I opened the old ComixTribe mailbag the other day and received this question from Jamie Gambell, a hardworking creator, friend of ComixTribe and writer of the new series THE HERO CODE with Jonathan Rector:
It’s a great question, and since I’ve been doing a fair bit of promotion of the limited edition THE RED TEN #1 sketch covers that are now on sale, it’s a topic worth covering in some detail.
The sketch cover or artist edition variant is a crucial component to my product mix, and if you’re an independent creator, I strongly suggest you consider whether adding sketch covers to yours makes sense.
First, let’s define it. When I’m talking about sketch covers, I’m talking about a version of one of your books that has an original sketch on the front cover, instead of the standard edition cover. I’ve also seen (and done myself) books where the sketch will appear on the back cover, or an interior page. (I don’t make a strong distinction there.) Either way, it’s a book that has both the full version of the comic AND an original sketch, making it truly a one-of-a-kind item.
Note, for the sake of clarity, I’m NOT talking about those sketch cover variants that include the pencils only of a popular cover, which Marvel and DC have been known to do. Those are still mass produced items, and do not contain original art, so ignore those for now.
Why Sketch Covers Make Sense for Me
Sketch covers make a lot of sense for me as a creator. I do a fair number of conventions (16 over the past two years.) While I’ve been primarily focused on writing thee past few years, and have been collaborating with some incredible artistic talents on books, I still utilize my artistic ability when it comes to making a buck or two at shows. Though I’m not the artist on many of the series I create, I have enough artistic talent to do a decent sketch cover.
Production wise, I can knock out a sketch cover like the one shown here in a half an hour or so. I can stockpile a couple in a night, while watching Breaking Bad. I usually try to have at least five ready to sell when I begin a show. At conventions during slow times, I’ll draw a few sketch covers live. Sketching at a table can be a draw (pun!), as many fans like to see artists at work. There have been plenty of times when I’ve sold a sketch cover before I’ve even finished drawing it.
I also make sure my co-creators get sketch covers shipped to them, so they can create a bunch as well. Matt Zolman shipped me a sweet stack of EPIC Artist Edition’s for NYCC, and Cesar Feliciano is working on some RED TENS this week, in fact.
So, the first reason sketch covers make sense for me, is that they’re relatively quick and easy to do.
The second reason, has to do with margins. Simply put, sketch covers are a good money maker.
Most independent creators on the con circuit these days are doing short print runs of their floppies. Ka-Blam is probably the most used POD service, and if you look at their pricing on a 24-page full color floppy, it’s going to run you $2.64 per copy, before shipping. Tack on shipping, and you’re looking at over $3.00 a copy cost to you.*
The most I really feel comfortable charging for a standard floppy is $5, and in truth, I much prefer the $4 price point for indie floppies. So, even if you sell a hundred books at a show (which is A LOT) the profit you’re making on the sale of floppies isn’t much at all. Considering the cost of artist alley tables at conventions…$100, $200, up to $500 at the biggest shows, selling floppies alone won’t even have you treading water.
Now consider the sketch cover. If you upgrade to a cardstock cover at Ka-Blam, it’s going to raise your unit cost up $0.35. That’s a price I’ll happily pay, because I’ve successfully been able to sell artist edition sketch covers for between $10 and $25. (I’m sure a bigger name artist could charge significantly more.)
At shows, artist editions sell very well at the $10 and $15 price point. $20-$25 is a bit harder to get folks to bite on, unless they’ve already been foaming at the mouth to get your title. What’s more, I’ve found in general, con attendees like having choices. “I have a limited number of artist editions with an original sketch for $15…or the standard edition is just $4. Which would you like?” has been a successful method of presenting my products to prospective buyers.
PRO TIP – I’ve tested a number of different papers to draw on, and my preferred paper for cardstock covers is 80# glossy cardstock. Note, at Ka-Blam, this is their Cardstock cover option. I DO NOT recommend their Sketch Cover option. It adds another $1.05 to the unit cost, and I actually find those harder to draw on. Not worth the money.
How big a seller have sketch covers been for me? Well, let’s look at just THE RED TEN #1, and just the NYCC sales as a for instance:
BOOK TITLE / Unit Cost / Sale Price / Total Units Sold / Total Revenue / Total Profit
THE RED TEN #1 / $1.85 / $4.00 / 67 / $268.00 / $144.05
THE RED TEN #1 AE / $1.95 / $15.00 / 9 / $135 / $117.45
As you can see, while we sold A LOT more TRT standard additons…almost 7 times as many, in terms of total PROFIT, the products performed quite similarly.
It’s also worth noting that many comic book fans are COLLECTORS, and the collector mentality can apply to your books as well as The Big Twos. There were several instances of people buying BOTH versions at the show. So obviously, having the books available is a smart move for me.
But Sketch Covers Might Not Make Sense for YOU
Clearly, I’m a fan of the product. But I recognize that every creator is not the same. Jamie is primarily a writer, and it’s unlikely that, at present, he’d be comfortable drawing the sketch covers himself. So, in order to get sketch covers drawn, he’d have to get an artist to draw them for him. In the case of THE HERO CODE, he’s working with Jonathan Rector, who’s north of the border in Canada. So, he’d need to pay for the artist editions and pay to ship them up north. Then, he’d probably have to pay to have Jon ship them back to him. He’d probably either have to arrange to pay John for his time to sketch on those covers, or get Jon to agree to some split of profits on sketch covers sold. Either way, it adds costs and cuts into the margin on those books. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea…it just means you’ll need to decide if it’s worth the trouble.
Now, if I were (here come the quotes) “just a writer”, I would ALWAYS make it a point to share a table at a con with an artist. You simply don’t need a full table to yourself, most likely. You don’t even need a chair…you should be standing up the entire show, selling your ass off, talking to everyone. And one of the deals I’d make with the artist I’d split the table with was that he be available for sketch cover variants, and we’d split the sale.
Another smooth move you could employ, which was successfully executed by ComixTribe’s own “Sellin’ Scottsman” John Lees: At the bar before or after a show, offer to buy a beer to any artist willing to draw on a sketch cover for you. John did this in NYC, and sold it the next day at the convention for a solid mark-up.
So, there you have it, a full look at sketch covers/artist editions. Did I forget to cover anything? If so, ask away in the comments below!
*Note: I cited Ka-Blam’s pricing structure for this article because they are printer I’m seeing most creators use at present. You may be able to do better. I suggest you contact Noel Burns at IC Geeks Publishing to get a quote. You’ll probably be glad you did.
Tyler James is a comics creator, game designer, and educator residing in Newburyport, MA. He is the writer and co-creator of superhero murder mystery maxi-series THE RED TEN, EPIC, a superteen action comedy, and Tears of the Dragon, a swords and sorcery fantasy. His past work includes OVER, a romantic comedy graphic novel, and Super Seed, the story of the world’s first super powered fertility clinic. His work has been published by DC and Arcana comics.
Tyler is the publisher and co-creator of ComixTribe, a new website empowering creators to help each other make better comics.
Category: Comix Counsel