Draw The Line: seize the means of production

This is going to be the last in the series of posts, at least for now. It’s turned into a massive epic — sorry! But I’ll try to divide it into short sections so you can skim to the parts you find useful.

If I’ve missed anything, please do comment below and I’ll be happy to answer any questions.

Be Someone’s Voice by Kate Moon

Previously in the Draw The Line story

If you’ve read thus far, you’ll know that we’d been crowdfunding on the Unbound platform with the aim of getting the book into print and distributed to bookshops — but that, for various reasons, it wasn’t working for us. We were stuck at around 50% funded and the dial was only moving upwards very, very slowly. So many people had pledged and I was getting anxious about the fact that they’d paid for a product that hadn’t yet materialised.

(If you haven’t been following along, start here and keep clicking the ‘next’ link at the foot of each post).

What finally gave me the impetus to leave Unbound was that their graphic novels editor left the company. This person had been the champion of graphic novels within the publishing house and to the best of my knowledge, when they left, their experience and advocacy went with them — there was no-one left with the same degree of passion for the artform and knowledge of the market.

By this time, my friends Simon, Michi and Zara had offered both the practical and emotional support I needed to decide that we could go it alone. Clearly, by going down this route, we’d lose the main reason I’d been so keen to sign up with Unbound: the mainstream distribution that, we’d believed, would have seen our book available in high street bookstores. Instead, we’d be printing a very limited run: just enough copies to make sure that everyone who’d ordered one would get it.

Make a Noise by Una

We did the maths and worked out that we could easily cover costs with the sum already raised: of course, we wouldn’t need to factor in Unbound’s contributions of design, printing, distribution etc, as we’d be doing all that ourselves. This was what would have been covered by the remaining sum of money that — had we stuck with them — would still need to be raised.

So, in this post I’ll detail the expenses and logistical considerations involved in producing and shipping out a few hundred books.

The details so far might be unique to us, but I think that everything from this point on in the post will be of use to any self-publishing venture.

A last push

In arranging our departure from Unbound, we agreed that we’d keep the crowdfunding page up for a final month. This proved beneficial: remember when I mentioned that I didn’t know whether the lack of a hard deadline prevents people from pledging?

Well, more pledges certainly did come in these last few weeks, as people realised that it was their last chance to get the book (especially with the new circumstances where we only planned to make a single print run).

Another factor really boosted our numbers at this point, as well: the charity we’d chosen to be the beneficiary of our profits began to mention us in their social media.

Choose Love (or Help Refugees at the time we picked them) had previously said that they could only promote fundraising efforts where 100% of the money raised would be going to them. Of course, that wasn’t previously the case, since Unbound would have been taking a proportion of profits.

But now it seemed Choose Love could promote us with a clear conscience, and just a few mentions from them meant our list of pledgers grew in leaps and bounds. It was amazing to see, for a couple of hours each time they posted, how the total raised leapt up every time I refreshed the page.

It was the crowdfunding experience we’d been longing for all this time!

Support A Family: Karen Rubins

Finances

Scroll right to the end of this post if you’d like to see the final breakdown of costs and profit.

But here’s the top line: in all, we raised £7,887.35 (this includes the money we collected through Unbound, and subsequent direct sales), and as I’ve already mentioned, we ended up with £3,106.27 to donate to charity. So our total costs were £4,781.08.

I was really keen to ensure that we donate the maximum possible to Choose Love, so wanted to do everything as economically as we could. I was equally anxious to keep an accurate record of every outgoing and incoming sum — not that anyone has questioned me about this, but I was acutely aware that the money was sitting in my own current account, and I wanted to be able to show everything transparently!

Request Truth: I Fluke

Numbers

Once it became clear we were going to be printing the book ourselves, of course, our promise to provide every artist with a copy began to seem quite ambitious, especially given that many of them are scattered around the globe.

So, just to be sure, we asked the artists to confirm whether they actually wanted the physical book, or would be happy with the digital version; we also stressed that they did of course have the option of paying for their book and that sum would be added to our charitable donation.

Approximately half the artists did still want their free copy. Fair enough, and we’d managed to cut our costs a little.

So, from Unbound we had 228 pledgers, buying 241 physical books between them, plus an additional 26 who had pledged only for the digital version.

Once we added in artists, and a few late direct sales, we needed 304 printed books to send out.

We decided to print a few extra copies as we reckoned that once people saw it in the real world, we might be able to sell a few more; but on the other hand, I didn’t want to cut into our charitable donation too much and then be stuck with a load of books we couldn’t shift!

We ended up settling on getting 375 copies printed. It turns out we were way too cautious here. I’m used to selling my own self-published stuff, slowly and to a limited audience: it’s a whole new feeling for me to have under-ordered.

As it turns out, within the next few weeks, enquiries coming in from all directions made it clear that we could have easily sold another 50 copies on top of what we ordered, and presumably we could have shifted many times that in the coming months, if comics festivals had still been running.

I hadn’t grasped quite how desirable our finished product was going to be until I held it in my own hands (and until people started asking where they could buy more copies). And that’s a shame, because of course although there would have been an initial outlay in getting more printed, we would have made way more profit for the charity.

Printing

First it’s worth mentioning that we made the decision to make a larger book than originally planned: as some of the artwork is quite intricate, it benefits from an A4 page where it can be seen clearly along with the accompanying text.

From our previous forays into self-publishing our own comics, we were all familiar with Rich Hardiman at Comic Printing UK and knew that he’d do a good and well-priced job. He charged us £2,918, or just about £7.78 per hardback A4 volume.

We were slightly racing against time at this stage, because I wanted people to have their books before Christmas, and getting the details of pledgers and the money transferred from Unbound had taken longer than expected, as these things always seem to do.

Refuse To Shut Up: Richard Tingley

I was updating all the pledgers as we first made the decision to go solo, and then as we went through the various stages of production, and had thought I’d left loads of slack in my predicted timings of “going to print in October, shipping in November”. Apparently not!

At the last minute, Rich emailed to say his case binder (the machine which constructs the hard covers) had broken, and there was going to be a delay. Fortunately it didn’t set things back too far, and we still took delivery of the books and got them sent out in the first week of December.

Rewards

We also needed to remember that some people had pledged extra for a set of rewards, including original artwork, comics, prints and bookplates.

  • For the original artwork it was just a matter of emailing the artist and hoping they hadn’t sold or disposed of the piece in the intervening years (phew, they hadn’t).
  • The popular choice of a bundle of comics from David Blumenstein had to make its way to us all the way from Australia, so we hurriedly asked David to put them in a packet to us and reimbursed him for shipping costs (£55.25).
    The comics arrived a little later than would have been ideal, so one thing we could have done better would have been to arrange this earlier. While we were waiting for them to arrive, we held back the relevant orders for a week, and then finally made the decision to ship them out and send the comics along later.
    Of course, the box of comics arrived on my doorstep at the exact moment Simon was queuing up in the post office. Fortunately he saw my frantic message telling him to turn around. As you may have noticed if you were one of the recipients, we then had to unstick all those parcels and carefully slide the comics in before re-taping them up.
  • Simon designed the bookplates and Michi got them printed at a local printers’, which I was so grateful for because at that point I was swamped in spreadsheets about postage costs and felt incapable of making any artistic decisions. Michi also arranged for the artwork prints to be made on good quality archive paper. In total, bookplates and prints came to £87.77.
Check Facts by David Blumenstein

Design

We were super lucky to have the services of two top designers. Simon, who also helped so much with all the other practicalities, is a graphic designer by trade and offered to do the entire layout for us.

He did such a good job, patiently dealing with the back and forth conversations when I thought something hadn’t quite worked or could be refined; in particular he came up with the eventual labelling system that allows you to thumb through the book and see which actions are in a specific category, from the page edges.

He also gave the book its signature look with bouncy fonts throughout, AND set up the digital versions.

Simon gave his services for free, which was great of course, but if you don’t have a designer on your team and you’re wondering how much you’d have to raise to allow for one, here’s how he breaks down his costs:

“For a corporate client I’d have said £3,500 to £4,000 (plus VAT). If it was for a charity or educational organisation I’d have given a 50% discount on that.

“If I’d just worked at my hourly rate (something I rarely do but some clients have insisted in the past) it would have been nearer £5,500 I think.”

So as you can see, we’d have already bitten very deep into our reserves if we hadn’t had his services for free. Simon had time on his hands because of lockdown meaning he was being sent less paid work, which was rubbish for him but great for us in terms of his having spare time.

Walk The Streets: Simon Russell

Meanwhile, Woodrow Phoenix, who you may remember was — like Simon — also one of the artists in the book, messaged to say he’d be happy to lend his design skills too. And so it was Woodrow that came up with our superbly memorable front and back covers.

Woodrow has also kindly laid out how much his services would normally cost:

“The usual fee for a front cover is £500-800. For a front and back cover £1k.”

He also helped us fill an empty space by providing the image on the last page of the book, but had we paid for it this would have cost “anywhere from £250 to £500 depending on the publication.” This cost is variable, he notes, according to size and whether the work is for the UK or the US.

Either way we were extremely fortunate to have both these superb designers donating their time and skills. If you need a designer, hire Simon or Woodrow!

Looking for typos

Proofing was time-consuming, but thanks again to the generosity of my friends, it didn’t dent our bottom line. Michi and I did it ourselves, and Simon pitched in too.

We really needed every single pair of eyes and every pass of the several we did. It felt like every time we did another proofread, we’d find another typo.

I’m pretty sure we got them all in the end though, and here’s how: I sent my Dad a copy and he had nothing to say about misspellings or grammar. And he always has something to say on those subjects.

Broadcast by Michi Mathias

Shipping

After some research, we plumped for these cardboard mailers, the cheapest we could find. I’d been on the verge of buying some more expensive ones which were advertised as particularly eco-friendly, when I noticed that these were equally sustainable, but the shop just wasn’t shouting about it quite so loudly.

We paid £105.23 for 250 mailers.

As we were using online postage I also bought these labels to print addresses out onto – again, the cheapest I found at £6.99 for 400.

Getting to grips with postage was quite a learning curve. I learned about Click And Drop online and Drop And Go from our local post office, but couldn’t find any comparison, especially the one thing I wanted to know: was one cheaper than the other?

Essentially, as I finally discovered, unless you set up as a business with a certain quantity of shipments per year, the costs are the same. With Click and Drop, you upload your spreadsheet of names, addresses and weights, then pay for the postage online. It sounds easy but it took me a good couple of days to learn the ropes and tweak the variables for each recipient (and then remember that I should take myself off the list as I wouldn’t be paying to deliver a book to myself).

After I’d put all this time in, I learned the real difference between the two services from my local post office. “Click and Drop is killing local post offices” they told me, because with everyone doing the work at home, it is putting staff out of a job.

With Drop and Go, you just print out your list and dump the whole consignment at the post office for them to weigh and stamp in their own time, keeping them in work. Unfortunately, by this time I’d invested so many hours setting up everything that it was too late to switch — but I will remember this next time.

Postage costs were… high. There just wasn’t any getting around it. OK, we could have made a smaller book, but even so, as soon as you send a parcel out of the country, the costs are breathtaking. So, other than the actual printing, shipping costs were our biggest expense.

We sent all the UK post and some international post through Royal Mail, but anything above 2kg (ie more than two books) had to go by courier; we chose Hermes, but prices seem much of a muchness.

Local delivery

Simon is a keen cyclist, but that’s nothing compared his partner who is a really keen cyclist. Between them, they promised they’d deliver all the orders that were within the bounds of Brighton and Hove. This not only cut our carbon footprint, but it saved us a bunch in postage costs.

I keep saying ‘we were lucky’ but what it boils down to is that Simon is a really useful friend to have, and as you can see from this post, he saved the project a lot of money. I haven’t calculated what we saved on local deliveries exactly, but with 30 addresses on the cycle delivery list, it was at least £100.

Go Cross Country: Myfanwy Tristram

Time

No matter how much money you can save by doing everything yourself, you can’t escape the other cost, which is time.

And it’s always more than you’d think. Michi, Zara and Simon all helped when it came to the big, obvious task of stuffing the cardboard mailers and slapping the labels on; then driving them all down to the sorting office so that our local Post Office wouldn’t know that we were killing them…

We’d always planned to do this as a sort of party (if you have fairly dull ideas of what constitutes a party): when Brighton was put into a tier two lockdown, we were a bit concerned about whether we could go ahead, but in the end we decided it counted as work; and kept all the doors open while we packed.

Michi with some of our packages, outside the sorting office

The actual packing only took a few hours, but remember I’d also spent a couple of days setting up all the labels, Michi and Simon had prepped the rewards, etc.

There was also fiddly stuff to deal with during this period, with messages coming in via a variety of channels from people asking if they could make an order; or update the address they’d given; or change the quantity; or pick up their book rather than have it delivered.

What went wrong

We were so glad to have got the bulk of the books into the post before Christmas, but then the UK went into a sudden and even stricter lockdown, meaning that millions of people had to cancel their Christmas plans at the last moment.

Many of those people then had to send their presents by post instead of handing them over in person; while at the same time, post offices were understaffed because of COVID cases and quarantines. Thank goodness Brexit hadn’t quite hit yet at this point.

So, several of the books took longer than they should have to get to their destinations (and some still haven’t arrived, so we’re assuming they’re lost, and sending out some of our very few reserves).

Add to this the people who thought they’d ordered a book but had actually only ordered the eBook; or the people who had moved house but we’d sent books to their old address, etc etc, and – well, there were a lot of messages to investigate and respond to.

Disappointingly, as well, our cardboard wrappers didn’t stand up very well to the rigours of the postal system. At least one parcel arrived with no book inside, to our dismay. So if I were to do this again, I’d look for something a bit more robust.

Finally, one mystery: we never got a reply from the pledger who had paid for a piece of bespoke artwork from the artist of her choice, despite multiple emails and a message written on her parcel telling her to get in touch. If it was you, do let us know.

What went right

Everything else! Can’t complain there. In all, I reckon it was a job well done. There was so much to think about, execute, and follow up on, but our little team managed it all as best we could.

I’ve thanked them multiple times, but I’ll continue to do so at every opportunity – and to everyone else who offered help along the way. I think I’ve namechecked most of them in this series of posts.

Finally: if you’re really wishing you’d ordered a copy now, don’t forget you can add your name to our list and we’ll let you know if we’re ever crazy enough to do it all over again.

Michi and Zara with a celebratory coffee after we’d posted all the parcels

Costs breakdown

Incoming

  • Pledges; direct sales of book, etc: £7,887.35

Outgoing

  • Printing costs: £2,918.00
  • Bookplates and prints: £87.77
  • Shipping Blumenstein comics: £55.25
  • 250 cardboard mailers: £105.23
  • 400 A6 labels: £6.99
  • Postage costs (Royal Mail) £1,389.36
  • International courier costs (Hermes): £218.48

    TOTAL OUTGOINGS: £4,781.08

PROFIT

£3,106.27 – donated to Choose Love.

Want to thank me for this ultra long series of blog posts? Boost our contribution to Choose Love with a donation here.