How I Self-Published a Graphic Novel (4/10)

This is the forth in a ten entry series of blog posts about my experiences self-publishing my first graphic novel, Tonoharu: Part One. I’m writing this “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 page.

Part Four: Money Matters
Since I’m so disclaimer-happy, I want to reiterate: cartooning (especially “alternative” cartooning) is a horrible career choice; it is a field where “breaking even” is often considered to be synonymous with “smashing success”. You should only consider cartooning as a career if you are either independently wealthy, or if you feel like you can do nothing else with your life.

I myself am firmly and exclusively in the second camp, and if you are too, then it’s all the more important to put yourself in a good financial place before you self-publish, and to make good choices with what little money happens your way once you start selling books.

I knew for several years in advance that I eventually wanted to make a serious go at cartooning. For about four years prior I worked a 9-to-5 job and lived like a miser, slowly saving up a little nest egg for when the day came that I would eventually quit the day job and devote myself completely to the creation and publication of my comics. That day came about two years ago.

I’m starting to see a little bit of money come in now (though still not enough to raise me above the poverty level), but for about a year and a half after I quit my job, I didn’t see a dime. During those eighteen months, I lived exclusively off my savings.

Now, I guess it’s not 100% necessary to quit your job and devote yourself completely to your self-publishing effort. But that would be the ideal. Self-publishing takes an incredible amount of time, and ideally should be treated as a fledgling small business. When I was going through the process, there never seemed to be enough hours in the day to do everything, even doing it full time. I can’t even imagine trying to juggle a day job and self-publishing, especially for your first book when you’re still learning the ropes.

So as I say: the ideal is to be able to devote yourself to it full-time, and to do that, you’ll need money to live off of.

How much should you have saved? Even assuming there are no extenuating circumstances in your life, I would say at least a year’s worth of living expenses. That would give you half a year to make a go of it, and still have some money to fall back on to look for a new job if things don’t pan out.

But really, I consider that the bare minimum; the more you have saved, the better. If you’re able to save up two or three years worth of living expenses before self-publishing, all the better. You should also budget a good internet connection into your living expenses, as you’ll be doing a lot of e-mailing and marketing on the internet once things get going. 

For the costs associated with printing and marketing your book, you’ll hopefully be able to secure a Xeric grant to cover most or all of those expenses. But to be on the safe side, you should probably have a few thousand extra dollars in case your book ends up costing more than you expect, and for expenses the Xeric Grant won’t cover. I’ll talk more about the Xeric Grant in next week’s entry.

While you’re saving up your money, it’s important to invest it wisely, to get the best return on your savings. Which leads us to…

Money Management
I’m not deluded enough to imagine I’m qualified to offer specific advice on this subject, so I’m going to pass the buck straightaway and recommend a book by someone who actually knows what they’re talking about:

Personal Finance for Dummies by Eric Tyson

I’ve always avoided the “for Dummies” books because I hated the implication for the title, but when it came to finances, I was willing to hang my head in shame and don the dunce cap. This is the only personal finance book I’ve ever read, so there may be better ones out there. But all-in-all, I felt it provided a good, fairly painless crash course in all the financial stuff I probably should have learned fifteen years ago, like what a “mutual fund” is, why a bank is a terrible place long-term savings, and where your money should be instead.

If you’re like me, researching about personal finance and then transferring money around is about as thrilling a prospect as getting a root canal. But you should do it anyway; it’s not as painful as you think it’s going to be, and it’s time very well spent.

The great thing is that once you’ve done all the initial research and made all the appropriate changes, it can be very hands off; it’s not like you have to check the stock market and make adjustments everyday or anything (in fact, you probably shouldn’t do that). And by making smart money choices sooner rather than later, you could easily end up with tens of thousands of dollars more in your pocket over the course of your lifetime. So pay yourself a couple thousand dollars an hour, and do a few hours of semi-tedious financial research/adjustments NOW (whether you intend to self-publish or not).

That’s it for now. I’ll conclude my discussion about money with the next entry, which will be devoted to the Xeric grant. Stay tuned!


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