As anyone who follows any of my work might have noticed, I’m the worst person to talk about this. The worst. On Earth.
For one, I’m always late for everything in general. On top of that, my comic has neither a schedule nor a buffer, and I sometimes go weeks without even touching a pencil, knowing full well that I’ve promised readers I’m aiming for an update every Monday. I have no right to be giving anyone advice on scheduling.
Anyway, here’s some advice on scheduling…
It’s ideal to update regularly, but we should begin by dispelling the myth that there’s a “right schedule.” A lot of comics update on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, but I strongly suggest new creators don’t try to jump straight into that. If you don’t have much experience, you’re not prepared for such an intense commitment. Updating every day is even less necessary, unless you have a gag-a-day comic and your goal is to make a living off of it.
If your comic’s not too hard to draw or you have an abnormal amount of time to draw it, I’d suggest you start with one page a week; you can spend any extra time on building up a buffer. If neither of those conditions are present, start by updating once every two weeks.
But those are still just suggestions: your actual schedule should be determined by your workload, both the amount of work it takes to write/draw the comic and the amount of work you have to do to maintain the rest of your life. Before deciding on a schedule, I’d suggest you clock the amount of time it takes to draw a page you’re really proud of (that way, “just average” pages will get done even faster) and write it down, then – if possible – try to figure out how often you’ll have that much free time.
There are 168 hours in a week. Let’s say you work 40. That’s a charitable assumption for the neckbeards who draw most webcomics, but let’s just say. If you sleep eight hours a night, or spend an equivalent amount of time pounding back Mountain Dew in front of a PS4, that works out to 56 more, leaving us with 72. In other words, two full days off and the equivalent of another day in free time before and after work.
Let’s say it takes you two hours to get up, go through your morning routine, get breakfast, and commute to work; and the commute home, dinner, and taking off your pants takes up another two. That leaves you 44 hours of waking free time per week.
If the most complicated and difficult page you’ve drawn to this point took you ten hours (although for some artists that’s far too much, and for others—like me—it’s far too little) then theoretically, you should be able to turn out four pages a week. But you won’t, because you’re not a robot and you’d like to do things besides work, sleep, and draw. If you’re hardcore and great with time management, you might be able to squeeze out three. If not, you can probably do two – one for this week and one for the buffer. If you can maintain that schedule, you should soon find that you have no problems sticking to a page-a-week commitment.
When life starts to interfere, one thing that might help is to delineate a certain time every day to work on your comic. Treat it like your favorite TV show pre-Netflix; 8-9 PM could be your designated webcomic time, and barring emergencies, you’d better be home for it. Also, so you can plan how much time you’d like to devote to your comic, it might help to keep an “ideal” schedule in mind—the schedule you’d keep if you had as much free time as you desire—so you know what to work towards.
If your life isn’t predictable enough to know when you’ll have time to work on your comic, you might not be able to set a defined schedule. But that’s not an insurmountable problem. The key to maintaining a webcomic with no set schedule is to make sure your readers know the reasons behind your erratic updates. For example, Lackadaisy updates only a few times a year, but… Look at it.
Most other artists couldn’t draw a single page to those standards given the whole year. Plus, Tracy Butler has a full-time job in addition to drawing the comic, so her fans are willing to give her much more leeway as long as she keeps up that level of quality. It doesn’t hurt that she’s excellent at communicating with her fans and releases shitloads of bonus content either.
Let’s talk about my own scheduling problems: I expect Yume-Hime to run about 7-800 pages in total, so I need to get it sped up if it’s going to finish within the next decade. …Which it has to. It’s set in the last decade, so if it goes on too much longer, it’ll start to seem hopelessly dated and irrelevant. I’d love to go bi or tri-weekly, but that’s not practical for now since I have loads of other commitments and am currently planning a move halfway up the east coast.
However, I’d like to create some kind of schedule, so what I’m considering doing—since the comic’s pages vary so wildly in length and complexity of illustrations—is to create a calendar of future updates, the way many webcomics have calendars of past updates. That way, I won’t end up scheduling the same amount of time to complete a page like this as I would a page like this.
I’ve never seen any webcomics use this method of scheduling before, so I’m not sure it’ll work as well as a weekly schedule, but it’s definitely better than the “I dunno, just check back whenever” method I’m currently using. The first thing I’ll have to do is find a method of making it off-site and inserting it into ComicFury’s template, but that should be doable. I’ll update and let you know how it goes.
In the meantime, anyone else who wants to use that idea totally can.
Building a Buffer
If you followed the advice in the first section, it shouldn’t be that hard to find the time to build a buffer. A lot of it is just in leaving yourself time. The rest is just resisting the temptation to release pages as soon as they’re done. I’ve struggled with this—when I finish a new page, I want it out as soon as possible, because each page is a gift to the world that needs to be debuted as soon as possible so that the praise I deserve won’t be delayed any longer. But that’s dumb. Don’t do that.
Also, if necessary, you can take a few weeks (or months) off specifically to build up more of a buffer. Just make sure you let your readers know you’re doing this—the further in advance you start warning them, the better.
So, You Missed a Deadline…
For the love of all that is above average, if your comic’s going to be late, let your readers know. Tell them what’s going on and give them a potential ETA.
This is often embarrassing, and I’ll admit that I sometimes put off doing it because of that. If a page is almost done, but I don’t know when I’ll have time to work on it again, I’ll start to write a notification, but then stop myself, mentally insisting that it’s almost done and I just need to power through it instead of giving the audience some lame excuse.
The problem with that is that yes, the page is almost done, but I’m usually forgetting that I’m booked solid with other assignments for the next week, and I’m usually forgetting the five or six more hours it’ll take me to tone and Photoshop the page together. So, in these cases, it’s better to just the page is going to be late instead of keeping up appearances while you hemorrhage fans.
Let’s learn from some actual webcomics.
How It’s Done
There are plenty of examples of how to stick to a schedule. Schlock Mercenary has updated every single day for fourteen years. Girl Genius updates three times a week, with fantastic art, and has never missed a deadline. And Homestuck is Homestuck. However, those comics are their creators’ full-time jobs. If you’re balancing your comic with work, then unless you have with an iron will and monk-like focus, it’s not realistic to hold yourself up to those standards. So let’s talk about a more modest success: Paranatural.
Yes, creator Zack Morrison is a professional artist, but the comic isn’t his primary source of income, so he, like you, is balancing the strip with his other commitments. And when he found himself suffering from burnout and needing to take ten days off, he announced it the day the mini-hiatus began, making sure to explain in detail why he needed it, and thanking his readers for their patience.
In addition, he regularly shows up in the comments to address readers’ concerns and questions, which, although not strictly on the topic of scheduling, is pretty good form in general.
For more examples of this being done right, I’d suggest you check out TvTropes’s excellent page on webcomics that have managed to keep their schedules.
How It’s Not Done
Don’t get me wrong, Power Nap is one of the best new(ish) webcomics out there. The writing and art are great, the plot moves along at an excellent pace, both the concepts and execution are extremely imaginative, and humor is interwoven flawlessly with the story.
…Which is why I hate to call them out on the one thing they’re getting very wrong. But sadly, this comic is a perfect example of how not to handle scheduling problems. Now, I know both writer Maritza Campos and artist Bachan are busy people. Campos also writes and draws CRFH, and Bachan does the same for the gorgeous anthro comic strip Vinny.
So I totally understand why, between their three combined projects, they’d have trouble keeping up with one them. However, the problem here is that, in addition to not having a schedule, they don’t communicate anywhere near enough. Their site has no blog and they only rarely show up in the comments to tell people about their progress or when the next page will be out.
Adding insult to injury, they’re taking money from Patreon, and many of the subscribers who’ve signed up are rightfully pissed off when they find their generosity rewarded with sparse updates and silence from the creators.
…And yes, I could’ve used Dresden Codak here, but that would have been too easy.
Instead of feeling confined to a certain schedule, take inventory of your life and how long each comic takes, then come up with one that seems manageable… And make sure to leave yourself plenty of wiggle room. If you find yourself having trouble sticking to it, cut the frequency of your updates in half and use the spare time to build a buffer. If you have to maintain an unusual schedule, or to take a hiatus, make sure to tell your readers as early as possible.
As the title alludes to, I wrote so much on the subject that I had to cut it in half, since it would be longer than the Hosting Guide if I left it in one piece. So I divided it according to content. Part two will be more generalized advice on working from home, maintaining focus, and time management for people who suck at time management. In fact, it will barely relate to webcomics at all, and my goal is for it to be useful advice for almost any situation… If not the kind of thing you’d find in a self-help book.
It should be done by next week. It will be done by next week. In fact, I’m setting a goal for Friday the 5th. No, really. I mean that. For real this time.
For more updates, follow me on Twitter.
Image by Nathan Wood