So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #014: Shameless Self-Promotion, Part 2!

Back in August, I lamented about the giant gamble of crowd-funding your way into comics. But as of late — with a deluge of projects bombarding my social media feeds these days — I’ve felt the urge to revisit the topic and dive a bit deeper into the nooks and crannies of shameless self-promotion. Get your pat of butter and jam ready, kiddos. Let’s make breakfast.

The truth of the matter is that being an indie publisher/creator/distributor of original content means having to navigate the choppy waters of branding, marketing, and relating to your public… all in order to keep your doors open and the money flowing to keep the drawings a’comin’. Simply put: you’re not going to be able to draw without also becoming a draw to would-be patrons. Especially if you opt to crowdfund your way into building the capital necessary to produce a product. Because of the nature of the beast, that often necessitates having to promote yourself early and often to the masses.

The how, of course, is the hard part. Because of the advent of social media, it’s easy (to a point) to build up a solid network of friends, fans, and family. But once you’ve amassed your following… stoking the fire becomes a balancing act between pride in your work, and desperation to see it pay off.

Shameless Self-Promotion to me is that balancing act of shilling for your passion projects without fear of sounding desperate. And there’s no greater time to act shameless, when you’re crowdfunding. Why? Because Kickstarters are built on the principle of all or nothing. With that in mind, setting the bar high and then needing to clear it or else will mean having to ask every family member, friend, and fan to support you. A lot. Repeatedly. And in doing it, maintaining a tone that comes with the confidence that your product is high quality, while you’re literally begging them to back you for a few dollars… comes with its own set of problems.

And the million dollar question is… When do you cross the line from acceptable hustle to annoying shill?

Truth be told: I don’t believe there’s an easy answer here. Every independent promoter I know is inherently tied to their brand. As such, one fella’s hourly update of his funding numbers may incite a truly positive groundswell as his fans rally to his aid… and another’s once a week crying vlog of happiness may get the job done just as well. So, what follows here is wholly my personal opinion, and nothing more.

As a friend/fan/contributor to a project, I don’t want more than a single touch a day from a given campaign (and to be clear: if a campaign is broadcast to multiple pages I’m receiving? No biggie!). The fact is, any more than that — save wholly for significant milestones or other worthy interruptions — triggers my “I’m caring less and less about your success” feelings. Having been on the other side of the equation, the data supports my leanings. No spikes in backer-dollars-in came due to incessant needling by way of over-posting.

More often than not, backers come in very few flavors. Those who know you and know they will back you — where their decision really relies on “how much can I afford to help you this time” really is the deciding factor. Those who stumble upon you by way of someone specifically sharing the project with them, or searching for something in the space your product is sitting. They are sold perhaps by your video, write up, rewards, or most likely some combination of all of the above. And the only elusive group we’re talking about here… those who know you but have no need to support you.

My last Kickstarter saw about 150 people back the project. I have 1,100 friends on Facebook. Unshaven Comics is liked by about 3,000. So, you can tell a considerable chuck of either subset represents that untapped potential customer group.

And I certainly tried every guerrilla marketing technique in the book to sell to them (such as it was, in the long-long-ago). Posting morning, noon, and night (being sure to self-deprecate about my frequency of shilling whilst still being positive and excited about the project). Making up daily contests. Begging people to share the project even if they couldn’t afford to assist. Posting to groups. Posting literally in any corner of the internet where people might stumble upon us. Asking all backers to “just increase your bid by X and we’ll make it!”

And in the end, we succeeded, but in the wake of the campaign, I personally felt hollowed by the experience. While the goal was met, and my little studio’s graphic novel dreams would now come true… It was hard to step back and feel if the support was earned or pitied. On some days, I feel bulletproof, and proudly declare that a win is a win. But more often, I’m left questioning if the naked neediness of shameless self-promotion hasn’t cheapened my brand. And at the end of the day… isn’t the value of your brand the most important of all? In the wide breadth of those I know in the indie market, it’s hard for me to separate the shill from the salesman at times. We’re all hustling — and next week, I’ll explore our specific brand of shameless salesmanship at Unshaven Comics — but again: there’s a line between over-confidence and wild desperation. To know where it is, is to live in that lucrative sweet spot.

I don’t have the answers as to where it is, of course. But when I figure it out, I’ll be the first one to sell it to you.

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