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LESSONS LEARNED #4

By Chris Gumprich. (Originally posted May 15, 2005)

Money. Everybody wants it and nobody has enough of it, and it's an important part of getting a comic published. Even the smallest run minicomic needs someone to pay for the paper.

Before jumping full-tilt into the production of Midnight Coder, I had to figure out exactly where the money would go. First and foremost - I had to find a printer. Emailing around got me the names of a few of the more popular printers, and with a quick scan of True Facts I was able to put together a professional quote request including specifications for size, estimated page count, paper weight, all that good stuff. I sent the requests to three of the top printers, and waited for a response.

While I was waiting, I remembered a lesson that American Splendor taught me - if you use a printer close to home, you can save money on the shipping charges by going to pick it up yourself. Unfortunately, a read of the Yellow Pages showed no printers that handled comics. I learned later that one of them did - they just didn't advertise it. Important point, use the phone. That's what it's there for.

Anyway, I soon had enough information to choose a printer, and pencil in "Printing Expenses" on my spreadsheet. That was the one area where I needed outside input in order to properly budget. The rest was a percentage of what I could afford to spend.

This is the most important point I am going to make: always plan for your sales to be zero. Spend money as if you are never going to see a penny of it again. You wouldn't go and mortgage your house just to have money to spend at the roulette wheel, would you? Of course not - the gambler's maxim is to only bet what you can afford. Same principle applies.

"But Chris," I hear you say, "can't I use the money from my sales to pay for everything? The printer invoices on a thirty-day period, and Diamond pays for their order within that period. It's no risk!" Well, sure, that can work. as long as Diamond carries your book and pre-sales cover the cost of printing. And advertising. And your artist, if you need one. And your letterer, again if you need one. You're also assuming that all those people will also be invoicing on net-30 terms, or that you'll be able to let them slide a little longer and pay them with the money you make on Diamond's reorders. But how do you know that Diamond will even carry your book?

You have to plan for the worst-case scenario. It's not a sign that you don't have faith in your work - exactly the opposite. You feel so confident that your work will sell that you're willing to put your own money behind it. This is not a lesson you want to learn the hard way.

For me, that meant taking all of the money I had been saving for the past few years and putting it on the line. It meant putting off that vacation I was planning, it meant not buying that expensive hardcover, it meant not going out for lunch on a regular basis. I knew that I had to make sacrifices - but I was willing to do it for the sake of the comic. Of course, I had to clear this with my darling wife. especially the "no vacation" part. Fortunately, she understood the importance of this decision, and supported me completely.

That's another important point, by the way. If you're in a relationship when you start down the self-publishing path, make sure your partner understands and supports you. However important doing comics might be to you, it's probably not worth risking your marriage.

All right - the budget was written, the money in place, the script written and ready to go. Now, I either had to improve my drawing skills to a professional level, or I needed to find an artist.

I signed up for a night class right away. Within a few weeks, I realized that I was many years of solid practice away from becoming even close to professional level.

The hunt for an artist began.