We recommend reading the series in order:
So far, we’ve discussed three types of personal project.
…and how each type leads to a specific type of prize:
- The Geek-Out: provides a sense of community for fans and catharsis for the creator.
- The Skill-Builder: levels-up a specific skill, improving the creator’s reputation in the process.
- The Showcase: proves that the creator is the best person for a dream job or brings in better gigs.
Before you lose hope that you can make a living directly from your personal projects, please consider: The Fan-Base Project.
The Fan-Base Project differs from The Showcase Project.
Both can cultivate a following and raise your reputation as an expert.
…but The Showcase Project convinces someone to hire you to do similar work while The Fan-Base Project provides creative freedom.
So how do you make a living from Fan Base Projects?
Today we will reveal the secret.
Are you ready?
Here it is:
…you need fans.
(A lot of fans.)
So I’ll pass the mic to her now and she’ll share wisdom gained from years of working for her fans and discuss two of her favorite, financially successful Fan-Base projects…
Successful Fan Base Projects:
Wing-Leader Lora Innes reporting for my first solo-flight on ChrisOatley.com!
(So. Much. Power.)
The past few years have been filled with countless stories of successful Fan Base Projects from independent creators.
This is very encouraging for those of us who dream of making a living from our own imaginations.
Here are two recent stories of the indie dream coming true…
Cleopatra In Spaaace!
Mike Maihack, Chris and I went to the same art college at the same time.
I met Mike at one of the school’s epic Halloween parties. (He was dressed as The Dude.)
Since then, I’ve seen Mike in Artist Alleys all over the country.
His distinct, cartoony take on beloved superheroes stands out in the midst of stale fan prints by comic-book clones.
In 2003 Mike launched his online presence with a webcomic called Cow & Buffalo and began updating it regularly in 2004.
Five years later, Mike authored a natural conclusion for Cow & Buffalo, sparing his fans the common frustration of reckless abandonment.
In 2009, Mike launched his second webcomic: Cleopatra in Spaaace!
…a title so marvelously campy it was bound to catch on.
Cleo blew up.
…and Scholastic noticed.
This month, Scholastic will release the first volume of Cleopatra in Space through their Graphix imprint.
It’s a brand new origin-story that builds on the webcomic without repeating it or rewriting it.
Better yet, Mike announced that he just finished drawing a second book in the series.
Those of you who work in animation, VFX or some other realm outside of publishing, need to understand: A Scholastic deal is a big deal.
We all know that self-publishing is a hard road.
…and independent or “small press” comic book publishers don’t have much money for the titles they support.
So a Scholastic book deal is the holy grail for independent comic creators who hope to make a real living from their own stories.
Mike learned the business of making and selling comics, honed his craft to near perfection and slowly gathered a core group of faithful fans who amplified his efforts.
A decade later, Mike landed a well-deserved publishing deal.
Lessons from ‘Cleopatra In Space’:
- Hone your skills, learn the business, and build a small-but-commited fan base on a smaller project.
- Make fans, don’t break them. Start a project and finish it. Get your fans excited to follow you from project to project.
- Come up with a catchy idea, then deliver on the potential of that premise.
- A little fan-art never hurt anyone.
Bee & Puppycat:
Natasha’s career was off to an amazing start but, like most artists, she had a more personal story to tell…
She created a two-part animation called Bee & Puppycat: An anime-inspired space odyssey about unemployment, evil princesses and casseroles.
It’s like Sailor Moon and The Little Prince stumbled into one of the trippier episodes of Adventure Time.
Riding the wave of success, Natasha and Frederator Kickstarted a nine-episode season of the hand-drawn cartoon.
In an interview, Natasha explained the partnership, “My reason for working for Frederator was because they let me have total control over my short, which I’m really happy about…” (emphasis mine)
The Kickstarter campaign reached it’s goal of $600, 000 and raised an extra $300,000, breaking a Kickstarter record. Bee & Puppycat is now the most highly-funded web series in Kickstarter history.
Fans really wanted more Bee & Puppycat.
Now, before you bemoan that Natasha’s success is not a fair example because of her previous experience on Adventure Time, you need to understand something: Her previous success proves my main point.
Many Fan-Base Projects fail simply because the creators don’t have enough fans.
This is especially prevalent in my corner of the Internet: webcomics.
We look at someone else’s successful Fan-Base Project and expect the same success on our first try.
Just like Mike Maihack’s progression from fan art to Scholastic, Natasha was able to build and grow a fan base with other projects and then take a large portion of those fans to her own creator-owned endeavor.
Her work on the Fionna and Cake comic established her as an individual artist.
Yes, it was still work on the Adventure Time brand, but as a comic writer and illustrator, she gained an individual reputation and transcended the more anonymous role she previously filled on the tv show.
Bee & Puppycat has nowhere near the following of Adventure Time (which is airing its sixth season on Cartoon Network).
…but for a Fan Base Project, it is has reached the pinnacle of success.
You won’t bring all of your fans from one project to the next.
…but you will bring a core group with you. And they will help you build a new fan base that is unique to the new project.
Building a fan base from your previous work and/or the reputation of companies you have worked for is not cheating. It’s inevitable. …and smart.
Lessons from ‘Bee & Puppycat’:
- A creator-owned project is only as successful as its fans are committed.
- Leveraging the reputation of work you’ve done for someone else is a smart way to build a fan base.
- Even if you worked for a rad company, you need to establish yourself as an individual.
- If you don’t have credentials yet, consider a Geek-Out, Skillbuilder, or Showcase project before attempting a Fan Base Project.
- Work at a big studio can super-charge your personal projects.
The Costs Of A Fan Base Project:
You really only need 1,000 true fans to make a living from your Fan Base Projects.
Since this “true fan” phenomenon has already been covered on this site (and on many others), I decided to turn this conversation around…
In the post-Kickstarter world, we hear about successful Fan Base Projects all the time…
So the hope for a creator-owned career is very much alive.
…but it’s important to understand that a Fan-Base Project is a nine-headed hydra that will devour all of your creativity, time, and much of your income until there is room for nothing else.
As soon as you cut off one of the heads, two more will spring up to take its place.
A Fan-Base Project Devours:
- Your Free Time. (…and then some…)
- Your Focus.
- Your Personal Finances.
- Your Privacy.
- Your Self-Confidence and Emotional Well-Being.
If you are the type of creative who begins to work on one project then immediately has ideas for six more, a Fan Base Project might not be right for you.
Fan Base projects are long-haul commitments.
They demand all of your resources and can last for long periods of time.
And here is the dirty little secret of The Fan Base Project: Your time and energy investments scale up as your fan base grows.
The Restrictions Of A Fan Base Project:
My webcomic – The Dreamer – has been a bit of a Catch-22 in my career.
I am much faster at drawing comic pages than I used to be and I don’t even color the comic myself anymore.
…but I’m busier than ever.
Making ‘The Dreamer’ is a full time job.
These days, I have the added time costs of working with IDW (my publisher) to get the graphic novels published and another company that I hire to market and promote the books.
Like every other webcomic creator, I invest a lot of time into social media, answering emails, doing interviews and planning for/traveling to comic book conventions.
As other opportunities have come my way I’ve had to pass on many of them simply because I didn’t have the time.
I recently finished the first, big story arc of The Dreamer and finally decided put the comic on hold so I could pursue another big opportunity.
This was a heart wrenching and difficult decision because though it was a good breaking point, the story is only half finished.
In part, the anxiety I felt came from not wanting to disappoint my readers.
…but I also knew that I was freezing all of my revenue streams.
My readers are sad that they aren’t getting new comic updates but they’ve told me that the hardest part is that they miss each other.
I created a place for them to belong.
When my comic went on hiatus, so did their community.
The Fan Base Project relies on other people in a way that The Geek-Out, The Skill-Builder and The Showcase never will.
To successfully run a project fueled by fans, you are going to have to make your fans part of your family.
…and respect the fact that your decisions affect your fans on a deep level.
The Magic Of The Fan Base:
The Fan Base Project is very difficult but it is also very rewarding.
Fan Base Projects help you find and express your own, visual voice.
You don’t just apply your creativity to someone else’s product. It’s all you from start to finish.
…and people care.
Your fans are in love with your vision. They care about your characters. You make visual the feelings they don’t have words for…
…and they love you for it.
To me, this is the greatest prize of all.
Will Your Fan Base Project Make Money?
It’s me again.
(Fantastic post, Lora!)
Whether you take the pure, ten-year indie route of Mike Maihack or the big-studio-supercharge of Natasha Allegri, your Fan Base Project will require a tremendous commitment.
Will it make money?
Well, that depends on how many true fans you have and how deeply they care about you…
As I’ve said before, you can’t guarantee that your personal project will be a financial success, but there are lots of ways to guarantee failure.
…and get out there and help lots of people all the time – with no strings attached.
Oh! And stay tuned for the finale of this series: The Soft Startup!
Lora and I knew that there was no possible way to cover the entirety of this topic in a single blog post.
Instead, we attempted to bring some fresh perspective that will help to inform your decision to attempt a Fan Base Project.
However, we also knew that this post would bring up many great questions, so we wanted to use the comments section to respond to as many as we can.