I have often sat and wondered what I would first write if given an audience but unable to hide behind the cover of fiction. It’s been a question that has puzzled me for quite some time. As I write this I have been without power for twelve days, snow is beginning to fall, and I’m resting the underside of my laptop on my thighs for a bit of warmth. This newfound freedom from electronic distractions has given me the opportunity to realize that I’ve started, and given up, on more blogging outlets than I care to admit. I never seem to find the right vein to tap into and usually go on tangents about things I’ll care less about in six months. Seeing as how I am now paying for this website, and can no longer give up on it as freely, I felt it was time for me to buckle down and write something heartfelt and true. There were, of course, a couple of questions I wrestled with for some time before deciding if this venture would be beneficial to my career in the long run. Namely, what would this website be about? Would it find an audience? Would readers revisit on their own cognizance?
This last question is the one that really stuck out to me. I have no doubt that family and friends would check out the site on its release, out of courtesy to me, if nothing else, but what could I do to entice readers back after their initial visit? I haven’t the faintest idea. So here I am, bitterly cold, using my laptop for warmth, and faced with the daunting realization that I may only get readers to visit the site once. Although a rather bleak outlook I was filled with excitement. If I could only only get a reader to look at my page once I should make it a visit they wont soon forget. After a grueling amount of time spent debating what would, and wouldn’t, work I came up with a three step plan.
1. Create an easy to use website. Basic, if you will.
2. Write an in-depth blog article, something with some heft to it.
3. Commission an artist to create a comic. And make it free to read.
How about we go through these steps?
1. CREATE AN EASY TO USE WEBSITE. In my original assessment this step seemed to be the most daunting. I consider myself pretty computer/internet savvy yet website building was something I know little about, almost minuscule Like I wrote earlier, I had experimented with many a free blogging platform but those were a piece of cake to create. Pick a name, pick a color scheme, and move some stuff around. That was it. I was now about to create my very own website from the ground up. Yikes. Lets start from the beginning. If I’m “savvy” at computers my brother is a savant. Naturally I turned to him when I decided forgo this endeavor. He turned me onto to a friend who charged a fairly reasonable price. The amount of excitement coursing through my veins was enthralling. I would finally have a home to showcase my work. Facebook had been pretty good at getting the word to friends and family but was limited in showcasing the comic I had commissioned and any other works I would want to display in the future. Emails were exchanged, hopes were shared, and weeks passed with nary word. It’s unfortunate that the emails dried and the discussion on the site sort of fell into oblivion but I hold no grudges. Although we had agreed in principle to work together there was no contract in place or money exchanged so, no harm no foul. So there I was, excited at getting a semi professional website, but once again on my own with no experience.
I did a quick internet search and the prices people were charging were astronomical. I had no doubt the quality of their work would be on par with the amount they were charging yet I couldn’t quite stomach forking over 2 grand for a writing website where my entire net profit is the equivalent to a value meal at McDonalds. To YouTube we go! That is where I struck gold. A quick search and boom, one of the top five videos – a guy going step by step on how to build a website. Step. By. Step. It was a one hour long video which I followed to the T and four hours later TJChilders.com was born in its basest form. I was absolutely blown away at how simple and thorough the video was. Here I sat, dreading this process for months as one thing after another failed to pan out, and this video was just sitting on the internet waiting to be watched. It has been a blast so far setting up the website. From finding the URL to adding the Free Stuff section I have been on the site tinkering and tweaking the littlest things day after day. I’ll be the first to admit this is not a professionally designed website. It’s very basic and very straight forward, which is what I want. The process from typing the URL to being able to read the free comic was something I wanted to make as streamlined and simple as possible. No ads or gimmicky twitter feeds and word clouds, just gold old fashioned content and an easy to navigate website.
2. WRITE AN IN-DEPTH BLOG POST. One of the first things I told myself before I decided to add a blog to the site was that I would need to invest a significant amount of time to it. As I stated earlier there have been many, many predecessors to this blog that have gone by the wayside for whatever reason. Either the content no longer interested me, I wouldn’t have the time or dedication to follow through, or something as stupid as forgetting the password and not caring enough to click the little link to have it emailed to me. With this site I wanted readers to be able to feel as if they were a part of my writing process and take a peek into the type of person I am, for better or worse. I plan to use the blog for a multitude of things. I want people to get a better sense of who I am, why I write, how I write, who my idols and what my inspirations are, or something as spontaneous as comic books and poker.
The second thing I told myself about this blog was that I wanted it to be long form and in-depth. As a reader, and long time internet browser, nothing frustrated me more then seeing a headline that piqued my interest and to have to read a two paragraph article filled with 90% common sense and fluff with no real intimacy or information. It was one of the things that drove me to decide to add this section in the first place.
In the early stages of designing the site I made a list of all of the things I thought would. Be interesting to the reader and be something I felt I could write with enough interest and information to be enjoyable. I came up with 12 future articles on writing. While this is a writing website I also wanted it to be something fun. If I can give my readers an interesting perspective of something I love, like card games, and even one person takes away a new outlook on something they never gave a thought to before then I would be satisfied. With that I came up with 4 more future articles. Before I even started the website I now had 16 articles I felt I could write a decent amount of information with enough flare and interest to keep readers coming back.
3. CREATE A COMIC. I’ll begin this section with an admission. Originally I presumed this would be the easiest of the three steps. I knew nothing of creating a website, felt pretty comfortable with my fiction writing (the same could not be said for non fiction), and finding an artist seemed like a breeze.
“All I have to do is find someone and ask them to draw what I need.” – Idiot me. I had some money stashed away for this occasion and was more concerned with how to get the cash to them than I was with how to find an artist.
“The world is full of artists willing to make some extra dough.” – A dumb statement made by Idiot me. There are a ton of artists in the world looking for work. That much is true. There isn’t however, a ton of artists who have the time to answer emails or messages sent from authors looking for a 5 page comic.
In my defense I had done a good majority of the comic before I had even begun the search for an artist. The idea was there, the storyboard and dialogue were there, I even had little stick figures in the angles and positions I wanted them to be drawn. The only piece that was missing was the artist to give these stick figures life. The biggest worry I had was about quality. I wanted readers to be given something that showed how much I appreciate them, not some napkin art with smiley faces. I craved a look of professionalism to add some legitimacy to my fledgling website. At first I dabbled in drawing the comic myself. I am not completely inept at sketching and figured I could draw up a little something to use. While I was able to draw a decent panel or two on paper I was presented with two issues. The first, I wouldn’t be able to recreate this level of detail on a computer screen, I had no programs or tools with which to emulate the success of paper and pencil. The second, given the lack of software, was how to transport the art from paper to website. As stated in step one I was a relative infant in the website creation world and hadn’t the know how or aptitude to make the process simple and stress free. Here I was with an outline for a pretty good little self promotional comic but unable to bring it to life.
I began with a posting on Facebook and twitter that yielded a lot less interest than originally expected. The responses were few and far between and were unfortunately, of no fault of the artist, not in the style I was interested in. I next went around to the people I knew. Most professional relationships, from what i’ve been told, were started from recommendations. I spread the word rather quickly and targeted the people I knew who either had done some paid artwork in the past or took it as a pretty serious hobby. I was surprised at the lack of enthusiasm from people who I thought would jump at the opportunity to make some quick cash for something I thought they loved. Some just didn’t have the time, others didn’t feel as though their work was good enough to be published, and the rest just ignored my request without given a definitive yes or no. That first month was when that uneasy feeling first sunk in and I realized this would be a lot more difficult than originally pictured.
To the internet we go. Craigslist was an absolute dud, my bad luck with that website continues and Google either linked me to high profile comic artists who charged an arm and a leg or weren’t taking on any additional works. Deviant art continues its streak of abandoned profiles and unanswered emails. Reddit was my last hope. I’ll talk very briefly about Reddit and will probably have another long form post about the absolute wealth of information and connections that website provides at a later date but for now will just say it has proven to be the most effective tool in making my writing a reality thus far. I scoured the website looking for people who were interested in making some cash for a 10 panel comic. Night and day I would check the same dozen or so subreddits browsing artist after artist looking for work. For the most part I received no responses to my messages and was once again left with that uneasy feeling in my stomach that my website would be ready and roaring and I wouldn’t have a finished comic for my readers to enjoy.
I was lucky enough to see a posting by @turbotoaster one day and figured I’d take a shot and send her a message. The work she had showcased was amazing and for the most part seemed too good to be true for the price she was charging. In all honestly I sent the message with full intention of never receiving a response. Not only did her work seem so perfect for what I wanted but a dozen other or so artists with the same sort of message turned out to be frauds or people who never returned a response. Imagine my surprise as I logged onto the site and saw that familiar red/orange envelope lit up. From that point on I knew I had the perfect artist for my first comic. I wish I could go on and on about the professionalism and relative ease of the process with @turbotoaster but am afraid it would high-jack the article and turn into some weird awkwardly worded love letter. I am really excited about this comic. The day she sent me the final edits I was blown away. Day after day of having to postpone my websites launch was a painful lesson in patience but having that finished work in front of me made all of the waiting worthwhile.
Thankfully the days of waiting are no more and without further a-du I present, ZOMBIE a free comic for my friends and family!