One of the many things we have to do, or should do, as independent comic creators is to manage our readers.  From the start, we should be enticing our readers to get involved in our comic.  One great way, which most of us do already, is through the comments section.  You should interact with your readers as much as possible.  Today’s environment allows us access to comic creators like never before.  Now, take advantage of that by inviting your readers to sign up to your comic via a newsletter or as a subscriber area.  In this two part article, I’m going to cover how you go about accomplishing that with as little fuss as possible.

An actual subscriber area like I have over at “1977 the Comic” will be the subject of the second part of this article.  In this installment, I’m going to chat about how to get your readers to “opt-in” to your website and allow you to communicate with them via an email and/or a digital newsletter.

Why do we want to do this?  For one, it allows us to communicate to our readers directly about special offers or an important event like an upcoming appearance.  Secondly, as you’ll see in a moment, it gives you leverage when negotiating printing of your book or a comic convention appearance.

Now, I know what you’re gonna say: “Byron, you’re a frakkin’ idiot if you think I have time to actually create a newsletter or extra content when I barely get my comic done in time!”  Then I would tell you to be quiet and let me explain myself before you go interrupting me with questions.  Man, settle down, okay? :)

For those of you who don’t know, the term “opt-in” is used in reference to a user giving you permission to use their email to communicate with them.  If you just took your reader’s emails and started sending offers to them that would be considered Spam and you’d get your domain blocked or worse.  So don’t send out emails unless you have your reader’s permission to do so.  This is vital!

Create a Project Wonderful campaign & landing page

We all know about (or should know about) Project Wonderful.  A great way to capitalize on that advertising goldmine is to create a custom page (often called a landing page in advertising) then link your PW banner to this page.  The banner ad would essentially say “Come read my comic and get something in return.”  Why do radio stations give away concert tickets? Because they’re cool?  No, to get you to listen to their station.  It’s the same concept here, except instead of rock concerts tickets we’re giving away custom desktops or drawings.  On this custom landing page would be your incentive for them to opt-in to your mailing list.

So here are the steps you need to take.

  1. Come up with an incentive.  Could be an exclusive drawing of your characters.  My suggestion in the beginning is to make it something you can create once for free and send via email, so a digital image or scan of a drawing.  No mailing costs are involved this way and we keep costs and your time creating to a minimum.
  2. Create a landing page on your comic’s website.  This page would explain the incentive(s) and invite your readers (or potential readers) to submit their email to get the free goodies.  The secondary message on this page is to obviously go read your comic as well.
  3. Create a Project Wonderful banner to communicate “Read my comic and get this cool incentive!”  Chose better words, please. Thank you.  I have had the best results of placing my PW ads on comics that are in a similar genre as my comic.  The readers are already open to your content, so it’s an easier convert.  A focused Project Wonderful campaign always works better then a “shotgun” approach.
  4. Install a Plug-in on your comic’s site that allows you to manage email subscriptions.  I use the “G-Lock Double Opt-in Manager” plug-in and it works really nicely and is fairly automated.  This is a good thing!
  5. Publish your Project Wonderful advertisement.  Here’s another insight: don’t expect a HUGE number of people to actually sign up at first.  If you get 1% to sign up, that’s considered good in some marketing arenas.  Once you establish this as an ongoing program, people will be more likely to sign up.

Run the PW ad for a week or two as well as promote it with your current readers and on all the Social Media outlets.  Eventually you’ll start to build up a nice list of emails you can use to promote your comic.  This process is not an overnight success by any stretch of the imagination.  It could take a year or two to build up a significant list.

Once you start to build up your list, do not overwhelm people with emails.  I had a site (not a comic site) send me emails like two or three times a day.  I opted out, or cancelled my subscription to their email newsletters.  We need to be informative or entertaining, not annoying.  My plan is to do something every two months, or as something comes up, like a convention appearance or a new book or something similar.  Don’t just send out emails saying “New comic posted today!” as folks will drop like flies if you inundate them with emails.

The goal here is to create a list of emails you can use in marketing your comic.  Once you have some cool swag, you can send out an email letting everyone on the list know.  If you offer commissions, you can send out a discount code to just the folks on your email list, thus offering them some value to signing up.  The communication does not have to be super informative, like tutorials and the like, but rather just information that your readers will find of interest and/or value.

That’s the real key here: perceived value.  If your subscribers see value to your communication (discounts, exclusive offers, etc.) then your opt-in list will grow nicely.

I will working with some smaller vendors to offer discounts on their software and products as I roll this out on my comic.  Eventually you will have a nice list of potential buyers that you can then leverage into creating more readers for you comic. And that’s the bottom line here.  Value for your subscribers and leverage for you.

A good example of this process in action is the folks over at Half Pixel.  They ran their Webcomics.com for free for a while, building up value to the site, and at the same time gathering a huge amount of opt-in email addresses.  They not only turned the site into a successful subscriber site for the content, but also leveraged their email database to entice conventions and publishers and the like to offer them tremendous discounts on services, as well as discounts for the members of the Half Pixel subscriber base.

Now, they didn’t create that over night, and neither will we, but by taking the first step, we’ll be that much closer to being successful, and profitable, independent comic creators.