You must be a little bit crazy to try and work in the comic book industry. That, and very passionate about what you do. Every aspect of the comic book world, writer, artist, inker, colorist and letterer - the business is notoriously hard to break in to. Most likely you aren’t going to get picked up by the big boys for many years.
You are going to have to go it alone and work on your own projects or find a small publishing company to work with, and unless you are lucky enough to be very wealthy or collaborating with an established name it’s going to be a long process.
Of course, everyone hopes that their project will explode and they’ll take the fast lane to instant celebrity, movie deals, and riches. Unfortunately that rarely happens. The people who have become successful and reached the pinnacle of their profession have worked their tuchus off to get there. It’s like a band that makes the circuit for 20 years and get that one single that gets them noticed and suddenly they’re the hot new voice. Many things can elevate a book to the next level. Finding that one genre twist that amazingly hasn’t been done yet (good luck on that), signing with an established publishing house, or having a big name creator on board, are but a few. It’s important that all parties involved be committed to the project for the long haul. This is extremely important for today’s independent creator.
Financial issues are probably the single largest obstacle to success, it’s a serious uphill battle right from the beginning. You’ll need to decide the direction you want to go, do you have the money to self-fund the project, or do you have a Daddy Warbucks standing at your side willing to rain dollars upon your project?
If you are like most, the answer to those questions is a resounding no. That shouldn’t be the end for your project, rather just one hurdle in a line of many that you must overcome before reaching the finish line.
So what are you left with? The answer, my friend, and as many of you already know, is crowdfunding. If you don’t know what crowdfunding is, the easiest way to describe how it works is it allows a creator to set up a campaign in order to raise a set dollar amount for a set goal; people can donate as much or as little as they want and based on the pledge amount the donor gets a specific set of rewards.
It’s become the greatest ally of the independent comic creator. Crowdfunding has allowed more comic book creators to procure funding for their projects by going straight to the fans.
The most popular crowdfunding source is Kickstarter. However, there is a catch: If your Kickstarter goal isn't met, the project isn't funded. Sometimes the difference between success and failure for these campaigns can be the smallest of margins so don’t take it personal.
This is making a big difference for many creators, like our series The Threat published by Stratum comics out of Austin, TX. Kickstarter has become an integral part of our development plan, most independent comic work is paid on the back end by giving them a percentage of the sales of each book, but we pay our artist a page rate when work is completed - or at least that is what we strive for on every issue. This can place a financial burden on us before a single issue is even sold. It’s also a risk for companies with this type business model as the owner/creator only take their profit after the book sells (if it turns a profit at all).
As mentioned, not every campaign is successful. The Threat has had five campaigns since the publication of its first issue. There was a big learning curve with our first attempt that ended with its cancellation. Our second one never got near its goal. This was devastating as we were struggling to print our first issue, but we persevered and were successful in getting the issue published. We didn’t attempt a campaign for our second issue and were hesitant when it came to our third. Necessity helped in our deciding to give it another shot. This time we successfully funded, it was awesome and somehow vindicating, having someone tell you that they love your project. Since then we’ve had a second successful campaign partially due to word of mouth and partially due to learning how to properly market a Kickstarter campaign (we can talk more about this later, as it deserves it's own post).
Two of the biggest hurdles with Kickstarter are trying to inform fans about your product and reaching new backers. While most comics on Kickstarter are just looking for help getting published, each approaches it differently; utilizing websites, social media, industry groups, Twitter and friends to help spread the word. Some projects flounder if the project isn’t funded and are never published. We try and find a way even if we have to delay the release. We don’t do this because of money; we do it because of a creative need and want to share with others. Creators should be doing this because they love the projects they are working on and want you to enjoy them as well. If they wouldn’t pay to read their own books why would anyone else?
It’s a stacked game and the big players dominate the industry and can indirectly dictate when and where your book is seen. Beyond that, success is dependent on the actions of readers, retailers and the marketing venues we choose.
There are a few things that readers can do to help indie publishers and creators., You can support creator owned comics by letting retailers know you would like them to carry a title. Local retailers are hesitant to put untested products in their stores but by pre-ordering books you allow them to remove the risk on investment. Many artist’s’ only revenue stream is what they make doing the Con circuit. You can help guarantee new and innovative books by purchasing direct from the creators at cons. This helps them recover their cost by putting more of the cover price into their pocket.
Finally, the best way you can help before a product is available for sale is by supporting independent comics on Kickstarter, not only financially but by telling your friends about the campaigns to increase awareness of them.
Check out these other articles on how Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sites have helped independent creators of comics and other products find success.
And check out our Kickstarter project: