Comics, Reinventing Comics), books that make comic theory understandable to a larger audience.

Hooked on Helping Worked for Me


Reviewing comic supplies on my blog (a service to other artists) has gotten me positive attention from companies such as JetPens, which as resulted in link backs and a few opportunities for sponsored reviews (such as my Akashiya Brushpen post), although my original intention was simply to help other artists avoid inferior products that may ruin a project.  Retweeting a relevant Copic Marker tutorial that I thought my followers would enjoy won me some Copic swag, which I later turned into a blog post (yay, fresh content!), and running contests has introduced many new readers to my blog.  My business model has basically become "do good for others, and good will be done for you."

Every Little Bit Helps


Everyone has a slightly different sphere of influence, and by helping others, you gain access to their sphere of influence.  Building goodwill opens many doors, and can lead to introductions, job offers, mentorships, and more.  Even someone who seems to be at the bottom of the pile has something to offer, even if it's just future possibilities.  While you should not spend all of your time promoting others to the detriment of your own work, a little generosity goes a long way.

Building Influence on Your Own

I realize that many beginning artists may have very little influence to offer others, and may have trouble finding resources to help.  Before I started seriously utilizing this blog, it served mainly as an art dump.  I updated infrequently, the content was subpar, and I  knew few artists to turn to for help.  I was, however, adept at FINDING information and resources, scouring the web for free art instruction.  My preSCAD art education  was self motivated, so I had a good understanding of what other young artists went through in their struggle for improvement.  I have utilized those abilities to turn Keep on Truckin, Nattosoup around into a resource for other artists, harnessing the power of my own struggle to break into the comic industry to inspire.   While I would like this blog to turn a profit in some way in the future (hopefully through the sale of commissions and comics), I can earn the respect of other artists by sharing my art, experiences, and failures. 

Toiling in obscurity, I can appreciate how frustrating it is.  I know what it feels like to slave over a mini comic, and no one notices.  Rather than complain, or demand attention, I diversified my blog posts, offering content that is interesting to a variety of people.  I am not opposed to advertising and self promotion (I utilize those myself) to drive traffic to your intended target, but I believe that the route to lasting readership is through valuable content.  I noticed a lack of this in the comic blogs I read, and decided to fill that niche.

It hasn't been easy.  One of my goals is to constantly improve the quality of this blog, and that means better content.  I don't regret the struggle, and I'm always open to suggestions.  I had a proud moment today when two of my artist friends- Sarah Benkin and Heidi Black- asked if they could contribute more guest posts, and we brainstormed future articles.  The goals of this blog have changed dramatically, but I feel they have changed for the better.

We could all use a little promotion!  Comment below with your art or review blog, and a short blurb explaining what you're doing to improve the art community, and I'll feature you in a plug post in the very near future!