The Poor Man's Guide to Self Publishing
by Val Staples

So you want to publish comics?

Ah, the joy of publishing. You've come up with a great idea, put together a killer art team, and are ready to set out to make your fortune!
Sorry to disappoint you, but that last part will NEVER happen!

Okay, it might. But it's VERY rare that someone new to comics will break in with a smash hit and go on to a ton of success.
It's best to pull your hopes and dreams back down to earth and review the reality of the comic book industry before charging in with both guns blasting.
You probably don't want to hear it but the following information is stuff I wish someone had told me prior to publishing so I didn't have to learn it all the hard way.

The following is an explanation of the various "basic" publishing details I faced over my six-plus years as a professional colorist/writer in the comic book industry and my experience publishing for two-plus years through my company MVCreations. I've had my share of hard knocks and good fortune.
This is not only for hopeful publishers, but also for up-and-coming artists who want to know what determines the kind of page rates that exist in today's industry.
Before you complain about today's page rates, you may want to read this article to find out why comics don't pay a king's ransom.
This is current as to what I know up to November 17, 2004.
I will update it if I feel any of the following has changed.

Intro - The state of comics and initial thoughts
Production Schedule - The backbone to how your comic is created
Publishing - The vessel for getting your book to the public

     Publishing Through an Existing Company
     Publishing Yourself
     Considering Printing Time / Returnable Books
     Understanding Preorders vs Reorders
Production - The important behind the scenes stuff
          Choosing a Printer
          Getting a Price Quote
          Short Runs
          Cost vs Number of Copies Printed
          Variant Covers
          Forecasting Your Budget
Calculating Your Profit - A look into the reality of profit from comics
     Profit From Self-Publishing
     Profit Through Another Publisher
Final Notes

Back to top
People talk about the hope of comics bouncing back.
You also you hear reports now and then of increases in comic sales.
But the truth remains that comic sales are at a historical low.
Occasional spikes in sales for a few choice titles does not equal a rebirth in comics.
And quite often, those spikes for a few issues mean other titles are losing sales.
With a finite number of fans, who have a finite amount of dollars to spend, only so many comics will be bought each month.

So when you create something to publish, you better make damn sure it's awesome!
You have to give a consumer a good reason to possibly drop one of their existing favorites to give your book a chance.

We're going to put the creative side of comics on the back burner for a while, and focus on the stuff that people don't tell you much about.
And that's all the nitty gritty that brings the comic to life, and ultimately drains all of your profits.

Production Schedule     Back to top
One of the most important things for publishing comics is devising your art production schedule.
This should be centered not only around how much time it will take you complete a finished issue, but when you hope it will be in stores for people to buy.
Comics are produced well in advance. It's a wise idea for first-time publishers to plan to have your first issue completed four months before your desired in-store date. That's just my advice. Other people will tell you different.

How you set up your production schedule is completely up to you. It depends on how fast you and your art team works and what is realistic given the other factors in your life.
For example, if it seems more realistic for you to complete a book every two months, then aim for a bi-monthly comic (a comic that arrives in stores every two months).
You should also use the info in this article to help determine how the in-store date affects your art production.

Plan for the worst. Put buffers into your schedule. If you have a penciller who takes four weeks to do an issue, don't give him/her just four weeks. Make it five or even six, and line up a fill-in artist to help out if needed.
This goes for all production stages on your book.
The unexpected happens more often than you'd think.

Be reasonable with your expectations. If you are asking people to commit to a project, and they say yes, then they do have an obligation to follow through. But don't ask for the world when you are only giving peanuts in return. Give creative liberties to your art team, and nurture their strengths. After all, if you are the publisher then you are the one who picked the team. You should know what you are getting into with your creative team before hand.
If you are the one in charge, then you hold the key to the city. But in the same respect, your book isn't going to get done without the help of others unless you are doing everything yourself. So be patient with your team and plan ahead, and make sure you have a back-up plan if something was to happen to a creator working on your book.

Remember that not everything can be done all at once.
A writer must start first, then a penciller comes in, then an inker, then a colorist, and finally a letterer (unless they are lettering on the lineart, or along side the colorist). Your schedule must allow for these breaks in start/finish times.

Once you have your creative side in place, you need to decide how you are going to publish your comic.
Will you self publish under your own company name?
Or will you line up with the countless others in hopes of having another company publish your book?

Publishing Through an Existing Company     Back to top
The second always sounds more appealing. Is the thought of simply turning in your finished comic and collecting a paycheck appealing? Heck yeah! Who wouldn't want to do that?
But did you really think it was that simple? Nope.
There are a handful of reputable companies/studios that take pitches. But let me tell you, none are created equal.

Some of them are going to want to own part or all of the rights to your property (the idea you created) if they publish your book.
Don't get the wrong idea. They aren't out to screw you. It's just that they run a business, and if they are going to take a risk on your idea then they want to insure that there might be some sort of payoff for their studio/company in the end. It's simply smart business for a publisher. After all, if you were publishing the comic, you wouldn't want to lose money on it either.
The ONLY studio (that I know of) that takes pitches from any up-and-coming creator and will not take any of your rights is Image Comics.
The only catch is that you have to pay Image Comics a flat fee for their services, which is a small price to pay for keeping all your rights and for the things you get in return for your money.
And with Image, you are also competing with hundreds of pitches they receive each week... no joke.

Then there are some publishers that will never pay you.
Keep your ears to the ground. There are a few publishers out there now who don't pay people, even if the book profits, because that profit is going back into their company... not your pocket. Just listen to what other creators say online and use common sense. It's not hard to find out which publishers to avoid, unless you just want your book out there and don't care about the money. And, in all honesty, these days you have to look at publishing as more of an experience than a profit opportunity anyway. At least until you decide to make a career out of it. In which case, I hope some of this helps to smarten you up!

Companies accepting pitches have details on their websites about what they want to see. For some it's just a few completed pages of the first issue. For others, they want to see an entire first issue to know that you are serious about getting your project completed.
If they don't list submission guidelines, they may not be accepting pitches. So ask before you submit. Otherwise, you could be wasting both your time and theirs.

If the company allows, it's always smarter to submit a concept along with a few pages of art from the first issue rather than a full issue.
No one wants to do an entire issue only to have it rejected. If you are rejected after only doing a few pages, it's not a big loss.
And if you are accepted, then you move forward with completing the entire first issue and continuing on with subsequent issues until they are ready for solicitation.
It's getting them approved initially that's the trick.
It's important to note that once your book is accepted, most companies won't solicit your book with distributors until the first issue is completed. It would really suck for a company to solicit a book that you don't even complete! That's not fair to them if they invest time and/or money into some form of promotion and/or advertising and you don't follow through. (more on what solicitations are later).
And if you are publishing yourself, you certainly don't want to solicit a monthly series that you haven't even begun, let alone cannot complete on a monthly basis. If the book ships too late, it becomes returnable (more on what that is later).

Publishing Yourself     Back to top
Approvals? Bah! What a lot of work to possibly get shot down by a publisher!
The other alternative is to do this on your own. All that approval stuff with another company is too much of a pain, right?
Well, wrong, you still have to submit your idea for approval before you can solicit your product! This time, you are submitting your idea directly to the distributors who will sell your books to retailers.
Different distributors have different guidelines. But for the most part, it's the same as pitching your book to another company to publish.
If you want to self publish and work directly with the distributors, some of the most recognized distributors in comics are:
Diamond Comics
Cold Cut
FM International

But what is soliciting and how does it affect your production?
Once you have your art production schedule roughed out, you know when you want your book to hit stores, and your book has been accepted by the distributors or the company publishing it for you, now it's time to solicit.
But let's just TALK about it before you do it. You'll definitely want to read, in DETAIL, the information later on about production expenses!

Solicitations     Back to top
Even if you are self publishing or publishing through another company, the solicitation process is almost the same for everyone.
Let's make up an in-store date and use Diamond Comics as the solicitation example.
Let's say you wanted your comic to hit stores Wednesday, December 15th.
That's makes it a December release, and that would be listed in Octobers Previews.
Octobers Previews would come out the 4th week in September.
It takes all of September to print and ship that issue of Previews to retailers.
And because it takes almost a month to prep the content to be printed, solicitation copy is due in early August.
In a nutshell, if you want your book to come out in December, you have to solicit your product early in August.
That's a four month lead time.

When you solicit, you have to have a completed cover for the issue being solicited. Covers are almost always used in solicitations. Yes, there are times where companies can get away with just showing pencils, or just the inks or other artwork with a disclaimer. But it's not recommended.
you also need to know the details of your book so the distributor and retailers are informed.
You'll want to know:

  • The title and issue number of your book. That should be self explanatory.
  • The credits on your book. Most people list just writer, penciller and cover artist, but it's always nice to throw those hard working inkers, colorists and letterers a bone.
  • The intended audience for your book. Is the content all ages? Is it for a mature reader crowd? Or is it a graphic adult book for people over the age of 17?
  • The format of your book. This will be either black and white or full color. There are other formats for a book beside the color, like trade paperback, hard cover, and prestige to name a few. But for the most part, you'll end up doing a traditional comic book periodical that we are all familiar with in size, shape and feel.
  • How many pages your comic will be. The average comic is 32 interior pages, 22 page of which are art/story.
  • The cover price. This is important. Most 32 page comics cost between 2.25 and 2.95. But for independents, this cost may prove too inexpensive considering the production costs (talked about later) you have to endure. Of course, on the flip side, if you price your book TOO high, you will turn off retailers and customers. Despite it all, the REALLY important thing to remember is that you sell your book to distributors at wholesale. Yep, you don't get that 2.95. You get a percentage. For most companies, that is 40% of the retail price.
    And if you have a 2.95 book, you will only be getting 1.18 for each copy from the distributor.
    It may not sound like much, but consider that the distributor has to make money for their efforts, then the retailer has to make money on top of that after paying the distributor's price AND the shipping just to get the books.
    Retailers have it just as rough, my friends. Just like you, they also make only a percentage of the retail price in profit. But unlike you, they have the added risk of not selling a comic and being stuck with a loss on each unsold copy! That's because the comics they buy, most of the time, are non returnable (more on that later).
    So respect your retailers and understand the risks they take as well!
  • The shipping frequency of your book. This all falls back on your long term plans for the title and your schedule. It could be monthly, bi-monthly (twice a month), quarterly (four times a year), and so forth.
  • Who will be printing your book. This is so the distributor has an idea from where the books will be coming and how they will receive them, as most comic printers have established a delivery routine with the distributors.
  • Your country of origin... duh, self explanatory.
  • The concept. This is the summary of what your book is about. Be brief and interesting. Think of the important details you'd hear in a 10 second commercial that introduces your product to people who've never heard of it. This is the "big picture" so-to-say of what makes your book unique.
  • The issue summary. This is where you can dive into what this particular issue you are soliciting is about. My suggestion is to throw out a bite to hook fans, but don't give away any important details. Most comic solicitations are vague on purpose. You don't want to give away the meat and potatoes of your issue.
  • Who your book is recommended for. If your book appeals to fans of let's say Spider-Man, then say that. That's important for people to know if they like similar concepts. But be honest. Don't just throw out a bunch of popular titles in hopes of snagging readers People see through that crap.
  • Copyright info. For the most part, your product is copyrighted when created, and especially when published. BUT, having a federal copyright and/or trademark (for your title/concept) is wise, especially if it takes off. You can't sue for damages in a court of law without a federal copyright and/or trademark. Copyrighting is relatively cheap. Trademarks, on the other hand, are not. If people want to know more about federal copyrights and trademarks, just ask and I'll type something up. In the meantime, you might as well slap a © and/or a ™ on there because you can legally do that.
    slap a ® on there unless you have your trademark federally registered! You run the risk of being sued by someone who DOES have that trademark if you haven't actually researched it and filed it with the government.
    Look at other solicitations in distributor catalogs to see how other companies do it.

Considering Printing Time / Returnable Books     Back to top
So that's how you get your book out there.
What happens next in terms of distribution and sales is that you will receive your orders.
For our December book example, retailers have all of October up until the beginning of November to submit their orders. The distributor will, in turn, get your order numbers to you pretty quickly, usually by the end of the first week in November / start of the 2nd week in November.
That means you have to send your book to the printer immediately if you intend to have it in-stores on time.
It can take printers two to three weeks to print and deliver your book, IF they aren't backed up. Then it takes another week to ship it out to retailers once it is received by distributors.
So if it takes three to four weeks total to get your book into the hands retailers, you better have you printer lined up and expecting your book BEFORE you get your orders!
Gah! And how do you do that without even knowing how many copies are ordered? Well, we'll talk more about printers later. Don't worry.

It's very important to note that if you wait a really long time to get your book printed and out to stores, you run the risk of having it become returnable.
What does that mean? Let's start with what the comic book industry is.
For the most part, the comic book industry is a Direct Market. Remember when books would come with a barcode if you bought them in a grocery store, but if you got the same book in a comic shop it would have something like an illustration in the box where the barcode was supposed to be?
The barcode was on returnable newsstand copies. And the books with no barcode were nonreturnable direct market copies.

Over 20 years ago when comics started to become more collectible and in demand, distributors like Diamond and Capital (later bought out by Diamond) set up a direct market system. This system, for the most part, was for specialty stores that focused on comics. It allowed retailers to fine tune their orders and get exactly what they wanted for their store and their customers. The only catch is that the books were non-returnable. Which means, whatever a retailer buys they are stuck with. This system also helped publishers because they knew those sales were guaranteed and they could count on receiving that income. But it also explains why retailers are picky about what they order for their store.

Returnable books were the ones on newsstands, in places like grocery marts and drug stores. The newsstand distributor paid for the presence in these stores and profited from it through the sales of the books. Anything that was unsold had the cover ripped from it and returned to the publisher as proof of non-sale. And the publisher would be the one who would have to pay for the stocking of the comics and for the return of unsold comics. Those fees are a double whammy to a publisher's profit.

Prior to the late '80s / early '90s collectors' bubble, and especially during the collectors' bubble, newsstand sales were good. But after the implosion, newsstand sales plummeted. And not only were the returns extremely high, often losing money for publishers, the profits from sales were often too dismal for newsstand distributors to even bother putting the books into stores. It was just a lot of trouble for too little profit.

Anyway, back to the point. Comics bought these days through the distributors I mentioned are non returnable. BUT, they can become returnable.
How you ask?
Late shipping. For most books, Diamond has a shipping window to help protect the interests of retailers and themselves.
If a book is shipped late, it can potentially hurt the sales of the book and the profits of the distributor and the retailer. A retailer shouldn't get stuck with a book they can't sell because you took too long to ship it and customers lost interest. That isn't fair.
This window is usually one month after the in-store month.
Meaning, if you were supposed to have the book on the shelves by December 15th, but you are late, you still have to have the book delivered to Diamond before the end of January.
If not, the book becomes returnable. And retailers have the option of returning the unsold copies, which will be deducted from your profit.
So don't ship late!

A few returnable newsstand distributors still exist, btw, if you are interested in pursuing that... but it's extremely risky.

Understanding Preorders vs Reorders     Back to top
In terms of your sales, distributors break up comic orders in three categories:
Advanced reorders

Preorders and Advanced reorders are the initial order numbers the distributor will send to you.
Preorders are the orders most retailers send in based on customer interest and their own expertise as store owners.
Advanced reorders are sometimes sent in at the last minute by retailers who determine that they may not have preordered a sufficient amount of copies. This typically only happens on big buzz books, primarily from DC and Marvel. But it can happen to anyone.
Reorders are what retailers will place if they sell out of their initial preorders. A lot of the time, reorders are around 5% to 10% of your initial preorders. Don't think too big and print huge thinking people will flock to your book with strong reorders after it hits stands. I hate to be a downer, but that rarely happens.
If reorders are really that strong, you could consider doing a 2nd printing (printing the book for a 2nd time at the printer) or just wait to do a collected trade of all the issues.
But hey, it's your money! Don't say I didn't warn you, though. You may end up with a whole lot of expensive toilet paper if you don't heed my advice.

Production     Back to top
Now it's time to get your book printed up, shipped, and promoted.
But the most important production details described next determine the realism of your publishing venture.
You HAVE to explore the following and have them in mind BEFORE even thinking about publishing.
Why did I just now touch base on this? Well, it's the most crucial and often most depressing aspect of publishing, so I wanted to make sure you remembered it all.

So let's review the major production expenses you need to consider:

Art chores (we'll review this last, as that lets you see what kind of budget you have left for an art team after the necessities for publishing are factored in)

Choosing a Printer     Back to top
Printing is the big expense to consider when figuring out your budget.
And you have to pay printers in advance! You can't wait to get your money from sales.
That's way too risk for a printer.

There are a number of printers you can go to for comics.
The most famous for comics right now is Quebecor in Canada.
It doesn't mean they are the best choice for you, they are just the most used.
Most of the DC and Marvel books you see are produced in Quebecor.
Other printers used by smaller publishers are:
Brenner Printing
Morgan Printing
Quantum Color FX (No website available. They are in California)

There are also printers in eastern Asia that offer excellent deals on printing. But if you come across one, consider that the time for them to ship your book to the US can be up to two months!
Most of the printers we mentioned can turn around your comic in a few weeks.
This all factors into your solicitation and in-store dates.

Getting a Price Quote     Back to top
I suggest calling/e-mailing and talking to as many printers as you can find.
This is what you do to get your book lined up to print before receiving your orders from Diamond.
When you talk to them, ask for a quote.

To give you an idea of how many copies you can expect to print:
If you print at Image, most creator-owned books sell between 3000 and 8000 copies.
If you self publish, most small press titles sell between just a few copies to 2000 copies.
Big difference, right? Makes Image sound better? Well, let's keep reading before we make any decisions because you don't know where your sales will fall.

You won't know how many copies you'll be printing yet, so just get a quote for the worst case scenario, best case scenario (be realistic) and various stages in between.
Ask for a pricing chart, if possible. That will make the quote easier to understand, and it gives you something like a scale for various print runs.
Make sure you let your printer know to include all setup and shipping costs in the quote as well. Let them know that you don't want ANY surprises.
After you get a quote you like, continue to talk with that printer and let them know when to expect your files and let them know where your books will have to be dropped off (you can get that information from the distributors before you get your orders... just ask for it. they are happy to give it to you) and how quickly you need it printed and dropped off (if there isn't an extra charge, ask for two weeks. Three weeks is the standard, though).

And probably the most important thing to note:
You have to pay printers in advance. Yep, that's right! You pony up the money before you get it from your sales.
And that's only fair. No printer is going to print 10,000 copies of your exciting issue of Mr. Snuggle Snoops Big Adventure only to have you skip on the bill because you sold 50 copies and couldn't possibly pay for the printing with your comic profit.

Short Runs     Back to top
Books under 30,000 copies are considered by most printers to be "short runs."
This is because a lot of calibration has to be done on the press for what the printer considers to be a small amount of paper. Face it... those guys/gals print magazines, books, etc, that have hundreds of thousands to millions of copies produced.
For a run of 2000 copies, the printer sometimes has to use almost as much paper as your entire print run just to calibrate the machines! Sometimes even more.
This creates what is known as a break-point: the amount of copies where the printing begins to sky-rocket because it isn't cost effective for the printer.
As a result you'll find that with the smaller the number of copies printed, the less money you actually save.
For example, printing 2000 copies and 5000 copies can sometimes differ only a couple hundred dollars! For a printer, lowering the number of copies you print won't always save you money.

Cost vs Number of Copies Printed     Back to top
Anyway, just for reference, for 2000 copies of a full color comic book, you can expect to pay upwards of a 1.00+ a book in printing! Yikes!
But for 5000 full color copies, the cost averages out to be more like 60 cents a book.
Once you move up from 5000 copies, the costs generally begin to get cheaper a little bit at a time because it is starting to become somewhat cost-effective for the printer.
By the time you hit 10,000 full color copies, you're typically around the 50 cent-a-copy a copy mark.
Printing around a 100,000 copies is where you really start to see some savings on printing... but that doesn't happen very often these days, even for the big guns Marvel and DC.

Now you have an idea of how expensive a book can be to print.
But nooooo.. it doesn't stop there with the printing costs. There are more printing options to factor in.

When you talk to your printer, you need to ask about direct-to-plate printing.
This is the way a lot of printing is done these days.
One of the older and still common methods requires something called film which is used in the printing process to make the printing plates (it's too complicated to explain, unless you really want to know).
Producing this film costs extra money!
So if the printer has direct-to-plate for short runs, then ask for it!

Printing is a pretty complicated monster.
There are a number of things that need to be considered... we're talking options that may sound great at first, but can get pretty expensive.
For a full color comic, the weight of the paper plays a role in the cost. The fancier the paper (heavy gloss), the more it will cost you.
On short runs this may only be a few dollars. But when you are self-publishing, a penny saved is a penny earned!

Fancy paper may sound great. But having the best paper in the world may actually take away from your comic. If you talk to printers early on, it's a wise idea to ask for paper samples used to print comics!
What better way to know ahead of time, right? And it allows you to know exactly what you are getting when the book is printed.

Also, covers come in different paper weights and coatings than the interior pages.
You see, the interiors of a comic are printed separately from the cover. The cover give the book extra support, help to hold in the staples, and makes the book more durable. So they tend to be a bit thicker and nicer.
Why is this important in terms of cost? Well, full color comics by default have a full color outside cover and a black and white inside front and back cover. If you want the technical term, that's a 4/1 (four over one). (I won't bother to explain what that means. If you all want to know, just ask and I'll explain in another feature)

If you want your cover to be full color on the outside AND the inside, you'll have to ask for a 4/4 (four over four). Sounds better, right?
Well, yeah. But it will also add around 200.00 in setup costs to your printing cost, and add an small incremental cost to the entire print run for each cover printed.

Variant Covers     Back to top
Think you want alternate covers?
Well, think about it hard.
They may sound like a great way to sell extra copies, but variants should only be printed if you really want them and there is a demand for them on your book. If you don't know how popular your book will be, coming out of the gate with a bunch of covers may not help your sales and actually piss people off instead.

Additional covers cost additional setup fees. Expect to pay around 400.00 more in printing setup fees for an additional cover, along with the incremental costs of the individual covers.
And do you want that extra cover to be full color inside and out too? Well, remember the extra cost for 4/4 covers I just mentioned? The expense adds up quick!

And that doesn't even cover things like getting a heavy card stock cover, or shiny foil, or fancy gatefolds, etc... all of that adds up real quick!
Variant covers are only any good if you really think you can sell them. Otherwise, you are probably throwing money away. My suggestion is to pass on variant covers unless you have a hot product on your hands. And even then, make sure it's a cover people want.

Yeah, I can hear some people complaining now that I'd even suggest doing variants for self-publishers with popular books. But comics is a business if you are publisher. This is a tough biz and you have to get sales however you can. This article should give even the fans a reality check on how hard this business is for a publisher.
You hear the old song and dance from completists who say things like "The book should be better quality and then they wouldn't need variants." Uh huh, well, try telling that to the many publishers who do create quality products and suffer from poor sales. I don't argue that quality books go a long way. But these days, that's usually not enough. At least not until the book catches on.

If you can sell something, and you don't feel guilty about it, I say do it. Ignore the handful of vocal internet fans who complain about most everything. Of course on the flip side, do bear in mind that it may alter public perception of your company in a negative way if you have a tendency to go variant cover crazy all the time. There has to be some sort of balance.

You've thought about how you want to print it, you've called around to all the printers and asked for estimates, and you've decided on who want to print with.
Good, on to the next phase.

Forecasting Your Budget     Back to top
All of these facts are useful (I hope). But it's always wise to run a estimated budget to know what to expect. This type of forecasting is a smart way of approaching your comic.
For your budgeting equation, let's be generous in your favor.. just for the fun of it.
Let's say your comic, regardless of how many copies it sells, only costs you 40 cents a copy to print.
This is JUST for our equation.

Shipping     Back to top
But what about shipping costs?
Shipping generally applies for comps (compensation copies, or merely books you have sent to yourself or to your artists), extra copies that you want to hold onto for online sales / comic shows, any copies you have overnighted to check out before it hits stores, and so forth.
Overnighting copies is an extra 30.00 to 40.00 a pop.
The number of comps you have sent to yourself can cost anywhere from 20.00 to 100.00 or more via Ground delivery. It just depends on if you are keeping all of your over stock, if you printed a lot for yourself to give out, etc.
You also need to worry about getting the bulk of your comics to the distributor per your preorder sales and whatever overstock they request (if any). Quebeccor has a drop off setup for comics, so they generally include any fees associated with this in your quote.
If you go with another printer, you MIGHT have to pay to have the books shipped to Diamond Comics Distributor.
If they haven't mentioned shipping in your quote, be prepared to pay. Like I said before, make sure you ask your printer when they prepare you quote to include shipping costs.
A short run of 2000 books can be shipped by FedEx or UPS ground, and will probably cost you 100.00 to 200.00.
If you have a LOT of books, shipping a skid of books (a wooden palette loaded up with boxes of comics) via a freight company can cost you 400.00 or more to ship, just depending on the weight.

For our equation, let's say you have no shipping.
That will never be the case. But we're being generous just to give you the maximum profit in the end...if you had magical powers and could will this stuff to work in your favor, that is.
So still, each comic is only costing you 40 cents to create.

Advertising     Back to top
Now we're down to advertising.
My suggestion is to be smart about advertising.
The internet is a GREAT way to create awareness for your product and most of the time it won't cost you a dime.
Spread the word on message boards (if they allow that), send out press releases to major comic news sites (they don't always post them, so don't feel insulted if they don't.. they get a lot of those things), and so forth.
Be respectful to online news and review sites. Send them free previews if you can. Give them any information they want (if it's not going to jeopardize any big secrets about your book). They may say or do something you don't like, but everyone has an opinion. Just respect what they have to say and realize that even bad press is good press.

This next part may piss some businesses off, but it's just how things are. You have to protect your budget, because no one else is going to do it for you!
You may be insistent on seeing an ad for your book in Wizard Magazine.
Well.. I hope you have deep pockets!
Because a full page color ad in Wizard is valued at around 6000.00 minimum!
No joke!
A half page will run you around 4000.00

That's a lot of money. And for most independent publishers, that kind of advertising in an impossibility.
But Wizard can charge that much because non comic companies can afford to advertise things like video games, toys, food... things where sales aren't as depressed as comics and an advertising budget exists. Wizard is a business too, and this advertising helps to bring in much needed money to help pay for the rather large operation they have in place.
It sucks for the little guy who wants to advertise their comic in a comic magazine. But, until Wizard opens the door to indy publishers with better rates, that's the way things will stay.
And while we're at it, let's be completely honest. How many times have you seen a comic ad in Wizard for a book you know nothing about and bought that book? For the vast majority of you, I'm willing to wager it's not too often. Heck, I skip ads like I skip television commercials. It has to be really good to grab my attention!

Okay, so Wizard may be out of the equation.
What about Previews?
You know, Previews? It's the catalog Diamond Comics Distributor sends out each month to retailers filled with all the goodies you can order.
Previews is really the place where not only consumers will see your product, but especially retailers!
And retailers are in control of your destiny. Be nice to retailers. You could have a million people clamoring for your comic... it won't matter in the end if the local retailer decides not to order.
So getting them to notice your book is key. Previews is a place where advertising isn't so casual. People look through Previews with the intention of shopping for product. So this is a place where ads make sense.

So how much does advertising in Previews cost?
Heh heh, well, it's not as bad as Wizard! But it ain't cheap!
A full page color ad is over 2000.00!
A black and white full page ad will run you over 1200.00
And it goes down from there.
This money helps to pay for the printing and distribution of these catalogs each month, along with the employees at Diamond who put it together.

So let's say you've reviewed the options, and you've decided to pass on advertising as well in favor of the free press you hope to get online. Fair enough.
That still leaves you at 40 cents a copy.
Fate is on your side for our little example!

Calculating Your Profit     Back to top
Now it's time to get busy.
If you are self publishing, you already have your distributors lined up.
Your book has long since been solicited and you know when you want it to hit stands.
You've been advertising and creating awareness of your book.
You've received your preorders and know the number of copies to print.
You have scheduled your printing with the printer and they are ready to prepare it, proof it with you, print it, and get it to the distributors by their receiving deadline.

So you send off your book, it's printed, it's shipped, it arrives in stores, and hooray!
So when do you get paid?
Well, most publishers pay you 60 days after the book hits stands. That's a long time from when you started creating the comic until pay day. But that's just how it works.
Some distributors will pay you early (30 days after the book hits stands) if you pay an early incentive. An early incentive is where you offer up an extra slice of your profits (usually around 2% more of cover price) to the distributor to pay you early.
But let's say you are a patient person, and you can wait 60 days.

Profit from Self-Publishing     Back to top
Now let's find out your riches!
As we discussed earlier, you are making 1.18 a book (if the cover price is 2.95)
Your productions costs were a measly 40 cents a copy!
We'll even be more generous in your equation and say you've sold an amazing 5000 copies as a self-publisher!
So what did you make? Let's see:
1.18 a copy minus 0.40 printing a copy gives you 0.78 profit per copy.
0.78 * 5000 copies sold gives you
3900.00 dollars!

...or is that really a wow?
Time to talk art production and face the bitter reality of the comic industry.

Let's say you went all out and have a writer, a penciller, an inker, a colorist, and a letterer on your book... all of the major steps in production.
Most books are 22 pages of art and 1 cover.
For this scenario, I'm going to say your cover and page rates are the same, and that the writer is getting paid for a cover idea (that very seldom happens, I'm just doing it so my percentages are even per page)

We need to spread your profits over these people (which I'm just going to assume one of them is you).
Here's my percentage breakdown for these creators. In NO way are my breakdowns a representation of what those creators should receive!!! You will have to determine that on your own! I'm just making stuff up here to what I think is kind of fair given the amount of work that typically goes into a comic.

writer 18% 702.00 or 31.00 per page/cover
penciller 32% 1248.00 or 54.00 per page/cover
inker 24% 936.00 or 41.00 per page/cover
colorist 20% 780.00 or 34.00 per page/cover
letterer 6% 234.00 or 10.00 per page/cover

Hmmmm...that's not a lot of money, is it? What's worse is that you still have to pay taxes on that money leaving you with even less!
And what's scarier is that I did the equation IN YOUR FAVOR! Yikes!!!!

Imagine how little profit you will have after the real cost of printing, shipping, and advertising (if you do it)!
That's why so many self-published books often lose money, and lots of it.
But that's just how it is in the world of comics.
It's hard work with long hours for little pay. If you want to dabble in self-publishing, I highly recommend doing for the love on the side in addition to your regular day job. The experience is rewarding.
But if you are self-publishing to make money? Forget it.

Profit Through Another Publisher     Back to top
Okay, so let's say you broke in at Image (for example).
Nuts to all that self-publishing stuff and losing money... who wants that?
You'll just let Image handle all of that technical stuff and you'll collect your check after creating the content, right?
Image still has to pay the same costs you would have had to pay as a self-publisher.
Some times they get a little extra discount, but not too often.

So apply all of the same fees I had above.
But let's say this time you hit it BIG thanks to being with Image and you presell 10,000 copies at Image!
Hot damn, that's twice as many copies! 5000 more copies of income!
This time you walk away with a much larger 7800.00 profit to split among your team!

...but wait! You forgot the extra expense from the Image fee!
Image's flat fee is 2500.00.
That's to handle putting together your book for you and sending it to the printer, paying the printer in advance on your behalf, the cost of their space in Diamond Previews, and all the press and stuff they do for you to help promote your book (they run a business too, ya know? And that amount of money is pretty small when you consider how much you get for it).
So now you are down to 5300.00
Sure, it's 1400.00 more than you had before. But once again, I gave you really high debut at Image with low production costs! The reality is that you'll make far less money.
Sorry folks, that's just how it is.
And what's worse? If your book costs more to make at Image than the profit, you will owe Image money!

Final Notes     Back to top
Now you see how hard it really is out there.
Creating comics is NOT an easy job. And for those in the business, it doesn't pay a ton of money unless you are working for one of the major publishers and have the experience and fan base to earn a better page rate.
If you think a company has a ton of money just because they are publishing a comic or series of comics, then you are wrong! We're all doing what we can to get by, my friends.

Take it from a guy who knows.
I had the #1 selling book for November 2002 (Masters of the Universe #1) in the entire industry.
I've had the chance to publish a list of cool titles that were appreciated by fans and professionals alike.
Yet I'm up to my eyeballs in debt and sleep in a sleeping bag in my studio because I can't afford a place to live. I wish I was kidding.
Despite what looked like success to many fans out there, I live a pretty humble lower-class lifestyle because of all the things I outlined above.
No one ever told me a lot of what I just told you about comics, and I wish they had.
Arm yourself with knowledge, because comics is a tough biz!
Like I said before, comic sales are at a historical low. That means they have never sold worse since comics first hit the stands in the 1930s.
It's hard for any publisher, even DC and Marvel, to survive. If they relied purely on comic sales and not profits from licensing popular characters, the big two would be out of business.

If you still want to publish after reading all of the above, then I wish you luck!
I know I didn't cover all the micro areas a self publisher can tap into to maximize exposure and profit. There are tons of tiny things you can do to get additional sales. But none of it is on the scale mentioned above and it's a lot of work, which I admire if you invest time into that kind of footwork.
You have to be smart about what you do if you want to work in comics, especially if you want to publish.
And above all else, you have to love comics to make them.
I love comics, and that's why I put up with the hardships of the biz.
Despite everything I've experienced, I wouldn't want to be doing anything else.


If you have more questions,
feel I didn't go into enough detail in various areas,
find any typos (I'm sure there are ton of them)
or want me to elaborate on things I touched base on, then just let me know.
Send me an e-mail through the MVCreations website or let the fine people at Broken Frontier know.
When I have time, I'll be happy to address those questions.

Look forward to additional articles in the Poor Man's Guide to Self Publishing about:
Working with licensed properties