How I Self-Published a Graphic Novel (10/10)

This is the last in a ten entry series of blog posts about my experiences self-publishing my first graphic novel, Tonoharu: Part One. I’m writing this informal “how-to” guide in the hopes that my limited experience might be of some value to aspiring comic book self-publishers.

This guide is offered with no guarantees. I’ve done my best to provide accurate information, but I assume no responsibility for any negative consequences that result from following my advice. For other important disclaimers, please see the first entry in the series. Links to other installments in the series can be found on the bottom of this entry.

Part Ten: The Long Haul / Conclusion
The Long Haul (Speculative)
Throughout this series, I’ve reminded readers about my relative lack of experience, and asked them to take my advice with a grain of salt.

If previous entries in this series should be taken with a grain of salt, then this entry should be taken with a brick of it. Up until now I’ve at least offered advice about things I’ve had some experience with (limited though it may be). The subject of this last entry is making a living as a cartoonist over the long haul, and since my book was just published earlier this year, I can’t yet say if cartooning will be a sustainable reality for me. If things work out well, I may someday rewrite this final entry from experience, but for now, bear in mind that the following is mostly speculative.

Alternative Revenue Streams
As I mentioned in an earlier entry, cartooning is a poor career choice. Even making a living wage is the barest sense is often difficult; only a handful of “alternative” cartoonists are able to make a living exclusively through cartooning. For other cartoonists who aren’t as talented/prolific/lucky, money has to be sought from other sources to supplement the lousy pay of cartooning. Here are a few of my thoughts on places to start.

1) Self-Publish
My decision to self-publish was largely inspired by the bottom line. By assuming the burden of the publisher, I could keep the publisher’s share of the profits, thereby slightly improving my chances of making a living wage through my work. Self-publishing has also had the added benefit of providing me with a crash course on the ins-and-outs of the book industry, and since I hope to be involved in cartooning over the long haul, that’s been very valuable as well.

Self-publishing isn’t for everyone, but personally, I’m glad to have done it. Consult The Self-Publishing Manual and see other entries in this series to decide if self-publishing is right for you.

2) Scholarships/Grants
I’ve already written about the Xeric Grant, and recommend you secure one before you self-publish. But there’s no reason to stop at that.

The competition for art grants is fierce, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get one. Little by little, comics are becoming accepted as a legitimate art form, and once you’ve received a Xeric Grant and published your first book, you’ll have accomplished something to help set yourself apart from the crowd.

At the time of this writing, I’ve only applied for one other source of money in addition to the Xeric Grant; a two-year, post grad research scholarship sponsored by the Japanese Government called a Monbusho Scholarship. I’m happy to say I received it, and am currently studying Japanese Calligraphy at Shikoku University. (If by chance you happen to think that one of these scholarships might be up your alley, I wrote a four-part series of entries about the application process, the first part of which can be found here.)

3) Amazon Associates / Affiliate Programs
If you have a blog and you occasionally mention books or DVDs that you like, you should consider signing up with Amazon Associates. Basically you write about something you like, and include a special link to If the reader who clicks on your link buys anything from in the next 24 hours, you get a commission on that sale. For more info about Amazon Associates, click here.

All of the links on this website are set up in this way, so if any of you gentle readers click on one and then buy something, I get a bit of money. (Thanks!) I’m pretty small time, so I generally make about $30 or less a month, but it’s better than nothing.

Regarding privacy: I don’t receive any personal details about who buys what, just what gets bought. So feel free to buy obscenity after clicking on one of my links; I’ll never know it was you.

One more note: I’ve singled about Amazon Associates because it’s easy to use, and stocks most of what you might want to plug. But there are other affiliate programs out there too. If you frequently mention, say, imported video games from Japan on your blog, it might make sense to sign up with’s affiliate program, for example.

4) Selling Original Art / Merchandise
Graphic novelists end up with dozens (if not hundreds) of pieces original art. Once this art has been scanned for press, you don’t really need it anymore, unless you have a sentimental attachment to it.

I’ve been planning to offer original art for sale for a long time, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. I think selling it through your website, via Paypal account, would probably be the easiest way, and maybe offering some for direct sale at comic book conventions that you attend.

As for merchandise, I’m still thinking about this one. I’m not really sure if Tonoharu has much potential in that direction (although I guess if you can make a Jimmy Corrigan doll, then anything’s game).

A fairly low risk way of testing the waters for merchandise would be to set up an account through Again, I haven’t personally tried this yet…

5) Related Side Work
The ideal of course is to make a living by doing cartooning only, but if you have do side work, try to find something that in some way relates to / promotes your work.

As of yet, I haven’t had to go down this route yet so I can’t say much more about it, but the side work I’d most be interested in include illustration gigs, speaking engagements, and teaching gigs.

6) Be Persistent / Never Give Up
Okay, I’m moving into the realm of self-help cliche here, but oh well. Fortune favors the bold. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. You gotta be in it to win it. Fake it until you make it. Etc. etc.

But seriously; the only guaranteed failure is if you don’t even try. Trying to make a living as a cartoonist is absurd, but if it’s really and truly your dream, you should go for it. Life’s too short to do otherwise. (Ugh, more cliches…)

Throughout these posts, I’ve tried to make it clear that I consider this series to be supplemental to the books I’ve recommend herein. I don’t have the energy (or the knowledge, for that matter) to write a truly comprehensive self-publishing guide, and with books like The Self-Publishing Manual on the market, there’s not really a need for me to do so anyway.

I’m mentioning this again because I want to make it clear that I’ve only provided the barest outline of you should do in regards to self-publishing a book. I hope this guide had been helpful to aspiring self-publishers, but please consult other sources as well. In the very, very least, read The Self-Publishing Manual by Dan Poytner. (I’ve plugged this book so much throughout this series that mentioning it again is probably more than a little redundant, but it really was that good. Don’t even think about self-publishing without it.)

Since I’ve spent countless hours writing this stupid account of my self-publishing effort, please forgive the following solicitation:

If you found this series useful, please consider supporting this foolhardy cartoonist by either buying my graphic novel Tonoharu: Part One:
[Buy from me direct]
[ link]

Or by donating a little money to me through Paypal / credit card by clicking the button below:

(Donations not tax deductable, sorry.)


Well, that concludes the entries about self-publishing for now. Maybe someday when I have a little more experience, I’ll revisit/revise this series and fill in some of the numerous gaps… but for now I’m done.

I’m soooo burned out on these long blog entries, so the next several entries will be short and frivolous. Thanks for reading!

How I Self-Published a Graphic Novel
1/10 ? Introductions / Disclaimers
2/10 ? Honing Your Craft / Creating Your Comic
3/10 ? Research, Research, Research
4/10 ? Savings & Money Management
5/10 ? The Xeric Grant
6/10 ? Preparing for Press
7/10 ? Working with Book Printers
8/10 ? Distribution
9/10 ? Marketing
10/10 ? The Long Haul / Conclusion

Complete List of Recommended Self-Publishing Books / Resources

  • Dan

    I am no artist, but I ‘ve really enjoyed reading your site the past few days. I even bought the book yesterday, as I am from Minnesota and also a former JET ALT. All The Best,


  • zoe

    thanks for the advice dude..

    i’m 20 and poor as hell i was hoping to get rich and famous from my graphic novel like harry potter’s writter…

    oh well i can take another five years of being broke if in the end it works out…

  • Kontrissa

    Great stuff man.

  • Frankie Mercado

    Thanks for this guide! It has really put things in perspective for me.

    I’m still looking for something worth saying…worth cartooning about. What advice do you have for something like that?

    I’ve always wanted to go into the JET program but as I’ve yet to get a Bachelor’s I haven’t been able to yet. I’m now married and have two children and while I know that JET accommodates for spouses I don’t know what the deal is for children. My wife is terrified of leaving the country, though which is sad. I don’t know if I’ll be able to do it, which is sad since I studied 4 years of high school Japanese and 2 years of college Japanese.

    well I’ve rambled…take care and thanks again!

  • Jennae

    Another amazingly educational and entertaining guide!!

    I’m so glad you made this! This will definitely come to use to me in the near future!

  • Lars Martinson

    Again, thanks! Also again, this series might be showing its age a bit; the Xeric grant won’t exist after 2012, and again I’m thinking in like five years e-books will be where the action is. But I guess some of the fundamentals will stay the same…

  • William

    Hello Lars, just wanted to say thanks for the insight into self publishing a graphic novel. I am at the stage of getting the my own book printed but have no clue which is the best way. You guide is very helpful and look froward to sharing my successes with you .

    Cheers, Wm