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B&N Week 47: Self-Publishing Pt 5

| November 15, 2011 | 2 Comments

Nice. It’s Tuesday, and we’re back. We’re all here, and I have some nice Bolts and Nuts, just for you! Does it get any better than this? I don’t think so.

We’re continuing our discussion of self-publishing. This week, I said we’d talk about budgeting, and so we are.

A good budget is going to show you where you’re spending your money, and if you do it well [meaning “right” for you], it will show you when you’re spending it, too, so you can plan accordingly.

Before you get into the expenses of creating your company and so on, I suggest you do up a budget first. The budget should be the first thing you do right after you decide you want to create comics for someone else or self-publish. The  very  first  thing after that decision. Why? Because it’s going to force you to do research on certain things, and that research will force you to ask if this is something you really want to do. But we’re going to talk about the budget from soup to nuts, so let’s get started.

The first thing you want to do is talk about your immediate expenses. These are going to be your out of pocket expenses, and money that you won’t think to really recoup. I’m talking about getting your license/tax ID [DBA], and your office expenses such as internet, phone, and some electricity. This is home office stuff, and it’s going to be a recurring expense. You’re not going to think about them much, and most of it is already in your household budget, but some of it needs to be transferred into your business budget. [It may also be a tax write-off!]

The next thing you want to think about it is the number of issues you want to produce. Think about that, and seriously, plot it out. Get the number of pages you need to tell the story, and decide right now if it’s going to be color or not. (Right now?) Right now. Artists are going to draw differently for color than they will for black and white. The story can always go in and be colored if it starts out black and white, but it won’t always come out right if it was intended to be colored and you decide for black and white because you can’t afford color. Making the decision right now will help you later. (Huh?) Lemme ‘splain.

If you decide to do a b/w book, that’s fine. Tell the artist that, and they will draw accordingly. There is a lot of information in b/w comics that can either be there or not, but the artist will draw each page with the intention of it not being colored. With me so far? (Yes.) Great! Now, if the project is to be colored, the artist will draw differently, leaving out information that will generally be filled in by the colorist. With me there? (Yup.) Cool. Now, if you decide to go b/w first, and then find you can afford color later, no harm, no foul. Everything’s great. The colorist can go in and do their thing over the b/w pages. But if you decide to do color and find out later that you can’t afford it, you’re not screwed, but your book won’t look the way it could, because there’s information missing that the artist could have put in. (Oh. Now I get it.) Excellent. So, decide right now if you’re doing color or b/w.

Now that you have the story plotted out and written, it’s time to start talking about your creative team. You’re going to try to save the most amount of money possible, so you get a co-creator for an artist, and that lowers your initial cost right there. Inker, possibly a colorist, and you’re going to do the letters yourself. (I am?) You are. (Okay…) Cost cutting measures. You’re going to hire Graeme McFreelancer to do your logos, but you’ll do the other letters yourself. You’ve been learning, right? (…) Get on it now, so you don’t have to worry about it later. Being self-sufficient is always good.

Now that you have that going and have a nice tally, I want you to budget for one more issue. (One more?!) Yes. This is a needed buffer, just in case. Let me give you an example of what can happen.

Cary and I wrote Fallen Justice, yes? Yes. It initially started out as four issues, but then I stretched it to six, in order for it to really have impact. While working on issue four, I was looking at what was being done and what was happening, and I saw that we needed a seventh issue. I brought it up to Cary and Ken, our editor, and they both saw the same thing I did. That was how Fallen Justice went from four issues to seven.

Budget for an extra issue. (But that’s just you!) [Sigh…you just want to be hardheaded. Fine.] Bendis has been doing this for years, right? He knows what he’s doing, love him or hate him. So when he was working on the Ultimate Six, the Ultimate version of the Sinister Six, he planned for six issues, and was working on it. Then he noticed he plotted wrong, and needed another issue. Thus, it went from six to seven issues. Budget for an extra issue. If it can happen to a vet like Bendis, it can happen to you while going through your opus. If you don’t use the money for creation, there will be lots of other problems that can be solved by throwing money at it. Budget for an extra issue.

Now, start thinking about advertising. Right now, you want to go as cheap as possible, and you can’t get much cheaper than free. Remember last time out when I spoke about promotion? Free is good, but you’re not going to be able to get everything done for free. Now is the time you want to start investigating what some print and web ads will cost you. These are going to be ballpark numbers, folks. You’re not trying to get to the penny, you just want to get the lay of the financial land. You’ll more than likely have to look at these numbers again when you’re actually ready to start producing.

Next comes the print run. The print run will be determined by Diamond or… Well, it used to be Haven, but now I guess it is Liber Distro. Anyway, either they or you will determine your print run. If it’s determined by you, remember that the more you print, the lower your cost is going to be. [I’m talking the cost of each individual unit.] However, the more you print, the more copies you’re going to need to move. I would search around for printers, see which gives you the best deal, and then, I wouldn’t initially print more than 500 copies. (That’s not a lot…) Actually, that’s going to be too much. You’re going to be sitting on them for a LONG while, but depending on where the price break is, it might be worth it. Go lower if you can—about 300—but if you can’t, 500 is a very respectable number.

Okay, now that you’ve done that, I want you to budget for direct mailings. This is all the stuff you’re going to be mailing out all over the place: flyers, stickers, COMICS, and the like. You’ll be sending these mostly to retailers and reviewers to generate buzz about your book. The main cost with this is the packing materials and the weight cost. If you’ve ever mailed anything with any kind of weight to it, you know that the more it weighs, the more it’s going to cost. I’m going to tell you right now, if you use anything other than the United States Postal System, you’re crazy. [I’m talking to my readers in the United States. For my international readers, you’re going to have to do other things to get the word out about your comics.]

You’re also going to have a website, so budget for that. There are two ways to do this: you can either do it yourself, if you’re so inclined, or you can pay someone to do it for you. Learn to do it yourself if you have the time and inclination. The more self-sufficient you are, the less you have to rely on anyone other than yourself. So you’re going to be looking for a domain name and hosting, at the very least. These can be cheap. Also, take advantage of any deals you may come across.

(Numbers?)

For once, I don’t want to get into numbers. The numbers are going to change from person to person, company to company, and the weight of everything else you have to do is depressing enough. I don’t want to go into the numbers. Go to Expectations to start doing your ballpark figures for the creative team and print run, and build from there. (Whoa….) I know. Must be coming down with something.

(And the web? I know you got answers. Give ’em up!)

The web is a little different. With the web, you’re getting out of traditional publishing, and will be doing other things with it. Let’s look at it.

When it comes to webcomics, the first thing you have to decide is if you’re going to do a strip or if you’re going to tell a long-form story. Your decisions will be predicated upon those.

I’ll be the first one to tell you, I’m not really one for strips. I don’t have anything against them, I’m just really not one for them. I find them to be hit or miss. A few moments of utter bliss and hilarity, a few total duds, but generally, jokes that are just funny enough. We’ll talk more about it when we actually do the webcomics talk. When it comes to publishing strips, though, and I’m talking printing them, holding something tangible in your hand, that can take a long time to bring to fruition. If you’re doing a regular, newspaper type strip, you can fit anywhere from three to four strips on a page. To make it easy, we’ll say you’re going to publish a 100 page book. So, you’re going to need at least 300 strips. If you’re doing a daily strip, we’re talking just about a year before you have enough material to publish something tangible…IF your readers are asking for it. If you’re going less than daily, it will take that much longer before you’re ready to print anything.

The coming trend is to do graphic novels as webcomics, and then publish them when they’re done. I like this better, because it gives you a lot of information before you go through the expense of printing and distribution. But let’s look at it from a budgetary standpoint.

Of course, you’re going to need is the rest of a creative team. Everything but a letterer. (You’re just dead set on getting me to letter, aren’t you?) [Yup. You’ll thank me later.] Get someone to create your logo, but you’re going to letter it yourself. (I’m busy with other stuff!) I know. Like lettering. So, you’ll be budgeting for that. Again, decide if you’re going to use color or not. Do it now.

That website I was talking about before? You’re still going to need it. (Duh…) I’m not going to discuss webcomic portals versus hosting your own. Not yet. This isn’t the time for it. But you’re going to need that space, one way or the other, so budget for it. Again, domain names and hosting fees are cheap.

Banner ads and link swaps are a good thing. High traffic areas, folks. Let people know you’re there. Put links in the signatures of the forums you frequent. All of those tips and tricks and advice are still valid, no matter what you’re doing.

Now, if a publisher wants to collect and publish your story, good on ya! (Does that happen?) [You haven’t been paying attention. Remember when I said to get something like the Google Reader, that aggregates your RSS feeds? I said to do that, and fill it with comic news sites. If you do that, you’ll be on top of information just about as it happens, and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about. Right now? Two words: Dark Horse.] Now, if they don’t, don’t despair. Just publish it yourself, but look into how much that print run is going to cost you.

The last part about this I want you to look into is conventions. Conventions are a bit of a different beast when it comes to budgeting. Let’s look at it.

The first thing to decide is what you plan to get out of the convention. If you’re going someplace like  SDCCI [to be technically correct], the only things I’d take with me are a bunch of cards and maybe some samples of  the latest comic I had produced. That is, if you don’t have a table. [And I don’t recommend trying to table at SDCCI unless you have a LOT of different books to sell, and I don’t recommend it if it is your first show.]

What to budget for? Getting to the convention, getting in the convention, lodging,  food/drinks, some knick-knacks. [If you don’t know anyone in town, try getting a hotel room as soon as registration for it opens up. It’s a MADHOUSE, and rooms go EXTREMELY quickly. If you know someone in town, or can room with someone else, go for it. You’d be much better off.]

Now, if I were going as publisher of Asshat Comics, having a table and everything, this would be a radically different outlook.

Of course, I’d need to have something to sell, and nothing sells like You’ve Got CRABS! and Jesus Christ: Vampire. So the first thing I’d need to do is contact the show to see about getting a table. You want to decide about getting either a full table or sharing one. Guess which one costs more?

A little aside, when it comes to table etiquette. You want to use ALL of YOUR space, and not ONE INCH of another person’s space. You want to have a clear shot of your face and wares, but you don’t want to use another person’s space. You’ll be seeing them again, believe me. You want to be known as a good table-mate. Don’t have your stuff sprawled all over and spilling into someone else’s space. They paid for theirs, just as you paid for yours. Also, if you’ve just GOT to play music, try not to have it turned up so loud that you’re drowning out everything else around you, and annoying the living daylights out of your neighbors.

If someone else is using your space [and yes, I’m talking about even a single, solitary inch], be polite, but be firm, and ask them to move over. Polite, yet firm. After they’ve moved, just let it go. Don’t dwell on it, don’t let it piss you off. It’s resolved, they now know better, you’ve taken care of it and stood up for yourself, and word will spread that you’re the creator that wants all of their space. Otherwise, the word will spread that you’re a pushover, and pretty soon, you’ll be down to a LOT less than you paid for when it comes to space. Polite, but firm.

Okay, so you have your table. Now comes time to decorate it! You’ll have banners and stands to think of when you do this. I suggest your company name for the banner. Okay, I’ll say it. It’ll be cool to be able to see Asshat Comics from across the room in big letters. (Heh…) Now that that’s out of our systems, you’d want to have a nice stand. I suggest Jesus fighting the crabs. (Now that’s a visual!) [Stop it! I’m trying to keep a straight face over here…] Anyway, you want to make good investments. The Asshat banner will be something you’ll use for years, so take care of it. The artwork for the stand can be changed out. There are companies that sell these items, such as Pop Up Stand. I understand the prices are reasonable, and the quality is top notch.

Okay, you now have to have something to sell. You can either carry it with you, or you can have a print-run made up, and have it delivered to one of the bigger cons for a fee. Look into both, and see which is more feasible to you.

This is all just setup, people. You have your table, you have your books to sell, you have your banner and stands. You still have to get to the con and back, you have to eat, and you have to sleep somewhere. All of that costs money, and all of it should be in your budget.

As I said before, a successful con is one where you make your money back. If you’re able to turn a profit on your con experience, you’ve done exceptionally well. If you’re able to break even on your con experience, you’ve done exceptionally well. (Really?) Really. When you factor in everything you had to pay for in order to get it off the ground, breaking even is a GREAT thing. While the name of the game is to turn a profit, right now, the actual goal of the game is to make back your investment. See the difference between the name and the goal? Especially when you’re just starting out.

One way to make your con experience cheaper is to be a special guest of the show. Stop yer drooling. You have to reach superstar status in order to be considered a special/honored guest of the big cons. For the smaller cons? It’s something to be considered. Being a special guest means you may have to do a panel or something, but for a reduced rate for a table—or even possibly free—it’s well worth it. You can even approach a smaller con and inquire about it yourself. Just remember to be polite, not bombastic.

And that’s it for me for now, and that’s really about it for this series on self-publishing. You know enough to be dangerous. There’s still a lot to do, but a lot of that is individual effort, which will yield different results.

See you next week!

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Category: Bolts & Nuts

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

Comments (2)

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  1. Eli Ivory says:

    Good info on this Steven. Sometimes it’s good to be reminded how difficult this thing is. I wish I had the energy to do it all myself, but I usually get burnt out. I usually save up for a year and then go for a two to three issue run of a project. It’s just better to have a presence than not. Anyway, really liked the article. By the way, what happen to draw over?

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