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Should My Webcomic Ads Explicitly Say “BL”/”LGBT”?: a case study

Should My Webcomic Ads Explicitly Say “BL”/”LGBT”?: a case study published on 8 Comments on Should My Webcomic Ads Explicitly Say “BL”/”LGBT”?: a case study

A month ago I set up a head-to-head comparison on some ad banners for Leif & Thorn, and figured other queer-webcomic creators might be interested in the results.

The question is, does it actually entice more people to click on your m/m comic ad if it says “BL” in the corner? Or could that label be a turnoff, since some people have bad associations? What about a more neutral label like “LGBT+”, does that help or hurt?

(…in case anyone doesn’t know, Boys Love is the term used in Japan for m/m comics, so it’s geared to appeal to the manga crowd. You mostly see it on ads for webtoons.)

So I threw together a Project Wonderful campaign and let it run. I’ll explain all the terms for readers who aren’t in the ad game. Or you can skip straight to the end for the final data.

All The Terms, Explained

A campaign is when you pick some search criteria, and then set PW to automatically bid on sites matching those criteria.

In this case, I focused on sites in the “Comics” and “Webcomics” categories. (People reading the sites in “Home and Garden” or “Business and Finance” are…probably not going to click a lot of webcomic ads.)

You can also narrow by the specific keywords people have put on their sites — which gets great results if, for example, you make an ad featuring your vampire characters and splash it over sites tagged “vampires” — but for this I kept it simple.

Views and clicks are exactly what they sound like. PW also tracks uniques — that is, if one reader binges the entire Leif & Thorn archive, then whoever has the winning bid on the skyscraper ad will see their stats increase by 926 views, but only 1 unique.

CPM is cost per million views. The lower it is, the better you’re doing at making cost-effective bids. (It goes by the ratio, whether or not you’ve actually gotten that million. If you spend $1 running an ad that gets only 1 view, then the CPM is $1,000,000.)

CPC is cost per click. The lower it is, the better you did, because it’s enticing more people to click on it for the same price. It’s a factor of both “did you make a good ad?” and “did you do a good job picking sites with audiences the ad will appeal to?”

CTR is click-through rate. The higher it is, the better, again on both “the ad is good” and “the sites are your target audience.” But don’t get too excited — it’s going to be less than 1%, probably less than 0.1%.

The Results

So I did this with two different ad images. Both come off as pretty romantic — one fluffier, the other more dramatic. Same caption for everything — “Love in a second language.” (In an earlier caption-based faceoff, that line did well.)

There are 3 versions of each ad. One blank, one with “BL” in the corner, and one with “LGBT+” in the corner.

And here, after running all of them in equal measure for a month, are screenshots of their stats. Click for full-size:


I checked in several times over the course of the month, and sometimes one label or the other appeared to be pulling ahead, but over the long run? Absolutely no difference.

A logical follow-up would be to see whether the labels help (or hurt) on banners where the image isn’t already telegraphing “hey, this is pretty gay” on its own. And/or to see what effect they have in a campaign that targets sites with LGBT-related tags, where you know it’s a specific point of interest with the audience.

In the meantime…at least I learned that “comforting backlit kissing” performs consistently better than “holding hands in snow.”

New interview published on Art of Webcomics!

New interview published on Art of Webcomics! published on No Comments on New interview published on Art of Webcomics!

Go give it a read. I talk about the process of making the strip, advice for artists, and what I would do if I won the lottery.

By the way, if you’re looking for free ways to support Leif & Thorn: send a message to your favorite webcomic site or review blog, telling them to check it out and make a post about it! compiled this list of review sites a few years back; many of them are still active, and more have sprung up since. (Some of them take guest posts, too. Just in case any of you want to go the extra mile and write a whole review yourself. Which would be awesome.)

One more thing: vote Leif & Thorn in this poll to help it score some free ad space!

Quickie poll: What color should I make this character’s hair?

Quickie poll: What color should I make this character’s hair? published on 24 Comments on Quickie poll: What color should I make this character’s hair?

I’ve recolored this panel a dozen times and haven’t loved any of the outcomes, and it’s driving me nuts. Readers, what do you think?

The only serious limit is that he’s of United Islander descent, so the color has to be relatively bright and saturated.

He’s the head writer for magical-procedural drama MCLIS, if that helps. (In the criminal justice system, magically based offenses are considered especially heinous.)

ETA: After a few days of voting, #5 is the runaway winner. I mean, wow, none of the others even came close. Blue-tinted hair it is. (Keep an eye out for him in a few storylines!)

How To End Your Webcomic, for #WebcomicChat

How To End Your Webcomic, for #WebcomicChat published on No Comments on How To End Your Webcomic, for #WebcomicChat

Technically I’ve ended 3 webcomics. They’re all Hellsing fancomics — And Shine Heaven Now, The Eagle of Hermes, and Sailor Hellsing — so the full archives are collected on the same site.

This. If you’re losing steam, at least stick it out long enough to give your readers a satisfying conclusion, but then move on.

Gag-a-day strips are also easy to switch to an “updates when I’m inspired” schedule. But if you end up going months (or years!) between new strips, then do declare an official end. If only so readers aren’t left in a state of indefinite false hope.

BICP always had an endgame in mind. It’s been running for 7 years, and we’re at least a year away from getting there. Although I’ve been in the mindset of “okay, all the plot and character arcs are sufficiently set up, now I’m heading for the finish line” for at least 2 years at this point. Payoff is gonna take a while.

I knew the general outline! There are mysteries and conflicts getting resolved now (chapters 25-26) that were set up in chapter 1. And there’s a Big Bad to be neutralized. Most of the finer details were developed over the course of the writing.

Elsewhere, Leif & Thorn is 2.5 years old, and was deliberately designed so I can keep doing it indefinitely if I feel like. It’s generally headed toward certain reveals and emotional developments – but none of them is a firm End Point. And there’s much more room to come up with new arcs for the (large ensemble) cast along the way.

Ending Shine was mostly fulfilling, partly sad, definitely a relief. I wasn’t going to bail before playing out the full endgame, but it was pretty tiring in the last few years.

You can see the tiredness in the way some of the arcs feel rushed or too-easily-resolved, glossing over scenes that could’ve been really significant. (Why didn’t I actually draw the Paper Sisters’ reunion, whyyyy.) But in retrospect, there’s still a lot that feels satisfying.

And it was a Good Decision to do a late-stage free-for-all author Q&A. There was nothing left to spoil! You could ask anything! It gave me a direct connection to which points (from the major to the trivial) readers wanted closure on, and a great vehicle to cover all of them.

Plus: now that I’m working on non-fancomics, it’s a lot of fun to repurpose my favorite original gags and characters into the works I can actually, you know, publish.

Shine ended in 2012 and I just did a new April Fool’s strip for it in 2018, so…yeah. (And then the Actual Final Strip, raising a glass to Hellsing’s 21st anniversary.)

The other long-term works I’ve finished are all fanfiction, but they have a pattern that’s almost certainly going to repeat with other comics. After I officially post The End, there’s a tapering-off creative period that comes with bonus strips, side stories, extra art.

Just leave it on the site you originally posted it on! And maybe print a book.

I did rehome the archives of my older complete comics — from ComicGenesis onto a self-hosted WordPress install — but that was mostly for the sake of technical advances (tags & searching) that the original host didn’t have.

There’s a ComicLab episode where they talk about moving the archives of older/complete “the sites are barely getting hits anymore” comics behind a Patreon paywall. Which…listen, that’s completely within your right as a creator, but it doesn’t sit well with me. Leave it up, for the sake of the occasional nostalgic rereader.

(A thing which Shine gets on a regular basis! Couldn’t have told you that before — but now it’s on a site with functional visitor stats, so I can see the hits coming in.)

All my completed favorites are recced here. Go to town.

Webcomic Buffers And You, for #WeHeartComics

Webcomic Buffers And You, for #WeHeartComics published on No Comments on Webcomic Buffers And You, for #WeHeartComics

I keep turning up new webcomic-related Twitter discussions. This one was an (irregular?) offering from WeHeartComics, a product of the SpiderForest collective. (Think “Hiveworks for artists who aren’t into bees.”)

Last Friday was a chat about buffers. Which was a striking thing to jump into, because I’d just been listening to the ComicLab episode where the hosts go “ahh, regular updates are so 10 years ago! Just update whenever you draw something. Readers will be into it.”

And that works great if you’re Kate Beaton (of Hark! A Vagrant) or Sarah Andersen (of Sarah’s Scribbles), where your whole thing is random self-contained standalone bits. (It also helps if they’re Really Good standalones.) But, listen, it’s all wrong for a comic with any kind of continuity. If you slack on the updates there, readers will forget where they are in the story, and end up losing interest.

I don’t know if if strict update times are necessary in the social-media age. Nobody knows when Webcomic Woes is going to update, and it doesn’t matter, because as long as you stay on top of your Patreon/Deviantart/Tumblr feed, it’ll be served up to you.

But for those story-based comics, you’ve got to keep a regular update rate (e.g. “twice a week”). So you may as well keep the posting dates and times consistent too. Keeps your life simple, makes it easier to track your to-do list.

And with that, on to the questions…

For Leif & Thorn, yes. I like titling strips in the format of “This Storyline 1/24” (a tic picked up from Bruno The Bandit)…and that only works if my buffer reaches the end of This Storyline.

The current arc is getting broken up into sub-acts — starting with “The Show Must Grow On: Overture” — mostly because I’m not far enough to have the numbers otherwise. Did the same thing splitting off the 14-strip An Incredibly Platonic Shopping Day, even though it leads straight (hah) into the next storyline, because Summer Sunshine clocked in at a full 84 strips. I could manage to be 84 strips ahead, but not 98.

As of this writing, I’ve drawn 18 strips into The Show Must Grow On: Act I. Which is…not bad, but there’s gonna need to be a crackdown of work this weekend. And the next one. And probably the next.

For But I’m A Cat Person — eheh, it used to have a buffer. Now I’m almost always working one page ahead. Talked a lot about the effects of that in an earlier WebcomicChat about pacing.

And then there’s Webcomic Woes, which is bufferless by nature. It gets made on a “whenever I have an idea” basis, and I don’t have more than one relevant idea per day.

This here is a heroic effort. I’ve never had a full-page buffer that long.

(Technically, I’m 50-ish updates ahead with Leif & Thorn right now — but since it’s a daily strip, that only comes out to a month and a half’s worth of lead time.)

…and here we have the winner of this thread.

Low buffer gives you a quick turnaround on “whoops, readers didn’t understand that reference, I’ll have a character explain it on the next page.” High buffer gives you security in case you fall out of a tree and have to put your drawing arm in a cast for three months.

…and then there’s algorithms. Or, on a site like mine, the Webcomic plugin is configured to send cranky emails if the buffer runs low.

Although I find that having a large buffer, so you can redo something while it’s in the buffer, is much easier than redoing it after it’s posted! If you realize on page 10 that you need a Chekhov’s gun that should’ve been on the wall on page 1, you really want page 1 to be unposted. I’ve resorted to post-posting edits, but only in the case of serious continuity errors.

(If you’re really bored some afternoon, go through the BICP archives page-by-page and see how many errors you can spot compared to the originals — which are all preserved on the SmackJeeves mirror.)

With Leif & Thorn: hasn’t been a problem. (Knock wood.)

With BICP: uh, mostly posting stuff late with apologies. The comic was originally 3 pages a week, and I couldn’t keep that up full-time, so I took it down to 2 (it goes back up sometimes for special events, like the second Christmas special), and that helped.

I do a week or two of filler between chapters, and I’ve given myself a couple longer hiatuses…but do not have the discipline to use them for buffering, heh. I just use them to recharge before jumping back into the “whoops, gotta draw tomorrow’s page now” rollercoaster.

Waaaay back in the day (2003!), And Shine Heaven Now had 6-strips-a-week updates. When my Dell died and the buffer ran out, I drew a week of filler at the library in MSPaint rather than go updateless.

In retrospect, under the circumstances, I’m sure readers would’ve forgiven a mini-hiatus! But for some reason it honestly didn’t occur to me as an option.

Work up a big one before your comic actually launches. I had several months of Leif & Thorn drawn before I started posting, and the buffer has been healthy ever since.

After that, just pace yourself. Figure out what your workflow is, and adapt your schedule to work with it! Some authors like writing out a script beforehand, others like working it out as they draw. Some artists need strict and well-planned schedules, others (*cough*) get revved up by looming deadlines. In the immortal words of Jan Valentine: whatever works is cool.

…I mean, if your comic is suited to irregular updates, you can always just do that.

If not, you’re allowed to take breaks. Just give your readers accurate information about your plans, and then stick to them. Don’t be the person whose site still says “after this short hiatus, My Awesome Comic will return in May 2017!” when it’s April 2018.

If you can’t do irregular updates, and you can’t make a buffer, and it’s too stressful to keep up regular updates, and you can’t even get back from hiatus…then maybe this isn’t the comic you should be doing, and it’s time to gracefully bow out. (More on that next post.)

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