Comic Beat is one of the websites I read regularly. My favorite topics are the independent creators and the business of comics since it is so relatable to what I had done with my own book Cosplay in America. My book was self-financed with credit cards and a loan from a credit union. I had no outside involvement from any publishers or any other entity. In a strange way, what I wanted to do as a kid sort of came true. I wanted to be a comic artist and release my own comic book. Well…. I can’t really draw to save my life but I’ve released my own book and that in itself is a huge accomplishment !
Recently in the Comic Beat, was an article about Jim Zubkavich, writer of Skullkickers who breaks down the number in the comic book industry. I found myself nodding my head as I read his post. It mirrors many of my experiences. So many people are not aware of the financial costs to actually pull off a book. Many people think I’m rolling in dough. Yeah, I wish ! I suggest y’all read that article first, then come back here. It’s all right. I can wait. *whistles*
Now, he talks about comics books and I’m gonna talk about books but it is very similar.
(More after the jump)
Right off the bat, in order to get it into bookstores and comic shops, the cost to the bookstore/comic store is half off. So the stores get it for $20. Now it has to get to the store so there’s a distributor which can take between $2 to $4 for each book. Let’s say $2 for this example.
This means I make $18 per book. By the way, you have to cover your own cost of shipping the books to distribution centers so imagine how much it costs to ship 400 copies of a book (3 pounds each ) by freight service. That’s 1,200 pounds. Yup.
From the $18, you have to take out the expenses of making the book. To make the book, I first travel to 6 conventions around the United States on my own dime and photographed 1,600 cosplayers. I also paid someone to convert the files to be ready for publication. Then I paid a company to print the books in Shanghai, then paid for it to be on a freighter that took 2 weeks to get here to Los Angeles. To promote the book, I paid online advertising such as DA, Google Adwords as well as Facebook Ads. I also printed literally thousands and thousands of promo cards. Go ask USA Printing – they all know me by sight because I would go there every month to print more cards. Every con I travel, I printed a special card for that con with a map to where to find me in artist alley or dealer hall. Stickers had to be made, signs had to be made. My credit card got used…..a lot. If there is a publisher, they would have taken a chunk too. Since I did almost everything myself, I’m pretty much the author, photographer, publisher, janitor, driver, you get the idea !
Anyway, back to what I was saying, once you start taking a lot of expenses out, how much do you think I really make per book ?
That’s right, in a weird way I could actually make more money while working at Burger King per hour. Yup.
Now I know not everyone would just rush to their local bookstore/comic book shop/online retailer just to buy the book. I had to go where the people are. Who would appreciate the book ? Why con goers of course ! Now I have to factor in flight/travel costs, hotel costs, artist alley/dealer space costs and other expenses. How much do you think I make from selling at cons ?
So why chose to go to cons when I can sit at home and wait for money to roll from distributors (which by the way, can take months !). Simple. I like talking to people. I was given an opportunity to actually go and talk to people all around the United States ! Imagine, showing up at some con and just randomly talking to people. You learn a lot about yourself, about other people and about this country in general. I may not make a lot of money, but I had a chance to really see the country (or at least a lot of convention centers and hotels and that experience was well worth it !
My day jobs are freelance photographer, freelance photographer assistant and a part time gig doing social media for a photography company based here in Los Angeles. Why so many jobs ? I work freelance so I need to have a diverse number of gigs to keep me afloat. Also explains how I can just keep going to cons – since I’m freelance, I don’t have a simple 9 am to 5 pm job. More like 10 am to 2 am / 7 days a week type gig. I like to say it’s all diamonds and gold but working for yourself is also very tough. You cover your own insurance. You cover your own costs. There’s no company matching your 401K. On the other hand, you get a certain freedom. With every freedom comes costs. For many of y’all out there who long for a freelance lifestyle, see what is important to you. If financial stability is a big factor, then know that there is no guarantee that you can make a good living from being a creator. Obviously some do very well, but others not so.
This is probably why I love artist alley. I’m surrounded by creative people who are striving to get their work out there. I’ve had wonderful conversations at different artist alleys – both comic book and anime ones. Support your local artist alley !
Advice for those who want to make their own book? Do print-on-demand service. Print on demand or POD is just like it sounds. They print on demand vs. traditional means which is to mass produce thousands of copies at a time. By the way, I can only speak about books. I know next to nothing about comic book print on demand.
The benefits of print-on-demand is you can print the copies you need. There’s no minimum orders. You also save on storage spaces since you don’t have to buy in bulk and store the books. You can also change the book if necessarily. Once you start buying thousands of copies of a book, there’ no changing anything.
The negative thing about print-on-demand is the cost per book. It is pretty high. I priced my book with a print on demand company. It would have cost me $160 to print it each copy. Hey buddy, wanna buy a cosplay book ? Only $160 ! You can save more money if you buy in bulk but then there’s large upfront cost. I managed to get a loan from a credit union as well as used one of my credit cards to finance this part. You also have to think about storage. For me, all my books weigh 1.5 tons so I rented a Public Storage for $99 bucks a month. Later on to save money, I moved all the books into my single apartment. Single meaning just one big room. I had 450 sq ft. and it was filled with books. Seriously. If you walked into my room, there was stacks of book boxes everywhere. Imagine waking up surrounded by books. Yup, I did that.
I’ve had a number of photographers asking me about making their own books and I suggest print on demand to lessen the financial and work load. For print on demand, I suggest either Icon Books, A & I Books or Blurb I have used the two first ones and happy with their work. The big gorilla in photography POD companies is Blurb and I’ve only seen their books but never used their service. You can also try magcloud which is a print on demand magazine service. I used them once but that was 5 years ago and I wasn’t happy with their work. I’m sure the quality is much better today than it was before. Your mileage will vary. I work in photography so I’m more demanding of printing.
So my suggestions to those asking me for advice, it is simple – do not do what I did. I literally sunk three years of my life, a bunch of credit cards to pull this off. It’s all right if I screw up my own life cuz it is my own life but I would not feel right if I encourage others to take such a financial step that could easily backfired and sink them into HEAVY debt.
Still with me ?
Okay. For those who still want to find a printer, make sure you go check out what books they’ve done in the past. For the printer I used, I went to their offices and literally look through every photography book they printed – checking the paper stock and the blinding. You’ll also need to buy an ISBN number which isn’t that expensive – I believe it is around $125. You need an ISBN if you expect to get your book distributed by anyone (even on Amazon). ISBN you can buy online.
To get distributors, research the ones closest to the topic of your book. For me, the book is pop culture which relates to comic books – which explains why a number of my distributors are in that field. I used Last Gasp, AAA Anime, Diamond Distributors (largest comic and comic-related distributor in the world), DKE and J-List.
Present your book and see if they are interested in carrying it. It may take them a few months to get back to you. Easier if you approach them at cons. I approached two of my distributors that way. I left them a copy of the book, got their business card and called them later. Some distributors buy the book wholesale off you right away. Some distributors you have to wait till they distribute it, then the store to get the book, sell the book, then they pay the distributor, and the distributor pays you. By the way they can take up to 6 months to get paid. Hey, no one said it would be easy !
By the way, don’t be afraid to ask. You may have to be aggressive but like someone mention before, publishing is a contact sport. Be prepare to deal with a lot of different personalities. Ask a lot of questions !
Anyways, like I mention before, you have to cover the cost of shipping the books to the distributors. Luckily for me, four of the distributors I’ve listed are based in California so I personally drove my car over with the books. The last one had a distribution center in Mississippi I believe. I used a freight service for that one. Look up freight service in Google but I personally used R&L – I found them through a friend of a friend.
(You can also sell on your own personal website too ! Everyone at my post office knows exactly who I am.)
Amazon is a great tool. You can actually sell books on Amazon yourself using Amazon Advantage. They take 55% per book so I would make $18 – about the same if I used a distributor. Here’s the drawback. Since they don’t want to keep excess stock of your book, they would email you when they need books. Sometimes they ask for one book, other times five books. Once again, you have to cover the cost of shipping to Amazon Imagine getting 5-10 orders a month and you paying out $$$ each time. I did this for a few months before I decided it wasn’t worth it anymore. At the end of the day, it was easier to move it to one of my distributors who would have paid me the same amount – except they deal with shipping books to Amazon and such.
Here’s also another trick. There’s Amazon Marketplace where people can sell their copies of the book – you know, used copies, new copies, whatever. So I sold my own book that way. For Marketplace, they take 15% of the cost of the book + 99 cents + closing fee of $1.35. So I would make somewhere around $30 bucks ! It was a better deal for people to buy my book from Marketplace than from Amazon itself !
Sounds like a lot of work right ? Yup !
So why do I do what I do if I don’t make big bucks at it ? Because I wanted to do something that was my own creation. It is very satisfying that people come up to you and say how much they love your work. It makes all the hard work you put into it worth it in the end. I’m a guy and perhaps this is the closest thing for me to giving birth to something. It took over a year of hard work, then two more years of touring the country to get to where I am. I admit, not a lot of people would put up with what I had to. If I knew what I had to go through to just put this book out … well…. I’ll be honest. I may not have made the book in the first place.
In any case, for inspiring artists out there, here’s a page called The Business of Cartooning and a huge list of links. By the way, you can make a living making your own art. I personally know two artist alley people who for them, it is a full time job. One managed to buy a house out in the Midwest from his earnings and they spend the year traveling to 20-30 cons. So anything is possible but it is a LOT OF WORK !
When Jim (you read the article right ?) says “Skullkickers is the most expensive hobby I’ve ever had,” I feel the same way. Cosplay in America is my most expensive hobby and I love my hobby !
If you have any questions, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll try to answer to the best of my abilities. I hope I didn’t sound like a downer but the facts are that if you want into the creative business of publishing and releasing your own book, comic book, whatever, it’s gonna be a tough road, no lie. I’m really lucky and grateful that so many of y’all are following me and I’ve managed to break even on this book !
Lesson : Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it.
And if you wanna help me out, you can support me by visiting any of the retailers to the right near the top. I’m an affiliate so I make about 4% of whatever you purchase. ^^