Well, here we are, August 21st, and the storyline of Zombie Ranch is continuing as promised. I have to admit, it was nice to be able to take a breather after all the intensity of wrapping up the first arc. Oh sure, we’ve had breaks here and there where holidays and conventions cropped up, but we’ve never just “closed the shop” for an entire month. I studiously avoided using the term “hiatus“, but that’s pretty much what it was.
I suppose I liked referring to it as our “Summer Vacation” rather than a hiatus because I felt like hearing hiatus in regards to a webcomic had an unfortunate connotation of burnout, or at least of creators disappearing on their fans, abandoning the comic (perhaps forever) with nary a word of explanation. We intended to return. We intended to continue. And because of that, we set a specific date and, hopefully, made people aware of it.
Also I didn’t go completely off the grid, continuing to blog and comment and otherwise communicate (as Dawn also occasionally did). I would have done this even if we’d seen a major slump in readership… but surprisingly, that didn’t occur, even with August being the cruelest month. In the poll I left up (in part as a marker with the August 21st date) a majority of respondents indicated they’d continue checking by on Wednesdays to see the guest posts, rather than just coming back in a month.
I admit I had a tiny bit of worry that taking time off would be disastrous, but so far that doesn’t seem to be the case. It’s possible everyone who couldn’t handle the weekly schedule (with occasional filler) already clicked off into the wild blue yonder a long time ago, so we’re left with a core that doesn’t really care if they get their next installment in one week or four, as long as they’re assured it’s still coming. Mind you that doesn’t mean we take it as license to start doing one story update a month, but it’s gratifying to know that we’re not so fragile an operation that a few weeks of filler updates means disaster.
My theory was always that readers ultimately just don’t want to be in the dark about what’s happening. So if you miss an update as a creator, you ought to say why at that time, or at least check in at the earliest opportunity. Better yet, if you know ahead of time you’re going to have to vary your usual schedule, you can give warnings, as I did in the weeks leading up to the end of Episode 7. Will everyone read those warnings? Maybe not, but at least you tried. At least if they get curious/worried about what’s happening and start rummaging about, they have something to find other than just a digital equivalent of the Mary Celeste. I’ve seen my share of “ghost ships” out there in webcomic land, and it’s never pretty.
I definitely deal with my share of people who are (with varying degrees of politeness or rudeness) impatient for the next update, but I also feel like there are a great number of webcomic readers out there who have more patience and more loyalty towards the stories they enjoy than they are often given credit for, and it’s only respectful to acknowledge that by staying in touch. If (heaven forbid) you have to stop altogether, have the courage to let them know that so everyone can move on. If your hiatus has no set end (your mother is gravely ill and you need to focus on taking care of her), that should also be communicated, perhaps with an offering of a mailing list signup or something similar so you can announce when things get better. And if you do have a definite return date, announce it before you head out. I’m happy we’ve only had to do the last of those three so far, and that we’ve returned as promised.
That said, it *is* technically still August. Time to see how the Grand Re-Opening goes…