Friday, May 24, 2019

The Importance of Fan Ownership

Everyone is looking for that magic bullet that guarantees an audience. While there is no such thing, and in fact it is likely that we will never find it, the closest we have is giving the audience a stake in the project that we're working on. That is, we need to establish some sort of way that the audience feels that it has some sort vested in the success of that project. The problem here is that we need to bear in mind that we need to allow for an audience stake in the project without at the same sacrificing artistic integrity in the same; that can be a difficult point of balance to attain, but well worth the results.

It needs to be noted that we're not talking giving control of the comic to the audience. That has been tried in the past and it predictably doesn't end as well as you would think it does. While some feedback is appreciated, especially if it's reasonably intelligent and constructive, and it is possible to give fan-favorite characters a bigger presence, it needs to be noted the audience should never be put in control of the comic. The takeaway here is that while you should listen to your fans and even implement changes they suggest but keep in mind that you are in control of the comic.

This also means that you shouldn't you shouldn't do fan service just for the sake of doing fan service; it's easy to drive readers to your comic with scantily-clad girls but that doesn't mean you should. This is your call: If you want to draw some sexy characters just for the sake of drawing some sexy characters go for it; it's your comic and you can do what you want with it. Also, it can be fun to just take a break from the regular comic and post some characters in their bathing suits. All I'm saying don't draw sexy characters just for the sake of drawing in an audience; it's a cheap tactic that while it works in the short-run can work against you in the long run.

Merchandise sounds like a weird call, but nothing puts a fan in the zone like reading his favorite comic in a sweatshirt with the comic's hero on his chest. Have some fun with the merchandise; with all of the different print-on-demand options it would be silly to not have some fun with the idea of your logo and characters on merchandise; don't limit yourself to just T-shirts. If you have a table at a convention don't forget the freebies; even if it's just pencils with your URL on it it helps to get the word out about your comic. There are a number of different options; just go a little crazy and have fun with the merchandise. And don't forget to make books available at some point; nothing makes a fan happier than a book he can smell and touch.

The key here is that you want your fans to feel like they have some stake in the comic itself. It's not enough to have a great story, likable characters, and incredible art; while that's a great start the fans also need to see that they are listened to every so often, have some merchandise, and side projects don't hurt. You don't have to change the story or artwork; just acknowledging their comments works. Doing interviews on podcasts helps, as well as having a Facebook page; anything that gives them a little slice of you can be very effective towards your success.

Basically, if you want your comic to be a success then you need to give your fans some way to feel a little ownership in your comic. Public appearances, acknowledging them, merchandise are all great ways to give your fans what they want. Remember that and you should a lot of success with your comic.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Fan Management 101

Fans are always going to be the bane of the writer's existence. The problem is that a writer needs a community in order to succeed; if no one reads what he writes then his projects will remain stillborn. On the other hand fans can drive a writer crazy, especially when they have a fan theory that completely ignores what the writer has written or post some really bizarre fanfic. Ultimately, the problem is that a writer needs to build a community in order to succeed, and that can be a major problem.

The issue is that the writer can't be the only one getting the word out about a project. The success of any project is directly proportional to its support; in a business where everything is a numbers game it's important to have the numbers be as big as possible. This means that the writer needs to do whatever he can to create support for his comic. Unfortunately, this means that he needs to respect his fans as much as possible, and that's not always easy, especially considering that most writers tend to introverts; it's hard for a writer to not be somewhere between hating everyone and wanting to bury under their covers. However, it's also not as hard as it sounds.

[Here's an incentive of sorts: Having fans is the greatest way to deal with writer's block. If you are ever stuck on how to progress you can always go into the fanforum of your project and read the various theories on how they think things should be going. Be warned: A lot of it can be disheartening and make your blood boil, especially when they missed some of what you thought were the greatest moments and that ignores the troll trying to make a name for himself by taking your stuff down. However, it can also help spur ideas as well as offer some great feedback, especially if you remember to stay in the background.]

You're going to need to remember a few things when it comes to your fanbase, and you're going to want to balk at doing them at least once. The first is to let everyone know when you have something new, be it an issue, a page, or even a Kickstarter; your fans need to know when you've done something new. It may sound obvious but you need to keep your fans in the loop; this is Marketing 101. Of course, you may dread doing it, but it needs to be done.

The second is to not post on the fanforums. Yeah, some writers can do this, but in general you need to adopt a “read don't post” policy. The problem is that sometimes you want to appear transparent to your fans, and so you think that means that you need to be part of any conversations about your project. However, this invites the Troll Targeting Principle: Once you're a known part of the conversation someone is bound to want to target you more than talk about your project, and that means saying the insulting things in order to get a rise out of you. Trolls are worse than Hydra: Block one and another takes its place. Don't engage them and they won't derail your conversations.

Third, do things to be nice to your fans. This doesn't mean you need to do things that are against your personal code, like having a character go shirtless or have a sex scene just to make the fans happy. This does mean if a particular character seems to be a favorite then increase the screen time of the character a smidge. Occasionally have fan freebies, like an extra page or two every so often, or even a discount code for the merch site. Heck, mess with them a little on April 1st. Just show them that you appreciate them a little and they'll reward you with more popularity, fame, and hopefully the rewards that go with it.

Lastly, don't do things specifically to annoy your fandom. This is the one thing that can be the hardest, but that just makes it the one thing you need to remember. If they find out your Big Secret, like a character reveal or a plot twist, congratulate them for following your clues and do it anyway; you'll find that changing things is only going to screw things up (just ask Marvel and DC; every time they change things because of leaks it just screws things up). Don't rant about how big jerks fans are; some of them will take it personally. Yes, you can mess with them and rant about specific incidents, but don't go after your fandom in general; you don't want to alienate them and it usually works against your interest.

Oh, and just as important is that you DO NOT PANDER. Some idiot writers and artists think that being nice is bending over backwards for your fans. It's not. This is the difference between the good cook and the great cook: A good cook will over-sweeten his pastries in hopes that his pastries will fly off thee shelves and they will, but only for a short time. Soon enough they crowd will have enough of the sweetness and go elsewhere. The great chefs use bittersweet chocolate and the minimum amount of sugar; they let the ingredients shine. A writer needs to recognize that difference and just do what they think is best for the story regardless of what the fans think.

Yes, there are some artists that do so all the time. Dave Sym was notorious for nailing fandom but that was part of his charm; it meant that the fans always knew where they stood with him. This does not mean that you should try for the same relationship, but that you should respect your fandom and keep them in the loop. Do that and they will help you grow, antagonize them and see your fame, and therefore your success, diminish. Try to be that great cook and not the idiot one and you'll find your own recipe for success.

Monday, May 20, 2019

If A Scream Is Not Heard, Does It Matter?

If a writer screams in the wood and no one can hear him, is it merely an auditory expression or a noise others can hear?

Writing is a weird profession. The origins of story-telling involve people around a campfire describing what had happened to them; at some point people figured out that they were not just limited to factual retellings and began telling actual stories. That is, our stories evolved as our mastery of language did; we went from “Thag killed tiger” to how the killing of the tiger was a metaphor for how the leader of the tribe over the hill needed to die and how Thag was going to do it.

However, then the audience participated in the telling, and the storyteller took cues from them. That is, even before he started telling his story he read the audience in order to determine what kind of story the audience was looking for and as he was telling the story he was observing the reaction to his story and adjusting it as he went: If the audience reacted well to sex and gore those were emphasized, if the jokes were a hit those would be made bawdier and more exaggerated.

That is, there was a link between the storyteller and the audience that made the storyteller a vital part of the community. This is why bards were considered “holy” and why a good storyteller can always get some free food, drinks, and shelter.

Ironically, the written word began an interesting evolution of storytelling. While it originally allowed for better communication between the writer and actors, eventually the writers realized that that they could write things down and thus have stories for later. In a literate society this meant that those stories became s valuable as gold; after all, this meant the stories could be read at any time rather than relying on the writer.

This would also result in the devaluation of the writer. Unlike in a pre-literate society where a storyteller was a living resource, a collection of the stories and history of the people, a writer was just another skill, an artisan who worked in words as opposed to clay or metal. He was no longer as valuable as that which he created.

As time went on the writer and his audience would be further separated. While the stories got better, as the stories became more elaborate and generally richer, there became a divide between the writers and the audience. The writer no longer needed the audience for input, and so they believed that they could writer whatever they wanted; writers were allowed to write whatever they wanted. This was not necessarily a bad thing; this meant that the writer could concentrate on writing and less on the audience. Thus, writing again experienced new levels but the writers forgot about the audience.

This means that we've hit a weird point writers have forgotten that we need an audience, just like any other artist. In fact, a lot of other artists have forgotten that writers are artists because of that separation. As writers we need to get back in touch with are audience, and thanks to social media we have that as an option. Writers have forgotten the value of feedback, and that can cause us to forget that what we're creating has value to society as a whole rather than to just us. With an audience we are not just an auditory sensation in the woods, but an actual noise that needs to be heard.

With an audience we are creating not just a mere work of art but adding to the wealth of our society. Because of that we need to remember that we need an audience of some sort and that we need to value that audience. After all, when we make noise we need to be heard and if we have no audience then we are just screaming to scream.

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

It's Not Mary Sue Stark!

A couple of clickbait sites decided to start up a fake controversy that Arya Stark is a Mary Sue. There are two basic problems with that: 1) The definition of “Mary Sue” is pretty vague, and 2) she doesn't match any of the definitions.

The major problem is that “Mary Sue” has become about useful a term as “anime”; seriously, try to get two animation fans to agree on what exactly “anime” is, and start with the question, “Is Avatar: The Last Airbender anime?” Trust me; the blades will come out at some point. The usual bit of history: “Mary Sue” started in Star Trek fanfiction as a term for the insert character that was the center of attention, and who happened to have the answer or skill for any crisis. That is, the author would insert an idealized version of herself into her Star Trek stories, and that version kicked butt.

Over time that definition has fluctuated, but there are several hallmarks of the “Mary Sue” character. While she isn't always an insert character, she does tend to be over-powered; she isn't just the master of one or two skills, but is master, or pretty close to it, of every important skill in the story she's in. She also has some sort of additional perk or three, such as virtually immune to prosecution, the power of flight, or some combination of the strongest traits in her world.

In short, she is one of the most powerful beings in whatever world she appears in.

She is also the emotional center of her universe. That is, she is usually the center of some sort of romantic triangle, is the most popular girl (or is working her way there), and somehow wields a lot of social power, be it because of her father, her popularity, or because she's the teacher's pet. The bottom line is that she is the center of her universe, either because she is just so interesting, she's the Chosen One, or she's basically the sole remaining goddess in an otherwise godless world.

In short, she's pretty powerful, solves all the problems just by showing up, and is surrounded by a lot of fake drama that wouldn't exist if she would just make a bloody decision.

That is so not Arya. She has one special talent: She can disguise herself perfectly as someone she kills. Sure, she can fight, but she is hardly even among Westeros' Top Twenty Warriors. Also, she isn't the series' Chosen One; she cold live or die and nothing would really change. She just isn't the center of her universe, and she's not exactly Miss Popularity; in fact she takes pains to stay out of the limelight. Heck, she only has one guy pining for her, and she put the kebosh on that as quickly as she could.

In short, Arya does not meet any of the qualifications for a Mary Sue character; heck, even if you define it as an insert character, that's Samwell Tarly's job. As such she's hardly a Mary Sue just because she killed a powerful enemy; that's just people trying to drive hits, and such people are a waste of your time.