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Thread: Week 33: Self-Publishing- The Budget

  1. StevenForbes Guest

    Week 33: Self-Publishing- The Budget

    Nice. It's Tuesday, and we're back. Prince comes out with a 3 cd set pretty soon at a very cheap price, I have some things moving in the background, my wife's birthday just passed, and we have some nice Bolts and Nuts, just for you! Does it get any better than this? I don't think so.

    We're continuing our discussion of self-publishing. This week, I said we'd talk about budgeting, and so we are.

    A good budget is going to show you where you're spending your money, and if you do it well [meaning “right” for you], it will show you when you're spending it, too, so you can plan accordingly.

    Before you get into the expenses of creating your company and so on, I suggest you do up a budget first. The budget should be the first thing you do right after you decide you want to create comics fo someone else or self-publish. The very first thing after that decision. Why? Because it's going to force you to do research on certain things, and that research will force you to ask if this is something you really want to do. But we're going to talk about the budget from soup to nuts, so let's get started.

    The first thing you want to do is talk about your immediate expenses. These are going to be your out of pocket expenses, and money that you won't think to really recoup. I'm talking about getting your license/tax ID [DBA], and your office expenses such as internet, phone, and some electricity. This is home office stuff, and it's going to be a recurring expense. You're not going to think about them much, and most of it is already in your household budget, but some of it needs to be transferred into your business budget. [It may also be a tax write-off!]

    The next thing you want to think about it is the number of issues you want to produce. Think about that, and seriously, plot it out. Get the number of pages you need to tell the story, and decide right now if its going to be color or not. (Right now?) Right now. Artists are going to draw differently for color than they will for black and white. The story can always go in and be colored if it starts out black and white, but it won't always come out right if it was intended to be colored and you decide for black and white because you can't afford color. Making the decision right now will help you later. (Huh?) Lemme 'splain.

    If you decide to do a b/w book, that's fine. Tell the artist that, and they will draw accordingly. There is a lot of information in b/w comics that can either be there or not, but the artist will draw each page with the intention of it not being colored. With me so far? (Yes.) Great! Now, if the project is to be colored, the artist will draw differently, leaving out information that will generally be filled in by the colorist. With me there? (Yup.) Cool. Now, if you decide to go b/w first, and then find you can afford color later, no harm, no foul. Everything's great. The colorist can go in and do their thing over the b/w pages. But if you decide to do color and find out later that you can't afford it, you're not screwed, but your book won't look the way it could, because there's information missing that the artist could have put in. (Oh. Now I get it.) Excellent. So, decide right now if you're doing color or b/w.

    Now that you have the story plotted out and written, it's time to start talking about your creative team. You're going to try to save the most amount of money possible, so you get a co-creator for an artist, and that lowers your initial cost right there. Inker, possibly a colorist, and you're going to do the letters yourself. (I am?) You are. (Okay...) Cost cutting measures. You're going to hire Graeme McFreelancer to do your logos, but you'll do the other letters yourself. You've been learning, right? (…) Get on it now, so you don't have to worry about it later. Being self-sufficient is always good.

    Now that you have that going and have a nice tally, I want you to budget for one more issue. (One more?!) Yes. This is a needed buffer, just in case. Let me give you an example of what can happen.

    Cary and I wrote Fallen Justice, yes? Yes. It initially started out as four issues, but then I stretched it to six, in order for it to really have impact. While working on issue four, I was looking at what was being done and what was happening, and I saw that we needed a seventh issue. I brought it up to Cary and Ken, our editor, and they both saw the same thing I did. That was how Fallen Justice went from four issues to seven.

    Budget for an extra issue. (But that's just you!) [ just want to be hardheaded. Fine.] Bendis has been doing this for years, right? He knows what he's doing, love him or hate him. So when he was working on the Ultimate Six, the Ultimate version of the Sinister Six, he planned for six issues, and was working on it. Then he noticed he plotted wrong, and needed another issue. Thus, it went from six to seven issues. Budget for an extra issue. If it can happen to a vet like Bendis, it can happen to you while going through your opus. If you don't use the money for creation, there will be lots of other problems that can be solved by throwing money at it. Budget for an extra issue.

    Now, start thinking about advertising. Right now, you want to go as cheap as possible, and you can't get much cheaper than free. Remember last time out when I spoke about promotion? Use those tips and tricks that were given by myself, Tyler James, and Archon Comics. Free is good, but you're not going to be able to get everything done for free. Now is the time you want to start investigating what some print ads and web ads will cost you. These are going to be ballpark numbers, folks. You're not trying to get to the penny, you just want to get the lay of the financial land. You'll more than likely have to look at these numbers again when you're actually ready to start producing.

    Next comes the print run. The print run will be determined by Diamond or Haven [Damn, it feels good to say that!], or it will be determined by you. If it's determined by you, remember that the more you print, the lower your cost is going to be. [I'm talking the cost of each individual unit.] However, the more you print, the more copies you're going to need to move. I would search around for printers, see which gives you the best deal, and then, I wouldn't initially print more than 500 copies. (That's not a lot...) Actually, that's going to be too much. You're going to be sitting on them for a LONG while, but depending on where the price break is, it might be worth it. Go lower if you can—about 300—but if you can't, 500 is a very respectable number.

    Okay, now that you've done that, I want you to budget for direct mailings. This is all the stuff you're going to be mailing out all over the place: flyers, stickers, COMICS, and the like. You'll be sending these mostly to retailers and reviewers to generate buzz about your book. The main cost with this is the packing materials and the weight cost. If you've ever mailed anything with any kind of weight to it, you know that the more it weighs, the more it's going to cost. I'm going to tell you right now, if you use anything other than the United States Postal System, you're crazy. [I'm talking to my readers in the United States. For my international readers, you're going to have to do other things to get the word out about your comics.]

    You're also going to have a website, so budget for that. There are two ways to do this: you can either do it yourself, if you're so inclined, or you can pay someone to do it for you. Learn to do it yourself if you have the time and inclination. The more self-sufficient you are, the less you have to rely on anyone other than yourself. So you're going to be looking for a domain name and hosting, at the very least. These can be cheap. Also, take advantage of any deals you may come across.


    For once, I don't want to get into numbers. The numbers are going to change from person to person, company to company, and the weight of everything else you have to do is depressing enough. I don't want to go into the numbers. Go to Expectations to start doing your ballpark figures for the creative team and print run, and build from there. (Whoa....) I know. Must be coming down with something.

    (And the web? I know you got answers. Give 'em up!)

    The web is a little different. With the web, you're getting out of traditional publishing, and will be doing other things with it. Let's look at it.

    When it comes to webcomics, the first thing you have to decide is if you're going to do a strip or if you're going to tell a long-form story. Your decisions will be predicated upon those.

    I'll be the first one to tell you, I'm not really one for strips. I don't have anything against them, I'm just really not one for them. I find them to be hit or miss. A few moments of utter bliss and hilarity, a few total duds, but generally, jokes that are just funny enough. We'll talk more about it when we actually do the webcomics talk. When it comes to publishing strips, though, and I'm talking printing them, holding something tangible in your hand, that can take a long time to bring to fruition. If you're doing a regular, newspaper type strip, you can fit anywhere from three to four strips on a page. To make it easy, we'll say you're going to publish a 100 page book. So, you're going to need at least 300 strips. If you're doing a daily strip, we're talking just about a year before you have enough material to publish something tangible...IF your readers are asking for it. If you're going less than daily, it will take that much longer before you're ready to print anything.

    The coming trend is to do graphic novels as webcomics, and then publish them when they're done. I like this better, because it gives you a lot of information before you go through the expense of printing and distribution. But let's look at it from a budgetary standpoint.

    Of course, you're going to need is the rest of a creative team. Everything but a letterer. (You're just dead set on getting me to letter, aren't you?) [Yup. You'll thank me later.] Get someone to create your logo, but you're going to letter it yourself. (I'm busy with other stuff!) I know. Like lettering. So, you'll be budgeting for that. Again, decide if you're going to use color or not. Do it now.

    That website I was talking about before? You're still going to need it. (Duh...) I'm not going to discuss webcomic portals versus hosting your own. Not yet. This isn't the time for it. But you're going to need that space, one way or the other, so budget for it. Again, domain names and hosting fees are cheap.

    Banner ads and link swaps are a good thing. High traffic areas, folks. Let people know you're there. Put links in the signatures of the forums you frequent. All of those tips and tricks and advice are still valid, no matter what you're doing.

    Now, if a publisher wants to collect and publish your story, good on ya! (Does that happen?) [You haven't been paying attention. Remember when I said to get something like the Google Reader, that aggregates your RSS feeds? I said to do that, and fill it with comic news sites. If you do that, you'll be on top of information just about as it happens, and you'll see exactly what I'm talking about. Right now? Two words: Dark Horse.] Now, if they don't, don't despair. Just publish it yourself, but look into how much that print run is going to cost you.

    The last part about this I want you to look into is conventions. Conventions are a bit of a different beast when it comes to budgeting. Let's look at it.

    The first thing to decide is what you plan to get out of the convention. I'm going to SDCCI [to be technically correct], and the only things I'm taking with me are a bunch of cards and maybe some samples of Group. I don't have a table, and may not have one until 2011. I plan on handing out the cards and some samples, and that's about it. I will call that a success.

    What am I budgeting for? Getting to the convention, getting in the convention, food/drinks, some knick-knacks. I've got lodging covered. So for this convention, I'm covered, and I'm getting off cheaply.

    Now, if I were going as publisher of Asshat Comics, having a table and everything, this would be a radically different outlook.

    Of course, I'd need to have something to sell, and nothing sells like You've Got CRABS! and Jesus Christ: Vampire. So the first thing I'd need to do is contact the show to see about getting a table. You want to decide about getting either a full table or sharing one. Guess which one costs more?

    A little aside, when it comes to table etiquette. You want to use ALL of YOUR space, and not ONE INCH of another person's space. You want to have a clear shot of your face and wares, but you don't want to use another person's space. You'll be seeing them again, believe me. You want to be known as a good table-mate. Don't have your stuff sprawled all over and spilling into someone else's space. They paid for theirs, just as you paid for yours. Also, if you've just GOT to play music, try not to have it turned up so loud that you're drowning out everything else around you, and annoying the living daylights out of your neighbors.

    If someone else is using your space [and yes, I'm talking about even a single, solitary inch], be polite, but be firm, and ask them to move over. Polite, yet firm. After they've moved, just let it go. Don't dwell on it, don't let it piss you off. It's resolved, they now know better, you've taken care of it and stood up for yourself, and word will spread that you're the creator that wants all of their space. Otherwise, the word will spread that you're a pushover, and pretty soon, you'll be down to a LOT less than you paid for when it comes to space. Polite, but firm.

    Okay, so you have your table. Now comes time to decorate it! You'll have banners and stands to think of when you do this. I suggest your company name for the banner. Okay, I'll say it. It'll be cool to be able to see Asshat Comics from across the room in big letters. (Heh...) Now that that's out of our systems, you'd want to have a nice stand. I suggest Jesus fighting the crabs. (Now that's a visual!) [Stop it! I'm trying to keep a straight face over here...] Anyway, you want to make good investments. The Asshat banner will be something you'll use for years, so take care of it. The artwork for the stand can be changed out. There are companies that sell these items, such as Pop Up Stand. I understand the prices are reasonable, and the quality is top notch. Ask Cary.

    Okay, you now have to have something to sell. You can either carry it with you, or you can have a print-run made up, and have it delivered to one of the bigger cons for a fee. Look into both, and see which is more feasible to you.

    This is all just setup, people. You have your table, you have your books to sell, you have your banner and stands. You still have to get to the con and back, you have to eat, and you have to sleep somewhere. All of that costs money, and all of it should be in your budget.

    As I said before, a successful con is one where you make your money back. If you're able to turn a profit on your con experience, you've done exceptionally well. If you're able to break even on your con experience, you've done exceptionally well. (Really?) Really. When you factor in everything you had to pay for in order to get it off the ground, breaking even is a GREAT thing. While the name of the game is to turn a profit, right now, the actual goal of the game is to make back your investment. See the difference between the name and the goal? Especially when you're just starting out.

    One way to make your con experience cheaper is to be a special guest of the show. Stop yer drooling. You have to reach superstar status in order to be considered a special/honored guest of the big cons. For the smaller cons? It's something to be considered. Being a special guest means you may have to do a panel or something, but for a reduced rate for a table—or even possibly free—it's well worth it. You can even approach a smaller con and inquire about it yourself. Just remember to be polite, not bombastic.

    And that's it for me for now, and that's really about it for this series on self-publishing. You know enough to be dangerous. There's still a lot to do, but a lot of that is individual effort, which will yield different results.

    Next week will be something of a grab bag of items that I've collected. Not enough for a full column on each, but things to be addressed. After that, we may finally get into webcomics. I dunno yet. Let's see where inspiration takes me.

    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. tylerjames Guest

    Good suggestions for tabling at Cons, Steven. I'm still a newbie at the whole con circuit thing, having done only 3 small shows in the local (Boston) area. I'm slowly learning the ropes however. Here are a few more tips.

    - Just to piggyback on the pop-up suggestion, you need to look at your booth from the eye of the con-goer. If you simply lay your wares flat down on the table, you're not going to catch anyone's eyes from across the room and you are forcing con-goers to look down. There's a reason comic books are displayed in shops the way they are, and not laid out on tables. Find ways to turn the rather 2D table into more of a 3D presentation, using stands.

    - Have something free to give out. For the past three shows, I've had a stack of beautiful, high-gloss, Super Seed postcards that I've handed out to people that walk by. It's human nature to almost automatically take something handed to you with a smile, and in the time it takes to hand them the postcard, I can say something like, "Hey, check out my comic Super Seed, about the world's first super powered fertility clinic." That's it. I wait half a second, and more times than not it registers, and if I get a favorable reaction, I'll let them know it's available to be read online, and I just so happen to be selling print copies here. Sometimes they buy a few books. Sometimes they check it out online, and sometimes they leave it in the bathroom before they even leave. But handing out that something is a great way to break the ice.

    I'm running low on Super Seed postcards at the moment, so I decided to do an even less expensive giveaway...I took an article on writing I wrote on my blog that got a favorable reaction from some readers and used it as a little news flyer that I can hand out to people. It's got plenty of links to all my projects, should they be interested in checking them out.

    - Get people to come to the show to see YOU. For the first time, at a con I did a few weeks ago, I had a person come to my table who I had never met before, tell me he had been following my stuff online. He had a bunch of questions on the projects I was working on, and it was clear that he had planned to seek me out at my table that day. That was really cool. And it got me thinking...How can I get more people to be looking forward to coming to see ME at the shows I'm going to be doing?

    Well, I'll let you know how it turns out, but one idea I had was to offer free sketches PRIOR to the convention. The BOSTON COMIC CON is coming up (April 4-5.) So, what I decided to do was run a Facebook Ad, that would show up only for people who live in Mass and have the word "Comic Book" in their profile. The Ad was short and sweet (because FB ads are limited) but the gist was "Attending the Boston Comic Con? Want a Free Sketch?" And the ad linked to a post from my blog, where I offered free sketches to a limited number of con-goers who emailed me for one, no strings attached.

    Will this pay off? Who knows? But what'd it cost? The Facebook ad cost less than $10 bucks. My blog got a few hundred extra hits. And there are a handful of people who are coming to the Boston Comic Con not just to get their copies of Wetworks signed by Whilce Portacio or a Madman sketch from Mike Allred, but to also see little old me. And they'll walk away from the con with a free, original sketch of a character of their choice...and perhaps a few issues of Super Seed to boot.

    Anyway, I learn something new at every con. I'm sure the next one will be no different.

  3. ArchonComics Guest

    Okay, a few more tips from the peanut gallery:

    I’m by no means a salesman or a seasoned conventioneer, but here are a few things that worked for me at the few cons I hawked my wares at. Some of this advice came from fellow creators, my publisher, and stuff I picked up on my own along the way.

    At cons, greet everyone who approaches your table. Be friendly, funny and engaging. Have you ever approached a table, only to have the proprietor stare at you with a dull, expectant, or petulant look on their face? Don’t be that person. It’s down-right creepy. Engage your customer, don’t ignore them. Minimally, you should greet them and ask them if there is anything in particular they are looking for. These are openings that may lead the conversation into a sale. It sounds too good to be true, but a simple “hello” goes a long way. You’ll be surprised at how much fun it is to converse with your fellow comic fans, too.

    Also, don’t be afraid to hone in on your target market. If you have an all-ages book, and you see a person walking by with a kid, let them know that you have a kid-friendly comic. You don’t have to wait for eye contact or wait until they are browsing at your table--just throw it out there without being obnoxious. If you have a goth comic, make sure that every goth that walks by knows about your book. I’ve seen this in action. It really does work. To put it another way, it’s kind of like selling ice cream to ice cream lovers. You have a better chance of selling ice cream to an ice cream lover than to a popsicle lover. Both may love cold treats, but approaching your target market will probably yield better results. Having said that, when there are no ice cream lovers in the room, switch back to marketing to popsicle lovers.

    Also, have your spiel ready and rehearsed before the big show. Make it short and sweet. Make it so the customer immediately knows what your book is about in one or two short sentences. For example, with my book, I would say: “It’s a cross between Lord of the Rings and Shrek”. It was easy sailing from there, as Lord of The Rings and Shrek had already done the heavy lifting for me.

    Ashcans. Worth doing? Okay, if your book is already out and available to purchase, why bother with printing ashcans, right? Well, for one thing, someone may pick it an ashcan, like what they see and buy your book later. But that’s not why I would do them,as I’m not sure you'll get enough bang for your buck.

    What I personally like about ashcans, is this: they are portable pitch packages, not only for future customers, but more importantly (to me), for the entertainment industry. How do I know this? While at WWLA, I had several people come up to me and just ask for ashcans. Some of them barely glanced at the books at the table. They were just collecting ashcans and picked up multiple copies at that. Some of these people were agents, some were creative development executives, producers, directors, etc. Most of the industry folk were nice enough to actually purchase the book (as they had a discretionary budget) but a few just wanted the free stuff. With all the free bookmarks and pins on the table, one of the more popular freebies was the ashcan.

    I don’t have an ROI on this type of promotion; I’m going on purely what went down at our table, but making your product available in a succinct and quickly digestible bite-sized format may open other doors and opportunities for you. I’d also give away comics for free to industry folk after I found out who they were…but graciously enough, 9 out of 10 times, they would insist on buying them from me. That 10th person just wanted the ashcan and didn’t want to lug around tons of books.

    So if you have the budget and can do it cheaply, I personally would do ashcans. If you don’t have the budget, then don’t sweat it. Do what you can and don’t stress out about what you can’t. At the end of the day, it’s a total crapshoot…kind of like the comic biz in general.
    Last edited by ArchonComics; Wednesday, March 25, 2009 at 12:32 AM.

  4. StevenForbes Guest

    Thanks, Tyler and AC.

    I think, instead of the grab bag, I'll do another one on just conventions. I touched on it heavily in Networking, but not really anything in specifics.

    So, that's next week's topic. The Con Game.

    Thank you both again!

  5. harryd Guest

    For those of you who, like me, may not know what "ashcans" are:

    Interesting article and some informative replies.

  6. ArchonComics Guest

    Thanks for the definition. I'll try to dig up the example I was talking about. You'll be happy to know, Steven, that it was a Super Human Resources ashcan I was referring to. Ken did a bang-up job of putting that little piece together IMHO. I'll see if he'll give me permission to post an electronic version.

  7. CalvinCamp Guest

    I think if you're going to tell people to letter their own books, you should probably add some advice that they learn how.

    It's not as easy as it looks and there are too many comics ruined by crappy lettering. It's easy to be deceived into thinking the lettering isn't that important, because it often doesn't stand out in the comics we read. But that is an art in itself. Bad lettering will definitely stand out and it won't be pretty.

  8. TommyBrownell Guest

    I nearly wept reading this.

    I have been working with a Tulsa, OK area company building to a mid-late 2009 launch. They have been doing a LOT of running around in circles for a while now, so last month I took the bull by the horns and began a very rough sketch of numbers, what we need to do, etc...and I got shouted down by two guys (not the guys that started the company and recruited me) that told me that anything less than a 1,000 copy print run and printer with more than a 7 day turnaround would be a complete joke that would absolutely kill our business right out of the gate.

    This coming after one of the artist's wives interjected herself and told me my plan was silly because once we got all these advertisers signed onto our no-circulation book that all of our printing costs would be covered.

    I left there very discouraged and motivated to begin work on my own stuff...and the last few articles have taught me that I was at least in the right ballpark for what we/I needed.

    Makes me feel a little less crazy now.


  9. StevenForbes Guest

    AC: I haven't had a chance to pick up SHR as yet. Glad to hear they're continuing to do it right. Looking forward to picking it up soon.

    Madelf: I've been telling readers to learn to letter for a while now. It's not the first time I've mentioned it.

    Tommy: weeping is good. It's cleansing. However, weeping over B&N isn't something I'd ever have expected. So, don't think me cruel if I just ignore it. Basically, I don't know what to do with it besides hand you a tissue and tell you it's going to be fine.

    It sounds to me like you're with a group of people with big dreams but little practical experience. I've been there before when I was first starting out. It's been a learning experience ever since. What I suggest you do (besides sticking to your guns) is to do research on everything, and present your group with numbers. Show them numbers, attach well-known names to them, and stay out of the Marvel/DC realm. It's sobering once you step away from that echelon of publishing. Sobering, and a little disheartening.

    If they don't want to listen and want to continue with pie in the sky dreams, that's fine. There's nothing wrong with that. Just be the better person and refrain from saying "I told you so" when reality punches them in the face, kidneys, solar plexus, and wallet.

    Or better yet, send them over to B&N and they can read all about it.

  10. Sliverbane Guest

    All good tips... As a veteran of Tokyo's Comiket getting your product up off the table, handing out freebies - tis all good! I also like it when tables have previews of books. I can see inside of what I'm buying as well as table with varied price ranges. From 3 dollars to 30.

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