2. Regular Updates.
For the first four years of my comic, I struggled against a persistent issue with my update schedule, where some periods of time would be littered with continuous regular updates, and others would see a complete dearth of work.
Regular content updates are the second most important thing in building up a core base of readers. (The most important thing is that your content is worth looking at). Quality will bring people to the site, but consistency will keep them coming back. Just glancing my site stats for the last five years shows that when I’m updating, my visitor count gradually trends upwards. (At the moment it’s about 50/day, this time last year it was 5/day). Similarly, irregular sporadic updates or no updates at all have the reverse impact, but much much faster.
There are also two hurdles to overcome with regular updating, and it’s important to consider both of them before picking a schedule:
1) Do you have enough spare time to maintain this level of work?
2) Do you have ideas regularly enough that you won’t run out?
These days, my issue is the first one. I update twice a week because I don’t have enough spare time to maintain more. If I do find myself with extra time to throw at this, I tend to channel that into more complex strips or trying new things with my art, rather than an extra strip.
In the past, my problem was the second. I’d have the time to make comics, but no ideas. This is why many of the old whiteboard comics don’t look like they’re jokes. They’re not, they’re just something that occurred to me, and I needed to make something, anything to maintain my schedule. Bad comics can be even more damaging as no comics. If people start expecting crap from your output, they’ll stop coming altogether, if you’re sporadic, but everything is high quality, you’ll at least find people reading through your archive before abandoning your site.
So, what’s changed?
About a year ago, I was killing some time in town before an appointment, and as often happens, I found myself in the art shop. While I was there, I bought a beautiful leather notebook. The thing is amazing, it’s approximately A6, incredibly durable, and lovely to write in. I now carry it around in my bag wherever I go. After a few incidents where I was short a pen, I modified it by bolting in a small elastic loop that holds a pen.
“I carry a notebook with me everywhere to write down ideas” – it’s an old adage I hear a lot… but does it work?
You never know where you might have an idea for something interesting. At first it wasn’t too often, but I made sure to always write it down the moment the idea formed into something that might work. As the last year has gone by, I’ve found myself having ideas more often, and writing them down more often – maybe it’s something that you get better at if you make a habit of it. I also find that if I read back through my unused ideas, I can take an idea that was useless three months ago, and suddenly figure out how to make it work. Before the notebook, I’d have lost that idea altogether.
So today, I’m in a happy place. I generate ideas for comics about twice as fast as I use them up. This is great, because at any time I have a growing archive of comic ideas to tap into. I’ll usually use up fresh ideas first, but those days where I don’t have any inspiration I can pull an idea out of the book. Also, because I have a reservoir of ideas, I can discard the weaker ones – and you guys end up with the ones that are top of the pile – this raises the quality of my output considerably.
So, yes, it’s a cliche. Writers and artists always say you should carry a notebook and write down your ideas, but if you’re skeptical, I’d recommend trying it. If you commit to it, it can work really well. Myth confirmed!