Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Planning Your Comics Career Like A Video Game

When my first full-length graphic novel, “The Spectacular Adventures of Zsazsa Zaturnnah” made waves for the most part of the 2000s, many people said that I was a success, that I could content myself with the fact that I’ve made a great contribution to Philippine pop culture, Philippine comics –Philippine literature even– in the New Millennium. While I was thankful for the unexpected accolades, it didn’t sink in so much. Maybe I was in denial. Maybe I believed the success was premature. Or maybe I didn’t really have an idea of what my success should look like.

To me, the fact that I was able to finish the book and get it published was my true success. Everything else became a nice bonus.

But maybe I should have looked at building my success differently, especially if I had really wanted to make comics my career.

It’s important to define what your success will look like, especially if you plan to make comics over the long-term. If you’re starting out, your measure of success could be simply “having fun,” or “finishing,” or “getting positive comments from strangers.” But if you’ve spent a number of years producing comics, your measure of success might change. As you get older, get more experience, and take on more responsibilities as an adult, your measure of success can go as far as “making a comfortable living” from your works.

But it all has to come in steps. like that of a video game, and each success is not unlike finishing a “level” of that game.

If your comics career were to come in levels, what do you want to achieve with each? Here’s an example:

Level 1: 1st Comics Project. Write and draw an eight-pager in one month. Just practice.
Level 2: 2nd Comics Project. Write and draw a twelve-pager in one month. Just practice.
Level 3: 3rd Comics Project. Write and draw a twelve-pager in one month. Post it in a blog. Get feedback.
Level 4: 4th Comics Project. Write and draw a 30-page webcomic in two months. Post it in a blog. Get feedback.
Level 5: 5th Comics Project. Write and draw a 50-page webcomic in three months. Post it in a blog. Get feedback.

You can add milestones when it comes to target audience, such as…

Level 6: 5th Comics Project. Write and draw a 50-page webcomic in three months. Subject is autism. Post it in a blog. Get feedback from medical experts, and parents of autistic children.
Level 7: 6th Comics Project. Write and draw a 50-page webcomic in three months. The comic is an adaptation of a story generally studied in high school. Post it in a blog. Get feedback from teachers and students.

Another milestone can be revenue-generating. For instance…

Level 8: Personal Website. Post all of my comics. Add Google Adsense. Finish in one month.
Level 9: Personal Website. Post ten “how I make comics” articles over the span of two months. Build a mailing list.

Then there’s the milestone when it comes to publishing formats, like…

Level 10:  Kindle Comics. Write and draw a 100-page Kindle Comic in five months. Publish through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing.
Level 11:  Createspace Comics. Convert 100-page Kindle Comics into a book. Publish through Amazon’s Createspace.

Then you can have milestones in terms of publicity, such as…

Level 12:  Connect with Podcasters. Get in touch with producers of relevant podcasts to see the possibility of guesting.
Level 13:  Connect with Local Establishments. Get in touch with coffee shops in the area for the possibility of leaving reading copies in the shops.

In defining your success in each level, your objective should be:

SPECIFIC (“15-page comic book,” not “one comic book”)
ATTAINABLE (will the objective be too much to pursue given the other stuff I have to do in my life?)
TIME-BOUND (use specific dates)

After successfully accomplishing a number of levels, you would need to take some time to look back at what you've done. By evaluating what you've done right and what you need to improve on, as well as looking out for new opportunities in the comics industry, you can redefine what your next levels will be. It's you being the captain of your own ship, anticipating changes in the marketplace and adjusting your course as needed.

By seeing your comics career this way, you can clearly determine how and when you’ve “leveled-up.” More importantly, each level will come with its own set of lessons on what you should NOT do, or what you should be more careful with. Of course, as you go through these levels, you’re still actively learning and improving your writing, drawing, and marketing skills.

Arguably, the above sample can be achieved in about three or four years. If you have more time in your hands and are particularly persevering, you can pile up the above milestones into fewer levels.

I wish I had known this when I was starting out. I think my comics career would have grown in leaps and bounds over the past decade if I had done this a long time ago. Plus, I could safely say that any unexpected successes that would come my way would have been rightfully earned. We reap what we sow.

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