Number Crunching Publisher versus Self Publishing

This month I’m gonna do a little break down the money I made self-publishing verse working with a publisher. Basically it’s what I learned while working with Darkhorse and the hard numbers.

Part 1: How much black and white verse color printing costs

Okay, to start with I’m going to tell you how much it costs to print a black and white book. I’ll use Cautionary Fables and Fairy Tales Africa edition and As We Were/Strange Someone

Kate and I ordered 2500 copies of Cautionary Fables and Fairy Tables: Africa Edition book. It was roughly 200 pages, is black and white, and is 6 by 9. It costs us 4045.88 plus shipping to my apartment and Kate’s house in the UK (that came to 2k mostly because of shipping to the UK).

As We Were/Strange Someone is the same size and length but is in color. I ordered 1000 of them. It cost me 6005. If I wanted 2000, I could have gotten them for 7739.

So it was almost double to print a book in color.

If you have followed me for awhile, you might have noticed that As We Were/Strange Someone is the book I haven’t reprinted. It’s partly how expensive it is and partly that is was my worst seller.

Part 2: Advances

Darkhorse says I can’t share my exact advance for Misfits of Avalon. But if you read all this you can probably figure it out the math.
This is less than what they usually give because I wanted to put it online first. For reference as how this compares to other advances, friends of mine got 7.5k-10 for their books that are the same length but full color from different comic only publishers. Publishers that are owned by book publishers like First Second, Abrams, Lerner, and Scholastic are ranging between 20k-30k for books the same length as Misfits of Avalon or they are paying 10k-15k for shorter books.

Misfits of Avalon hasn’t broken even.

Part 3: Taking Kickstarter into account

So I’m gonna compare Misfits of Avalon Volume 1 to The Better to Find You With. They are both black and white and came out close to one another. While a Cautionary Fables book might be a better comparison as far as page count, it’s accounting is more complicated because I paid all the contributors and split the profits with Kate.

The Better To Find You With print cost was 2189.72 and 1353 in shipping costs. So the total cost was 3943.42.

Misfits of Avalon‘s advance vs The Better to Find You With‘s -$3943.42 looks pretty good. However, the kickstarter covered all of that. In fact The Better to Find You With‘s kickstarter went over. The kickstarter says I got 7472 but really after Kickstarter fees and dropped backers I got 6788.63.

That means Misfits of Avalon‘s advance should be compared to The Better to Find You With making $2845.21. Which is ends up being comparable since TBTFYW is half the length of MOA.

This is why Kickstarter has been such a great thing/game changer for indie comics. It’s become much easier to get self-published books funded and in front of people that want them. But Sorcery 101 and As We Were/Strange Someone were harder to fund and didn’t have as much wiggle room in their budget because of the expense of color printing.

Part 4: Selling at Cons

Okay, so post Kickstarter before the books are out in the world Misfits of Avalon has made me my advance and The Better to Find You with has made me $2845.21. Last year, was the first time both of them were out.

In 2017 I sold 129 copies Misfits of Avalon volume 1.

In 2017 I sold 110 copies of The Better to Find You With.

So I made Misfits of Avalon vol 1 made me 1935 and The Better to Find You With made me 1100.

BUT I have to buy Misfits of Avalon books from Darkhorse at $6 (60% off cover price) a book. So that means I really made 1161 off Misfits of Avalon.

Misfits of Avalon volume 1 has only made me $61 more than The Better to Find You With in 2017That’s kinda rough when you think about how Misfits of Avalon is twice as long as The Better to Find You With. But also it’s good to note that a publisher’s logo isn’t helping sales when I’m selling them in person.

If I add up all the sales of Misfits of Avalon vol 1 since it’s release I’ve sold 652. That means I’ve made 5868 off Misfits of Avalon sales. But those are all sales I made without Darkhorse’s help. If I had self-published Misfits of Avalon and had the same sales, I would have made 9780. It’s a little bit less now than my sales plus my advance but as soon as I sell 850 copies (which will probably be at the end of 2019) then things fall in favor of self publishing. So that then comes to what is the publisher doing to make up for the $6 a book I’m giving them for Misfits of Avalon.

Part 5: Stuff a publisher can do for me

As I said at the beginning, Misfits of Avalon hasn’t broken even yet. So I’m not seeing any more money from Darkhorse. The question then becomes is what Darkhorse is doing worth the loss after I sell 850 copies. Or does the money up front justify the eventual loss?

Darkhorse made Misfits of Avalon’s logo and did all the prepress. That is something I can easily do on my own but it was nice to not have to.

They also handled the cost of printing and if Misfits of Avalon was in color they would pay the colorist.

Publishers have a further reach than I do as an independent creator. They can get into book stores and libraries with distribution. But they can only do that if they are properly promoting it. So its important to ask questions about how the publisher is gonna out reach to those places. Because without that key marketing you are missing out on one of the key benefits of a publisher.

Part 6: When I’ll approach publishers again

Taking all this information in has helped me figure out when I should and shouldn’t pitch to a publisher. Black and white books that are half the length of Misfits of Avalon are making me about the same amount year to year. So I probably should have self published it and used kickstarter. At least for the first print run.

A better strategy might have been to self publish it and then use my sales data to get it to a new audience with a publisher. Because then then it’s clear I’ve made as much as I can off the series by myself and anything the publisher does is extra.

But a publisher handling the upfront costs is a huge benefit if the comic is color or if I’m just writing it. In both those cases the cost of making the book is much higher for me. Getting 3k out of a kickstarter for a black and white book is pretty doable for me, getting 7-8k is doable but a lot more effort. Having a publisher pick up that bill could be worth it. And it would especially be worth it if they hire a colorist for me.

Even though I think I would be better off financially self publishing Misfits of Avalon, I’m glad I went through Darkhorse because now I have a better idea about what to ask for. That is both in terms of numbers and also in terms of support that isn’t financial. Like how much marketing is this book gonna get? If the answer is none, can they give me more money so I can buy marketing on my own? What costs are they fronting? Where are they doing reach out? Is it just comic book shops or is it book stores and libraries?

For me, I’m probably only gonna pitch color books to publishers from now on or I’m only gonna be the writer on them.

3 thoughts on “Number Crunching Publisher versus Self Publishing

  1. Thank you, Kel, very helpful post! I especially appreciate the breakdown of colour vs BW, and the idea of approaching publishers only with books that would be a real bite to self-publish sounds like a sound strategy.

  2. Very interesting post! I know you’re focusing on print here, but does ebook publishing add anything to the bottom line? How about print-on-demand places (if you’ve ever used them)?

    1. Print on Demand isn’t very profitable. Usually your book ends up rather expense to make a profit off. So I’d say only use it if you are just starting out and need something for conventions. But once you start to have serious interest in a comic you should try to do a print run. As for ebooks versions of comics, Comixology submit is super easy to set up, so I think you should do that as soon as possible.

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