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Publishing Pt. 2 - How Much is This Going to Cost Me? [Mar. 4th, 2010|10:23 pm]
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(here is a link to Part 1 for reference)


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:

$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, FallCon

$5811.60 for 2000 copies of Stylish Vittles: All the Way
total expenses of $13,233.10
drove 7530 miles

con expenses
CCI = $1156.41
MoCCA = $1061.97
SPX = $882.58
Pitt = $565.38
Philly = $517.58
APE = $428.64

total expenses of $1734.25
no books

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
no books


drove 813.18 miles

$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)

$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!

[User Picture]From: whitecomics
2010-03-05 05:17 am (UTC)


This is really enlightening and useful stuff...thanks for being so honest about your experience.
[User Picture]From: joshuasmeaton
2010-03-05 01:53 pm (UTC)


Yeah it's cringe worthy when you start to break everything down. I do tend to look at conventions as a vacation though. I don't do many and they haven't been particularly profitable for me. So if it's not some place that I want an excuse to visit, I don't go.
[User Picture]From: astroboy12
2010-03-05 03:55 pm (UTC)


that's kind of what we eventually tried to do. we always hit a chicago con because we have family, and MoCCA because we love going to NYC.
[User Picture]From: lunchbreak_pat
2010-03-05 03:47 pm (UTC)


Hey, thanks for sharing! So few people are willing to talk actual dollar amounts, and hardly ever in a public place like this. Really interesting stuff!
[User Picture]From: astroboy12
2010-03-05 03:56 pm (UTC)


no problem!
I've never understood people's need for business secrecy. I guess I don't have any 'corporate secrets' but I feel like more info and more transparency will always be helpful!
[User Picture]From: gregusa
2010-03-16 07:31 pm (UTC)


Aw, man. You already have my sympathies for being able to write that next column on printing. It feels so good having that book in your hands, but getting there... yeesh. I think learning all that hurt my brain more than any other part of making comics.

Adding up the costs like that is a real eye-opener. Yowsa! Thanks for laying that out. After reading yours I don't want to know how much I've spent.

We tend to make family vacations out of conventions too. My main purpose for out-of-town cons is networking opportunities and getting face time with creators I only know via internet. (Okay, my ego likes getting those return customers from year to year too. Can't get enough of that.) If I was a merchandising wizard like Jennie Breeden I might make money at these things. But I'd rather focus on the comics and I enjoy cons so much that I'll easily settle for only making back a decent chunk of the cost.

[User Picture]From: retsuko
2010-04-03 04:34 am (UTC)


Hey... saw that you visited my journal and stopped by the return the favor. I'm a big Nothing Better fan and am now regretting that I've not picked up Vol. 2 yet! Will you be at San Diego Comic Con this year? If not, I will hassle my local comic book store people for it.

I had no idea what the expenses associated with the type of work you do would be so great. (I suppose part of me is stuck in my high-school 'zine making days where $5 was a terribly huge expense.) Thanks for sharing in such complete detail.