Okay, let's start off with a disclaimer. I have yet to publish a comic, but I have done a lot (okay, a fair bit) of research and garnered all my 'knowledge' from those that have published, and can be deemed professionals. All I'm doing is trying to bring all of this information to one place for your benefit.
So you have a fantastic idea for a comic that you want to share with the world. That's great, but how do you start? There's so many things to consider, so I'm going to try and break it all down for you.
Everybody's big dream is to be published by a big company, but first you have to make sure they accept submissions. The Big Two don't accept blind submissions, so you have to do the research on other names. A lot of publishers do accept creator-owned work, so if you don't have anything that's all your own idea, get one.
Once you've got your idea, and written a script for the first issue, it's time to pitch it to the publisher and let them deal with all the hassles, right? All you want to do is write the darned thing.
Here's your first big hurdle. Unless your name is Alan Moore, Warren Ellis or Neil Gaiman, you'll need a creative team put together before you pitch, and about eight pages done up to show them.
But how hard could it be to put together a team?
You'll need a penciller, inker, colourist, and a letterer. You could do this yourself, but how good are you at each step? Remember, the first thing that sells a comic is the artwork. No matter how great a storyteller you might be, if the artwork is of a lower quality, you're going to have difficulty selling it to a publisher, let alone selling it in the stands.
There are plenty of places to try and get these artists, but there's one definite way of getting them. Pay.
Artists definitely deserve to be paid for their work, and this is the current pay rate (according to Jim Keefe and the Graphic Artist Guild: www.jimkeefe.com/archives/3644
Pencil Art $100 - $400 US
Ink Art - $75 - $300 US
Lettering - $40 - $50 US
Colouring - $100 - $150 US
So if you find good artists who are willing to be paid the minimum going rate, it's going to cost you $7,245
to create your first issue (more if your currency is not equal to the US dollar). Who has that kind of cash lying around? I have yet to find a publisher willing to pay anything apart from printing and advertising costs, so it will be you fronting this. There are several ways you can go to reduce costs, the first being to go black and white instead of colour. You can also try negotiate and reduce the artists' fees but remember, these guys have bills to pay themselves, and you want to stay in their good books so they stay on your book. Publishers aren't interested in books that constantly change artists, while being quite prepared to drop the title if the first issue doesn't gain enough interest, so be careful not to be insulting in your approach, while not promising too much either. (A note to artists that might be reading this: I come from a graphic design background, so know all about the pitfalls that come with 'work for exposure'. I absolutely hate that pitch...
More often than not independent writers do want to pay you well, it's just hard to come up with the money. Please keep that in mind when they approach you, and if you're trying to break in to comics yourself it might be worthwhile checking it out. Sometimes taking a 'paycut' to work on a good script does actually pay off, but it's up to you. )
You now have all the artists on board and a publisher is taking you on, it's time to look at publishing costs. Jim Zub has broken it all down very nicely for us: www.jimzub.com/the-reality-of-…
The cost of an average printed comic is three dollars. 40 - 50% of that price goes to the retailers, so that takes you down to $1.60. It will cost about 80 cents an issue for a publisher (If you get more than 3,000 printed), so we're now down to $0.80. Most publishers advertise with Diamond Distributors, so take 16% off of the original price, another 50 cents. That leaves 30 cents per issue to pay for any of the publishing company's costs (advertising, postage, the editor, etc). Where's the money to actually pay the creative team, let alone any money for yourself? You've now got to raise the price of your comic to try and make a bit more money, but you may lose some sales due to that.
(If you're lucky, the publisher might be able to sell ad space in your comic, covering their costs. But the reality is that people won't be likely to advertise in an unknown comic, so don't count on this...)
What about digital sales? Surely that will boost profits? Again, Jim Zub covers this: www.jimzub.com/okay-but-what-a…
If we're using the same $3 comic, 30% goes to the mobile platform, leaving you about $2.10. Then the digital distributor takes a cut, generally about 50%. Your publishing company still needs to be paid, so let's give them 25% of that, leaving you with roughly 80 cents per issue.
So, we've raised the price of the printed comic to $5, leaving us with 90 cents per issue, and the digital giving us 80 cents an issue. Jim Zub suggests that digital sales are roughly 10% of print sales, so lets try some calculations to figure out how many issues you need to sell to pay your creative team and get your own money.
If you sell 5,000 printed copies you'll get a profit of $4,500, and $400 from digital sales. So $4,900. Seems pretty nice, right? But didn't we calculate that you needed $7,245 to pay your creative team? And the publishers need to take their cut of that first... Uh-oh. We're still in negative numbers... You'll need to pretty much sell 9,000
copies just to break even.
Here's a list of the top selling books in October 2013 from Comichron: www.comichron.com/monthlycomic…
You'll notice the top 100 list is heavily populated by DC and Marvel, who don't print anything but their own characters. Image and Dark Horse are your best chance in terms of publishers who take creator-owned work, but it's more likely that you're with someone less known, which means it's going to be hard to hit that 9,000 mark. Especially when the rest of the comics that are reaching 9,000 are mostly recognisable characters.
But you're positive you can get that elusive number, and so you're going to go ahead with this. You've paid everyone their fees, knowing that the costs will be reimbursed by the profits.
Here's your next problem... www.balloontales.com/tips/publ…
It takes roughly a month to create your comic, which the publisher then gets advertised in Diamond's Previews catalogue. A month and a half later, the orders come in, and you can print the comic (no publisher will print it until they know it's going to be worth their while - a minimum of $2,500 wholesale). Another month and a half goes by, and it gets out on the shelves. Then you have to wait probably another month for the money to come in. So if you paid your guys in January, you don't see money until June/July
. By which time you've had to get 5 more issues out, and had to pay your artists...
You could go down the path of self publishing to try and save some money, but you'll have to take on the burdens of organising printing, advertising, getting in contact with the distributor, shipping to them, and you probably won't save money, seeing as most of the profit goes to the retailer. You could sell your own prints by attending comic conventions, but you can't really get a monthly series going that way.
So the next way to go is to just sell digitally. If you're selling 500 issues at 80 cents profit, you'll make about $400 a month, which definitely isn't enough to pay your artists. Even if you drop the publisher and still make the same sales figures, you're only earning $525, so let's go one step further. You ditch the ditributor, create your own website and sell it yourself. That means you get $3 an issue, but we still need to sell 3,000 copies to make the money we need, and you probably won't sell as many as if you were on a mobile platform (This doesn't take every little thing into account, you can get a good break-down on sales for Jim Zub's Skull Kickers here: www.jimzub.com/creator-owned-s…
. Not every book will follow this trend, so don't take this as gospel).
It's all looking pretty bleak right now, huh? Well, there is one potential light at the end of the tunnel: crowdfunding.
A lot of people are going down this path, and it's definitely worth trying. If you don't know what crowdfunding is, it's basically convincing people to support your idea by sponsoring you, and you give them rewards once the project is complete. This is really done best as an all or nothing approach - figure out how much money you need to get (don't forget to add in the percentage the crowdfunding site takes!) and then if you get it, awesome! Pay the artists, get it printed, and send it out to the people that need the rewards. Just don't forget to get enough printed that you can sell some later. If you don't get it, ah well, it hasn't really cost too much (apart from paying the artists for some of the artwork and possibly advertising), and you've learned how much interest people have in your idea in the first place. Maybe now it's worth approaching a publisher... So what to do?
It's up to you, really. If you're doing it for love, than do it yourself, who cares if you make money. If you're trying to break in, then be prepared for it to cost, and cost big. There are definitely stories of those that have broken into the industry from an inauspicious start, but there's no formula on how to do that. There is advice from professionals on how to get out there though: hard work and network
I would love to hear from anyone that has had work published, and can shed a kinder light on the process. I'm very happy to take this down if it's wrong