4 Time-Saving Tips (from a guy who spent 13 YEARS drawing a comic)

[Direct YouTube Link]

In a previous blog entry, I wrote about a promotional video I was working on, and here it is! Hope you enjoy it!


My name is Lars Martinson and I’m a cartoonist. I devoted 13 YEARS to drawing a graphic novel. In this video I discuss what went wrong, and lay out four things I intend to keep in mind to finish future projects more quickly.

Buy my comics! http://larsmartinson.com/buy/
“Fail Faster” video: https://youtu.be/rDjrOaoHz9s
MN Original video about me: https://youtu.be/cZSH4axuDI8

The Road to Breaking Even

Note to self: in future, don’t try to illustrate accounting terms. It just looks weird and ominous. 

Coincidentally, this weekly Monday entry is going up on the last day of October. Since November is the official release month of Tonoharu: Part Three (i.e. the month when it will start popping up on store shelves and on Amazon) I thought now would be a good time to report on Tonoharu: Part Three’s financial prospects. (The perfect Halloween topic, right? I know it scares me anyway!)

As some people may not know, Tonoharu: Part Three, and all the volumes that preceded it, are self-published. I work with the good people at Top Shelf Productions / IDW to get the book distributed across America and around the world, but when it comes to paying the book printer and stuff like that, that’s all on me.

Since “the buck stops here”, I can give you a fairly accurate estimate of how much that costs. Once all the dust settles, accounting for pre-press expenses, printing, shipping, advertising, sending out review copies, and other miscellaneous expenses, I anticipate the cost of publishing Tonoharu: Part Three to be around $9000, give or take.

So…yeah. Fancy hardcover books with two-color interior pages don’t come cheap. And that’s just the actual money I paid to other people/companies. That’s not accounting for the massive personal time investment I devoted to drawing/designing/promoting the book.

But let’s just ignore the time and effort I put into creating and publishing Tonoharu. That’s pretty hard to put a dollar amount on, and I enjoyed doing it (for the most part), so let’s just say that it was my hobby or something. I’m comfortable saying Tonoharu: Part Three will have broken even if I recoup the $9000 in actual expenses.

So how likely is that? Well, obviously it’s still way too early to say, but I’m cautiously optimistic for a couple of reasons.

The first is based on historical data. I’ve somehow managed to turn a profit on Tonoharu every year since Part One was first released back in 2008.

Now, I don’t want to put on airs or overstate things. When I say I “turned a profit”, I’m once again writing off all the countless hours I spent on Tonoharu. If I had worked a minimum wage job instead of doing Tonoharu, I’m pretty sure I would’ve come out ahead (financially speaking). So again, I’m classifying the time I spent on Tonoharu as a quasi-hobby. I’m defining profit strictly as bringing in more money than I spent.

And even then, my yearly profits have never been massive or anything, and have only drifted downwards as the years have gone by without a new release. (Last year in particular was only just barely, technically “profitable”.)

But still! I’m actually kind of humbled that people kept buying Tonoharu, especially considering how little I’ve done to market it the past few years. And with the third volume finally upon us, and the new marketing push that goes along with it, I’m confident that the sagging sales will pick up, not only for Tonoharu: Part Three, but for the first two books as well.

I won’t have a good sense of how Tonoharu: Part Three fared until I get that first royalty check from the distributor months from now. After all, that’s where the vast majority of my sales will come from. But they aren’t the only source of sales, which leads to the second reason I’m cautiously optimistic about Tonoharu: Part Three’s prospects.

In addition to sales made though my distributor, I also personally sell books at conventions and through this website. These direct sales make up just a fraction of total sales, but I earn a lot more per book sold, so they have the potential to be a relatively significant source of revenue.

And while distributor sales won’t kick off until next month, direct sales have already begun. Since I first started offering preorders on Tonoharu: Part Three, I’ve brought in around $1500. So actually, I’m already 1/6th of the way to breaking even! Not too shabby, considering the book hasn’t even “officially” come out yet.

Obviously, my ultimate goal isn’t to “just” break even, it’s to actually turn a profit (an audacious goal, I know). But breaking even would definitely be a nice start, and I’m well on my way to that milestone.

No matter what happens from here on out, I just want to take this opportunity to offer my sincere thanks to everyone who bought Tonoharu: Part Three through this website, and to anyone that buys it on Amazon or at a bookstore.

For a little indie cartoonist like me, each sale is pretty significant, and goes a long way to determining what I do in the future. If sales of Part One had been poor, Parts Two and Three would never have materialized. And now that the Tonoharu series is complete, sales of Tonoharu books will help fund future art projects (and pay for extravagances like rent and food). So yeah! Thanks to friends, family, and fans for all your support over the years. It means a lot.

I expect to reveal details about future projects before the end of the year, but for now, back to Tonoharu marketing!

Speaking of which, I’ll be posting a 12 minute YouTube video that I made about Tonoharu pretty soon, maybe even next week. I spent a long time on it and am pretty proud of it, so check back for that! (Or subscribe to my long dormant YouTube channel if you want to know right when it goes up!)

Here’s hoping for a successful launch!

Attention Strangers: Please Give Me Your Money.

salesmanlarsPictured: a face you can trust

According to this New York Times article, the average American knows 600 people.

Let’s say for the purpose of argument that the New York Times figure is accurate, and that my social network is “average”. Let’s also say that 10% of those 600 people buy my books. (I’m guessing that’s a pretty optimistic estimate if anything, but again, just for the purpose of argument.)

So that’s 60 sales I would make from people that I know personally.

Needless to say, I have to sell a lot more books than that to make publishing them economically viable. That means the majority of my sales need to come from complete and total strangers who have no emotional investment in me or my personal success or failure.

I guess that’s obvious if you think about it, but I find it’s helpful to keep in mind when I’m thinking about the best way to promote my work.

Take these two facts which I might use for promotional purposes:
1) I was covered in the Wall Street Journal.
2) My graphic novel Tonoharu has been translated into French and Spanish.

If I’m talking to my mom, or a friend, or even an acquaintance, those two facts by themselves would probably be of (at least mild) interest.

But if it’s someone that’s never met me, this “news” suddenly becomes a lot less interesting:
1) [A complete stranger] was covered in the Wall Street Journal.
2) [Some book you’ve never heard of] has been translated into French and Spanish.

Like, who cares? Lots of people you don’t know are covered in the WSJ. Lots of books you’ve never heard of are translated into other languages. If you don’t have any connection to me, these facts (by themselves) are unlikely to be of any interest.

If my promotional materials read like a family newsletter detailing my middling achievements, it’s unlikely to interest anyone who doesn’t know me personally. And since my potential audience is mostly comprised of strangers, it’s important to find creative ways to capture their attention. Every promotional effort needs some kind of hook.

Which brings me to the YouTube book trailer I’m working on to coincide with Tonoharu: Part Three’s release this November.

Now, I could title the video Official Book Trailer for Tonoharu: Part Three and show a montage of artwork over a royalty-free soundtrack. That would be a perfectly acceptable route… but also a route that would be unlikely to get many views outside of friends and family.

Because again, if I put myself in the shoes of someone who doesn’t know or care about me or my work, that video may as well be called: Official Book Trailer for [some book you’ve never heard of]. Probably not something they click on (or even see a link for in the first place for that matter).

So instead, I’ve decided to take a completely different approach. So different that it’s not really even a book trailer anymore (at least not in the traditional sense).

The video is centered around why Tonoharu took so absurdly long to complete, and the lessons I learned that I intend to apply to future artistic projects. I’ll probably call it something click-bait-y like:
4 Time Management Tips (from someone who spent 13 years on a graphic novel).

I dunno, maybe it still won’t get many views, but I figure it’s a lot more intriguing than generic book trailer #8736472. It’s been a lot more fun to work on, in any event. Anyway, I’m about 25% done with it, and will link to it once it’s done.

Okay, I’ve been rambling on about marketing for long enough. See you next Monday!

My Experience at the Kaigai Manga Festival

photo (3)
Pictured: The Fast Track to Bankruptcy 

On November 23rd, I had a table at the Kaigai Manga Festival in Tokyo. How it went depends on how you look at it. On one hand, I had the best sales I’ve ever had. On the other hand, it was my least profitable show ever.

To understand why, I should explain how comic book conventions have gone for me historically. Over time, there’s been a trend towards higher sales. I attribute this to better table presentation and sales technique, and to being more selective about which shows I go to.

That said, it’s important to put this “upward trend” into perspective. My work hardly has universal appeal, I only have three different things to sell, and I haven’t put out anything new since 2008. For even my best show, I’ve never made more than a few hundred dollars in sales.

That’s fine, but only if expenses are low as well. Up until now, I’ve only done shows in Minnesota, my home state. With no plane tickets or hotels to pay for, my expenses have just been for the table rental itself, which is negligible in the scheme of things.

Which leads me back to the Kaigai Manga Festival, the first show I’ve ever actually had expenses for.

I currently live in Kyoto, so I didn’t have international plane tickets to pay for or anything. But getting from Kyoto to Tokyo and back is actually pretty expensive, especially if you’re unwilling to take an excruciating, eight hour night bus. In order to get there and back comfortably in a single day, I had to buy two full price Shinkansen tickets. (You can get discounted Shinkansen tickets, but not for early in the morning or late at night, which is what I needed.) These travel expenses ate into my record sales to the extent that financially, the show was basically a wash.

But before you think I’m down on the experience or regret doing it, I’d like to briefly talk about what was, previously, my least profitable show ever. That being the first show I ever did, SpringCon, back in 2010.

The show is very super hero-centric, so not exactly my crowd. I only had two things to sell. My table looked awful. My “sales technique” amounted to sitting hunched over my drawing pad, ignoring anyone who walked by unless they addressed me first. I honestly can’t remember how many books I sold, but I do remember figuring out I couldn’t even pay myself minimum wage for the time I spent there. At the time, I was disheartened.

But as I eventually discovered, same day book sales aren’t the only reason to do conventions. The show allowed me to reconnect with members of the Minnesota cartooning scene after a long absence. These connections were gratifying in there own right, and also eventually landed me a few paying gigs.

At the Kaigai Manga Festival, I met a representative for a major Japanese book store chain who felt my work might be a good fit for their English book section. Time will tell if that pans out, but if it does, that could result in sales over the next few years that wouldn’t have occurred if I hadn’t been at the show.

I also met a lot of great members of the cartooning community, like Victor Edison and Deb Aoki among others. For someone who has devoted their life to comics, I’m embarrassingly out of touch with the current comics scene, so it’s good to get a chance to reconnect with it a little bit.

If the travel expenses weren’t an issue, I’d definitely go to Kaigai Manga Festival next year. It’s well run and as I said, resulted in my best sales ever. If you’re a cartoonist who lives in the Tokyo area, I’d recommend it.

As it stands, with the travel expenses being what they are, I’m still deciding if I’m going to participate next year. It might be worth doing if I combined it with a mini-vacation to Tokyo or something. We’ll see.

That said, sales were encouraging enough that I’ve decided to try a similar show in Osaka next May. I can get to Osaka for one-tenth the cost of getting to Tokyo, so if I manage to pull off similar sales, it’d be well worth it. More details on that in the months to come!

Genuine Imitations

proofcloseupPictured: Tonoharu: Part One Proof Detail

Until the latter half of the twentieth century, most books were printed on a letterpress. Rows of raised metal letters were arranged on a block, inked, and then pressed into the paper. The pressure required to transfer the ink created an indentations on the printed page. Master printers strived to have the letterpress “kiss the paper”; to use only as much pressure as was strictly necessary to transfer the ink, leaving the paper as smooth and indentation-free as possible.

These days, laypeople reproduce documents on photocopies and laser printers, and most books are printed using offset lithography. These technologies leave no indentations on the page at all, and are considerably cheaper, easier, and more versatile than a letterpress.

So when letterpress printing is employed now, it’s for aesthetic rather than practical reasons. The designer wishes to evoke a traditional/classic feel that letterpress printing imbues. And the main characteristic that distinguishes letterpress printing from modern methods is the indentations.

So rather than try to eliminate them, modern letterpress printers try to make the indentations as obvious as possible. They use durable, thick paper stocks, and apply as much pressure as they can to really dig those letters in. What was once a defect has become a feature.

These thoughts occurred to me as I was preparing files for the forthcoming Tonoharu: Part One paperback. The hardcover editions Tonoharu were printed on cream-colored paper stock, but I’ve since learned there’s a more cost effective way to get a similar effect. It’s actually cheaper to print on the interior pages on standard white paper, and then coat the page with cream-colored ink to simulate cream paper stock.

At first blush this seems completely counterintuitive. Can you imagine trying to save money by doing this on an ink jet printer? But commercial printers play by a different set of rules. And if makes sense when you think about it. Mixing inks is a lot easier and cheaper than making colored paper from scratch, so rather than having small qualities of a million different colored papers, they can just buy white paper in bulk and custom mix ink to whatever hue their customers want.

The simulated cream paper is cheaper than actual cream paper, but it’s not free of course. Giving the pages of Tonoharu the cream treatment added about 10% to my production costs.

So basically, I’m paying a premium to make the pages of Tonoharu look like they’ve been yellowed with age; to give them a more “natural” feel than the artificial, bleached white paper. It’s kind of ironic, right? I’m taking great pains to obscure the actual paper stock in order to foster the appearance of authenticity. I thought that was kind of funny.

“Tonoharu: Part One”—SOLD OUT! (Almost–see details below)

Just got some cool news from my distributor: they’ve ran out of the second printing of Tonoharu: Part One!

I intend to reprint, but I’ll have to do a lot of prep work for it, so it’ll be months before a new printing comes out. I don’t expect to have it out until sometime in 2013…

So if you want Tonoharu: Part One for the upcoming holiday season, get it now while you still can!


Direct From Me:
My distributor is out of copies, but I personally still have a couple dozen pristine copies left & available for sale. Not only that, but they’re from the first printing! AND a limited number of them (about 10) are signed! (I’ll update this entry if the signed copies run out.) I’m in Japan so I can’t sign more until I visit home next summer, so if you want a signed copy (or a copy at all, for that matter) order now!
Link to My Store>>>

From Amazon.com
As I write this blog entry, Amazon says they still have 2 copies. I don’t know if those are the very last two, or if they’ll be getting one last shipment or what, but either way, they’re scrapping the bottom of the barrel. There’s also some really, really cheap new/used copies being sold through third party sellers on Amazon. I imagine they’ll go up in price once the book is listed as out-of-print, so get ’em now while they’re cheap!
Link to Tonoharu: Part One on Amazon.com>>>

From your favorite local bookseller
If they have a copy, grab it, because it’ll be a while before they get any more!


That’s it for now! My sincere thanks to everyone who supported me and picked up the book, making two sold-out printings possible! Here’s hoping printing #3 does okay too!

Oh, and there’s still a TON of copies of Tonoharu: Part Two left, so… pick that up too, won’t you? Ha ha…