Thursday, September 21, 2017

Creating a new comic book series: The business end of things

Promotional version of the Cover by Alexia Veldhuisen

Today's entry concerns the creation of a new comic book series.  Things I've learned so far and things you may wish to consider as you create your own comic book series.

Be advised, this is based on my experience to date with the creation process behind 47 Furious Tails, which is still in progress.  It is likely that I will update this data in the future to reflect more information I've gleamed from this process.  Feel free to offer your own observations.

This process will not address the writing or art involved, this is about the business end of things.

Thus do we begin:

1)  Do the Math!
The mathematics of the business are fairly direct.  You have your operation costs such as paying your artist (if, like me, you don't do the art yourself), editing and layout costs may apply, legal costs (contracts, copyright, trademark registration, ISBN costs, etc), printing (unless you are all digital), shipping costs, and promotional costs.    All of these costs need to be met and (hopefully) exceeded in order for your business to be at all successful.

Do your math in advance.  Get quotes on your printing, shop around, and be mindful of the differences between off set and digital printing types.  Price check your shipping supplies as shipping costs pile up very quickly.  Check the shipping costs by weight, size, destinations, and those other factors that affect that calculation.  ISBN costs get cheaper per number when you buy them in blocks.  For a comic line you are starting I would recommend getting a block of 10 to start, which will cost you as much as $300, but will give you the ISBN you need for 10 issues/covers.

2) Crowdfunding
Crowdfunding your title is an exciting endeavor.  My first crowdfunding effort was for a role-playing game adventure module.  Getting a comic book funded is an entirely different thing altogether.  Why?  The math is different.

With comic books you have the same two basic formats as other books:  print and digital.  Unlike other books, your margins on comic books are very VERY small.  This requires a larger number of backers, and some higher end rewards would help as well.  This is where comic artists who do their own writing have a distinct advantage.  They can do the art themselves, have a lower goal for their crowdfunding campaign, and more easily find their funding.  If you are not doing the art yourself, then you can expect to pay substantially for a 28 page interior plus cover and interior covers.   So you MUST set your crowdfunding goal high enough to cover those art and other costs you are not wanting to pay out of pocket.  

The difference here is one of scale.  You have to produce more comics to have a lower cost per copy and so must receive enough backing to fund such printing and associated fulfillment costs.   As a good example thing of things like this:  your shipping costs for a single comic book are usually going to be higher your profit margin.  Using KickStarter as my model (its the only crowdfunding platform I've used so far) this means building backer rewards at levels that either include shipping in the calculation or building in a shipping amount by country into each award.  

3)  Release timing
If you are crowdfunding your comic book it is going to slow down your releases.  You will find that your crowdfunding fulfillment can take a substantial amount of time (particularly if you have a large number of backers).  Account for that in your calculations for fulfillment.  Will you need help filling rewards?  Where will you work?  Are you using a service to execute the fulfillment and if so what is their turn around time?  Each link in this distribution chain slows the overall process of taking your comic book and putting it into a reader's hands.

Fulfillment of backer rewards (again I'm speaking from a KickStarter perspective) is critically important.  You must attend to the timeliness, quality of the packaging, delivery schedule, and wharehousing/storage of your copies.  Don't take this step lightly.  Plan it out in advance and know where things are going and how your operation is going to run.

4) Subscriptions
If you are an indie comic book writer/artist you dream of one day having subscribers. My opinion is that Patreon can work for this after a fashion.  You need to be mindful that those subscribers have placed their faith and money in your hands.  You are responsible for fulfilling your part of the publisher-subscriber relationship and making certain that you publish and get those copies to the subscriber.  Placing subscriber content (digital copies) on your Patreon account is an easy way to facilitate fulfillment of content.  For subscribers who want print copy you'll need to find a balance between the time it takes to fulfill copies and the costs that apply.  If you have only a thousand or so subscribers then fulfilling physical copies personally can take a few days time out of your week.  If you have 10,000 subscribers or more, well that is a good problem to have, but you may want to use a fulfillment service of some form as fulfilling 10k copies would take a lot of time away that you could use creating your next issue.

5)  Promoting
If you've read this blog before you know that I'm exploring several avenues of promotion to help build awareness for my titles.  Blogging, social media campaigns, and advertising some of the ways you can promote your title.  Convention appearances, podcast and radio interviews, television appearances, and speaking engagements are other avenues you may wish to explore to increase the visibility of your title.  Put the effort into promoting your titles and keep at it.  It won't explode overnight (at least mine haven't) but you will see an increase in your traffic.

6) Sustaining your title
If you comic book is a recurring series then you will be constantly working on creating content, making appearances, building contacts with retailers and collectors/fans, talking with people who know far more about the business than you and I do and (Hopefully) listening to their insights.
You will work.  A LOT.

I've been working on my first comic book for only a few months now.  I can tell you I have learned this much already.  I'll be glad to post more as I learn more about the business.

For those of you who have been producing comic books for any length of time, your comments are most welcome.  Please post those comments below and help those who come after you with the benefit of your own experience.

Thank you all for joining me on my continuing adventure into self-publishing and game design.

I hope to see you next time.

You can support my first comic book title, 47 Furious Tails on KickStarter HERE

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