When I first started looking into the reality of self-publishing the financial aspect of it seemed within my grasp. But printing books isn't the only thing you have to spend money on. It wasn't until I was a few years into publishing that I looked back and saw how the expenses creep up as you spend a couple hundred here, a couple hundred there and so on.
I read accounts of people who tried self-publishing only to call it quits because they'd already spent $20,000 or $30,000 and really couldn't risk any more. So in deciding to talk frankly about self-publishing comics I knew the financial aspect would be important to discuss.
I've detailed below my expenses for each year since I started publishing in 2002. Within each year I've called out the cost of any books printed that year, miles driven (if any) to conventions, and which conventions I attended. The total for each year then is the sum total of expenses derived from: printing, travel (car/air/hotel/food), art supplies, convention registration fees (table fees), promotion, office supplies, shipping and so on.
Here's the breakdown:2002------
$5512.11 for 2000 copies of Stylish Vittles: I Met a Girl
total expenses of $10,283.80
drove 11,117 miles (I elected to drive to San Diego so I could see the western US)
went to Wizard World Chicago, Comic Con, Mid Ohio, Kansas City, FallCon2003------
$5811.60 for 2000 copies of Stylish Vittles: All the Way
total expenses of $13,233.10
drove 7530 miles
CCI = $1156.41
MoCCA = $1061.97
SPX = $882.58
Pitt = $565.38
Philly = $517.58
APE = $428.64
total expenses of $1734.25
drove 2625 miles
$11,518.02 total expenses
$3613 for 1000 copies Stylish Vittles: Fare Thee Well
$1517.20 for 2000 copies Nothing Better #1 (32 pg pamphlet)
$1856.23 for 1000 copies Nothing Better #2 (24 pg pamphlet)
$1123.56 total expenses
drove 813.18 miles2007------
$7462.37 total expenses
$4912.61 for 2000 copies Nothing Better Vol 1: No Place Like Home
$484.50 total expenses
(daughter was born ~ no cons)2009------
$1079 for 300 copies Nothing Better Vol 2: Into the Wild
rest of the year's expenses not totaled yet.
As I noted above, the grand total of all my business expenses from 2002 through the printing of Nothing Better Vol 2 in late 2009 is $46,918.60. Yes, that is a lot of money. It is. But it's important to realize that was spent over the course of 7 years - it's not like I dropped it all at once. I also tried to be as thrifty as possible in my spending when I could, especially when traveling. I found the cheapest flights (I once spent a night in the Detroit airport to get a cheap flight to Pittsburgh), cheapest hotels (we stayed at the -relatively nice YMCA in Manhatten when we went to MoCCA), and cheapest food I could but spent what needed to be spent in order to produce a good product.
I should point out that this is only the majority of expenses involved in publishing. Cori traveled to most conventions with me and displayed her illustration work and so paid for a portion of expenses which are not listed here.
In the end it wasn't the cost of printing books that really rang up the bills - it was the traveling and conventions. The printing costs of each book was eventually covered through sales. For SV 1 I took out a small business loan and after that I used a business credit card in an attempt to earn bonus miles/points and such. A table at a convention can cost between $200 and $500 in addition to the cost of getting there and staying there for a few days, as well as feeding yourself. At most conventions I was able to make back the cost of the table but I think there may have only ever been a few shows where I did so well as to cover all costs and turn a small profit. But those were the exception rather than the rule.
I currently still have approximately $10,000 of credit card debt incurred from publishing expenses - from conventions and traveling. That should help put Part 1 of this essay into perspective, regarding how I did not want to incur any further significant debt in order to print Nothing Better Vol 2. I make extra payments and take on extra freelance work where I can to help pay that debt down and to cover any current and future business expenses.
I work in Higher Education and earn a very modest salary and have about $57,000 of student loan debt in addition to a mortgage and the costs associated with having a child. I'm not complaining - we get by - I'm just trying to put this all in perspective. If I were debt free we'd have a nice little cushion but taking risks is what life is about. All of that money spent wasn't for nothing. No, I'm not a superstar but I've managed to make a small name for myself in the comics world and even get a little high-profile recognition here and there (Eisner nomination and Xeric grant). Someone else might have done things different, smarter.
If I were to start all over again today, fresh from high school or college I would definitely do things differently. But that's another post altogether.
Up next: Printing problems!