Here we are again – another week where I looked forward to writing this morning. I guess this is like therapy, kinda like Morning Pages or daily journaling. Welcome to my psyche, you might never leave.
Let’s start off this week with a quote that relates precisely to what I’m trying to do with this newsletter and my creative work in general:
You might recall me mentioning Dan Harmon and his Story Circle a couple of issues ago. I’ve still been watching Community whenever I can (the season 2 premier was batshit) and I’m a bit obsessed with the kick-ass writing on the show. I came across the quote during a quick trip down an internet rabbit hole, his response to why fans are so invested in his shows.
It really comes down to authenticity, doesn’t it? It’s hard being ourselves & expressing ourselves. America lionizes the individual, the rebel, the outlaw – yet it doesn’t. Most people stick to whatever the popular fashion of they day is. Most of the time being in an in-group means practically wearing a uniform in an effort to fit in. Look at groups of teens hanging out together, or co-workers.
Throw in years of conditioning to not express our true emotions, or years of training to do as we’re told (school & work) and being authentic isn’t easy.
And it’s hard to escape professionally. When it comes to careers, people spend more time trying to improve their skills to be hired instead of I want to get better at X because that’s what I want to do. Or in publishing, there’s always talk about The Market and what’s selling, and what agents are looking for, yada yada.
Being authentic ain’t easy, but truly authentic art is what resonates. You can always tell when someone made something to piggyback off the success of something else (I see all the Percy Jackson rip-offs in the library)(and yes, I know PJ put a mythological twist on Harry Potter but it’s pretty obvious Riordan loves mythology).
Dan Harmon figured it out. I hope we can too.
Stuff I’m thinking
Let’s move on to my main topic this week:
How do we use corporations more than they use us?
I think about this a lot – maybe too much. Ever since I became cognizant of how businesses work, the prospect of making someone else more money than they pay me is unsettling – especially when it feels like jumping through hoops for a pittance.
Back in the 90s, the Internet was seen as a vast democratizing force (at least that’s my memory of it). Besides being cool and fun, anyone could start a website and express themselves. Or find an audience for their art. Or pretend that their tiny business was on par with a giant competitor.
While all of this is still possible, the internet today is dominated by giant corporations. From a creator’s perspective, here are some of the corporations that we have to deal with:
- Google, if we want our websites found
- Facebook/Instagram, to connect with and reach our audience
- Amazon, to sell books or merch (we can ignore Google but have to work Amazon’s algorithm)
- Etsy, Threadless, et al, to sell merch & ignore Google (but then we have to work each site’s algorithm)
- Webtoon & Tapas, to host comics & ignore Google (but then we deal with each site’s algorithm)
I’m skipping a number of other sites but you get the point – we have to deal with giant corporations no matter what path we take. (Going ‘off the grid’ is possible but we’re going to stick to the reality of modern internet-oriented lives.)
So how do we use these corporations more than they use us? That’s the rub.
If you’ve read my blog, or chatted with me at length, you might know that I am dead set against digital sharecropping – the practice of building on websites that you don’t own. Actually, let me rephrase that: the practice of only building on websites you don’t own.
You should always, at minimum, have your own website on hosting that you pay for yourself. Relying only on Facebook pages, Instagram profiles, Webtoon, Tumblr, Patreon, etc. means that the site owners can make decisions that adversely affect all of your efforts.
Like the sharecropping landlords, those sites have ALL the control:
- We create content on their sites
- They gain rights to use & re-use the content as they see fit
- They keep the lion’s share of the revenue or can change the terms to their benefit at any time
But ‘going off the grid’ is not a useful option for most creatives. Most of us need to use the internet to find our fans so we have to deal with these corps. So what can we do to use them more than they use us? Here are some ideas:
Use a newsletter/mailing list
When someone visits your site, respectfully ask if they’d like to subscribe to your newsletter. When someone subscribes to your list, they’re giving you permission to talk to them directly, and occasionally ask them to buy stuff (if you ask to buy too often or are obnoxious about it, they’ll unsubscribe).
Every list member reduces your reliance on Google & Facebook for traffic, because you’ll keep in touch and they might even share your newsletter or website with a friend. Each list member also reduces your reliance on advertising to find your audience or sell products.
Never buy likes
Facebook entices folks to advertise to get more likes for the Fb pages or IG profiles – don’t do it. While a larger audience means more potential fans & buyers, these people are not the ones you’re look for. The vast majority of paid likes are useless. These people will rarely engage with you or buy anything from you. Facebook mines their data to find people who are in the habit of liking pages for shits & giggles and put these ads in front of them. Paid likes will never result in anything except a profit for Fb.
Ditch your Facebook page
If you need to advertise on Facebook for your business – say you’re a local brick & mortar trying to reach new customers – then you need a Facebook page. But Fb pages are designed so you have to pay for traffic, which most creators don’t need or want to do (the latter is similar to paying for likes). Fb pages have been a bait & switch operation: when Pages were introduced, Fb made sure they go lots of traffic & engagement to encourage adoption. Then they steadily reduced reach & engagement over the years.
Now Fb pages are a waste of time. I’ve taken down every Fb page I’d made, because I don’t ever intend on advertising on Fb. If you want to use Fb for anything professional, start a group.
But remember: Fb is a cornucopia of distractions. Your page is not the only thing someone is checking on Fb; you’ll never have someone’s full attention on Fb. (An email reader otoh is a direct, one on one relationship.)
Train your fans to go to your website
This is a major pet peeve of mine, when I see people use one social media account to advertise their other social media accounts. I’ve seen this way too often in pinned Twitter posts: “Hey – you found me on a super-distracting site! Please visit me on these even more distracting sites. Oh – I have a website too.”
Don’t do that.
Always, always, always direct people back to your website, where you have lovely words and/or eye candy for fans to enjoy … and a newsletter that they can subscribe to so you can keep in touch.
Additionally, when you post multiple images on social media (and especially on Instagram), make the last image you share a call to action to check out your website for more goodness. I did it when I posted this comic on IG.
I wouldn’t do this for single images though – it would be irritating to see that the 2nd image was always the same call to action. But it should be done for carousels/multiple images.
Don’t post all of your best stuff on social media
I’m not saying you shouldn’t post really good stuff to social media, because you should. You just shouldn’t post all of it.
Example: you’ve made a kickass illustration – and you know your fans enjoy watching the timelapse or BTS (behind the scenes) stuff. So post the illo on social media, with some closeups of different areas and maybe a process image. And then invite your fans to check out the whole process vid or all the BTS stuff on your website.
Another way of looking at that example: you posted something really good for all of your fans to enjoy – and then invited your super fans back to your site for more of what they’re interested in.
(Now that I think about it, that sounds Iike a private after party with the dj.)
Another example: post 1 or 2 exceptional classes on Skillshare or Udemy, and sell the rest directly on your site.
This is also training fans to go to your website for the really good stuff.
Incentivize going to your website over your other sites & profiles
We touched on this in the previous point, about not sharing all of your best stuff on social media. But we can extend this in other ways too:
- Whenever you cross post content on your site & other sites, publish it on your site first by a couple of days or more. (I do this with my newsletter – you guys get this first, and then it’s published on my site a few days later; this is common to Patreon as well.)
- On Webtoon/Tapas, post the comic in black & white or a limited a color scheme and post the full color version on your site – and make sure to mention that at the bottom of the comic. This can be combined with publishing earlier on your site. (Gradient maps can help convert full color to a limited color palette easier.)
- If you sell merch on a marketplace website (like Amazon, Etsy, RedBubble, et al) and sell stuff on your website, mark up the marketplace prices so that your website visitors get a better deal. It doesn’t have to be the same exact products either.
Basically make visiting your website more valuable than your online presence elsewhere
I could go on with more examples but you get the point. (And if you come up with ideas that I may have overlooked, please do let me know.)
While we’re stuck with an internet dominated by giant corps, we don’t have to jump through every single hoop for their primary benefit.
And I get that there is a significant ease of use involved by using marketplace sites, social media profiles, and the like. You’ll have to do decide what you can, want, or are able to do. I’m just telling you that you don’t have to do things the way corporations want it done. Like Arthur Ashe said, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”
Even baby steps are progress.
Stuff I’m reading
Found this on Hoopla. I’d never heard of the creator JP Kalonji before but his art is FANTASTIC. It’s about a warrior monk fighting an evil witch or something. The story was a little hard to follow, this is one comic that needs some color to help differentiate characters and such. It’s apparently a follow up to a 400 page opus, 365 Samurai and a Few Bowls of Rice.
This is a graphic memoir by Colleen Frakes, also found on Hoopla. She spent 10 of her formative years growing up on an island that houses a prison where all the island residents were employees of the prison. It was interesting to see a different life and the issues when school and the rest of life was a ferry away. It may not have been amazing like Persepolis (what is, right?) but it’s still a neat read.
Which brings me to my final thought of the day:
Are graphic memoirs just reality tv for nerds?
There are too many similarities to let this one go. Let me know your take on this by leaving a comment.