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B&N Week 146: Increasing Awareness Of Your Brand

| October 8, 2013

BoltsNutsFeatured-brand awareness

Tuesday! Who’s ready for it? I know I am. I missed you guys.

Last week, we talked about Managing Your Brand. This week, I want to continue in that theme, and talk about increasing your brand awareness.

So, here’s what happens: you see an ad somewhere for someone wanting to get work done. What do you do? You reply, sending over samples of your work, hoping to get the gig. Happens every day, right? But that’s not what’s really happening. This is:

You’re sending out samples, your brand, in the hopes that your brand is strong enough to get the gig. That’s what’s really happening. As is this: your brand is unknown. You are Brand X. As Graeme McFreelancer, you are Brand X, until you do enough work that people not only know who Graeme McFreelancer is, but they also want to work with him. Once that happens, you are no longer Brand X. Your brand, Graeme McFreelancer, is a recognized and trusted brand.

Put another way, everyone knows Jim Lee. Back in the day, Jim was Brand X. He then went on to become not just an artist, but a superstar artist, an Image founder, and is now co-publisher of DC. If anyone were to somehow get Jim Lee to draw their book, they know what they’re getting, because they know the Jim Lee brand.

How do you build brand awareness?

It isn’t some magic sauce. It only takes a few ingredients, to be honest. The first, and least ingredient, is talent. Everyone has this. Even those who think they don’t. It’s what you do with the talent that is important. Talent has to be honed and it has to grow. Like a muscle, talent has to be exercised. In order to do that, though, you have to have drive and patience.

These two things go hand in hand. Honing talent can take years. Stephen King can scare the pants off people, but you think he did it right out the box? Not at all. He sat down and he wrote, having the drive and the patience to hone his talent. Sacrifice also plays a large part in this.

Finally, the work has to be seen. Simple, right? For comic creators, it isn’t that easy.

I’m going to say some things that are going to piss some people off, but I don’t mind telling the hard truths.

For the bulk of you, your heads are too big. You want paying work when you don’t deserve it, on books that have little to no attention. When you’re just starting out, building your brand, you are not worth your own perceived value. As Brand X, you have no perceived value.

A writing friend of mine, Mark Bertolini, has been doing his thing for years. I pissed him off once, when we first met, and he took it as a challenge to do better. He did better, and was able to get books published by the likes of 215 Ink, the Fubar and Oxymoron anthologies, he has a book coming out from Markosia, as well as another from Action Lab Entertainment. Mark has put in the work to hone his talent, been patient, and now seemingly has book and stories coming out left, right, and center. It wouldn’t surprise me if his next stop isn’t Image.

Once you realize that dreams take a while to be built, and that you have to walk the path in order to reach them, you can then start to see what’s right in front of you. Things that can lead you directly to your dream.

Everything I’m about to say comes with a caveat. Actually, two. The first caveat is simple: the work has to be published. If the work doesn’t get published, then all you’re really doing is practicing [which is not a bad thing in itself, but there comes a time when you have to step up to bat]. How can you tell if the work you’re doing is/will be published? If you’re the one hosting the gig, then you should have a plan to be published, aside from hoping some publisher will pick up the title. If you’re the one applying for a gig, then it is part of your job to ask how the work is going to be seen/published, and get a better answer than “It’s an Image submission! Fame!” Almost all of those go nowhere. The person hosting the gig should have a plan.

The second caveat is that the work has to be to the best of your ability. This means you have to believe in it. I’ll tell you something: writing and drawing erotica/porn may pay some bills, but it generally isn’t something you want your name attached to. Ultimately, what this means is saying “no” to projects that either don’t interest you, or that you believe have a poor chance of selling. [“Poor chance of selling” in this case means that there is something wrong with the story in some way. Robot Ninja Monkey-Boy may be something you’re into and you think would sell, as opposed to Pawed Fury: A Squirrel’s Tale.]

With those caveats firmly in place, let’s see what we have.

The first thing I recommend doing in order to raise your brand awareness is to take the lower paying jobs, or even the straight up collaborations. Are you better than those? Absolutely not. Not when you’re Brand X. A low- or no-paying job that will be published, getting a lot of eyes on it? That is generally where you start.

One place to do this, though, are anthologies. They are cropping up more and more recently, with some of them, such as FUBAR, being open to new talent. Others, such as ComixTribe’s own Oxymoron and Scamthology books, take a more curated approach to creators. But anthologies are a great place to cut your teeth: short stories that you have the potential of using again elsewhere.

Another place to do raise your brand awareness is through doing webcomics. Now, there’s a trick to this, and the trick is nuanced, so you have to be careful.

Most webcomics are the vision and voice of one person. Sometimes, that vision and voice is shared by one or two other people. Most webcomics are not set up to allow other creators to come in and do work. Do a search and see what your options are. But know this: if you start a webcomic, then you have to finish it. Sometimes there is an end in mind, sometimes there isn’t. My good friend Cary Kelley is doing a webcomic out of his character DynaGirl, and then sells the physical issues once completed. So, there are options for you.

Another way to raise the awareness of your brand is to start writing/drawing/creating in the public eye. Every article I write serves the purpose of helping to raise my profile. My good friend and artist Jonathan Rector does a livestream webcast where he talks comics, his art process, and more. This is a trap as well, though, and it is double-edged.

The first edge is that once you start, you can’t really stop. Not until your profile is so big that you can afford to stop. Why? Because the internet is large and wide, and there are other things on it to take the place of the interest you garnered if you were to stop. It is extremely easy to slide back into obscurity once you stop this process.

The second edge is simple: you’re setting yourself up as an authority figure. It isn’t “Oh, I have something to say, so I’m going to say it.” No. Once you set yourself up as an authority figure, that’s what people are going to see you as. Some titles come with that vision pre-installed, such as editor or publisher. Others get built over time because of longevity or celebrated work done. When you’re building your brand, and setting yourself up as an authority figure, the question that people are going to ask is simple: who are you that we should listen to you? How you answer that question will tell others a lot about you.

Another way to raise your profile is to get pinups done in books. If you were to do a beautiful piece of your favorite character and send it directly to a creator, they may ask to run it in their book. That is a distinct possibility.

Or, do something out of the ordinary that catches the comic news media. Paul Allor, writer and editor, recently raised money for The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and The Hero Initiative. And he did it for his own birthday, as a present to these two extremely worthy causes. That got some play in the comic news media, increasing awareness of Paul’s brand. That’s thinking outside the box.

These are just a few ways. There are others. But people have to become aware of you and your brand in order for you to be hired for jobs. Small jobs count, folks. This is how you build a brand. Lots of small jobs will make it look like you’re all over the place, and people will want to get in on what you hope to be a zeitgeist of work for you. You can then move from a lot of small jobs to a few medium sized jobs, and from those few medium jobs to some big ones here and there. Alex Ross, comic book painter extraordinaire, can do just about anything in comics he wants to. How did he get there?

The same as everyone else.

That’s it for this week. See you next week.

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About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

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