Are You Ready for a Book?

We here at the Alliance get asked this question a lot: “When will I know I’m ready to print my first book?”  This is a loaded question and the real question should be “Is my comic ready for printing?”  What I mean is your audience ready to shell out hard earned cash for your comic in print form?  In this article, I’m going to take you down that treacherous road to your first printing.  It’s a slippery road, so hang on and be prepared to ask yourself some hard questions and give yourself realistic answers.

This article is aimed at the novice webcomic creator out there.  You seasoned folks can tag along too, as you should still be asking yourself some of these questions.  Also, I am aiming this article at newspaper style comics, not full page comics.  Graphic novel type comics are a whole different ballgame.  Now that that’s settled, the first question you should ask is this:

1. “Why would anyone pay cash for a print version of your comic when they can read it for free on-line?” 

In the good old days, getting a comic in print form was the only way to see a comic again.  Once it went by in the newspaper, poof, it was gone.  Not true today.  Once you publish your comic on-line, it’s there forever (technically speaking).  The good thing is new readers can see your archive and dig in (and hopefully stay).  The bad thing is it’s there for your readers to view again and again.  Yes, some folks will want to hold that comic in their grubby little hands, but that percentage is dropping more and more, especially considering the economy’s state.  One tip is to motivate your readers with extra, exclusive content in the book.  That is a sure winner but adds a ton of work to your schedule.  Another tip is to be leery of putting a poll on your website and asking if folks would buy a book or not.  Most will say they will and very few will follow through.  Pre-orders are a great way of judging, but you better be prepared to burn the midnight oil if you meet your sales goal as most folks won’t wait 6 months for you to do the extra content and then deliver the book.

 2. “How do you know you’re ready for a print version of you comic?”

Well, one way is simply by the sheer volume you have created.  If you have 50 comics done, that may not be enough to entice someone to buy nor is it worth all that work for a relatively small number of comics.  A good rule of thumb is to have at least one year’s worth of comics done.  And that’s assuming you’re doing 2 or 3 comics per week.  So, between 100 to 150 strips is a good number.  It makes the book substantial enough for printing.  Another good way to build up for your first print is to wait until you’re 6 months or more into your second year of publishing the comic on-line.  This way, you can also see where your readership is.  If you have a small readership, there may not be enough willing to shell out cash for your book to make it worth your while.  Which leads us to the next question:

3. “Are you going to make enough on the book to make it worth your while to produce?” 

I’m not talking about the actual per-book profit, but the total profit divided by the hours it took you to produce the book.  If it would take you 40 hours of work to assemble your book and produce the extra content, how much total profit will make it worth your while to produce the book in the first place?  Let’s use $10/hour as an example hourly wage.  If you make $5 per book, and it took you 40 hours to assemble at $10 per hour, that’s $400 profit to make back your time.  Divide that $400 by $5 and you would have to sell 80 books to make back your time.  In some ways that’s a small number, but I know of many creators who never sell that many copies of their books.  And if you’re producing the book at a loss financially, well, that’s sheer madness from a business point of view.

Let me state clearly, that I approach this totally from a business point of view.  I do not take into consideration the sheer personal joy of holding your book.  If that’s all you want, then assemble your book, publish it over at LuLu and buy yourself a few copies for your friends and family and call it a day.  BUT… I’m in this for the money.  If I can’t make back a decent profit, then why would I waste the time when I could invest that time into learning a new inking or coloring technique, or better yet, actually take the time to write and produce a better comic.  In the end that’s what folks want from us; a good comic delivered on time.  Invest your time in improving your craft both in terms of writing and drawing.  The end result will be a readership that WANTS your book and will demand it.  That is the real answer here: create an audience for you book willing to put down the cash for your products.

One final tip I will toss out is to produce a digital version of your book first. 

I lay my books out in Adobe’s InDesign and it easily lets me export a PDF for web as well as for print.  By offering it in a digital form first, you can test the waters and see who really is willing to cough up the cash for you comic in a “print” form.  If this digital version goes over well enough (you’ll know as folks will say “Hey, can I buy this in print?”) then you know you’re ready for print.  Then all you have to do is simply open InDesign and export a print-ready PDF file and send it off to the printers!  I’ve done this and it has saved me the headache of printing a book that no one will buy.

So, you should now be ready to test the waters with your readers and see if the next best seller is waiting in your comic archives.  Even if it’s not, it is pretty darn cool to hold your comics in your hand, I have to admit.  This from a guy who likes to joke that “print is dead”.

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  1. Hmm… a couple questions, and these could very well have been already covered, but I’m fairly late to checking out the Webcomic Alliance so go easy on me 😛 Anyway, for starters I’m wondering what book producers you guys go with, and also, for the digital thing, are you still charging for it?

    • Greetings! I never slap anyone for asking questions, so feel free to ask any questions, that’s what we’re here for. Now, I may slap Antoine once in a while for his answers, but that’s another story…

      Dawn did a great article on self-publishing and you can find it here:

      As far as charging for the digital version, that’s up to you, but why give it away? I would charge at least $1 for any digital book. Now, if you want to use the digital versions as giveaways or prizes, that works great too, but put some value on it. If you just give it away, then why bother? They comics are on-line, so it doesn’t make sense to me. But that’s just me.

      • Well thanks to both of you! Up until now I only knew about Lulu! Funny thing is, I also just happened to listen to podcast #12 yesterday (where you were all talking about printing books), so it looks like I’ve got some new options to consider when I get to RuneSpark year one.

  2. 1. “Why would anyone pay cash for a print version of your comic when they can read it for free on-line?”

    I’ve taken a different track from what a lot of my fellow webcomic creators have done for their books. My book is all new material, told in a long form format. I didn’t want to just make a book that was reprinted material, I wanted something new and different. So I came up with a new story and started to work on it. It did involve taking a hiatus from my webcomic, but in the end I think I have come up with something really special.*
    It also allowed me to rediscover my love for this form of storytelling, which I was sorely needing.

    3. “Are you going to make enough on the book to make it worth your while to produce?”

    Given the amount of time that went into producing this book, I would say it’s highly unlikely that I will make enough money compensate me for the time put into it. But in the end I have told a story that is super important to me, and it renewed my love of comics. So I don’t think I can really put on price on that. Mind you I wouldn’t mind if I made a lot of money on the book, but it’s not something I am counting on.

    *We’ll find out when I release it this summer.

    • Keith,

      The “rediscovering my love of the form of storytelling” part seems like the real bonus to this endeavor.

      I think it’s important for us to recognize that there are PLENTY of people out there who would rather PAY for something they can hold in their hands, then go and read the same thing on a website.

      Also, 99% of people we’ll meet at conventions will have NEVER read our webcomic.

      So in almost all cases, the fact that the same content is online for free, is pretty much irrelevant.

      • I agree, Tyler, whole-heartily. I just want to help the novice webcomicer to go into their first printing with open eyes, as I have seen so many fail and then get discouraged.

        As much as I tease about print being dead, it is just that, I’m teasing. It is long from dead but we have to approach it with a different attitude and scheme. You are a perfect example of what it takes to make it work and I nod my hat to your endeavors.

      • “there are PLENTY of people out there who would rather PAY for something they can hold in their hands”

        I agree with you 100% on that Tyler, I have a bunch of Devil’s Panties comics and I enjoy reading them more than reading the same comics on the website.

        The #1 advantage to any printed material is it never runs out of juice right in the middle of you reading it.

    • Keith,

      Fantastic approach and with the correct promotion (a lot) you’ll have some success with it. I too want to keep my daily strips and then produce one or two standard form comic book stories for my characters and offer them for print, then in digital form.

      I think that can work as we build our readerships (as Tyler said).

      • Wow, Byron doing a long form comic and keeping up with the webcomic too. I don’t think there is anyway I could have done that, that is pretty impressive that you are even considering it.

        I am printing it through Ka-Blam, and offering it through their store, so I think I’ll take advantage of the fact that the offer digital downloads as well.

        I need to come up with some good promotional ideas soon so I can get started on marketing the project.

  3. Timely article, Byron. I just this last week tried out all of Chapt VI of Aedre’s Firefly in a PDF and it looks like I planned the strip sizes perfectly: three strips per page. I made it using Adobe Bridge though. I was surprised at how good it looked, somehow more “real”. But I guess that’s just because I’m old and have had only books to read most of my life. ;`)

    I like Kevin Cross’s idea above.(looking forward to the release of that, Kevin!) I think I’d like to do both: offer a PDF of my online stuff for easier access, and add in extras and new content as well.

    If the PDF goes over well, I’d try publishing a non-digital version of the book next. That said. I’m still a long way from that point. I have a ton of early stuff I need to clean up first and put into the three strips/page format I now use.

    • You’re taking the right steps; testing the market and seeing if there’s a demand before going to print, and that is a perfect approach. So you get a gold star! Yay!

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