I follow a lot of webcomics on Tumblr and I’ve encountered a variety of blog management practices that creators employ to run their Tumblr show. Some great, some good, some not so much. Content aside, I think there are a handful of things that every creator should keep in mind when choosing Tumblr to host or promote their webcomic. This is from my perspective as an avid reader and a long-time Tumblr user. Also as someone who is mildly obsessed with organization (personally and professionally), has spent years—decades?—in customer service, and likes to see people succeed.
This is by no means exhaustive, just the basics: Tags, Posts, The Blog, External Hosting, Etc.
There are many names for them, but there are basically three types of tags on Tumblr as far as any creator should be concerned: searchlight tags, housekeeping tags, and commentary tags (which I’ve lovingly portmanteau’d as tagmentary).
SEARCHLIGHT TAGS – Use these tags to shine a light on the work you’ve put so much into.
- You only have five, choose them wisely: Of course you can tag a post with more than five tags, but Tumblr doesn’t care about anything beyond the first five (on the original post) when someone uses tumblr.com/tagged/”x-tag” to find something relevant to their interests. As such, to choose your first five—your searchlight tags—you’ll need to consider what your webcomic is about, your prospective audience, and you’ll want to search the tags in question so you’ll know what you’re competing with/who you’ll be keeping company with.
- Singular vs. plural: gay webcomic vs. gay webcomics; bl webcomic vs. bl webcomics; lgbt webcomic vs. lgbt webcomics; webcomic vs. webcomics—no two feeds are the same. This you will come to understand when you checkout the tags. Choose one or both, just remember, you still only have five to work with.
- If you’re just starting out: You’ll probably want to play around with the tagging to see which work best for you. To make the most of each post, don’t feel the need to include the title of your webcomic in the first five. If you have a gay/ace space opera webcomic named A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to M87, and you already have #gay webcomic #lgbt webcomic #asexual #ace-aro and you have to choose between #space opera and #A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to M87 for 5th place, go with #space opera. Remember, you’re trying to be found and people usually don’t look for things that they don’t know exist, so go with what people are looking for.
- Tracked tags: Personally, I think one of the better updates to grace my Tumblr dash is the integration of tracked tags into the dashboard feed. It’s not perfect as it seems pretty keen on showing me the same posts over and over for days at a time, but other than that, it’s great for blog runners like me and like the person behind @lgbtwebcomics and similar blogs that aim to offer hub/resource/database style feeds for specific content. And I said that to say, only a post with “x-tag” as a searchlight tag will appear in the integrated feed of the people who want to signal boost you.
HOUSEKEEPING TAGS – Use these tags to keep your blog organized and reader friendly.
- The chrono tag: Unless someone’s done some fancy-dancy tinkering, Tumblr dashes and blogs present posts in reverse chronological order. Since not everyone will have the privilege of getting in on the ground floor with your webcomic, make it easier for the less fortunate to catch up by creating a tag that is used for the sole purpose of helping return your webcomic update posts in chronological order so that they can READ FROM THE BEGINNING. This is a very special tag and should only be used for updates—not news, not asks, not fanart, not anything else—just new pages of your webcomic. Also, try to avoid using just the name of the webcomic as the chrono tag.
- Using the chrono tag: Once you’ve decided on what your chrono tag will be, you’ll need to make a link for it to add it to your blog. Using A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to M87 as an example, let’s make #m87rftb (rftb = read from the beginning) the chrono tag (or you could go real basic and just use chrono or just rftb; it’s up to you). The link you will need to make will look like this: m87comic.tumblr.com/tagged/m87rftb/chrono <— this last part is the main reason why I call it the “chrono tag”. This bit is what tells the blog to return the tag search for “m87rftb” in chronological order. This is what will allow newcomers and rereaders alike to experience your webcomic in the order it was intended. You can check out this step-by-step post I made for a friend a while back.
- The FAQ tag: Not everyone has the time or presence of mind to create an FAQ page. But just about everyone gets annoyed to varying degrees with answering the same questions over and over. So, to save yourself a few grumblings and to make information more accessible to your readers, make an FAQ tag. Use it to tag any announcements or asks that answer questions other people are likely to have regarding your comic. And, if you happen to be the diligent type once you get a handle on things, consider making a separate FAQ tag for each of your characters and add them to your characters’ individual profiles (a character(s) profile page is a must). Also, FAQ doesn’t have to be taken so literally. Even if a question has only been asked once, if it is important to a reader’s comprehension of your story, setting, characters, or message, it should be tagged with the FAQ tag. And, of course, this tag should be linked in your blog’s navigation. Alternatively, you could just use the FAQ tag to make certain posts easier to find for when you do have the time, motivation, and wherewithal to create or update your FAQ page.
- Etc.: Consider other tags as well—news, fanart, playslists, sketches, and etc. Also, for the more diligent types, in addition to the general chrono tag, a chapter or arc chrono tag might be helpful for longer comics.
TAGMENTARY – Use these tags for your asides and whisperings and whatnots.
- This is not to say that your commentary shouldn’t go in the body of the post, this is more about how to organize your tags. Although these are the last of the trio, they don’t necessarily have to go last in the tag field, they just shouldn’t be the first five.
- They also shouldn’t include any alerts such as the webcomic going on hiatus or anything your readers (current and potential) need to know; all of that goes into the body of the post. It’s likely that your tags won’t travel with the subsequent reblogs, so make sure to keep pertinent info up here and not down there.
Other Things – Of no less importance, but don’t quite fit with the above.
- Webcomic title: Your webcomic title is in a tag category of its own. My suggestion for both Newbs and Old Hats is to make it your permanent 6th tag (or whichever place follows your last searchlight tag). It’s counter-intuitive, I know, but hear me out. Just like a phone number or a domain name, if you already know it, there’s no point in searching for it—you would just dial it/go directly to it. Most people won’t turn to the phone directory if they already know a phone number and most people won’t Google A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to M87 if they already know the site address. Similarly, if someone already knows you’re on Tumblr they’ll go straight to your blog. And if they don’t, before they search Tumblr /tagged/, they’re more likely to use Google. That has a high chance of leading them to /tagged/, but that’s beside the point because Google should also return your blog itself. A Tumblr tag search would usually be for something other than the webcomic; things like fanart, meta posts, fellow readers, and so on. However…
- Tumblr search: In addition to the tagging system, curious folks can also find things by going to tumblr.com/search/”x-search-term” which finds relevant posts by searching the post—title and body—and the blog title (and possibly the description). Just because it exists and it’s easier to access (the search field is right at the top of the dash), doesn’t mean that everyone uses it, so don’t use it as an excuse to flake on your searchlight tags. More on /search/ and the webcomic title in the next section.
- @new-xkit-extension: Do yourself a favor and install the new xkit. Tumblr is nothing but a chore without it. Once installed, be sure to select the Quick Tags extension. This will allow you to create tag groups to use for various posting circumstances. Just one more way to make your blog running life easy and keep your blog organized and your tags consistent.
- Hitting your stride: It may turn out that you only need three or four searchlight tags to reach your prospective audience. Go with it, but remember that people awaken to the wonders of Tumblr and webcomics everyday, so pop a new #tag every once in a while to see what happens.
A picture’s worth a thousand words, but sometimes that’s still not enough. Every post has a body and it’s in your best interest to make use of it.
BASIC INFO – Things every update post should have in the body of the post.
- Webcomic title #1: This is where your webcomic title does the most good. Not only will it help people find it in Tumblr /search/, it also makes your posts more relevant in Google search. There is a world outside of Tumblr and even without searching for “x-search-term + tumblr” Tumblr blogs are usually at or near the top of search results page when it comes to anything with a fandom. Do what you can to make sure your blog (the source) is above them all.
- Webcomic title #2: The more immediate benefit is that it gives context to the art above it. I am opposed to strenuous activity and I don’t like to work too hard for things if I don’t have to. There are also times when I just can’t put forth anymore effort than scrolling and committing things to memory for later. I am not the only one. If I scroll past some nice art or some witty banter, but there’s nothing in the body of the post, whether I investigate it or keep scrolling depends on my mood, which device I’m using (laptop/tablet/phone), and how many other posts I’ve had to make this decision for so far that day. Make it easier for me to remember you. Make it easier for me to engage. And, no, having the name of the webcomic in the artwork doesn’t count—it’s not searchable (see #1).
- Webcomic title #3: Unlike bags, tags are less likely to travel. There’s no guarantee that reblogs will be tagged with anything or anything remotely identifiable as the title of your webcomic.
- Webcomic title #4: Can’t someone just hover over or click the OP blog name? Sure they can, but don’t bet on it (see lazy, moody scroller in #2). Also, depending on the device or for whatever reason, some people may not want to open additional windows or tabs. Also #2, don’t count on anyone “liking for later”. Some people do follow through, but it’s a well-known joke that no one ever does.
- Webcomic title #5: It’s inclusion in the body of the post is doubly important if your Tumblr URL doesn’t match/is vague.
- Chapter and page: Let people know where they are in the story.
- Link to read from the beginning: This handy-dandy device is not just for your blog navigation. You’re addressing Tumblr; most people’s first encounter with your webcomic is likely to be on their dash, so make their introduction and subsequent transition from scroller to reader an easy one.
- See also: If your webcomic is also hosted elsewhere, mention that. It seems like such a rudimentary thing, but it’s such an oft missed opportunity that I have to include it here. Tapastic, Smackjeeves, Webtoons, @hiveworks, self-hosted, whatever, wherever, let people know.
POSTING – How and when.
- One update post per day: This is important. Don’t spoil your comic. I know you’re excited and so are your readers, but resist. Posting page 37 at 3:45 pm and page 38 4:47 pm spoils the experience for the reader. Remember, the dash presents posts in reverse chronological order. Even if it’s not a revealing panel, people generally prefer to read stories in the order they’re told.
- Multiple pages: If you have a multi-page update, you should put them in the same post or post them on separate days.
- There’s really no easy way around it: Can’t I just reverse them? No can do; it will screw up your chrono tag. And, even if you post them back to back with a note alerting readers that there are multiple updates, there’s no guarantee that other posts from other blogs your follower follows won’t slip in between yours. Furthermore, /chrono does not regard seconds. 3:45:10 and 3:45:19 are the same to it and it has its own mind about which it will serve up first in chronological order.
- Time zones aren’t just for New Year’s jokes: People are up and productive or procrastinating at all times of the day. Embrace the idea that there should be at least 24 hours between updates (to avoid spoiling your comic). Forty-eight is better. Give your readers a chance to read one update before you hit them with the next. Also, spreading things out will extend your presence on their dash (instead of seeming like a hit and run). This is especially beneficial for webcomics that update sporadically.
- Reblogs: AM, PM, next day, or weekend reblogs are fine if you only post, at most, twice each week (anything more than that and your blog becomes a nightmare to browse), just be sure to forego the chrono tag on the reblog and note that it is an x_reblog to avoid confusion.
- The queue is your friend: Got multiple updates and only want one page per post? School/work/sleep/cat needs tending to and you can’t deal with Tumblr today and tomorrow? Use the queue.
- Queuing: The queue can be set up to post a certain number of posts within a span of 24 hours (12am – 12am); the posting window can be adjusted to only post between 3pm and 6pm or 2am and 7pm and so on. In the case of a webcomic, it would be one post between whichever two hours you choose.
- Scheduling: If the queue sounds good to you, but you need more control over the timing, scheduling is the way to go. If you want to set your updates to intervals longer than 24 hours (*cough*recommended*cough*), again, it’s scheduling you want. It allows you to chose the date and time, so you can do M/W/F or T/T/S or whatever suits you at whichever time suits you. Scheduled posts can be found waiting in the queue.
- Photo/Photoset: If you mean for readers to have an easy time reading your pages, create a photo post instead of a text post and choose a blog theme that does your webcomic justice—meaning one that can actually handle high-res images. There’s nothing like going to the blog to get a better look at the page only to find that the blog width is 500px and doesn’t enlarge the image when clicked or the blog width is a fair 700px, but doesn’t stretch inline images (image in the body of the post—which are 540px across; not a good look either way).
3. THE BLOG
Tumblr is full of dash denizens, but for those who would like to read from the beginning, see a larger image of the update, or just see what else you have going on, a good theme can be the difference between a brief glance and a return visitor.
- Themes: There’s the classic Simple Webcomic Theme, but just about any theme can work if it supports high res images and you employ the chrono tag. But say “no” to the grid. Unless the grid can be set to display posts uniformly (like the home page of this one)… But even then, I’d warn against it—it makes a lot of work for anyone trying to read from the beginning or catch up.
- Navigation: It should be easy to spot. Even if it is a slide-out, fly-out, or hamburger-hidden menu, make sure readers don’t have to zig-zag their mouse across the page trying to figure out which page element needs to be hovered over to reveal the secrets of your blog.
- Pages: About, Character Profiles, Read From the Beginning, FAQ, and Ask are the bare minimum for pages/links. If you are also hosting elsewhere, and your See Alsos aren’t included in your navigation, be sure to include them on your About page. Also, if your theme supports pages, I suggest choosing them over links when you can—pages are automatically addressed from theme to theme (for those that support them), but links have to be reset every time you change your theme.
- Interactions: If you prefer for people to refrain from making fanart, be clear about that—this type of info is perfect for your FAQ. If you track fanart or allow fanart submissions for the blog, be sure to let your readers know.
- Reading is fundamental: Even with neon signs and dancing bears, people tend to miss things, so just make sure you’ve done what you can and try not to sweat the rest.
4. EXTERNAL HOSTING
Some creators only use Tumblr to promote their webcomic. They’ll post links to their updates hosted on another site and only house their webcomic extras like sketches, fanart, fanfic, and asks on Tumblr. And that’s totally cool; Tumblr is the perfect place for a satellite hub. Personally, I wish every webcomic I follow was also hosted on Tapastic.
- Tags: Same rules apply. However, if you’re well-established elsewhere, but are just coming to Tumblr, it’s not a bad idea to make your webcomic title a searchlight tag.
- Posts: “New page up on the site” is…insufficient; be sure to include a link to the update. Photo posts are more likely to be reblogged than text or link posts. However, if you do choose to use the link post, it’s best to make sure the destination page has an image for Tumblr to pick up. Which looks better on your dash?
- The Blog: Same rules apply. But be clear about the purpose of the Tumblr blog. If it’s just for updates, and you don’t really spend a lot of time on Tumblr, be up front about it. At its core, the Tumblr dash is just an aggregation of RSS feeds, so it’s not a problem if you use it that way. If you track fanart or allow fanart submissions for the blog, let your readers know. If you prefer all inquiries to be submitted through your external site, make it clear, preferably in your description which can be seen when someone views your blog on their dash (only the first few lines can be seen when someone hovers over the Tumblr URL or avatar), and turn off your Asks.
As with anything, one size does not fit all and results may vary, so take what you can from this and tuck the rest away for a rainy day.
- Tumblr: If you are new to Tumblr, try to learn how it works before diving all the way in–it will save you a headache or three. There are many sides to Tumblr and most of them overlap in one way or another, so be prepared for anything. Also, contrary to popular belief, there’s more to Tumblr than teenagers, so, again, be prepared for anything.
- See and be seen: Whether you’re a Newb or an Old Hat, I recommend you find a submit/rec site to submit or reblog an intro post for your webcomic so that more people can see you. And browse their archives while you’re at it. For starters…
- @theslashpile: A submission/rec-based blog that showcases LGBTQ fictional media–comics, webcomics, films, novels and such.
- @lgbtwebcomics: Run by one of the runners of The Slash Pile, this is kind of a sister site, but they just focus on webcomics as you’ve probably guessed.
- @thecomicbookstore: A collection of Tumblr webcomics and webcomic related things.
Well, that’s about it, just the basics. Thanx for reading, hope it helps.