This is NOT a success story (at least, not yet).
Rather, This is a story of what we did in the span of one year to earn ourselves a tiny (really tiny) glimpse of success.
This is a story of how we went from being virtually unknown to getting our first few hundred readers.
This is a story of how, in a year, we were able to get a nomination for the 2017 Komikon Grassroots Award.
And this story begins one April 16, 2016, at the Summer Komikon here in the Philippines. It was on that day that we launched the first ever issue of our comic, I’m A Legal Alien. To be completely honest, It wasn’t the first comic that we’d launched a book at a comic convention, but it was definitely the first time in a couple of years.
The actual first time we launched and sold at a convention is reserved for way back in 2011. At the time, the indies were still all in the main hall of the Bayanihan center. We were splitting a table with another indie group (one that was selling this manga-ish romance title), and we literally had no idea what we were doing, how to talk to people, or how to sell our comics.
Back then, Pat’s art was VERY different, and my writing wasn’t exactly spot on either. But we were both young(er). And we were both really excited to be a part of the convention.
Back then, to get into the convention it was first come, first served (which, it still is). Whoever submitted their application first would get a table. I remember checking the Komikon Facebook page practically every day just to see if registrations had opened. And the closer April drew, the more often I checked the page, sometimes twice or thrice on a daily basis (thankfully, now, you can actually just turn on notifications on Facebook for specific pages you want to keep an eye on). And so when registrations finally opened up, I quickly signed up Pat and myself without a second thought.
Long story short, what happened that very first Komikon we attended as comics exhibitors, we ended up selling just about 20 copies. That was our first exposure to the local indie comic scene. Looking back, we didn’t really know what we were doing, and how to go about marketing our book. And, to be completely honest, I personally thought (months later) that the comic we released wasn’t that great either. But Pat and I had learned a lot since that day—about marketing, story structure, and art—and 5 years later, we tried again with a different title: I’m A Legal Alien.
So now, after more than a year of marketing and selling our comics using all the knowledge that we’d acquired in 5 years, here’s what we’ve experimented with and learned about trying to get recognized in the local indie komiks scene.
1. If it’s going to be, it’s up to me
I get that this sounds very simple and cliche. But as obvious as it is, most people never take it seriously. And that’s because (to a certain degree) we’re naturally wired to find blame in others rather than get creative and try and find a solution to our problems.
I believe that the number one lesson we learned (and that every artist and creator has to learn) is that just because we put a lot of hard work into our comic, that doesn’t automatically mean that people will like it, or buy it.
The chances are actually greater that they won’t buy it.
Because readers don’t owe us a thing.
They don’t owe YOU anything.
If there was anything we wanted to happen, anything we wanted to take away from our experience, it’s that whatever happened would ultimately be up to us. If we wanted our audience to progress and grow, we had to make it happen. No one else.
In our case, people at the convention had no idea who we were. They didn’t know whether they could trust us, or if they would even like or enjoy the comic. More so, they didn’t know whether or not we’d even finish the story. They had no obligation to buy, or even look at our work because we were complete nobodies.
Why should bloggers and reviewers pick up a copy issue of our comic and promote it on their website? We were brand new. Similarly, organizers had no obligation to place us in a good spot where we could possibly get more exposure.
And so we decided that rather than rant, complain, or blame the system… rather than allow the rules to control our thoughts, moods, motivations, and responses, we would take a more proactive approach and figure out how we could get ourselves the biggest possible exposure that we could.
There’s this story that designer Marc Ecko tells in his book, Unlabel: Selling You Without Selling Out. While at a convention/show selling his shirts, he was beset with the problem that every other booth present was simply… better than his. And because he had no money to compete with all the other booths, he had to get creative and think outside the box just so that he could compete. He figured out a way to make his booth would stand out so that he’d be able to sell his t-shirts. It worked. In the end, he was the one that made an effort to get his brand the attention it needed.
Which brings up to the second lesson we learned from a year of selling comics…
2. The best way to earn a reader’s trust is to woo them over time
One thing about the indie comics industry is that it’s filled with creators that almost NEVER finish their stories.
Webcomics, in particular, are notoriously good at this sort of thing. Creators start off strong, posting a page a day, or a page a week. And then, once they’re a few months into the story, they give up either because no one’s reading their comic, or because “Life just happened.”
I remember Jason Brubaker mentioning the same thing on his Making Comics podcast (now Coffee Table Comics Podcast), and agreeing with the idea that webcomic readers (and, in general, indie comics readers) are now much more cynical about whether or not a comic creator will stick it out and finish their darn book.
Make no mistake, finishing an entire story is actually a RARITY.
Many creators, artists, writers, and entrepreneurs out there like to talk and romanticize about “Someday”. But this someday almost never comes. And the funny thing is that when successful writers, artists, and entertainers are asked questions like, “What do I do to become a writer?” the most common answer these wannabes are given is, “You have to write!”
I remember award-winning filmmaker and author of Invisible Ink and The Golden Theme, Brian McDonald, talking about this in an episode of the Paperwings Podcast. He tells this story from Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, August Wilson, who said that people come up to him and say, “How do I get a play on broadway?” And he’d ask them, “Well, have you written a play?” And of course, they’d answer, “No.” And August Wilson would then reply to that, “Well, you have to write a play. And then you have to write another play. And then you have to write another play. And then maybe, eventually, you’ll be on broadway… Then they get mad at me like I’m not telling them something.”
Why does this happen? Because more often than not, those that ask this question are people that have probably never finished a story or a novel or a comic book. If they have, they’ve probably only written one or two. This is the reason why I love Jeff Goins’ story of how a change in mindset got him to take action and build his audience around his writing. One day his friend told him something like, “Jeff, you don’t have to be a writer. You are a writer. You just have to write.”
And, more importantly, I’d like to add to that bit: You have to FINISH.
This takes time.
But it is, more often than not, one of the biggest factors that makes the successful creators successful. They stick it out. More so, they figure things out. They experiment and try different things. They aren’t discouraged by their circumstances, or their limitations. They don’t make excuses. They just kept moving forward and pushing forward, building their audience, one reader at a time.
In our interview with Arnold Arre, he himself said that he didn’t worry about pitching his books to publishers until they were finished. He had decided for himself that it was much easier to convince a publisher to take a chance on his book if it was complete.
In the early days, whenever I started writing a book, there was always a lingering concern about how to get it published. But I’ve learned not to think about that until the book is done, because worrying will just hinder the progress of my work… I just kept drawing and writing until I’d finished the book. It was easier to market a finished story to a publisher as opposed to pitching unfinished ideas. ~Arnold Arre
I believe sir Arnold Arre has grasped a very important truth: ideas are cheap. They’re a dime a dozen. Every single person in the world has a terrific idea for a book, painting, illustration, video game, or business. The catch? Very few of them take action to turn those ideas into reality.
That’s why a webcomic like Order of the Stick (which was about 10 years old at the time) made over ONE MILLION dollars from their Kickstarter Campaign. It took them 10 years to build up their audience to the point that their audience was in the thousands.
Trust is earned over time.
You don’t meet a girl, and then ask her to marry you.
You take her out to dinner, first. You spend time getting to know one another. You give her presents on her birthday. You text her a “Good Morning!” and “Good night!” every single day of the week.
In the world of independent comics, simply FINISHING your story is what really earns a reader’s trust and loyalty. It’s like putting a ring on that finger. Because it’s only when you finally finish something that readers, editors, and publishers know and believe that you’re dead serious about your work. It’s only when you finish that they’ll know for sure that you’re not flaky, that you won’t disappoint them, that you won’t break that trust by selling just one issue of your comic and then moving on to do other stuff.
I’ve seen so many indies whose stories never again saw the light of day. And it breaks my heart, especially when it comes to the ones that I enjoyed and loved.
(By the way you guys, I’m still waiting… So please, please, PLEASE make more issues soon!)
What we’ve learned so far is that, really, the best way to earn a reader’s trust, is to at least have the intent to finish the gosh-darn story.
That, alone, makes you different.
That, alone, makes you stand out.
Because out of a hundred people that say they’re going to do this or do that someday, 99 of them will never follow through.
When we released the first issue of I’m A Legal Alien, it was about 40+ pages into the story already, and it ended at a specific point of the story: the end of the beginning hook.
The number of pages in that book alone was nearly two standard-length comic book issues. Of course, having them all in just one issue didn’t make much impact. But once we started selling a second issue in the November Komikon of that year, we’d noticed that we were starting to gain a bit of traction. And we honestly believe that that traction will only multiply the more issues we release.
Another thing we learned this year and half was that…
3. FREE comics are irresistible
Believe it or not, during our first launch on April 16, 2016, we gave away 100 PRINTED COPIES of I’m A Legal Alien.
You heard that right.
I know what you’re thinking… “W-W-WHAT!? A HUNDRED? ARE YOU CRAZY? WHY!?”
In the five years between 2011 and 2016, I’d read a lot of books on writing, storytelling, and marketing. I’d followed dozens of blogs and listened to dozens of different podcasts just to see what others out there were doing to get their books the attention they felt it needed.
One such book I came across was a treasure trove of information: Dr. Robert Cialdini’s book Influence. This marketing classic has several case studies about the tremendous effectiveness of free in the marketplace. And the notable thing about the book is that Dr. Cialdini is a psychologist by profession, one that went out into the field to study the marketing and sales tactics of several groups and organizations. He observed why they worked, and tested some of the techniques out himself. Interestingly, he talked about several case studies about the power and effectiveness of free.
The same goes with former WIRED Magazine editor-in-chief, Chris Anderson, who wrote an entire book about the power of free: Free: The Future of a Radical Price.
Yet again, it’s a similar story for the guys over at the Self-Publishing Podcast, who have made hundreds of dollars giving away the first novel in their series for free as a digital download on Amazon.
Simon Whistler, the host of the Rocking Self-Publishing Podcast, has over a hundred interviews with authors, writers, novelists, and short story writers who have all utilized free in promoting their books online and on Amazon. Many of them are earning just enough to be able to quit their day jobs.
Nearly every week, Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn podcast, does the same thing: interview successful indie authors about their success and how they did it.
In the field of business and entrepreneurship, many notable figures like Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income all create highly valuable content and advice that they give away for FREE! In fact, Pat Flynn himself sometimes talks about how, in the past, he was actually afraid of charging people for something he’d made. But then, once he made the announcement at a convention that he was finally putting a product up for sale, his audience applauded and thanked him for it even before he could announce how much it was. Why? Because these people felt that they could finally return the favor. Pat Flynn had freely given his fans so much value that they were more than willing to support him.
So just the fact that there are hundreds (if not already thousands) of artists and creators out there that are making a living doing the thing they love, then I hope that you can also believe that IT IS POSSIBLE. We can make it happen.
Which, in turn, means that YOU can also make it happen.
I spent those 5 years between 2011 and 2016 studying and watching all these people experiment with free and with self-publishing. I was envious. I was jealous. And the more I read and listened, the more motivated I became to actually do something. Finally, my brother, Pat, and I decided for ourselves that we were going to stop watching, and start doing.
We put it to the test. We experimented. And we studied the results that we got.
And so, on that fateful summer day of 2016, we gave away 100 printed copies of I’m A Legal Alien. When the printed copies ran out, we gave away digital copies via email.
In those 12 hours inside the Bayanihan Center, we got a total of 230 new readers for our comic.
That’s more than 10x the number of comics we sold way back in 2011. In other words, that’s 1000% increase in our audience (feel free to call me out if my math is wrong, hehe!).
I know what you’re thinking…
“But why!? You don’t get anything out of giving stuff away for free!”
A. CON-GOERS ALREADY HAVE SET BUDGETS
Most people go to a convention with a list of books that they want to buy. What that means, for new creators, is that we’re at the BOTTOM of that list. These guys will have spent ALL of their money buying the things that they WANT to buy, the things that they KNOW they’ll enjoy.
Why, then, should they take a chance on newbies like us whose work they don’t know or recognize?
In other words, they’re not sure if they should spend their money on you or not.
Giving your book away for free means that the reader DOESN’T have to risk pulling out their wallets and paying for something they’re not sure of. FREE means that they can check out the comic, decide whether or not it’s something they like. Then, if they decide later on that they like it, they can come back and buy a copy (even if they’d already read it on their phones or computers).
B. GENEROSITY ENCOURAGES TRUST
On that fateful April day in 2016, several people were astounded and surprised that we were giving stuff away for free. One visitor to our booth even said, “Wow! That’s very generous of you.”
In fact, just this last Summer Komikon (April 1, 2017), we emailed our new readers the digital copies of not just the 1st issue of our comic, but also the 2nd issue, and a PDF copy of the magazine we published featuring interviews with several local creators. One new reader emailed back saying that she was pleasantly surprised by our willingness to give our stuff away for free, saying that we gained a new fan in her.
C. FREE GAVE US A WIDER REACH
Neil Gaiman mentioned in an interview how piracy actually increased the sales of his books in countries like Russia. He used to hate piracy because readers were able to get their hands on his books without paying a single cent. But later on he realized that piracy somehow made him more money.
After he checked the numbers, he shifted his whole viewpoint on the matter. He even tried several experiments (one mentioned in that specific interview, using his book, American Gods). In fact, it changed the way he sold his books.
Later on, what he did with The Graveyard Book was that he made available online recordings of him reading aloud the first few chapters. It increased his sales significantly. And all this happened because he gave away parts of of the book for free.
Of course in our case, back in 2016, we had to spend A LOT of money to print those 100 free books. And I’m guessing that if you’re just starting out, you don’t have a lot of funds to do something remotely similar. But the thing is, neither did we. But we saved up. We scraped up whatever money we had just so that we could do this promotion.
And so, later that year, Pat and I decided to run another experiment. And what we discovered was AMAZING.
We realized that we actually didn’t have to spend so much money printing out books to give away for free. There was actually another way of getting our comic into the hands of as many readers as possible.
Which brings us to the next lesson we learned…
4. Readers may prefer hard copies, but are also TOTALLY cool with digital
In the November Komikon of 2016, we decided to try a different experiment.
Because we lacked the funds to print books to give away and we’d already spent a lot (at least, in our case, it was a lot) just paying for the sponsorship booth in the main hall, we decided this time that we were not going to give away hard copies.
We were only going to give away DIGITAL copies.
And guess what?
In those two days of the November Komikon, we got another 200 people to sign up to our mailing list and download the PDF version of our comic.
It didn’t matter to them that it was just a PDF, they were open and interested enough to check it out.
There were a number of people that asked us, “Why are you giving it away for free?”
We told them, “So you can try it out and see if it’s something you like. And if it is, you can come back next Komikon and buy a hard copy.” And to be honest, it was nice to see the smiles on people’s faces whenever we told them that they could just check out the comic for free via download. They were pleasantly surprised. And because of that, we know that we’ve somehow made a good enough impression. And first impressions are everything.
We give new readers a free comic in exchange for an email address (a way of staying in contact with them until we released the next issue).
Which brings us to the next lesson we’ve learned from a year of Komikon…
5. Readers definitely enjoy hearing from their favorite creators
Just this year, 2017, the amazing Carlo Veragara, creator of Zsa Zsa Zatturnah, mentioned on Facebook that he was creating a mailing list for his superfans.
I thought this was just absolutely INCREDIBLE.
Because a mailing list is the exact same way through which dozens of these successful indie authors are earning a living with their books. They all created a mailing list that’s filled with the people that read and love their stories. And if Carlo Vergara can make a decent enough living for him to continue making his comics, then I’ll definitely be cheering him on.
Building this list is the exact same thing that we’ve been trying to do with I’m A Legal Alien.
Ever since we started collecting emails for a free PDF of our comic, we’ve accumulated a total of 400+ subscribers.
That’s not bad considering Kevin Kelley’s theory of 1,000 True Fans. In it, Kelly theorizes that for creators to be able to make a living doing the thing that they love most, they need only 1,000 True Fans. A true fan, according to Kelley, is someone that is absolutely in love with your work and will buy practically ANYTHING and EVERYTHING that you release, publish, or sell. If you could get True Fans that are willing pay you at least $10 a month for you to keep creating, then you’ve built yourself a self-sustaining career.
It’s no different from what Jeff Goins’ says in his book Real Artists Don’t Starve about cultivating patrons. In it, Jeff talks about how artists like Michaelangelo, Van Gogh, Shakespeare, and Picasso were only able to continue creating because they had patrons that supported their work. Without the existence of these patrons to supply them with money, motivation, and supplies, they would not have been able to create as works of art as they did. And if they had stopped creating their art at some point in their lives, then it might be very likely that their work would not have been able to have as great a reach and impact as it has today.
Building an email list, then, is the first step to finding your own patrons.
Of course, not every single one of the people that initially joined our email list liked our work. Some have unsubscribed from it, and that’s fine. Because it’s like we told them at the convention, “You can try it out, and see if it’s something you like.” Having a number of people leave our mailing list only means that the work just wasn’t for them.
On the other hand, every Komikon we attend we get a few people come up to our booth and tell us, “I enjoy reading your newsletter,” or “I look forward to your emails.”
There’s nothing that gets you more motivated to keep creating stories than hearing from the people that actually enjoy and support your work.
Imagine getting an email from Gerry Alanguilan, Francis Manapul, Leinil Yu, or Whilce Portacio. More so, imagine getting an email from Neil Gaiman, Warren Ellis, Frank Miller, Mark Millar, Robert Kirkman, Sean Murphy, Gabriel Ba, Alan Moore, or Grant Morrison?
Now imagine if you were among the first that ever got into their mailing lists? Imagine if you’d followed them all these years, and have had several email exchanges with one another.
So if you’re reading this right now, and you’re an indie comic creator, then I’ve got one thing to say to you: START BUILDING AN EMAIL LIST. It’s the first step to finding your 1,000 True Fans, the first step to building a loyal fanbase, the first step to cultivating patrons to your work.
If you have absolutely no clue just how you can build a list, then no problem. Just leave a comment at the bottom of this post and we’ll do what we can to help you.
Yes, I’m serious right now.
We want to help you.
That’s why I wrote this very article: to help you out by sharing what we’ve learned through experience.
I know, I know… I bet that I can guess what you’re thinking about right now. After reading about the need to start emailing people, you’re probably starting to feel a bit anxious and nervous. I bet you’re thinking, “Me? Email? I don’t know… I’m not very good with people. What on earth would I say to them?”
All I can say to you is that you’re not alone. For the longest time I resisted doing the EXACT. SAME. THING.
I, myself, still sometimes shiver at the thought of having to speak to people.
Even amongst close friends, I’m pretty quiet. And, to be completely honest, it was one of the main things that held me back for years (those same five years I spent studying writing and marketing). For the longest time, I used it as an excuse, a crutch, a defense mechanism.
Then, one day, I finally decided, “Enough is enough. If I want to make this happen, if I want to make this dream an actual reality, then I just have to suck it up and get down and dirty. I have to push myself outside of my comfort zone. If I really, really, want this, then conquering this fear is no longer just an option. It’s A MUST.”
Which brings me to the next lesson we learned after a year in Komikon.
6. People won’t stop at your booth unless you TALK to them!
This was our problem way back in 2011.
My brother and I are introverts (like, I assume, many of you that are reading this, also are). It’s one of the reasons why, back in 2011, we only sold about 20 copies of our comic.
In fact, what’s even more embarrassing about those 20 copies is that 5 of those sales were because our mom dropped by our booth and started calling out to the people passing by, “Hey, buy our comic! You! Do you want to buy a comic book?”
Come April 16, 2016, we decided to print a giant tarp that said, “100 FREE COPIES”. The tarp covered the entire front of our table. Of course, the purpose of the tarp was to hopefully get as much attention as possible. But really, it was so that we wouldn’t have to do any talking. The tarp should have spoken on our behalf.
But guess what?
Nobody saw the tarp!
The day of the convention came, and people were just passing by without so much as a glance our way.
We had to make a choice. Were we going to waste this day sulking about, being shy and not talking to anyone, or were we going to suck it up and do what needed to be done?
When I realized that no one was paying us any attention. I stepped out of the booth, and stood in front of our table. From there, I called out to everyone that passed by, “FREE COMICS! FREE COMICS HERE!”
When people still didn’t look our way, I literally stepped in front of some people walking close to our booth and told them, “Hi, we’re giving our comic away for free. Would you like to grab a copy?”
If someone so much as glanced at our booth, I immediately approached them and offered them a free comic.
And it worked!
Like I said, we got about 230 new readers that day just because we sucked it up and did the hard job of talking to convention-goers. And since then, I’ve seen a correlation between the number of people we get to sign up at our booth, and the amount of effort we put into going out and talking to people.
The only reason I noticed this is because later on, in the November 2016 Komikon, our very introverted selves took over once again. That time, we spent most of our time behind our booth, just watching people walk by. We got 200+ new sign ups in two days (about 100 sign ups per day compared to 200 sign ups on the one day of the Summer Komikon).
Add to that the fact that in the convention last April 1, 2017, we made even LESS effort to go out of our way and talk to people. On that day, we only got about 70 new sign ups.
Our conclusion: The more you go out of your way to talk people, the more people you reach out to about reading your comic.
And that’s the hard reality. Having a book out for sale isn’t enough. You also have to do the work of telling people about it.
And right now you’re probably scared out of your wits right now, thinking, “Talk to people? Seriously? No way!”
But let me tell you a secret, one that has helped not just me, but countless others get over their own personal fears. Henry Ford, the founder of Ford Motor Cars, once said,
Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right. ~Henry Ford
This is because your brain and your thoughts directly influence and affect your entire body. In other words, the more you tell yourself you can’t do something, the more likely you are to fail at it.
This is how the human brain works. It’s how human physiology works. Thoughts are things, and the thoughts that you believe, the negative thoughts that you entertain, are the very thoughts that will rule over your life.
That is, until you change them.
Every now and then my 5 year old son comes up to me and asks me for help because he can’t find a specific LEGO piece or character from his collection. I usually just tell him, “It’s there. You just have to look for it,” and watch him from the side as he continues rummage through his LEGO. After a few seconds he starts calling out, “I can’t find it! It’s not here.” And so me, having already seen the piece beside him, tell him, “It’s just there. You have to just look harder.” And after a few more seconds searching, he sometimes throws his hands in the air in frustration. “I can’t find it!” he cries.
When that moment comes, I walk up to where he’s standing, pick up the toy he’s been looking for (which is usually sitting right underneath his nose), and tell him, “It’s just here, see? The more you tell yourself that you can’t find it, the harder it will be for you see it.”
Has something like this ever happened to you?
In psychology, this is called scotoma, or a blind spot. What happens here is that because you keep thinking in your head, “I can’t find it,” your brain begins to believe it, giving you an even harder time searching.
It’s the opposite of what happens when you have this massive crush on someone, and then you start to see her name practically everywhere: on billboards, the front of jeepneys, the sides of buses, etcetera. Before you had this crush, you would never have noticed these billboards or jeepneys. They would have remained in your blind spot, mostly because your brain was never looking out for them to begin with. But once her name began to register in the center of your brain, suddenly all these “coincidences” start popping out.
It’s also one of the contributing factors why the people that repeat to themselves, “There’s no money in writing or the arts,” never really do make money from their work.
I was once a victim of this scotoma, because I used to believe the very same thing: there’s no money in writing novels and short stories. And because I carried this idea around with me for years and years, I eventually began to believe it. I didn’t see any evidence that suggested otherwise. Everyone and anyone that made it big with their novels… All of them were just lucky.
And that went on, until I finally began to question that belief. When I did, that’s when I started discovering all these artists, writers, and comic creators that we’re making it happen. Evidence started popping up out of nowhere, like big neon signs and billboards, ads on buses or on the sidebars of my most-frequently-visited blogs. Suddenly, my entire world was filled with endless possibilities. I began to notice things that I would never have noticed before. And this was all because I’d decided to finally recognize and check out what, exactly, it was that was hiding behind my blind spots.
Similarly, Jesus of Nazareth once said, “[I]f you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Mt. 17:20). I believe that Christ understood what faith really was. He understood that first and foremost, it was all about one’s mindset. When you begin to believe that something is possible, it becomes possible (because you will start doing the work necessary to make it possible).
I believe that one of the main reasons that David won over Goliath is because he had faith: the belief that it was possible, that God would grant him victory. If King Saul had sent anyone else to battle the giant, that person would most surely have failed and perished. And whether you believe that God had directly intervened in that battle or not, the truth remains that it was David’s faith that ultimately led him to victory. If he did not FIRST believe that it was possible, if he didn’t believe that God would grant him victory, then he wouldn’t even have tried. He would have shied away in fear like everyone else.
Think back to your most cherished stories… Luke would never have been able to blow up the Death Star had he not “Trusted the Force.” The same can be said of Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption, the crew and the teams at NASA in Andy Weir’s The Martian, or Heath Ledger’s character, William, in A Knight’s Tale.
It was a belief that something as possible that drove these characters to succeed. And if you watch closely the award-winning movie, Argo, at one point Ben Affleck’s character, Tony Mendez, says, as he’s handing out bio profiles, “The only way this works is if you believe that you’re these people so much that you dream like them.”
So if you’re sitting there, right now, reading this, and thinking, “I can’t do that,” then I’m here to tell you that YOU CAN. Have a little faith. You don’t need to have big faith. You only need enough, faith as big as a mustard seed.
Changing the way your mind thinks is only half the battle. It will be a grueling process, but a satisfying one in the end. You have to believe that you CAN conquer these fears. And there are ways to do that, small steps that you can take to make yourself step out of your comfort zone and talk to people.
One small step is revealed in the next lesson, which is to plan and prepare in advance.
7. It’s easier to talk to people when you’re prepared
One thing we realized when it comes to talking to people is that once we had a script (or at least a couple of bullet points and guidelines) that we could follow, it was so much easier to start a conversation.
Back in 2011 we didn’t prepare what we wanted to say to people. And because of that, we didn’t do so well. In fact, we hardly spoke to anyone at all.
But come April 2016, I came up with a script that we could use whenever someone asked, “What’s your comic about?”
True enough, it was easier to talk to people because we didn’t have to worry about coming up with the comic’s summary on the spot. We were prepared, and so we just had to repeat the words that we’d already memorized. It was much more effortless to talk to people because of that script.
Again, just as Ben Affleck’s character in Argo says right before that bit about believing, “Memorize it. And then add to it. The only way this works is if you believe that you’re these people so much that you dream like them.”
We discovered that when we were prepared, when we knew what it was we needed to say, and what we were going to say, people looked less scary. No longer did they carry pitchforks and torches. No longer did they have menacing smiles and venomous tongues. Everyone appeared normal.
So, be prepared.
Memorize your scripts before the convention so that you’re not fumbling about trying to look for words to say once people come up to your booth.
Another, much more critical means of preparation, is to prepare your mind. Already expect in advance that your mind will be racing on the day of the convention. Expect that your brain will be besieged by nervous thoughts and anxieties.
This form of fear is what the author of The War of Art, Steven Pressfield, calls “The Resistance”. The Enemy will attack you. It will start a battle in your mind and have it raging all throughout the day.
The best way to get out of that fear (what I, personally, do to get over it) is to think about your WHY. This is a question that, if you’ve read through all our past interviews with local artists, I always ask: “What is your big WHY?”
Why are you’re doing this? Why do you even bother to create? Why do you want to tell stories, create art? Why?
Understanding WHY you do what you do is critical, because more than discipline, more than self-motivation, it’s ultimately your WHY that will get you over the hump and fighting against The Resistance. If your “Why” is not good enough, it will never hold up against the Enemy.
If your why is something as vain and selfish as, “To get rich and famous,” then I can tell you personally that you’re already set for failure. Because money and fame are never (and have never been) very good motivations to keep going. Not really.
Dan Pink in his book Drive talks about this. He studied several cases wherein they tried to figure out what made employees more productive. What they found is that “Carrot and Stick” tactics didn’t work as well as they thought it would. Shoving money into people’s faces in exchange for quality work and productivity only worked to a certain degree. When the work that was required of them became more taxing on the brain and more bent towards problem-solving and creativity, money just wasn’t a sufficient enough motivating factor.
Instead, what they discovered is that PURPOSE was the biggest factor in getting people to do better work. When people have a better understanding of WHY they need to do something, and if they can relate and resonate well with that why, then they hold a much greater chance of success than those that are motivated by fame and fortune.
Psychologist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl also talks about the importance of finding purpose in Man’s Search for Meaning. In his book, as he talks about the horrors of the concentration camps, he also discusses the psychological implications behind it.
One thing he discovered is that when a person lost his sense of purpose or meaning (especially inside these concentration camps), he inevitably lost his will to live. Those that no longer held a sense of purpose within them were less likely to survive.
On the other hand, those that did have a sense of purpose and meaning came out of that experience with less trauma, less insanity, and less baggage. They had a greater chance of survival because they had something to live for. In fact, some research (I forget where, exactly, I read them before) say that they believe that one reason terminally ill patients overcome their sickness is because they’ve willed themselves to live. They had within themselves a deep sense of purpose.
Think back to all those films you watched wherein someone was told her would never walk again, and yet that very same person ended up not only walking, but competing in sports and other strenuous activities.
In fact, Frankl states in that book that the one thing that really kept him going was the fact that he believed that (1) he had to get his observations and studies on holocaust victims and survivors out into the world, and (2) he wanted to be reunited with his wife, despite not knowing whether she still lived or died. It was his sense of purpose that helped him through that terrible time in his life. It was the belief that he had something important that needed to be said that kept him hanging on even when there was not so much as a glimmer of hope.
And so the big question remains, “What is YOUR big why?”
Figure that out and write it down on a piece of paper. Laminate it, if you must, and then tuck it into your pocket. Read it aloud before you enter the convention space. Read it aloud every day. Let it be the FIRST thing you do the minute you wake up. Some of your best “whys” will be those that are greater than yourself, that extend beyond your own wants and needs.
Allow me to share with you my own personal “Why”, the reason that keeps me going and keep me motivated each and every day, to keep doing the work despite all the struggles and distractions. It’s only recently (the past year or two) that I’d begun to really, really, REALLY internalize this “why”, and I’m hoping that sharing it with you might give you a greater sense of purpose.
Because like most artists and creators out there, my motivations in the beginning were to become rich and famous someday, and make a living off of my art. But through my studies (particularly my study of the art of storytelling), I’ve come to a much deeper understanding of the importance of what it is we do as artists and storytellers.
Stories, you see, have a very deep and special place in the lives of every single person on this planet (whether they know it or not). Stories, I believe, are the bedrock of society and culture. Without stories, there would be no civilization.
Why do I say this?
Stories are one of the primary ways that we humans understand the world. When we were younger, one way that our parents prevented us from getting into trouble was by telling stories of how OTHER kids got into trouble. Thus were born the many myths, legends, and fairy tales. These cautionary tales were told as a way to help people stay out of trouble. They were tales that helped them understand the world around them.
To this day, we tell similar stories. We hear and share stories about being diagnosed for, and surviving, cancer. We hear and share stories of both terrible and successful romances in the hope that we can learn from other people’s mistakes and have better chances of finding “The One”. When someone we know gets sick, we tell them, “Try this doctor, or this medicine, because so-and-so tried it and was cured!” We use stories about our bosses and co-workers as cautionary tales: “Whatever you do, don’t look him in the eyes when he’s angry, or else…” Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous use storytelling (in the form of sharing) as a way to help others rise above their addictions.
This, for me, has become the reason why I will continue to make time for telling stories.
There’s a reason The Greatest Story Ever Told is one that, two thousand years later, is still shared amongst millions of people around the world.
There’s a reason why Jose Rizal is our national hero. Because it was through Noli Me Tangere (a story) that Rizal struck a chord with the people of his time. It was a story that motivated our ancestors to take bigger steps towards bringing freedom to our country. That’s the power of a good story. And this power is something that was realized even way back in ancient Greece, when Plato spoke cautiously about playwrights and the tremendous power they had to be able to influence the public.
I then began to understand that stories have the potential to change the world (and, hopefully, change it for the good). And because stories have this unseen power to create movements and revolutions, I, therefore, have a responsibility to write these stories, and write them to the best of my abilities, with the knowledge and awareness that what I say, and how I say it, could possibly create an impact in the world that might be felt for generations.
It’s definitely a far-fetched dream. And, of course, I have no clue whether the stories I write will even last ten years. But if I could just inspire one person to change for the better, then I believe that I would have at least done my part.
If you, then, can personally resonate and relate with this “Why”, then feel free to use it for yourself. Dwell on it every single day, and remind yourself that the world needs your stories and your art. Eventually, it will get you to a place wherein you realize, “Because the world needs this, I have to do the work to market and sell it. I have to start talking to people, because I know that my story can possible make an impact in their life. I know, deep inside, that my story can bring joy, laughter, and healing to their souls.”
This is something award-winning filmmaker and Pixar Studios story consultant, Brian McDonald, talks about in his book The Golden Theme. In it, he says that storytellers are society’s healers. And the way that stories are able to heal people is by letting them know that they are not alone in their struggle. Stories show how other people have gone through similar struggles. And many more stories show how these same people OVERCAME those struggles. They give hope to those that are still in the trenches. They give others the reassurance that, “There are others like you, and that’s okay. You can do it.”
This is the main reason why we started doing interviews on this website: to tell the story of the Filipino artist. And since then, I’ve gotten emails from our followers thanking me for sharing these stories with them. The reason this happens is because these stories from our interviewees are able to strike a chord deep inside a reader. These stories help readers feel a little better about themselves and their situation, because they now know, feel, and understand that we’re all in the same boat.
It’s one of the things I always tell our interviewees before they get into the interview: “As much as possible, tell a story about yourself, about what you’ve learned, and about what struggles you’ve gone through.”
So my advice to you is to try to begin to see yourself as a modern day healer. Your stories can make an impact in someone else’s life. And because of this, you have a responsibility to tell them. Don’t procrastinate. And don’t let fear of talking to people stop you. Because at the end of the day, your stories are there to SERVE these people. You were placed on this earth to bring about healing, hope, and inspiration.
I guarantee that when you begin to look at marketing and talking to people from this point of view… when you begin to put it in deep inside your heart and soul that, “I’m sharing this you because I think it might help you or benefit you,” then talking to people becomes much easier. Because it’s no longer about you. Instead, it’s becomes more about how you can help others.
And because you now realize that you have a responsibility to share your work and let the world know about it, here are some practical tips on just how to do that, based off of our own experience…
8. Your booth is much more noticeable, if your display is elevated
This is something we noticed back in April 2016. Back then, we spent so much on printing the 100 free copies that we didn’t have any money left to deal with our display.
We had probably only one or two poster-sized prints that we propped up on the table to try and get people’s attention. The rest of our display was laid flat on the table.
A lot of people simply walked past without so much as a glance in our direction.
Many of them didn’t even notice the 6-foot tarp in front of our table that said, “100 FREE COPIES”.
Even more shocking is that when people heard us yelling, “Free comics!” they were surprised.
“Seriously? Free?” they’d ask. “It’s really free?”
We’d then point them to the tarp in front of our table, “Yes, it says so on the tarp.”
“Oh yeah!” they’d say. “I didn’t see that.”
When you’re coming up with a design for your table display, remember to keep your best work at eye level.
When you prop up your prints, postcards, or comics, you’re more likely to get people’s attention than if they were just lying down on your table. You want to elevate your table so that it gets the most visibility it can get.
And don’t put anything in front of your table. No one will ever notice it, no matter how big, bright and red it is.
Buy those wire frames you often see in tiangges, like in Greenhills or Divisoria, and set them up on your table. You want your best work to be at eye-level. That way, they can see what’s available, especially when there’s already a growing crowd gathered in front of your booth. Because if there are a lot of people gathered in front of your table, and a line is forming, those at the back can no longer see what it is you’re offering. And that’s the reason why having your work on stands is ten times better than just laying them flat.
9. Not everyone will like your comic
Yes, that’s right.
Personally, I try to buy a lot of indies at every Komikon. But not everything I buy, I really like. In fact, there’s only a handful of comics I’ve bought throughout the years that have really made an impression on me.
And that’s okay.
You’ll slowly find your true fans and readers among the ones that have bought your book. It just takes time, and effort.
That’s why we decided to give out our comic for free to as many people as possible. Because not all of those 400+ people that signed up will like it. At best, maybe around 10% of them will actually become our true fans.
That’s why we believe it’s more important to get our book into the hands of as many people as possible. The more people we reach, the bigger our chances of finding our true fans.
Think about it.
If we only print and sell 50 copies at every Komikon, then we’re missing out on reaching dozens more people just because we’re out of stock.
Everyone’s goal at a convention shouldn’t be to make money (especially if you’re just starting out). Instead, the goal should be to get your book into as many hands as possible.
Because not everyone will like it.
The only way to find those who DO like it, is to give them a copy. And you can’t give them a copy if you have only a few copies to give.
What’s more, you can’t give them a copy if they’ve already spent all their money buying books from their favorite creators.
Strategize! You have to be one step ahead of them.
From the beginning, assume that they’re there to buy stuff from their favorite artists and creators, not from you. Assume that they’re there just because they get a discount from all the books at Comic Odyssey. Assume that they’re literally going to spend all their money at Comic Odyssey, leaving nothing left for you or other indies.
Assume the worst, and take steps to ensure that you will still find readers despite their empty wallets.
It’s why we decided to give away digital copies for free.
We know that people aren’t there to see us. They hardly know who we are! Why should they care about our stuff?
In fact, I remember this very same topic came up in an episode of Jason Brubaker’s Making Comics podcast. I believe it was the interview with the creator of The Bean, Travis Hanson (I’ll have to double-check). In that interview, Travis told a story about how some people came up to his table somewhat disappointed because they’d spent all their money and had no idea that he was at that convention. And so what he’d do is that he’d tell them to visit the website and read or order the comic online.
And that’s good. That’s perfect. But you can take it even one step further! Because the reality is that after a convention, people probably won’t remember to visit your website.
That’s why we created a sign up sheet where they can list down their email addresses. That way, even after the convention is done, we can send them a reminder, “Hey, here’s the free comic book we promised. Feel free to check it out.”
And that one simple email becomes a reminder that, “Oh yeah! That comic seemed interesting. Maybe I should check it out.”
10. Not everyone will read your emails
This is a problem that we still encounter to this day.
While some absolutely love the fact that we email them at least once a week, there were others that have never checked their email ONCE since we started emailing them.
How do we know?
It’s in the stats.
We use a free, very user-friendly tool called MailChimp (it’s free until your reach your first 2,000 subscribers) to send thousands of emails in the single click of a button. MailChimp is able to track which of those emails were opened, and which were ignored. It’s able to track if people actually clicked the link to download the comic or not.
What we found out is that out of our entire list, only about 20% of people actually open and read our emails.
I know that sounds pretty low, but then MailChimp says that on average, artists that use their program get email open rates somewhere between 17-21%. In fact, the open rates of the most successful online businesses (with lists of tens of thousands of people) also average around this much.
But when you really think about it, this statistic tells us a lot more than just who opened our emails.
Let’s consider this… If you got 200+ people to sign up for a free PDF, then you can expect that only about 17-21% of them will actively follow your work.
In the same way, if you’re selling only 50 hard copies of your comic at a convention, then the reality is that maybe only 17-21% of those people that bought your book will buy the next issue. In other words, maybe only 17-21% will have liked your book and become a fan.
That’s 10 people out of 50!
And if you only sell 50 copies every Komikon event, in a year you’ll have gained just about 30 True Fans.
30 True Fans in 365 Days.
And if you calculate that further, how long will it take for you to get to 1,000 True Fans?
1,000 / 30 = 33.33 years
You saw that right. THIRTY-THREE YEARS to reach 1,000 True Fans.
Of course, you can join ALL of the local conventions, but then the numbers still remain the same. The number of True Fans you gain DEPENDS on the number of printed copies you sell. Printed copies cost money. And if you don’t sell a lot of copies, you don’t gain a lot of True Fans. If you don’t have the money to print more than 50 copies each comic convention, you’re dead in the water. You’ll have to wait DECADES until you finally get the traction you need to make a living off of your art.
But wait! Hold on. Don’t let this tiny detail bother you so much. The bigger question you should be asking yourself is: “Alright, if that’s the case, what can I do to fix this?”
There’s this quote (often attributed to Albert Einstein, but there’s no real proof that he said it) that…
Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and then expecting a different result.
The most important lesson we’ve learned, really, is that it’s important to always track and measure the things that you’re doing to promote and sell your comic, and then change or improve on those things.
It’s not enough to just keep attending conventions, expecting a different result from the same amount of effort or work.
You have to test what works, and test what doesn’t work. Then, you’ve got to find a way to make things better. That’s the foundation of building a successful career or business. That’s why it’s important to always track your progress, and the effectiveness of what it is you’re doing.
If you’ve been going to conventions for the longest time now, doing the same things over and over, and then expecting your life to somehow pick up and improve (even though it isn’t), then maybe it’s time to rethink what it is you’ve been doing, and try something different.
Maybe you have to hustle in getting more and more people to pick up and check out your comic. In this digital age, printed books still do matter, but it’s more important to get that book in as many hands as possible. And this is the beauty of digital. It gives you larger leverage at a very minimal cost. Digital is a cost-efficient way of distributing your comic to a wider audience. The Internet, and websites like Tapas and Webtoons, are a larger means of getting your story into the hands of hundreds (if not thousands) more people.
Don’t let the fear piracy stop you from reaching more people. Because chances are, piracy actually gets you more eyes. And if 17-21% of those pirates eventually turn into True Fans, then what else have you got to lose? Authors like Paolo Coelho have said that piracy isn’t the main enemy of the writer. Obscurity is.
Like our email open rates suggest, just because we get a few hundred people to read our comic, that doesn’t mean that all of them will be converted to our fans.
The REAL work, therefore, is to get our comic into the hands of AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE.
If you read our interview with National Book Award-Winner, Budjette Tan, he talks about how he literally spammed people that were fans of Neil Gaiman or John Constantine, suggesting that if they liked those books, they might like Trese too. It took some courage on his part, but he did what needed to be done to get his book out there. I’m not suggesting that you start spamming people (research shows that it’s even less effective now than it was years ago). All I’m saying is that you have to find ways to get more and more people to read your comic. If that means putting up your comic everywhere (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Tapas, Webtoons, etc.) then do that, but make sure that you have a way of contacting your most loyal fans (again, by building an email list).
If you don’t have any money to print, go digital. Again, FIND A WAY. I spent 5 years looking at the many ways that people have been doing it. I’m just following in their footsteps, leveraging off of what they know, and improving on what has worked in the past.
To this day, there are a number of people that unsubscribe to our mailing list because our work is just not for them. All that means is that we have to work harder at finding those people that DO like our work. We have to figure out different ways find our audience.
Eventually, we believe that we’ll get our lucky break. But the truth about lucky breaks goes back to what Thomas Jefferson once said…
I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it. ~Thomas Jefferson
Remember that you owe it, not just to yourself, but to the WORLD, to get your story out there.
You owe it to the world to create and share your art.
You aren’t just a storyteller.
You are a healer of hearts.
You are a bringer of joy and of change.
So don’t just settle on making a “good enough” story or artwork.
Create something that resonates.
The world will be better for it.
And so, finally, in the words of the one and only, Neil Gaiman, go and “Make good art.”