Thursday, March 4, 2010

Publishing Pt. 2 - How Much is This Going to Cost Me?

(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.
(EDIT: total 2009 expenses = $3829.63)

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!


  1. Thanks for sharing so far, interesting stuff. I used to print my first book as POD. A 110 color book at 9x9" size, my cost was very hight - nearly $13 each. Going to check out BookMobile for sure.

    The thing is they did print a high quality book that people loved. So I know they can deliver on the quality - and with artist editions I actually did make money.

    One thing you haven't mentioned yet is whether or not you saw any profits over these years. I always assumed if you printed offset your costs were low enough to make money assuming you sell your stock.

    The nice thing about POD is you only print what you need, even though your costs are high. Because I'm selling direct to my customers, I can get away with it. But it falls apart as you say, when you want to sell outside that circle and people want a discount before selling.

    Looking forward to your next post.

  2. Tyler, thank you for sharing this. I wish I'd kept better records of my expenses! One of my resolutions this year is to do just that.

    I look at your printing costs, though, and they seem... kind of high? My recent quote for 2000 copies of a 144pg b/w book from Transcontinental is about $1000 less than what you listed for your first two books, and that's in CDN$. Unless you're adding in some other costs that I'm not thinking of.

    If you don't mind my asking, have you been able to sell through most of the copies you printed? Or are you sitting on a mountain of boxes (like I am)?

  3. tara-
    my books were all over 200 pages - SV Vol2 was almost 300, so that difference alone would add substantially to the cost. I hadn't actually heard of Transcontinental until I was doing NB so I'd never tried them. and by then I was happy with Lebonfon/Quebecor and okay with their prices. additionally, when I first heard about Transcon it was from someone who wasn't so happy with their service, but I've since heard good things about them. I'll definitely look at them if I ever consider offset printing again.