One of the biggest misconceptions about business among creatives is that it's a stifling factor. A limitation.
Most of the time when creators talk about business, their only intent seems to be to discuss the state of the industry in vague terms, or question how marketable their project is. And that's it. I've rarely seen it go further than that.
When they create comic they either release it anticlimactically online or turn in their finished product to a publisher, and wash their hands of it.
In the first case, some creators do their best to drum up support on social media. But the marketing often falls flat. Sometimes it's because they don't know how to market properly, and other times it's just because that despite knowing what to do, they're unwilling to spend the time or resources to execute properly.
In the second case, the creators are feeding into a model that hasn't been working. While many comics have achieved major success through the Direct Market, they tend to exceptions to the rule. And besides, the comic industry is so much bigger than the Direct Market, but despite this most publisher do little - or nothing at all - to reach this larger audience. They just employ the same marketing and distribution strategies that all their competitors utilize. If independent marketing tends to be unpolished, the marketing publishers do is often uninspired, and lifeless.
And I get why creators make these two decisions. They want to focus on the craft. After all, you're a creative? You want to deal with the comic medium - not the industry. So why would you spend your time on anything else? Especially when business is just about telling you what you can't do.
Well, the problem here, lies in the assumption most creators are making. When creators think about business they tend to put it in opposition to creative. Whereas, really, the two are elements that can work together to create something truly fantastic.
Business doesn't have to be the devil on your shoulder. It doesn't have to be the "voice of reason" trying to get you to shy away from the massively ambitious, "non-commercial," project you want to do.
Instead business can - and should - be the foundation for making that crazy, creative passion project a reality. And it can also be an extension of the story you're trying to tell.
Business As Foundation
While this can be true in some cases, it doesn't have to be. Solving this is as simple as deciding to think about business differently. Instead of thinking about it as a constraint, you can see it as the foundation to help you build the skyscraper you've envisioned.
At the very core, that's what it's actually about.
You're not meant to learn about marketing to help you decide whether what you work on is marketable enough to deserve your time.
- You learn about marketing to find the salable elements in whatever you decide to work on.
You're not meant to learn about distribution to learn how you need to format and structure your project.
- You learn about distribution to deliver your project in a way that complements and is authentic to what you've created.
You're not meant to learn about finances to be discouraged when you want to make something that's out of reach.
- You learn about finances so you can create a plan to get to the point you need to get to, to fund that dream project.
Business isn't about keeping you from being creative, it's about making your most creative ambitions a reality.
That's why I like it so much. That's why I think it's so important for creators to understand. That's why I feel grateful that I've always lived at the intersection between business and creative.
And it's why I feel you should too.
Business as a Creative Element
The business side stops being about conforming to the norm and becomes a place to innovate. It becomes a way for you to continue the creative expression that started on the very pages of the comic you made.
Not thinking about the business at all might seem easier. But there are a lot of risks associated with this kind of voluntary ignorance. You could end up creating a comic with massive appeal that falls short and doesn't connect with the audience that's out there - the audience that would love it. As a result, it loses momentum, and doesn't meet its potential. While it's not the only instance of this, and it is an extreme case, Nate Simpson's Nonplayer is an example that always come to mind.
Rather than risk that, why not just develop the right strategy. Dive into the business side and build the kind of underlying foundation specifically tailored to what the creators are trying to achieve. Then you can capture a moment, develop a fanbase, and go from footnote to headline.
Keeping to a regular publishing schedule is a very simple form of this. Consistency is a very powerful organizing force and the reading experience can be as important to an audience as the reading itself.
If you ignore the business side you're just stopping yourself from forming a connection through the reading experience.
Business as Dialogue
Pricing, distribution, fulfillment, customer service, marketing, audience engagement - these are all pieces of the reading experience. And they're all business elements.
The way you go about all of these factors reflects on the way you think about your relationship with your audience. It's one way to communicate both the essence of your comic and your creative spirit.
The decisions you make in all of those fields has subtext and that subtext can be boring and uninteresting, or it can be powerful. Think about the relationship between the content of Panel Syndicate's The Private Eye and the way it was sold and distributed.
It wouldn't have been as successful as a traditionally-sold comic. And while it is an exceptional case because of Brian K. Vaughan's status as a creator, that just means you can't expect to replicate the scale. But we're not talking about scale. We're talking about the harmony between what you're creating and how you're getting it to its audience.
Because, as a creator, your responsibility isn't just the craft. It's the entire product. And whether that means you oversee it to the end, or find someone who shares your values to fight that battle for you in a fitting way, your comic isn't done until it's found its way into the hands of a reader.
So why would you only go half the distance?
The business matters. It's a positive force that can be harnessed to help you make your ambitions reality. And it's a way to express your creativity and enhance your readers' experience.
That's why I care about it so much. And that's why you should embrace the business side of making comics, rather than ignore it.
The Creator At Large Newsletter
If you want to dive deeper into the business of comics, stay informed on the shifting industry, and learn about how you can be a better creator - from the smallest issues to the largest - sign up for my weekly newsletter.
If you're not convinced, you can learn more about it here.