This is the 6th part of our ‘How to make comics’ guide series. If you’d like to check out our guides on script writing, making a Kickstarter and more – click here.
Since then a lot of people have messaged me asking for advice on how we did it, and how I could help give their Kickstarters a little boost before they ended. I felt it was only fair to write a helpful guide to share most (but not all) of how we hit our goal, because I’m a firm believer in sharing the love.
1. The Biggest (and harshest truths)
While this guide is intended to be positive, there are a few harsh truths that new and even seasoned comic creators need to understand when it comes to marketing their comic and specifically, their comic Kickstarter. So I want to get these out the way first, and hopefully they’ll help you view your own project from a new, helpful perspective.
- Building a fan base and marketing isn’t like flipping on a light switch.
And by this I mean, there’s no silver bullet approach to taking a Kickstarter campaign or Facebook page that’s not popular, and suddenly making mega bucks, or getting 1000 likes in a week.
That’s a fallacy that snake-oil marketing companies and Kickstarter booster agencies like to sell you – shit like “Pay us £50 and well get you to the top of Google, get you 1000 likes, and make you £5000 on your Kickstarter.”
I get sent shit like this all the time…
These people are promising you a quick-fix, band-aid solution that in short, simply doesn’t work. They’re conning desperate creators who are at their wit’s end trying to make their project work. Don’t fall for it.
So here’s harsh truth #1 – building a fan base takes years of ongoing constant, daily effort, work, sleeplessness and an almost symbiotic relationship to social media. If you aren’t prepared to lose sleep, gain stress and in some cases invest your own money in building fans, then you need to rethink exactly why you want to make comics.
- Ask yourself some serious questions
Harsh truth #2 is a tricky one, and can be a really bitter pill to swallow. I’ve seen comic creators who I’m friends with putting out a book and becoming frustrated and genuinely down because it hasn’t instantly made them fans or money. It’s a damn shame to see.
But as hard as it can be to hear, this is a seriously bad attitude to take. In comics, you can’t simply make something and expect to land a publishing deal, or to make £1000s in sales at conventions. It’s all about putting out books that are genuinely fresh, in tune with what people want, and hit a high quality bar.
With Killtopia we said to ourselves – nothing goes public until we’re sure it’s our best work, and something we both enjoy, and that we think fans of our influences will like. The piece below is one of the first bits of art we put out under those rules, and it blew people away. They ‘got’ the vibe we were trying to hit.
Unfortunately though a lot of indie books I’ve seen being promoted out there have been poorly written, were woefully short for a shocking high price, had below average art, and simply didn’t do enough to stand out from the crowd. Think about it – there are literally thousands of books being released each week – across indies and the big publishers. What makes yours so special?
Now seriously, I’m notsaying this to be a dick– I’d NEVER put down anyone chasing their dream and having both the courage and conviction needed to take this step and make something out of nothing. I applaud each and every one of you for being brave enough to try – but so many books out there simply aren’t great, fresh enough to stand out, or have their marketing strategy totally out of whack.
The second serious question is a simple one, but you have to be honest with yourself – why do I want to make comics? If it’s purely for money and fame, you might as well quit now, because those two things are dependent on a great deal of luck, and years of brutal, stressful effort. It simply will not happen overnight.
I’ve asked myself this often, and the answer evolves based on where we’re at each year. For example, my overriding ‘mission statement’ for Card Shark Comics is to make the kind of stories I want to read, create something that people can get some sort of joy from, and if I make a few bucks along the way to keep costs down, well hell, I’d call that a major victory.
So ask yourself, what do I want out of this? For me it’s getting my book into the hands of new fans and giving them something they genuinely enjoy. I view every sale at a convention a little blessing and boost.
2. Building a fan base 101 (AKA: starting out)
So let’s say you’re starting out with no fanbase at all, but you’ve started writing a book. Perhaps you have a few pages of art ready to share, but you’re not sure where to begin.
Here’s a handy marketing starter pack you can use:
- Start a Facebook page for your comic
- Open an Instagram account
- Make a website or free WordPress
- Open a Mailchimp account to start building a mailing list
- Start a Twitter (but personally it’s our least popular platform)
- Research a press contact list
Do these six things first. By this point you may not have put out a single panel of your book yet, but at least get these accounts made and ready. Dress them up with your best art, and just get them set up for when you start your marketing push. They’re free and simple to organise – there’s no excuse not to do them.
Now, I’m going to go through each of these five individually and tell you what I did way back in 2015, before our first comic Bust #1 had even come out. Ready? Here we go…
The first step is to invite your friends to like your page. This is a no-brainer and you probably already know this. Your friends and family will be your comic’s biggest advocates when you’re starting out – so you absolutely have to get them on board.
Second: start posting. What I do is, every Sunday morning I sit down with a coffee (or five!) and think about what I’ve got that I could share or talk about the following week. This could be a panel, a little screen grab of a script, a vlog or Facebook live stream where I talk about the comic, a little article about something that’s on my mind, and more.
Or simple stuff like this that costs you nothing to make:
Hell, if it helps you make sense of it, start a word doc with your ideas for each week, or a brainstorm dump of topics and fun little things you could do to keep people interested. For example, here’s a simple unboxing video I made when our Killtopia prints were delivered. It did pretty well for us and was just shot on my phone in one take.
What about after your friends and family? This is the bit so many people seem to struggle with, and that’s because it takes time, and slowly building up likes from nothing. Take the Killtopia page for example – we’re at 1,400 likes in a year.
That might not sound like a lot, but they’re all real likes from people who genuinely support us. They’re what I call ‘quality likes’ – as in, they’re not just people who are only sort-of into what you’re selling, but totally on board with your project.
So how do you get ‘quality likes’? Well, when you make a Facebook post, you’ll get the option to ‘boost’ it. The trick here isn’t to boost it to people who like general interests like ‘comics’ – cause when you think about it, there’s a huge majority of those people who won’t care, cause they’re only vaguely into comics, or prefer the bigger publishers.
What you need is smarter ‘targeting’ – and here’s how we did it:
1. choose a post and hit the boost button
2. on the left, choose ‘people who like your page and their friends’
3. select your countries and budgets
And you’re set. But hold up! There’s some nuances to this process you need to get right before doing this.
- Friends of friends who like your page – I choose this and it works like a dream for us, because it stands to reason that the friends of people who like your book are probably going to be interested into the same kind of stuff as their buddies – making them prime potential fans.
- Location is important – Don’t go targeting people in every country just because Facebook says you’ll get a reach of 5 million people. Again, you need to be targeted – not just spamming people who really couldn’t care less about your book. Bet smart, not wide! Start with your home country and if it starts working, then branch out to friends of friends in other nations.
- Budget? – The most I’ve ever put behind a single post is £10 over three days. Most times I’ll do £5 over 2 days and we consistently get 1-2500 impressions per post, by targeting just Scotland (our hood), England and alternating the third option between USA, Australia and Europe (because the minority of our Kickstarter backers since 2015 come from those three regions)
- Who’s liked your posts? Please excuse the shit redaction to hide our fan’s names, but a good tip when using the friends of friends method is, once a promotion has ended. Click the reaction to see a list of everyone who liked, hearted, laughed, cried or got angry at your post. Scroll down and click invite next to their name to ask them to like your overall page. It’s a stellar tactic that works well for us.
- How and when to post – Post smart. When are people in your country most likely to be on Facebook? I post at 18:30 UK time for every post, cause people are commuting home after work, and North America is just waking up. It’s by far the most popular time slot for us.
- What if it fails? If you don’t instantly get thousands of likes, don’t worry. Sometimes my boost fail hard too. If I haven’t had a like in the first two hours, then I pause the post and get a refund. That’s just because the internet is so random. If something big’s happening with Trump, or a new Avengers trailer drops, people are going to care about that instead of your comic. Pause it, and unpause it later, or just get a refund and try another day.
- I only got like 10 likes from a boost, WTF? My philosophy on this is – so what? That’s ten more than you had, right? And like I said, the internet is busy and crowded. Ten new likes is a blessing when you’re starting out – and because you know they’re real people from your country, and friends of friends who are interested in your book, they’re more like to buy from you at a convention or back your Kickstarter than some random guy in Paraguay who only put comics as a Facebook interest because he watched Blank Panther last week. It’s about perspective!
Lastly, it’s also worth researching comic creator groups and fan pages – like Ashcan – post your stuff to them (if its a moderated group though, read their rules on people promoting their work. Some hate it and will ban you for spamming your stuff)
One thing to remember about creator groups – you’re promoting your book to other creators. Chances are none of them will buy your book, but it gets your work out there, and I have also befriended many creators through groups like Ashcan who have become vocal supporters of my books, but you have to support them too.
Chuck a few quid to their Kickstarter to support them, share their posts if you like their work, and you’ll find it all comes around – like comic karma! It’s important to be sincere though – don’t just pretend to be helpful to get something out of people. They’ll see through you straight away!
Now I’ll very quickly rattle through the other platforms as there’s less to explain, but they’re still damn important:
This is a tricky one. Too many people get hung up on their follower count on Instagram, and pay less attention to how smart they target their posts through clever hashtag use.
I never use paid boosts on Instagram because you can’t put links into posts, but it’s still hugely popular for us because it’s just a popular platform people like. (Plus, including photos of your cat sleeping always helps.
The hashtags I consistently use are:
#comic #comics #comiccon #comicbook #comicbooks #comicbookart #comicbookartist #art #artoftheday #scotland (remember, your local fan base is crucial!) #Edinburgh (my home city) #UK #cardsharkcomics (always make yourself a hashtag and encourage your friends on Facebook to follow it as well) #killtopia
And remember: if you have a slow day or week where you only get a handful of likes, that’s still something. This will take time.
- Make a website or free WordPress
This is a simple one – and if like me, you sometimes can’t be bothered updating your site, Instagram AND Facebook, there’s no harm in posting the same updates on your site. I do it a lot when I’m pressed for time.
- Open a Mailchimp account to start building a mailing list
It’s free and simple. We only message our mailing list when we have a new Kickstarter to promote (so like three posts a year). We build the list by capturing email addresses during Kickstarter campaigns, and we ask people if they’d like to write their address down when they buy a comic from us at conventions.
REMEMBER: Legally, you have to have a person’s permission before you can add them to a mailing list. So make sure you get their explicit consent first.
- Start a Twitter (but personally it’s our least popular platform)
Meh, I used to love Twitter when I was an early adopter back in like 2006, but it just moves too fast to get interactions from new people beyond your followers. I’ll always auto-share all my instagram posts on Twitter, and share our convention table numbers etc. It doesn’t hurt to do it, but for me personally it’s a drop in the ocean.
It is worth tweeting @ comic cons that you’re a vendor at, just to show you support them. Include them in your posts about the con and they might retweet you and bring in new fans that way. Like literally everything in this entire guide, there’s a great deal of luck, these things might not always work, but the key with marketing is you simply have to try, and KEEP trying to make your fan base grow over time.
- Research a comic press list
Ideally if you have a new book launch, you’ve got a Kickstarter coming up, or if you do land a publisher, you want to tell the comic media about it. I’ve worked as both a journalist and PR person for over ten years, so I know how to pitch to journalists, and AS a journalist what sort of stuff I want to be pitched.
How do you build up that list? Well, chances are the big comic-reviewing sites like IGN, Kotaku etc. won’t give two shits about your book (sorry, they just won’t, they’re too big) – so what you need is mid-to-low tier sites. They have smaller readerships, but more dedicated and more likely to be into indie books (remember, it’s about smart targeting!)
To do this I googled reviews of other indie comics I liked. For example, if you google for Killtopia previews or reviews of our Bust or Vessels issues, you’ll find a great selection of friendly, well-written and dedicated sites that review indie comics. Those are the guys you want. As you get bigger and have increasingly-amazing things to shout about, the bigger sites like Kotaku might start to take notice.
BUT PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE – learn how to write a decent press pitch. There’s few things journalists hate more than a cold, impersonal pitch that’s been spammed to 50 other sites, all exactly the same. I make sure every one of my emails to press is unique, and where the journalist is happy to do so, I’ve just send them a friendly hello, just to get on their radar.
Talk to them, tell them about your work and why THEY and their readers might like it. Don’t just spam journalists – they’re people, BUSY people who want genuinely interesting pitches.
And now, the main event…
3. How to market your Kickstarter like a pro
So let’s say you’ve taken the time to market your work, you have a few hundred fans, you’ve done a few comic conventions, and you’re ready to hit publish on your Kickstarter…
BUT BEFORE YOU DO THAT – Read my guide on how to set up a Kickstarter effectively, then take a very close look at the Killtopia campaign (reminder: it made over £16,000 so it worked!) – feel free to even rip off the format we used, it’s all good!
Once you’ve fine tuned your campaign, here’s what you can do based on how we marketed Killtopia #1:
- 1. Send it out to the press list you made earlier – But don’t let them know about it after it’s gone live. Journalists are busy and need lead time. Give them a heads up a month before, offer them the first exclusive on your teaser pages, propose to them an interview. Give them quality stuff to work with.
- 2. Do a boosted post on Facebook – Again, do this in advance of your Kickstarter going live. We started marketing Killtopia a year before we put the campaign live. It started with just the logo and some cryptic teaser text, then we started drip-feeding art and plot hints before going full tilt with our promo art and first pages. THEN we put the Kickstarter live. Golden rule: People need to know this stuff is coming, don’t just blind-side them.
- 3. Work out a marketing strategy – about 10-8 months before the Kickstarter went live, Craig and I had a Skype call about all the neat marketing things we could do to promote the campaign and Killtopia in general. We made a Google Doc and brainstormed things like, live Q&a videos, blogs about our influences, art GIFs, our soundtrack (which evolved into a Kickstarter reward), polls, videos, articles, blogs, photos and more. Plan it out and come up with some cool shit. It works, honest!
- 4. Think about influences Killtopia was borne out of my love of Japanese action games like Bayonetta and Vanquish. At the start Craig and I had many chats about our own influences and how the Killtopia premise spoke to them. Tapping into your fan’s love of those same things is so, so important. It’s your common ground, the bridge between creator and fan.
For example: We did a lot of posts about how old-school Manga movies influenced us, a few posts about Asian cinema, Japanese videogames, the cyberpunk genre and more. Our fans are also fans of those things, so it gave them a better feel for what Killtopia was about.
Here’s a very simple post Craig did that got 67 likes and 46 comments, all because it SPOKE to our mutual fandom (mutual between creators and fans):
Plus, doing this also gives people a fairer idea of whether or not they’ll like your work. If you have cultural references to compare your story to, the concept will click and resonate with people on a deeper level. I always elevator pitch Killtopia as ‘Blade Runner meets Battle Royale for the videogame generation.’ Do you find that pitch compelling? If so, ask yourself why? Then, try to come up with your guiding pitch.
We used this approach in our Kickstarter page, right near the top, just so people could quickly tell if they would like Killtopia or not. Check it:
Simple, isn’t it? Find some cultural touchpoints that your fans might like – and as long as you’re honest and don’t just say its similar to stuff to get backers, then you’ll end up with a pretty compelling proposition for backers. SERIOUSLY THOUGH DON’T LIE, PEOPLE WILL KNOW ONCE THEY GET THEIR BOOK AND IT’S NOTHING LIKE YOUR PITCH!
5. Think outside your friends list – This is such a common one among other indie creators I know. I mean no disrespect here, cause we’re all just trying to do what we can to make it work – but too many of them just post stuff on their personal Facebook feed or their comic page and get confused when they get no new backers or fans.
That’s because they’re posting stuff into an echo chamber of existing fans who have probably already backed you. What you need to do is find new fans. We did that by following the steps earlier in this guide about Facebook boosts, Instagram hashtags, getting previews in the comic press, and by speaking to people about Killtopia at comic cons while the campaign was on.
We got posters and fliers made for conventions mid 2017, and told every single person at our table that it was coming, AND if they’d like to be on our mailing list to get a link when the campaign was live. We also posted art on cyberpunk Facebook groups to tap into fans of the genre who weren’t necessarily comic fans, but they loved the genre so much we made a TON of new fans.
To do that though we asked the group moderators very nicely if we could promote there, instead of just spamming them. SERIOUSLY DON’T SPAM MODERATED GROUPS! We also posted images on art, comic and cyberpunk Reddit groups, and Imgur feeds.
It sounds simple, but posting online constantly and hustling at conventions to try and get people to care is mentally and physically exhausting, but I promise if you keep trying – and if your book and pitch is of a high enough quality – you will see success over time. It’s cumulative, and won;t happen overnight. As long as you understand that point, you’ll be fine, I promise.
6. Interaction is so damn important – By this I mean, liking and responding to every single comment you get on all your social platforms. Fans feel positively validated and respected when you care about them – and again this has to be genuine! I’ve made real friends with so many of our Facebook fans, and I’ve since met them at conventions. It’s a brilliant, incredibly special thing indeed to make that connection, so don’t blow it by ignoring fans or being false.
It’s also important that your fans get to know the people behind the comic. The Card Shark Comics Instagram is also my personal feed, so I’ll post random stuff in there, as well as stuff personal but relevant to Killtopia and its themes – like when I’m playing Japanese games, or listening to my Akira soundtrack vinyl. Be real, be genuine and where possible, be interesting. Many fans will follow you avidly because they like you as a creator, not just your output. That’s so important.
Even giving people replies like this can make their day, just like how receiving their comments makes my day 🙂
7. Understand the power of Kickstarter – I’m going to close out this guide with perhaps the single most important truth of the whole Killtopia campaign. In a world where it’s hard to get people’s attention, get them to listen to you or read your posts, for them to stop being distracted by everything else online to give you 5 seconds of their time…
…having a platform like Kickstarter that gives you a direct line to your fans is such an incredibly powerful thing. It’s a gift.
So, once your Kickstarter is active and you’re promoting it using all the tips above, remember to stay active with your Kickstarter update posts. Share behind the scenes peeks at your process, from early script drafts to rough art. This is the genuinely interesting stuff people don’t get to see with Marvel and DC, and if they want to make a comic one day it, stuff like that can be genuinely helpful and inspiring.
And in the end…
Please, please please… remember that this doesn’t happen overnight. It takes months and years to build up a dedicated following, and there’s no guarantee you’ll ever work on comics as a full time job – if you want to, of course. It’s about taking little victories where you can, like getting 10 new followers in a week, scoring a piece of coverage in the press, getting a lovely comment from a fan that warmed your heart and reminded you why you got into this crazy, challenging, exhausting hobby to begin with.
Keep your perspective realistic, target smart, think like your fans and remember what’s important to you.
Thanks for reading, now get out there and make your next big thing happen!