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.
A few returnable newsstand distributors still exist, btw, if you are interested in pursuing that... but it's extremely risky.
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!
Understanding Preorders vs Reorders Back to top
In terms of your sales, distributors break up comic orders in three categories:
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:
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!
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
...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.