Selling yourself in the indie art and comics business

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Adapt, Execute and Sell. That’s advice from the five creatives on “The Business of Indie Art and Comics” – André Racho (Convenience store plan), Stephane Silver (Kim possible and Danny Ghost), Neo Edmund (Red Riding Alpha Huntress Chronicles), Harry Kloor (quantum quest) and Rachel Litfin (The Noble High Chronicles) highlighted when discussing the career detours imposed on them when the Great Pandemic of 2020 threw many independent creators under the proverbial bus. And if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.

Adapt

When the great pandemic first hit in late 2019, many of these artists were in the process of launching new projects or launching promotional tours of just-completed projects. The pandemic has brought some of this work to a rapid halt. Racho, who was working as an actor at the time, suddenly found himself without a job. While advising a friend on the ins and outs of book publishing, Racho realized that everything his friend needed was already available for supply on the internet and through social media – tips and tricks behind the craft as well as artists for hire. And Racho the actor has become Racho the writer.

Before the pandemic, Silver worked and taught character design in animation. When work stalled, Silver channeled her energies into creating an online drawing academy that included character design classes. He emphasized the importance of growing a career by tapping into one’s knowledge and creative abilities and putting aside doubt and fear inspired by social media concerns.

“You want to learn how to self-publish, you can burn yourself out and self-publish. The only thing stopping you is yourself and your own insecurities. Nike said it best. Do it. And never be afraid of failure I have noticed throughout my years of teaching that this is the big thing that keeps people from truly achieving anything because of what someone may say or what anyone else may think in the age of social media. We are so concerned about how many likes we have in everything. Oh I haven’t gotten enough likes so I I’m not gonna try again. And you end up giving up. Don’t give up. Just do it and that’s it. See where it takes you.

Edmund ran into a different problem with the pandemic. Supply chain issues and paper shortages complicated the printing and distribution process. So Edmund turned to Kindle books as a way around supply chain issues. Kloor channeled his passions — science and technology — into a humanoid robotics company while revamping his film quantum quest. Litfin was about to embark on a book tour to promote her second book when the pandemic put a halt to touring and lucrative convention appearances. To redefine herself, Litfin turned to Kindle books and hosted home chats via Zoom to inspire young minds pursuing writing ambitions. She also researched social media sources to promote her work.

“It was a challenge to redefine what it meant to be successful in my industry. On social media, Bookstagram has exploded, so if you’re into any type of book world, there’s a huge social media push on Bookstagram right now where people are making so much content about their favorite books, and there are memes and people cosplaying their characters. It’s an amazing move, and I love seeing it explode.

Self-publishing and self-promotion

The days of having to find big publishers to push freelance work are a byproduct of the past. The common thread of discussion was self-publishing and self-promotion. Edmund talked about the low attention span that big publishers give to artists and how the burden of promotion falls on the artist.

“You get this little window. Their attention lasted about six seconds. I have books coming out and I got to see a launch [in a comic convention]. is there something and are we doing something? You don’t know how [if] you are going to be there or sign in a main booth. And I decided that my colleagues down in the lobby, up in the artists’ aisle were selling more books and running out of books. I had to go buy some books there because I ran out of books upstairs. It’s all their game.”

Even network shows are neglected when it comes to promotion. Racho’s feelings about his experience with Comedy Central Robot Chicken at a comic convention echoes Edmund’s experiences with major publishing houses.

“This is a huge anime show on a very well-known network that’s zero-promoted here. It’s not good. I don’t even think I see a bright future. We had dozens of creators on this show, and no one was promoting it. You would expect them to show up and get everyone to come to all these events and get exposure. Most of the time, even at the highest levels , people won’t care. You have to be prepared to do it even on TV. And especially for books. Billions of books are published every year. It’s unimaginable, but the only person who will do all this to get attention is you until someone wants to follow you. Do your own press, go out to conventions. Go out to do whatever your distribution platform is… Tik Tok or Instagram or Patreon or Twitch stream.

Silver agreed, but with a little more bite.

“I just want to say the biggest misconception is that they can take care of you, but they don’t always have to promote themselves. And that’s all it comes down to is the artists…a lot of people you will make promises to give me this, to give me this exposure opportunity.You are responsible for your exposure and you will be disappointed every time you ghost.

Social media is great, but know its limits

According to Silver, social media accounts for twenty percent of business and eighty percent is posted in the independent art and comics sector. Focus on the message. A consistent message is essential to sell or promote a creative service.

“If your goal is to make a business out of it, it will be a business and you have to follow the things that work in order to sell something to someone else who is doing what you love to do. You want to put that between the other people’s hands and benefit from it,” Silver said. “You want to do stuff because you like to do stuff. It’s not all about gaining money or power or whatever. You don’t need the thing you create to turn into something else.You can just create it and enjoy it and let others enjoy it.Or you can start a new business.

In addition to consistency, treat social media accounts like a resume for a job interview.

“Stay consistent with what you’re offering because other artists are now getting jobs from recruiters, who would just go through your social media, so you don’t want anyone browsing through it seeing what you had for dinner” , Silver said, “We try to create a wall of your social media posts that is cohesive so people get to know your brand and then they start to see who you really are and your voice because that plays a huge role in your job search. Choose wisely. It’s a business, so make business progress.

Social media platforms have become hooked on self-promotion, and now they want a piece of the action.

“It’s weird, like 10 years ago I like something on Facebook, or Instagram, or whatever,” Racho said. “Now it’s like their algorithms are designed to know you’re trying to sell something and every little post like on Facebook, if you post a post on my own page you immediately get a message like promote that post 50 bucks or whatever. If you don’t, you don’t get anything. You don’t get any engagement. He just kind of knows you’re trying to sell something. You’re trying to be crafty about it.

And according to Litfin, it’s okay to ask for help where help is needed. The sophistication of social media platforms prompted Liftin to hire a social media manager to navigate the cumbersome array of algorithms so she could focus on the task of writing.

A literary agent or not a literary agent? That is the question!

An audience member asked the panelists if it was worth hiring a literary agent. Panelists’ experiences were mixed. They compared agents to a gatekeeper who may or may not work in favor of a creator.

“I’ve had a lot of agents who never made it on every job,” Kloor said.

“Agents just don’t represent you,” Silver said. “When you do it yourself, you have control again and sometimes you get lost in the mix with agents.”

“I said earlier that there are a lot less goalkeepers in the world, and they’re a little upset because we’ve reinvented their game,” Litfin said. “Sorry, not sorry I met your boss at a jerk and we did it all with drinks in the lobby.”

Execute: do the work

The basic task of finding work in the freelance art and comics industry comes down to getting the job done. According to Silver:

“It comes down to two things. First, show up as if you were here. The next is the Scout motto, which is to be prepared. It’s just having a website they want to show off, self-publishing the old book… business cards are banging in their pockets. I just showed up to an art meeting once and there was an animator working on the show for Freakazoid at the time and my portfolio by my side. I showed him, and he said, ‘Hey, keep in touch.’ Now you can just say “Oh, thank you”. But I stayed in touch and followed. This is another thing. Follow and meet people and that led to me showing up at Warner Brothers in ’97 with my portfolio and then getting tested and breaking into the industry. That’s how it all started… to show off.

Panelists focused on finding a way, executing and doing the work without worrying about its success or failure and whether or not people like the work. Racho perhaps summed it up best by saying:

“You just gotta get in the game and outlast everyone.”

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