What does a comic cost? Part 3: Printing
A version of this post was originally published on 2/21/21 on my blog at https://www.andrastecomic.com.
Hello! This is the third and final post in my series about how much it cost to make the first issue of Andraste as an independent writer commissioning artists and printing books herself.
My plans have shifted since I wrote that first post: rather than printing single issues and Kickstarting them that way, I've decided to print ~90 page collections of three issues apiece, and to only print limited runs of some single issues. So I'll be talking about the cost of producing and printing that first collection too.
Issue 1 costs
Since it's been a while: where were we at again for Issue 1?
Issue 1 total: $6,909
Getting started: $1,655
Artwork: $5,160 for 23 pages of full-color artwork and two covers
Printing: $95* including shipping for 25 copies ($654 had I printed 200 as originally planned)
You'll note that printing cost is, uh, quite a bit lower than my original estimate! That's because, per the decision mentioned up top, I only printed 25 copies as a special for Kickstarter backers. I used Ka-Blam for printing, and their turnaround time for 25 single-issues was 31 days from the date I placed my order (12/8) to the date they were in my hands (1/4). It was 21 days from when I ordered to when they shipped.
Had I indeed printed 200 copies of the single-issues, it would have cost $654. Ka-Blam's price breaks kick in at 500 copies, so the price-per-unit ($3.27) is the same up to 500.
Volume 1 costs
...But I didn't do that! Since what I printed was 200 copies of a 92-page collection of Issues #1-3, I'll cover the total costs for printing and creating that book, too.
Printing costs vary a lot from vendor to vendor, and in most cases the more copies you print, the better price-per-unit you get. Most printers have price estimators or per-unit pricing on their websites, and I recommend making a spreadsheet of options for yourself to compare. If you want to copy my template, go for it! If you aren't printing based on a pre-ordered quantity (i.e., a number of Kickstarter or Indiegogo backers, or store orders), keep an eye on those two rightmost columns so you know how many you need to sell to actually break even. You can even plug in your grand total printing, art, and start-up costs into that totals column if you want to feel really overwhelmed. Fun!
I'm doing the print run (right now, in fact) for Volume 1 through Comic Impressions. They're lovely! Reach out to them for a quote! My total price for printing (incl. shipping) 200 copies of my 92-page Volume 1 was $1,350.
So let's update those totals:
Volume 1 (Issues 1-3) Total: $16,050
Getting started: $1,655
Artwork: $12,950 for 81 pages of full-color artwork and six covers
Printing: $1,445 (Vol. 1 and Issue 1)
Was it worth it?
As of today I've made back about $6,500 on the series through sales on Kickstarter (after fees) and ComiXology. To which you might say: "Hey, this doesn't seem very lucrative!" or "Oh no, what are you doing with your money!" (I'm fine, mom!)
That "yep" is because I'm doing this for two main reasons:
First, writing comics is something I have always wanted to do for its own sake. I'm able to write and publish comics about one of my favorite historical periods and figures, befriend some artists I admire immensely, and meet wonderful nerds from all over the world who are into Boudicca and company, too!
Second, I'd like to do this well enough that the series will one day turn a profit and run on its own steam. 'Til then it's a 'classic car' hobby: expensive, fun, instructional, and extremely rewarding. This is my first rodeo, hopefully of many. How many more metaphors can I cram in here?
Good for you; what if I can't afford this?
There are a lot of reasons why the way I went about making Andraste might not work for everyone: I have a day job, and I was able to sock away enough money over the course of a few years to get the series rolling before turning to Kickstarter to print it. I have enough spare time over the nights and weekends to write and work on getting the book out there.
Because of that I prioritized speed and IP ownership over cost. I know a lot of people don't have that option, or aren't able or willing to swing the up-front costs involved in producing a book in this particular way. Everyone and every project is different: I wrote these posts in an effort to make my own process more transparent, because that's what I want to see in the world.
If you do want my unsolicited advice: Crowdfunding is amazing for finding an audience and getting your project over the finish line, though I recommend having as much of your project done as you can manage before you start a campaign, to reduce your risk of being late and improve your chances of funding. Start an LLC so you can deduct your expenses and maybe get a break on your taxes (it's worth filing the paperwork, seriously). You can go slow and build your audience up on platforms like Webtoons, GlobalComix, or ComiXology so you can produce books at the pace that works for you, or you can find artists willing to share profits and take a lower page rate. Apply to anthologies. Start as small as you have to to make it work.
And let me know when your comic is out!