Have you heard the anyone advise you or someone you know to “fail often”? The phrase has been circulating in business sectors for the past several years, particularly among entreprenuers, but it’s an idea that goes back considerably further. At first blush, it seems counter-intuitive. Shouldn’t we be trying to do better? Shouldn’t we be trying to succeed? Why should failure be a goal we strive for?
Because failure is how people learn. Thomas Edison once noted, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” It’s through failure that we learn how to improve. “This didn’t work because of that,” sounds obvious on the surface but it really means, “this didn’t work because of that, which means something about that is a critical factor that I should pay closer attention to.”
The notion of “failing often” is not about trying to achieve failure; it’s about trying as many things as possible to achieve success. A key reason why more people don’t try more things is fear, often fear of failure. “What if I can’t?” “What if it doesn’t work?” “What if I don’t like the results?” The phrase “fail often” is telling you to not dwell on whatever scares you, but charge ahead anyway. You won’t know the results if you don’t try; fear keeps you from trying; not trying prevents you from learning the results. But if you try, and fail, then you can get back and try something else. That might succeed, or it might be another of 10,000 ways it won’t work. Either way, you’re closer to overall success.
There are several ways this concept is applicable to webcomics. Starting one in the first place, for example! If you have an idea for a webcomic, but you’re not sure if it will work or if people will respond positively to it, the only real way to find out is to put it online and start getting feedback. If you get nothing but negative responses, it’s probably not a great comic and probably not worth pursuing. But that means you can devote your time to a different webcomic, and maybe that’s the one that catches on.
The idea could also be applied to your update schedule. Maybe seven days a week is too much for you to handle. Maybe your story flows better if you publish five pages at a time. I know Dorothy Gambrell has made some very calculated decisions on how often she updates Cat and Girl, and determined she makes the same amount of money updating it twice a week as she did three times a week. But she saw what wasn’t working, and learned from it.
Speaking of making money, there are a number of ways people make money from their webcomics. They sell t-shirts, stuffed animals, printed books… some have taken to Kickstarter, others have started using Patreon. Not all of those avenues are successful, and what might sound cool or even seem successful in one instance might not be the same for another. But if your job is to earn money from a webcomic that you give away for free online, then it makes sense that you would want to ditch the ideas that don’t earn you money as fast as possible. But you don’t know which will work until you try. And fail.
The “failure is not an option” attitude of the early 1970s is outdated. With the technology that’s available—digital creation and delivery, print on demand, and now even 3D printing—it’s easier than ever to try a variety of different ideas quickly and with a minimal loss of time and resources. Very, very few people succeed on the first try. The ones who succeed are not the ones who never failed, but the ones who failed often enough to learn how to succeed.