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B&N Week 49: Financials

| November 29, 2011 | 9 Comments

Tuesday, Tuesday, Tuesday. One of these days, I’m going to write an ode to Tyr, who’s day this is. It’s going to be beautiful. Or, maybe an epic poem. Oh! An ode within an epic poem! Yeah! That sounds about right.

In the meantime, I thought I’d take this Tyr’s Day and talk about financials. You can never go over this stuff often enough. I’m going to try to cover a lot of material here, and I may be hitting some areas you haven’t thought of. So, let’s get into the Bolts & Nuts of it, shall we?

Financials! I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, and I’ll continue to say it until you’re blue in the face: in the indies, writers are generally the prime movers. They are the ones who come up with the idea, and then don’t have the necessary skills to bring it to fruition, so they go out and seek people to help make it happen.

Let’s say that we’re talking about a twenty-two page book. You still have pages to fill, though, because of what the printers need. Let’s say that you have another two pages of backmatter [information or whatever else you want to say that is about the story or the series], and you also have to deal with the cover. That’s another four pages, because you have to have a front and back cover, as well an inside front and inside back. Sometimes the inside covers and/or the outside back cover are filled with ads. This could lower your printing cost, which I’ll come to in a little while. But, you now have twenty-eight pages to fill. That’s what we’re going to work with. Ready? Let’s go.

We start with the editor. Let’s say that the editor is going to manage the entire project for you, and they’re going to take on that headache for $50/pg, which is cheap. (Cheap? That’s as much as an artist, if not more, depending on who you get! See? I’ve been paying attention!) True, but the editor is going to be doing a lot of work. Remember, if they’re managing the project, they have to make sure that everyone is doing their job correctly, listen to gripes, complaints, and excuses, and make sure that the trains run on time. That’s a lot of work, a lot of looking at the same page, a lot of responsibility.

If you’re lucky, you can get the editor to only take care of the story pages. That means you’re starting off spending $1100. [And let me tell you, aside from the artist, this is going to be the best $1100 you’re going to spend on this project. Now, now. I know it hurts. Stop crying. It’ll be okay.]

Okay, for the artist, you’re going to be spending another $50/pg. That’s right, another $1100. This is as long as the artist does not charge for character designs. Those can cost anywhere from $5-$15 per design. If you’re talking about creating a superhero universe, that can get pretty expensive pretty quickly. However, let’s say that the artist is going to roll that into the cost of the pages. Right now, you’re at $2200 for this issue.

For the inker, you could spend about $15/pg. For the pages, that’s $330.

Let’s make it easy, so for letters, let’s say that it’s also $15/pg, so another $330. That’s $660 for inks and letters, so that brings us to $2860 for the issue.

Since we’re talking about the Adventures of Pen-Man, which is a superhero book, we’re going to need color. You need a damned good colorist in order to make this look good, and let’s say you were able to haggle down to $30/pg. That’s another $660, which brings this issue’s cost up to $3520.

We good so far? $3520 for this issue. That’s before what we’ll call Forgotten Costs. (Forgotten costs? I’m not sure I follow.) Then let me lead…

Remember the backmatter? That’s two pages of stuff. Are you going to letter and design those pages? Nope. The letterer is. That’s another $30.

You need a logo. Yeah, I know you forgot about it. That’s why these are Forgotten Costs. Now, the good thing about the logo is that it isn’t a recurring cost! You only have to pay for that once! However, a well-designed logo can easily run you $200. So, that’s an extra $230, bringing us to $3750.

(Steven, that’s terrible. Really, really terrible. Is there any way to make this cheaper?) Of course! Don’t do it. That’ll save you almost $4k right there. But if you’re going to go for it, I’ve got more for you.

Although digital is cheaper, there is also virtually no money there as yet. Even though digital is wide open, print is still king when it comes to the indies. There are reasons for that, the biggest being Marvel/DC is still king of the hill, even in the digital space. Don’t believe me? Try getting into ComiXology as an indie at the moment. Not happening. As an indie, your biggest, best bet is Graphic.ly.

But let’s talk about print.

Let’s say you’re going with a printer that’s doing print on demand, or something damned close to it.

You’re going to have to make some decisions. The first, biggest decision will be the type of paper you want. The denser, more glossy the paper, the more expensive the printing cost is going to be. Extremely few places do newsprint anymore. Even though it’s the least expensive paper, it also doesn’t adequately do the job for modern superhero books. (Why not?)

The colors. You can do a lot of special effects on the screen, and they look beautiful. However, as soon as it gets printed, it loses something. In modern comics, you’re doing your best to recreate what you’re seeing on the screen on paper, and newsprint is about the worst you can do. Again, the denser, more glossy papers are more expensive, but they also hold color better.

Let’s say you’re going with a medium density, medium gloss paper. That may run you about $1.05 per unit. [Unit is a fancy word for copy.] You are not going to print thousands of copies. You’re not even going to print hundreds of copies. You’re going to print 100 copies. (That’s it? That’s not–) That’s plenty. You have little idea as to how difficult it will be to sell 100 copies. You’re going to have to do a lot to get those sales. Damn near spam people.

Anyway, you’ve just spent $105 for printing 100 units, and here’s your first Really Forgotten Cost: shipping. You gotta get the books, right? Call it $20 for shipping, and that’s conservative. Books are heavy. The heavier the item, the more it costs to ship. But we’re working with easy numbers, so we’ll call it $125 to print and ship to you. That brings our new, single issue total to $3875.

There is the possibility of lowering the per unit cost by letting the printer run ads on the covers; either inside or on the back cover. You’d have to talk with your printer about it.

Of course, to backtrack just a tad, you can skip this cost by going digital. But you’re trying to make sales, so you’re going to print it. Again, you can skip it, but you’re not going to.

This is your number. Because you’re the writer hosting this shindig, what you “cost” as the writer aren’t represented here.

(What about advertising, Steven?) You’re just trying to get deeper into the hole, aren’t you? (No. I’m just curious.)

Okay. Advertising. You’re not going to do it the traditional way. The traditional way means that you’re paying for it. You’re not going to do that. You’re going to do it differently.

The first thing you’re going to do is commission a piece or two of art specifically for advertising purposes. Call that $75/piece for art, inking, colors, and lettering. This is what you would use for ad swaps, as well as for teasers about the series.

Most of your advertising is going to be done on the internet and face to face with shops. When I say “internet”, I’m talking sending review copies in order to spread the word, as well as to retailers in order to get their interest.  You’re also going to use social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, in order to make inroads.

One word, though. DON’T SPAM SOCIAL MEDIA! What do I mean by that? I mean, don’t go on Twitter and just start only talking about Pen-Man: what it costs, where it can be found, what the story’s about, and just going over those things over and over [and over and over] and over again. Just don’t do it. That’s the fastest, easiest way to alienate people. Be interesting, be personable, but don’t spam. Marathon, not a sprint.

Again, you’re not going to pay for advertising. You’ve got more than enough on your plate as it is.

Next up is your web presence.

Everyone has one, right? I mean, web hosting is pretty cheap, and you can build a site in just a few minutes. Fancy? You don’t need anything fancy. You can get by with a simple WordPress blog [just like we use here]. You can do anything with the space that you want, and it could run you less than $100 a year.

That’s really about it. I could do a quick word about doing conventions as an exhibitor, but because each convention is different, the costs associated with them will vary widely. A Wizard World convention will be more expensive than any other branded convention except the San Diego convention. Just keep that in mind.

Homework: SAVE YOUR MONEY. Seriously. Did you look up top? Creating comics is an expensive endeavor, if you’re doing it right. This is why KickStarter is looked at as a publisher by some, because there are a LOT of comics getting funding through that avenue. Don’t count on it, though, because there are also just as many comics that fail to reach their funding goal. Save your money. In the end, you’ll be happier that you did.

See you in seven!

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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 (9)

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  1. Tyler James says:

    Ah, yes…this is why I spent so much money creating comics this past year. Now I see!

    Good ballpark estimates. Inker might be a little low at $15 a page, and editor a little high at $50 (of course, if we’re talking project manager/editor, than $50 is reasonable.)

    The other thing that seemed a bit low was printing cost. Getting 100 copies of a full sized, full color book printed for $1.05 + shipping is a steal. Who’s your printer? Ka-Blam POD is more than double that. That’s a price point you can get from an offset, after printing 2500 copies or so.

    So, you know, throw another $100 onto the cost tab.

    Here’s the thing, though. I wouldn’t recommend ANY of you spend four grand on your first comic. Make some bad comics first. Work with artists who aren’t ready. Letter yourself and have it come out crappy. Try your own hand at logo design. Hell, draw the entire thing yourself.

    Doing it yourself WON’T help you make great, salable comics. But it will give you a greater appreciation of all that goes into making comics, and what IS worth paying for.

  2. Lance Boone says:

    *slap*

    If you want to publish a comic book you have to be prepared to go all in on the costs. That’s a third of what I paid for my new, not used car. It’s a pretty big gamble.

    I’ve decided I just don’t have the guts to financially commit and reach for that brass ring. I guess I’m writing as a hobby, a form of release after a long day.

    I’m at peace with that.

  3. Tyler James says:

    There are few hobbies more enjoyable (IMHO) than making comics.

  4. Noel Burns says:

    I have to agree with Tyler about the print cost. If you do a b/w book $1.00 or less is do able. Then you also cut the cost of colorist as well. If you need to have color then you should plan for atleast $2.00 per book. It might you can get lucky and find a special printer who will work with you on the cost. They might even try to help sell your books, but I am sure that will be hard to find. If possible at all.

    I personally believe there are going to be some changes in the comic market in the next few years that favors small press and creator-owned books. People are getting tired of the same old stories and looking for new things that can only be found in indie books.

  5. Conner MacDonald says:

    I call articles like this, “Dream killers.”

  6. Geoff Weber says:

    It seems like the bulk of the financial advice I’ve seen assumes the writer is the producer. I wonder why that should be? How much SHOULD a writer be paid for a comic script? (assuming that someone else is funding the project). Also, if a cost estimate for creating a comic is 4000, and you can only hope to recoup 300-400 dollars of it, how do so many comics ever see the light of day? Are there really that many people who can afford to burn their money?

    • Hey, Geoff! Great question! Let’s take a look at some of the reasons.

      The main reason it is assumed that writers are the producers goes to just looking at the job postings. Most of them are by writers looking to get something off the ground. Most companies looking for artists already have their writers locked. Writers are a dime a dozen.

      As to how much a writer should be paid, that depends, like everything else. But let’s take a look at it.

      New writers are going to make maybe $10-$15/pg. That’s if they’re lucky. There aren’t many calls for writers. Not many at all. Take a look at job boards. You’ll see a dearth of ads for them.

      As for burning money, yes, there are those special few who have that much money to burn. This is also why I suggest doing a limited series or a graphic novel to start out. Your costs are controlled better.

      Does that help any?

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