Creating a graphic novel budget for Kickstarter

Creating a graphic novel budget for Kickstarter

As a Kickstarter Thought Leader, I’m often asked to assist with Kickstarter projects, which I’m happy to do, depending on my availability. Most of the time, the biggest issue I notice is that creators don’t provide a breakdown of their finances, and in fact have not sat down and created a proper budget. This is essential, not just to make sure you don’t go bankrupt, but also to make sure you determine the minimum quantity to print and how much to charge per book. Below, I’ll go over some of the most important things when planning a budget for a project you have and we will create a sample budget for a small book. The information below applies mostly to US and Canadian content creators, though some of it is universal to all countries.

For this budget, we will imagine this is a print, physical project, though you could also do a Kickstarter for a digital book, in which case you can disregard all the budgeting for print and shipping.

  1. Determine the format of the book.  Do you want it to be black and white? How many pages? What size? Hardcover or softcover? What type of paper stock do you want? The paper stock is a hard question, but when you reach out to printers, you can ask for a selection of paper stock to review. Matte, semi-gloss, silk, satin, recycled, are all options, as well as colour (natural or white) and thickness (40-120 lb stocks). Find a book in your library that you like, and compare it to the paper stock, and do the same thing for size.

    You can also create multiple budgets with different columns to compare the options you can’t decide between, the printer will also do this for you if you ask them to in your quote request.

    For this example, we will say you want to do a black and white graphic novel that measures 6×9, and is 88 pages on 60lb paper.

  2. Using the information above, we will determine the printing costs. If you are doing a very large quantity, you can look at overseas printing, but otherwise, stick to printers in North America. Send out the exact same information for your book to each printer, including a set amount of quantity variations, ie. 250, 500, 1,000, 2,000 are common amounts to ask about.

    You should also find out if there are any advantages to using a printer local to your state/province, as many jurisdictions have tax credits if you use local suppliers.

    When you contact the printer, also ask for a quote that includes freight to your location, and that also includes all applicable taxes. If they don’t provide that, make sure to get an estimate that you can add to it. Freight and taxes can quickly change the attractiveness of a printer.

    Ask for sample books as well, so you can determine the quality of the printer. If the printer is outside of your country, make sure to factor in the current currency exchange.

    A sample printer comparison chart for our book:
    *note, Marquis was edited to include tax and shipping, as it was not included in the quote, and Amazon was  converted to CAD.

    Printer Location Cost per unit (Qty 500) Cost per unit (Qty 1000)
    Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing* USA  $                2.15  $              2.15
    Webcom Toronto  $                2.42  $              1.83
    Avenue 4 Winnipeg  $                5.01  $              2.99
    Marquis Toronto  $                3.60  $              2.33
    Art Bookbindery Winnipeg  $                3.88  
    Hignells Winnipeg  $                 3.73  $                2.33

    *If using a print-on-demand printer, you can ship straight from the printer to the reader, in which case you would disregard the shipping rates below, and calculate it using Amazon’s estimate.

    Printers Bedside Press has used include: Amazon Kindle Direct (print-on-demand) (US), Friesens (MB), Webcom (ON), Marquis (QC), Avenue 4 (MB), and Art Book Bindery (MB).

    Let’s choose Webcom at a qty of 500 for now. The printing cost will be $1,210.

  3. Determine your creative costs. If you are creating the book yourself, you should factor in what amount you’d like to make, which can vary widely depending on your economic status and your experience level.

    If you aren’t a cartoonist, remember to factor in the writer, artist, colour artist, letterer, logo designer, and cover art fees. Some artists have set costs in mind, other artists want to know what your budget can afford for them. The costs per creative are usually determined per page. Every creative has different rates depending on their level of experience or interest in the project.

    An average rate for a cartoonist (a writer, artist, and letterer in one) usually ranges between $50 and $100 per page for a Kickstarter. It is also common to give the headlining creative (whether the editor or cartoonist) a cut of any excess funds from the Kickstarter. If you intend on establishing a professional publishing corporation, paying regular royalties in post-Kickstarter sales is essential for future grant applications. As the payment for Kickstarters is often lower than professional fees, it is customary to have the creatives keep all the rights to their stories, including republishing at any point. All of this should be outlined in the contract you send to the creative(s) in advance of the Kickstarter.

    You will also need to decide if you are hiring an editor, which can have varying costs, and can range between $500-$2,000 depending on the size of book.

    Determine your design costs. Depending on your skills with InDesign, you will either need to hire a designer, or you can try and do it yourself to save money. An average designer charges between $500-$1,500 to design a book from files and cover art supplied.

    Total creative costs:

      Cost per page Total
    Cartoonists  $                    75.00  $       6,600.00
    Cover Artist    $           350.00
    Logo Designer  $           200.00
    Designer    $       1,000.00
      Total  $       8,150.00
  4. Determine your shipping costs. The way that Kickstarter works, though the funder can select the country of shipping, these shipping funds are included towards your final goal. So, you must estimate the shipping.

    Shipping estimation is incredibly difficult. If you see an 88 page book, you’ll notice it can fit through a lettermail slot. In Canada, rigid books are allowed to be shipped via lettermail, in the US they cannot (saddlestitched comics, or ‘floppies’ would be fine, however). In the US, there is a media mail rate, while in Canada there is not. Canadian publishers can ship from the US using a local service such as Chit Chats Expres, DYK, or Runnin’ Red,  though you will need a credit card with a US address to print postage from programs such as Endicia. I assume that Americans close to the border could find a similar service to use Canada Post.
    For a larger book, a Canadian using USPS media mail can save you a great deal in costs. For smaller books, lettermail rate from Canada Post is best.

    One of the most difficult parts of shipping estimation is guessing how many packages will go to which regions. You should make 3 calculations: Canada, US, Overseas. In Canada, there are bulk discounts for more than 100 items shipped via letter-post to the US and overseas.

    The other important part is time and resources. If you don’t have a lot of spare time, you may want to ship all the books to Amazon’s warehouses in Canada and the US, and use their bulk upload service to have them all shipped out at once. It is sometimes worth the cost, as shipping, depending on your free time, can take weeks.

    So, how many copies to where to budget for? Here’s a breakdown of my last 10 campaigns and their shipping locations:

      Canada US Overseas
    The Secret Loves of Geek Girls: Redux 16% 64% 20%
    Enough Space for Everyone Else 9% 72% 19%
    The Secret Loves of Geek Girls 19% 65% 16%
    Fashion In Action 19% 67% 14%
    Habibi: Tales of Muslimah Love 6% 81% 13%
    Gothic Tales of Haunted Love 22% 67% 12%
    Nelvana of the Northern Lights 51% 37% 11%
    Sally the Sleuth 34% 56% 10%
    A Minyen Yidn (un andere zakhn) or A Bunch of Jews (and other stuff) 19% 71% 10%
    Brok Windsor 56% 35% 9%

    Overseas is the most expensive to ship, so let’s be safe and use the highest number here, and increase it slightly to serve as a buffer, and estimate that 25% of books will be to overseas readers.

    Canada is the second most expensive (usually), but even though my company originates from Canada, the percentages here fluctuate. Let’s ignore Brok Windsor and Nelvana as they were Canadian centered projects, and use the next highest number, Sally the Sleuth at 34%.

    USA is always the cheapest to ship (whether you’re in Canada or USA at least) and so we’ll give it the leftover, which is 41%.

    You can find the weight of your book in your printing quote, you should also include the weight of the envelope and any add-ons (postcards/prints). In this case, the book is .37 lb or 168 grams.

    Now, let’s calculate some shipping methods, you can find these on the Canada Post and USPS website but I’ve also included my personal shipping costs from Amazon and Canada Post bulk lettermail rates.

    Tip 1 – For Canada Post bulk lettermail: You HAVE to ship the minimum quantity, and pay for it regardless if your books are under this quantity or not. For Canada, this is 1,000 units, for USA & Overseas this is 100 units.

    Tip 2 – Remember to phone Canada Post to get a lower parcel rate, and tell them how many you are planning to ship! This can save you a significant amount of money.

    Tip 3 – Shipping within Canada by Canada Post Parcel has widely varied costs. If you are shipping to Nunavut for example, it can be $21, and if you ship locally, it can be $8, we will use an average between these here. If you are not using lettermail, you may want to use Canada Post only for local items, and ship the rest to Amazon for delivery, as they have a static rate across the country.

    You will also need to factor in the cost of shipping materials which can vary depending on what is available in your area. Amazon, Staples, and uLine are common sellers, but you may also have local suppliers with lower costs. We will add on $1.1 per unit for label and envelope costs, save for Amazon, but we will add .25 each for Amazon as that’s the average per book to ship it to their warehouse using UPS (in Canada).

    Also keep in mind shipping speed. International packages take months to arrive by parcel, but only weeks via lettermail. Sometimes it’s best to pay a few dollars extra to keep your funders happy!

      Qty of packages
    (500 print run)
    per book
    Total Canada Post Letter
    per book
    Total Canada Post
    letter bulk
    per book
    Total Canada Post
    per book
    Total USPS
    per book
    Canada 170  $6.10  $1,037.00  $4.05  $688.50  $11.52  $1957.92  $15.00  $2,550.00  $20.86  $3,546.20
    Overseas 125  $21.82  $2,727.50  $11.40  $1,425.00  $4.70  $583.23  $8.12  $1,015.00  $30.13  $3,766.13
    US 205  $8.15  $1,670.75  $6.25  $1,281.25  $3.40  $697.75  $10.01  $2,052.05  $4.56  $934.39
    Total      $5,435.25    $3,806.75    $3,186.98    $5,617.05    $8,246.72

    So, it looks like, the best bet is to go with Canada Post letter mail bulk for US and International packages. However, if you are shipping less than 100 packages to these areas, you will still be on the hook for paying the minimum 100, or 1,000 to Canada.

    Don’t use the bulk letter-mail rate if:
    to US – you are shipping less than 50 books
    to Overseas – you are shipping less than 30 books
    within Canada – you are shipping less than 675 books.

  5. Extras – depending on what you want to have as extras for the Kickstarter, you will need to add in the cost of commissioning, producing, and shipping these extras. Common add-ons include prints, postcards, and other books. For the sake of this budget, we will not have any extras.

  6. Kickstarter fees. This is 10% of all of the above costs.

  7. Buffer – if you do not have a personal buffer for this project (i.e. savings set aside), you can build a buffer in for potential extra costs such as postal rate changes or emergency proof edits. This buffer is often around 10-15%, and you should do it for your first project. We will not do this for this budget.

  8. Add up all the costs, then subtract the shipping, and divide by the quantity. This will show you the minimum you will need to charge per book. You’ll want to see if this is reasonable in line with other Kickstarters.

  9. If the cost per book is not reasonable, change the quantity until it is. Let’s try 1,000 as well.
      500 1,000
    Printing  $    1,210.00  $    1,830.00
    Creatives  $    8,150.00  $    8,150.00
    Shipping  $    1,970.00  $    3,931.00
    Kickstarter fees  $    1,133.00  $    1,391.10
    Total  $  12,463.00  $  15,302.10
    Cost per book  $          20.99  $          11.37
  10. For an 88 page, black and white, small book, is $21 reasonable? Not really, BUT if you are sure you can only get 500 backers, then it’s worth a shot.  The 1,000 level is much safer, though you’ll need a higher goal ($15,300), you’ll only need to charge $15 per book. Of course, by getting printing quotes for other amounts, you can fine tune this until you’re happy.

  11. And that’s it! Things to keep in mind: The bigger the book the more that shipping AND printing go up. If the book is too big for the mail slot, and over 200 grams, you will not be able to use Canada Post lettermail shipping rates, and as you can see in the shipping chart above, that makes a huge difference to the cost.

    Also, this budget is best used for direct-to-reader sales. Distributors take roughly 50% of your retail price, so if you intend to sell your book widely, you will need to take into consideration many other factors, including determining how many books you think will sell later in order to increase your print order, and increasing the price level per book in order to compensate for the distributor cut.

  12. Remember to show your work to the funders in the Kickstarter campaign! Most campaigns will redraw their pie graph to fit the style of artwork being showcased, but a breakdown will basically look like this:


About the author:

Hope Nicholson is the owner of Bedside Press and a Kickstarter Thought Leader. She’s spoken at conventions across the world about crowdfunding, small press publishing, and Canadian comics. You can find her personal website here or follow her next projects on Kickstarter here.

Check out Bedside Press’s latest Kickstarter, live now:

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