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Action Steps

| January 10, 2011 | 4 Comments

Happy Monday, everybody!  Hope you had a great weekend and thanks for joining me for another session of Comix Counsel.  In last week’s column, I talked about the characteristics of effective goal setting.  If you’re going to the trouble of setting some goals for yourself this year, you might as well do it right.  That means making sure your goals are personal, specific, measurable, have a time frame attached, and put down in writing.

So, you’ve got your goal.  Great.  Now what?

Even if you have a well-crafted goal, unless you take the time to break the achievement of that goal into a series of attainable and actionable steps, your ability to reach that goal will be severely limited.  We all want success.  However, the successful make a plan for success, and then follow through on it.

Inertia is one of the most powerful forces in the universe.  The longer you go without doing something, the more likely it is you’ll continue not doing it, and the harder it will be to start.  However, the reverse is true as well.  The more your work out, the easier it is to keep in the habit of working out.  The more you write, the more you’re likely to write.  The key is simply to get the ball rolling with a clear sequence of action steps, including the very next thing you need to do to get started on your goal.  And then follow through with that first step.

However, even if you act on that first step, many of us make the mistake of only planning one or two moves ahead.  You want to get into better shape this year, so you go out and sign up for a gym membership…but all you do is sign up, and it’s another week before you make it back in to actually sweat a little bit.  Or you tell yourself this is the year you’re going to take your writing to the next level.  So you go out and buy a fancy journal or a fresh set of moleskins…and then you find you don’t have any words worthy of soiling those pristine books.  So you don’t write.

It’s important to choose the action steps that actually get you moving towards your goals, rather than those that simply give the illusion of momentum.  Scribbling out a 250 word synopsis of a story you’ve had in your head for months on a napkin is a FAR better action step than buying a fancy new notebook for writing in.

So, how do we break goals down? Let’s look at some examples.  Last week, I named three of my comic related goals for 2011.  What are the action steps associated with them?

Goal 1 : Write 220 pages of script.

Why it’s important to me: This is going to be a writing year for me.  I’m hoping to focus on three collaborative projects, and stay far ahead of my artist partners.  I realize to build a name in this industry, producing one or two floppies a year just isn’t going to cut it.  220 pages, the equivalent of 10 floppies or ~1.5 graphic novels seems like an ambitious, but attainable goal.

How to measure: Easy.  Just count the number of comic scripts I complete across all of my projects.

What are the obstacles: Staying focused on the projects at hand.  Avoiding distractions.  Sitting my butt in the damn seat and writing.

Action plan:

–          Identify the specific comics I’d like to write this year that will comprise the 220 pages.

–          Determine the sequence for writing them.

–          Plot on a calendar, setting rough completion dates for each script.

–          Focus on the first script.  What outstanding work do I need to do before I can script? ( Research, outlining, plotting, etc.)

–          Write the first script.

The cool thing about this action plan is that the first three steps could probably be knocked out in an hour of good planning.  Some might argue that you’re better off just diving in and start writing that first script.  But what planning upfront does is let you plan a year’s worth of script writing, as opposed to just the next script on your plate.  If you’re anything like me, you have more ideas than time in the day to work on them.  I’ve talked before about the problem of the SNI (Sexy New Idea.)  All too often, you’ll be working on a project, start getting somewhere, hit a difficult stretch and then…bam, out of the blue, an SNI pops up that you can’t help but think about, and which prevents you from actually finishing anything.  Plotting a year’s worth of writing let’s you tell your brain, don’t worry, I’ll get to that eventually…it’s on the calendar.

Goal 2: Net $1,532 in profit from my comic business.

Why it’s important to me: Went back and forth about whether or not to share an actual number here, but figured what the hell.  (It’s just you, me and the internet, after all.)  I’m sure there are a many of you looking at that number thinking “That’s it?”  (And plenty of you who are actually doing the self-publishing thing who know it’s like trying to make a dollar out of $0.95 cents.)  The reality is, my comics income has been growing steadily each year.  However, my expenses and investment back into my business has kept pace.  This year, I aim to show a very modest profit.  I’m considering it both an income growing and cost cutting exercise.

How to measure: It’s dollars and cents.  This is measurable.  However, there are always some question marks about what gets included in the cash flow statements.  More on this in a future column.

Obstacles: Opportunities to earn income are seemingly finite, while opportunities to spend money on my comics business are seemingly infinite.

Action Steps:

–          Conduct a thorough review of last year’s income and expenses.  Create a clear picture of where my income came from and where it went for the year.

–          From the income side, identify the three most successful sources of revenue from last year.

–          From the expense side, identify the three biggest expenses from last year.

–          Brainstorm ways to replicate what worked last year and improve by 20%.

–          Brainstorm ways to reduce expenses by 20%.

–          Create a 2011 budget for comic business…

Clearly, more action steps will need to be created to achieve this goal, but the above set will get me started.  Next week, I’m writing about budgeting.  You won’t want to miss.

Goal #3: Triple my network of contacts in comics (creators, editors, publishers, columnists, readers.)

Why it’s important to me: Anyone who tells you it’s not what you know, it’s who you know, probably isn’t working hard enough.  That said, building one’s network is extremely valuable.  Plus, I generally like people.  (Bonus points if you’re into comics.)

How to measure: Email contact list, Twitter followers, Facebook fans, ComixTribe subscribers, etc.

Obstacles: Networking isn’t a strong suit of mine.  How to do it without being annoying/phony?

Action Steps:

–          Determine a baseline.  Where does my # of contacts sit at today?  Take stock, write the number down.

–          Set target goals for each quarter.  Ex.) Increase Twitter followers by 25% by March 30.

–          Brainstorm short list of 10 people I’d like to add to my contacts.  (Pros, artists, writers, columnists, editors)

–          Reach out to 2 new people a month.  (Via Twitter, email, posting on their blog or webcomic.)

–          Write a weekly column called ComixCounsel targeted at the kinds of people I’d like to network with.  (That’s you!)

Again, I can and will elaborate on these action steps in order to have a plan to meet my goal.  (And while I’m at it, if you’d like to add me to YOUR contact list, leave a comment or fire me an email introducing yourself to

So, there you have it.  Setting goals just isn’t enough.  Creating bite-sized action steps is the key to achieving them.

Got a goal?  Please share it below and then break it down for us into tiny action steps.  What are you going to do today, tomorrow and beyond to make it happen this year?

Next:  Budgeting Part I: Income


Tyler James is a comics creator, game designer, and educator residing in Newburyport, MA.  He is the writer and co-creator of EPIC, a superteen action comedy, and Tears of the Dragon, a swords and sorcery fantasy.  His past work includes OVER, a romantic comedy graphic novel, and Super Seed, the story of the world’s first super powered fertility clinic. His work has been published by DC and Arcana comics.

Tyler is the publisher and co-creator of ComixTribe, a new website empowering creators to help each other make better comics.

Contact Tyler via email (, visit his, follow him on Twitter, or check him out on Facebook.

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Category: Comix Counsel

About the Author ()

Tyler James is a comics creator, game designer, educator, and publisher residing in Newburyport, MA. He is the writer and co-creator of THE RED TEN, a superhero murder mystery, EPIC, a superteen action comedy, and TEARS of the DRAGON, a swords and sorcery fantasy. Tyler is the publisher and co-creator of ComixTribe, which is both a new imprint of quality creator owned titles, and an online community where creators help creators make better comics. Follow him on Twitter @tylerjamescomics, or send him an email at

Comments (4)

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  1. John Lees says:

    Good column, Tyler! You’ve got a clear idea of your goals and how to achieve them, and I’m confident you’ll be successful.

    I’ll try applying your system to the 3 goals I worked out in the last meeting:


    I’ve been working on “The Standard” since 2009, and I want this to be the year that I stop “aspiring” to be a writer, and actually make the leap into “being” one – putting a book out there and making it available for people to buy and read. The completion of “The Standard” will be the final step in making what was at first an abstract ambition to create my own comic into something I’ve actually achieved and seen through to the end.

    Tyler suggested I think up a deadline, a date I want the first issue released by. I settled on the release date of April 28th 2011, following with a monthly schedule after that until all 6 issues are released. Setting a date makes the aim to release the book into a tangible goal.

    Me getting a grasp of the logistics of publishing my own work in time for the first issue’s release. Being able to build up enough of a back-log in art before the first issue’s release that the artist won’t fall behind and prevent us from keeping the monthly schedule.

    The big step would be to ensure that all 6 issues of “The Standard” have been written, which fortunately I’ve already done.

    On top of that, I’m planning on launching a blog to market the comic from the start of March. I want to have at least two months’ worth of content written before I launch so I can keep to a schedule of daily updates. I’ve written a few weeks’ worth already, but I want to write more.

    Do research into both print-on-demand services and digital distribution, to figure out the specifics of how to best sell my comic.


    By “in my network”, I mean fellow creators who I’ve worked with, who have helped me in whatever way, or who I have simply talked to and built up a rapport with. Creative people who I’d aspire to be my peers. I want to offer them support and encouragement by buying their work and spreading the word about it.

    I could come up with a shortlist of names I’d include in, for lack of a better term, my “network” (a list which can always be added to), and seek to buy at least one of their comics and review it.

    Sticking to my guns. It’s easy to say you’re going to read all these additional comics and comment on them as well, but the danger could be if time committed to doing this starts to interfere with other goals, such as writing more comic script.

    Write a review of “Breakneck #1” by Mark Bertolini.

    Read “Over” by Tyler James when I get it, and write a review of that.

    Seek out specific information on when and how I can read upcoming projects by other fellow creators.


    2009 and 2010 were pretty unproductive, from a strictly script-volume perspective. I fell into a habit of having long interims between writing issues of “The Standard”, with a lot of activity packed into the latter half of 2010 as my work ethic on that front improved. 200 pages might not seem like a lot to more experienced writers, but its a big number for me, and I hope that, by aiming to write at least that much over the year, I’ll get into the habit of writing with regularity and increasing the breadth and variety of projects I’m working on.

    Simply, by counting up the pages of script I write.

    Running out of story ideas to sustain 200 pages. There’s the remainder of “The Standard”, and another project I’ve developed to the plotting stages. But between them both, that would only take me up to 116 pages. Reaching the remainder of my 200 page goal would require coming up with another idea – either for a multi-script mini-series or a segment of a longer graphic novel project – to work on.


    Finish “The Standard”, which, barring redrafts, I’ve done. That takes me 28 pages towards my goal already.

    Go deeper into specifically plotting out the issues of my other project. Writing those will get me another 88 pages.

    Develop my other story ideas, and see which ones have the potential to be plotted and seriously pursued as a script.

  2. Tyler James says:

    Sounds like you’ve got a plan you’re ready to act on, John!

  3. Emily Gillis says:

    1. Not miss a single update this year.

    In 2010, I launched the revival of my webcomic about midyear. I told myself it would be a regularly updating comic but, for a variety of reasons both in and out of my control, I failed to meet every deadline. I was told by a fellow creator once that if I’m going to say “I update weekly” then I’ve made a promise to current and future readers.

    Pretty simple, I think. If I make a post, then it’s a point for me!

    Keeping enough ahead of schedule that I have time to complete each page. The biggest problem is my tendency to make changes to the script as I come back to each thumbnail and then discover that I have to change more to cover any potential plotholes or scenes that suddenly make no sense.

    Set up a comic work schedule to set aside time for each part of creation. A day for script writing/checking, a day for penciling/inking, a couple for coloring…

    2. Complete the chapter 1 rewrite of my comic by July.

    My webcomic has been my brainchild for over 10 years now and I think it’s time for be seen in print. As the current chapter 1 stands, it doesn’t hold up to the style/quality that my current pages hold and, considering I’m almost done with chapter 2, it’s quite an abrupt change. For the sake of consistency, I want to fix this chapter.

    Again, simply if I do it, I’ve done it.

    Since I also have to keep updates going for the website, it’ll be a matter of setting aside time to focus on the revision as well.

    Again, set up a schedule to accomodate for both time on this and the regular updates. Scripting should take less time since this is mostly just an update of art with a few scripting edits.

    3. Kick serious butt on my collaboration project!

    Why this is not my first attempt at a collaboration, it is the first that I’ve spent this much time on. The story was originally my idea, but with the help of an aspiring writer, the concept has taken off! It’s a project I’m excited about.

    Like I said in my previous comment, I want to get 50 pages penciled and inked.

    Again, time. My partner and I meet once a week to discuss story and script already so I have to find time to translate the script to a comic format in addition to drawing.

    Make this more of a weekend project. Commit to drawing 1 page every weekend and thumbnailing a few pages.

    4. Start making money off of my work.

    As I said before, my webcomic has taken 10 years for me to get to this point. That’s a lot of time and effort being used with the satisfaction that I did something being the only reward. I love that feeling, but I would also like to spend less time at my day job.

    Till I figure out a set of numbers to go off of to make this goal more specific, it’ll simply be “did I get any money back from it?”

    I’m completely new to promoting myself and my work so it’s going to take time to figure out where I should be putting my money as far as marketing.

    Signing up for Project Wonderful to try and make some money off of adspace to put towards advertising/web hosting. I also have SPX to look forward to for selling copies of the first chapter. Possibly shoot some emails out to other webcomic creators to see how they started out and try applying that to my own model.

  4. Tyler James says:

    Good stuff Emily. Sounds like you’re going to be spending a lot of time at the drawing table this year. (Which is good!)

    Regarding conventions, I’d definitely keep my eye on local conventions in your area. That’s usually the best place to dip ones toes into tabling at shows. SPX has grown into a big show, and even though it says “small press” in the title, getting a table there actually costs big money. Not saying you shouldn’t do it, but making that your first show might be a bit overwhelming. Check out the calendar at to keep up to date on where the cons are you might want to attend.

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