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Thread: Week 17- Expectations

  1. StevenForbes Guest

    Week 17- Expectations

    It's Tuesday, isn't it? See what happens when Tempus fugits? I guess it's time for another installment of Bolts & Nuts. Let's get started!

    First, I'm going to say that I'm not a nice guy. I'm here to slap a good many of you in the face, and you're not going to thank me for it. It's tough love. I'm here to help you get better, not nurse your bruised egos. Trust me, it's more than the bulk of you are going to get in your careers.

    Most of you are going to quit, simply because you're quitters. Harsh, but that's reality. Or, you're going to only go so far because you have a small amount of talent. Again, harsh. Honestly speaking, the overwhelming bulk of you have unrealistic expectations, and thats what I'm going to talk about this week.

    I was on Digital Webbing recently, and saw someone wanting to get together a creative team, as a collaboration [no pay], to be published through Lulu [print on demand], for what seems to be an ongoing monthly at 22 pages, with the goal to be picked up as either a movie or an anime.

    I laughed. Remember, I'm not a nice guy. Let's look at what the poster wants, and where it was posted, and talk about unrealistic expectations.

    This was posted in the Collaborations portion of Digital Webbing. This means no pay up front. We've gone over that, but for the new readers, we're talking back end pay—pay given after the book has been produced, printed, and sold. We've also already established that it takes a decent artist about a day on artwork, and if they're fast, they can get more than a page done, probably two. But for arguments sake, we'll call it a page a day. So, that's twenty-two days to produce the initial artwork. That leaves just eight days for inks, letters, any other pre-press, and getting the files over to Lulu to be printed on demand. No, I didn't add color in there. It's impossible when you add in color.

    (Steven, wait. Stop. You're not being fair.)

    Actually, yes, I am. Because, sad to say, it's been proven time and again that for the most part, you're not ready for the bush leagues, let alone the big ones. This person just asked someone to give up twenty-two days that they'll never get back, creating something that is probably going to be unpublishable, using a print-on-demand company for the promise of admittedly low profits—profits that will be split with the rest of the creative team.

    There's no forethought here. Realistically, for an ongoing, you want to get a few issues in the can before you start soliciting anything. Let's call it three issues, just to build up a buffer, because you don't want to always be right up against it when you're trying to go monthly. That's a total of four months before you see any probable revenue off of this. (Four months?) Yes, four months, because you need that fourth month in order to get in all the revenue for that month in which the comic is being sold. At the end of the month (or thereabouts), you should be cutting checks to the team for all of their hard work and effort.

    Now, the questions are these: how many publishable artists are going to respond to this ad? How many are going to quit because they never knew that creating comics was so much work? How many are going to be able to produce the work in the needed timeframe? And most importantly, how many are going to be able to produce the work basically for free? Because that's what's being asked here.

    Instead of doing it the smart way, this person is more than likely to try doing this month to month, being right up against the wall during the entire short-lived run of their comic. (Steven, calling the comic short-lived is mean.) No, it's giving the benefit of the doubt.

    And this is what I'm talking about. Unrealistic expectations, because I'm willing to bet that those of you who've been reading the column regularly answered with a basic negative tone to the questions I asked.

    The real shame is that, not only have I not even hit the halfway point, most of the people hitting Digital Webbing and going right to the Collaboration section are new to comics in general and Digital Webbing in particular, which means that there's an astronomically high probability that they haven't heard of this little column, or any column that deals with the subject matter and realities of creating comics. So, not only have they not thought about anything concerning the pitfalls of making comics, they've thought extremely way ahead to the lure of Hollywood.

    And honestly, that's what really irritates me, because most of you are guilty of it.

    Instead of loving the medium for what it is, using its very real strengths to cover its few [but no less real] weaknesses, they're using comics as a pitch to try to get a film made.

    How many of you have done any research into Hollywood? Anyone? Anyone? Beuller? Think about this: discounting the Big Six of the box office [Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Hulk, and Iron Man], how many creators are out there with titles that are screaming movie? I mean, even DC has virtually unworkable properties in some form of development. You think you're Steve Niles, and going to get a million dollar payday for your property? Think again.

    It literally takes an unusual set of circumstances to get a movie made these days, despite the fact that Hollywood is looking to comics as a new vein to mine. While you're sitting around, dreaming of tentpole blockbuster summer movies featuring your story of hermaphrodite zombies in love with the plot twist of them never being able to get it on because the parts keep falling off, if it gets made at all, it'll probably end up on Sci-Fi starring Dean Cain, if not direct to video and never heard from again. (Burn!) Stop it. I'm being serious.

    I don't want anyone to mistake me. I'm not discounting the lure of Hollywood. It's big and bright and powerful. Everyone wants to have the next Spider-Man or Men in Black on their hands. You'd even be set with a Schumacher Batman. Like I said, the lure is powerful, and Hollywood is looking. However, the properties have to be good...well, at least decent.

    The odds of the neophyte creator having publishable material, let alone material that is Hollywood ready, are extremely low.

    If you're submitting things to companies and not getting any response, and then decide you're going to self-publish with no real plan, what makes you think you're going to be able to market your book to Hollywood? Do you even think you're going to know where to begin?

    (So, Steven, what's more realistic, since you want to try to dash everyone's hopes and dreams?)

    We've been over this in bits and pieces, but let's put it together.

    Let's talk about making comics before we start talking about Hollywood. The Hollywood portion is really fast, but it needs to be built upon first. We're talking comics, so let's talk comics.

    Part of this will also be covered in my Diamond talk, but it's nice having things in one place, methinks. Anyway, some quick numbers. Pull out your calculators to check me if you wish.

    Creative team, sans colorist and editor [because, while nice, you don't really need color, and while everyone needs and editor, few of you get them]: pencils-$75/page, inks-$30/page, letters-$30/page. That's $135/page, which is $2970 for 22 pages, and for a cover, we'll call it $100, which puts us at $3070 per issue. With me so far? Right now, we're working with an initial out of pocket expense of $3070, just so we're clear.

    Okay, let's talk about printing for a little bit. We're going to talk about a low print run, and we're going to assume we're going to sell out of the run. Right now, we're going to talk about using a distributor, doing the traditional method that's standard today.

    Distributors are going to take a deep discount of your book. Over half. Yes, I'm being serious. It's going to be like 60%, but just to make it easier [and adding in hidden costs], we're going to call it 61%. (Steven, isn't that kinda steep?) Hey, I don't make up the numbers, I just report them. So, rounding to the nearest cent, for a $2.99 book, you'll only be making $1.17 per issue. That's right, you lose $1.82 per issue, going through a distributor. And it gets worse.

    Printing! Remember, I said we're going to start with a small print run, and we're not going to talk about color. We'll do that a little later. Maybe. Let's say you're using a bigger company, not print on demand, and that you're going to have a 1000 copy run. Stop thinking that one thousand copies is nothing to sneeze at. Trust me. Okay, for 1000 copies, you pay $1400, which means that it costs $1.40 per issue.

    Now, you ready for this? In order to start talking about profits, you have to subtract the expenses it take to make the comic. So, from your $1.17 profit per issue, after the distributor, subtract your cost per issue, the $1.40. That means you're losing 23 cents per issue. (Steven, my head is spinning! Break it down for me, please.) Well, since you asked so nicely...

    $2.99-61%= $1.17 (remember, we're rounding up to the nearest cent.)

    $1.40= price per copy for 1000 copies.

    $1.17 (your “profit” after distribution) - $1.40 (price per copy for 1000 copies) = negative 23 cents.

    So, for your total profit, after selling out of your 1000 copies of Pen Man at $2.99, you've made -$230. Let me put that into words, just to be clear. You've made NEGATIVE two hundred and thirty dollars. So, no, you haven't paid for your print run. You're now at an out of pocket expense of $4700, per issue.

    (Steven! That's not right... Wait! I'm in it to MAKE money! Your numbers aren't right. You made a mistake somewhere... PLEASE tell me you made a mistake somewhere.) Sorry. Go check it out for yourself. I'm telling it to you straight. You want to make some money, or at least make a “profit”? Up your book to $3.99. Plugging in the numbers, you'll make $154 off of your 1000 copy print run. So, while you're no longer mathematically negative, you've still not made a profit.

    Want to make a profit in the traditional model? Keep your book at about $3.99, and sell 10k comics. A 10k run will cost about $3400, but will net you $12k.

    So, you add the cost of your print run to the production cost per issue, and subtract that from your profit [if any]. Dismal, isn't it?

    How are your expectations looking now?

    The simple facts are these: in order to survive, you need to at least break even. Breaking even means selling about 5k per issue. Anything less is a losing proposition. And yes, it gets worse. The more expenses you add, the more you have to sell in order to break even. Advertising costs money. Sure, it's a little cheaper now, but it's still there. There's also the costs inherent with going to cons as a professional, thinking you're going to sell your wares. You have to worry about the costs of the table, travel, lodging, food, and whether or not you're going to have items shipped to the con or tote them yourself. After paying for all of that, a profitable convention means that you've made enough in sales to cover your entire con experience, and a little extra.

    Crying yet? (Steven, you're a jerk, you know that?) I told you. This is what you're in for. This is what it means to be a comic creator. I'm just here to give it to you straight, because no one else is.

    To be honest, these numbers are the [unknown] reason why creators are going after the much-coveted Marvel/DC gigs. Why unknown? Because you're all lazy quitters, unwilling to do the hard work yourself, which means you don't know how anything works. You just want to jump in feet first, not knowing the first thing about anything. Sure, there's also the things like getting to tell that epic Superman and Spider-Man story that will change them forever, trying to make a name for yourself as the one who put Wolverine in a skirt, but that's really just an extra. You're a writer, and writers write.

    (Steven, what about print on demand?)

    A little different beast. The thing about POD is that you don't print more than you need, but lots of people I've come across have stated the quality of POD companies vary—price, job size, timeliness, quality of paper stock, binding, and damages [number of damaged copies during shipping]. While you print only what you need, you also have to realize you're going to have to pay for multiple printings when you sell out of your stock. You have to decide if you want the multiple bills, or want the stock sitting around in your garage.

    And for your ongoing epic, you have to juggle this over and over and over again, until your book either takes off or crashes. Puttering along means that you're going to burn out, because breaking even month in and month out may not be worth it to you. You're paying thousands of dollars just to tread water, while working a full time job because comics “don't pay.”

    This got into self-publishing a little, but really, using a print-on-demand company or going through a co-op like Image or Ronin Studios, self-publishing is really what you're doing. The more honest you are now, the more research you do now, the more you take the realistic approach instead of “the rules don't apply to me,” the better off you'll be in the long run.

    And that's it for now. Your homework for this week is going to be simply to create a budget for your comics. That's all. See if you can afford your hobby. Be honest with yourself. It's going to be a lot harder than you think, and if you really want it, it will call for sacrifice.

    See you next week.

    Any specific questions, ask them in this thread, and I'll answer them. If it's something of a more delicate nature, e-mail me. I check my e-mail constantly, and will do my best to get back to you within twenty-four hours, depending on the number of you who decide to flood my inbox. No attachments, please. They'll be deleted without being opened. (I know, I know, but blame the virus-makers.)

  2. Join Date
    Jun 2008
    Post Thanks / Like

    Note to self: Do NOT ask Forby to "say a few words" at my wedding anniversary!

    While I agree with everything you've said here, you may wanna point out that every major "pro" started out somewhere, many have humble beginnings self-publishing very VERY questionable titles. So, however improbable, it is possible. Unlikely? Yes. Extremely Difficult? You bet! But it can happen.

    Still, great article filled with a lot of "Need-to-be-said-and-I'll-tell-you-if-no-one-else-will" information.

    And this right here,
    it'll probably end up on Sci-Fi starring Dean Cain, if not direct to video and never heard from again. (Burn!) Stop it. I'm being serious.
    This made the entire article for me, man!
    "Living Robert Venditti's Plan B!"

    CAT. 5

  3. tylerjames Guest

    Another strong article, Steven.

    As someone who alternates between having no expectations whatsoever for my little comics hobby and delusions of grandeur of epic proportions, a little tough love is always needed.

    Your numbers were very much in line with an article I read on Publisher's Weekly analyzing the Kirkman/Bendis throwdown, and whether there truly are riches out there for doing the creator owned/self-publishing thing. As a bit of a numbers guy, and huge proponent of careful budgeting, those numbers are definitely valuable to keep in the back of one's mind.

    For the casual comic creator or the guy doing it as a hobby, would you agree that the web is really the only place they should even consider publishing? (With the possible exception of a few print on demand copies to give to friends and family and to add to their own comic stacks?)

    At what point should a creator even consider doing a print run and making the leap to national distribution? (Sounds like such a person better at the very least have access to about 5 grand, because otherwise you won't have a print run large enough to turn a profit.)

    And finally, I too get a kick out of the digital webbing collaboration requests. You would swear comic writers were the brokest people on the planet (perhaps they are?) from the amount of work they're asking for, for what they're willing to give in return.

    After a year or two of trying to work with friends on a "collaboration" basis and getting no traction on anything, I finally decided to make the investment and actually pay some good artists to work with me. I've been delighted to find these artists professional, I've been thrilled with their work, and they've been great at hitting deadlines. You certainly get what you pay for, and if you're not paying anything, well, don't be surprised if you get nothing.

  4. StevenForbes Guest

    Thanks, Seb and Tyler.

    Seb: I'd say "a few words" at your wedding anniversary. "Remember when the priest said 'til death do you part?' Well, she's thinking about killin' ya!" Just so you know.

    Tyler: always with the complicated questions with you!

    Yes, writers are strapped for money, and it gets worse when they want Jim Lee, but can only afford $5/page. Sure, everyone starts somewhere (Seb), but I don't think Jim ever worked for $5/page.

    Yes, I would agree that the web is the only (viable) place to start publishing for the bulk of creators. And even then, you have to remember certain things when it comes to webcomics:

    -They are EASY to forget about. Unless you have viable content that keeps readers coming back for more, you're going to be screwed.

    -It needs constant new content. When I say constant, I'm talking no less than three times a week if you don't have a following, with the optimal being something every day. Anything less than three times a week, I feel, would hamper your success. Warren Ellis does FreakAngels once a week, but he's giving a little more than double (16 pages) a week, AND he's Warren Ellis. If you make a name for yourself, and your output is of consistently high quality, you can get away with an update a week, as long as it's consistent.

    -Without proper planning, YOU WILL KILL YOUR ARTIST. Webcomics should be worked as far in the future as possible, so you have constant content without killing your artist. Those that are fortunate enough to have the talent to draw and write have it easier than those of us who don't.

    Consider printing only after you've got a following on the web.

    Paying an artist (or at least having a decent working relationship with one in order to get the work done) will always win out over promise of back-end profits.

  5. Sliverbane Guest

    I'm engrossed as always!!

  6. StevenForbes Guest

    Being engrossing is good. It means I'm doing my job. Thanks!

  7. rhannah Guest

    So, that's twenty-two days to produce the initial artwork. That leaves just eight days for inks, letters, any other pre-press, and getting the files over to Lulu to be printed on demand. No, I didn't add color in there. It's impossible when you add in color.
    I take it you are talking about if just one person is doing the pencils, inks and colors all by themselves. But when I worked with Leanne at MVCreations, standard practice for producing comics to schedule is to send the completed pencil pages in small batches to the inker and colorist. So as soon as the penciller has completed the first 5-8 pages, they are then sent on to the inker, while the penciller continues. This allows a comic to be completed within a monthly schedule.

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