Jun 07 2011

How much do comic book writers make?

Published by at 5:13 pm under Sales and Royalties

One financial planning website (!?) reports comic book authors are usually paid about $80-$150 per page.  I’ve never handled any financial details for any publishing company (and wouldn’t publicly discuss any numbers if I had), but that strikes me as plausible.   I would, however, guess that really small comic houses typically pay less than $80 a page.

 

In comparison, novelists make much less than $80 a page.  Novelists typically earn an advance of ~$6000 for their first-published novels if they have agents and ~$3500 if they do not.   If your novel manuscript has 80,000 words (about 275 pages), that’d work out to $21 per page if you have an agent and $13 otherwise.  Theoretically, you might make additional money if your novel sells well enough to clear the advance, but that is highly unusual for debut novels.

32 responses so far

32 Responses to “How much do comic book writers make?”

  1. Anonymouson 08 Jun 2011 at 12:35 am

    But the average comic book is something like thirty pages, working out at $2,400-$4,000; this is more or less even over the short term. The major issue is that it might take a lot longer to put out a second novel than it would to put out a second issue of a comic, not necessarily that comic-book writers get paid more.

  2. B. Macon 08 Jun 2011 at 1:50 am

    I think that a 32-page comic is much less work than a 80,000-90,000 word novel manuscript (which usually takes a year or more). I think most veteran comic book writers could finish a script in under, say, 100 hours–fast enough that quite a few authors write for 2-3 comic book series each month.

    In contrast, writing a publishable novel is incredibly laborious. I’d allot AT LEAST 1000 hours for that, even for a veteran author. (I don’t think there are many, if any, authors that publish 3+ novels a year without substantial assistance from coauthors and/or ghostwriters).



    Either way, though, I think nonfiction pays best. 🙂

  3. Anonymouson 08 Jun 2011 at 6:19 am

    Which is mostly what I said. It’s more of a long term issue than a short-term one.b

  4. B. Macon 08 Jun 2011 at 9:13 am

    Well, I think that most comic book writers make substantially more in the short-term, too. I think the typical published novelist wrote for about 10 years before getting the first novel published. I think the process is substantially faster for comic book writers.

    I think a plausible career path for a reasonably talented comic book writer looks something like:
    Years 1-4: Practices writing on the side by working on scripts that don’t get published.
    Year 5: He gets published! This year, he does 3 issues for 32 pages. At $80/page, that’s $7600–not enough to live on, but not bad for a few hundred hours of part-time work (plus however many hours he put into practice).
    Year 6-8: He averages one issue per month for about $31,000 a year.
    Years 9-10: He’s been selling okay and his skills are a bit more in demand. Let’s say that he averages 1.5 issues every month and he’s making $100/page. That takes him to about $58,000 per year.

    In contrast, I think the equivalent career path for a novelist would be:
    Years 1-9: Practices writing on the side by doing 2+ novels that don’t get published.
    Year 10: The novelist lands an agent and gets published! The advance is $6000.



    One scenario that would be somewhat less lopsided would be if the novelist got published after, say, 6 years rather than the typical 10. That’s not implausible–35% of the published authors in Hines’ survey got published within 6 years.

  5. FotVon 09 Jun 2011 at 12:55 pm

    I’ve finished a couple 32 page comic scripts so I have some experience with writing comic books. Honestly, I think writing full time I could write more than one comic book a month. It’s the art that’s hard. However I think the chances of making it rich on a book (don’t count on it) is higher than for a comic book. In other words you have a chance of making more money on a book, but it sounds like initially comic writers according to these facts would make more money than book authors.

    However, from what I’ve read comics are a riskier venture for a publisher so comic publishers tend to be harder to convince to publish your original comic story (smaller market, smaller story, and the artist wants to eat too. Plus it could have separate penciller, inker, colorist, letterer, writer, and editor). Most of the money seems to come from established series and characters. And most of those probably have writers already.

    Although I’m just self publishing online and through comixpress or kablam as I’m not trying to support myself on it and it’s more for honing my skills before attempting to publish something seriously.

  6. FotVon 09 Jun 2011 at 1:20 pm

    Oh, also. Comic script can be way easier than righting a story the same size. The only writing you have to do well is captions and dialogue (as well as plot the story well but I’m talking about the words your audience will read). You don’t have to worry about descriptive metaphors, character’s physical description beyond what you want the artist to do, scenery, narrative. I mean you have to describe things, but in the end people won’t be analyzing what you say something looks like, they’ll be analyzing what it looks like.

  7. B. Macon 09 Jun 2011 at 1:25 pm

    “Honestly, I think writing full time I could write more than one comic book a month. It’s the art that’s hard.” Agreed. It takes a LOT more time to illustrate a comic book than it does to write it. The most prolific writers can handle 4+ series a month. I doubt there are many (if any) artists that could illustrate more than 2 series at a high quality.

    “However I think the chances of making it rich on a book (don’t count on it) is higher than for a comic book. In other words you have a chance of making more money on a book, but it sounds like initially comic writers according to these facts would make more money than book authors.” Comic books strike me as a somewhat more reliable source of income, but I think a blockbuster novelist will make vastly more money than a blockbuster comic book writer. (Mega-bestselling novels rack up millions of sales, but comic books rarely get beyond 100,000 sales–in the past year, only Avengers #1 broke 150,000). Also, if you DO write a blockbuster comic book, you’re probably not getting royalties from it unless you’re working with a publisher like Image.

  8. Phoenixon 09 Jun 2011 at 5:27 pm

    As far as speed goes, Mickey Spillane used to say that he’d bang out a Mike Hammer novel whenever he needed money. He could do that in two weeks.

    If I’ve got my notes together and my story firmly in mind, I can crank out a hundred and fifty pages in about ten days pretty easily. I can’t imagine a comic script taking more than two or three days given its previously discussed relative lack of density.

  9. FotVon 09 Jun 2011 at 10:26 pm

    Even if that is true, you aren’t accounting for the revision process both should face before the editor even sees it, which will be much longer for a novel. And you seem to have assumed story notes don’t count in the writing process. I’m guessing you take very detailed story notes. Account for the time spent on making the notes and plotting as well as the physical act of writing and revising and you will have a better understanding of the amount of time you TRULY put in writing a novel. Unless your novel sucks, but I’m going to guess you take enough notes to have an idea of what’s going to happen.

    However, I must point out (and this is not directed at you or as an insult since you did not go cold turkey. You use detailed notes like me thus are bound to catch on to a complete lack of building tension) I recently said my theory about how twilight came to be: Meyer wanted to get rich quick, spent 1 week writing, drugged the editors, and thus it was published as is. Except when they decided to name it Twilight and she had to awkwardly mention “twilight” several or a couple times in the story.

  10. B. Macon 10 Jun 2011 at 7:26 am

    “As far as speed goes, Mickey Spillane used to say that he’d bang out a Mike Hammer novel whenever he needed money. He could do that in two weeks.” I’ve heard of a few novels drafted in less than two months (like Ender’s Game and Their Eyes Were Watching God), but they’re clearly outliers. According to Jim Hines’ survey, the typical published author took 10 years to get published, 1% took less than a year and 7% took less than 3. If you’re an unpublished novelist thinking about getting a novel published, I would counsel you that it takes most novelists closer to 10 years than 1. (Fortunately, it gets MUCH faster with experience).

  11. steton 10 Jun 2011 at 1:58 pm

    I can back up B from personal experience. I wrote a novel to see if I could. Didn’t sell. Another half-novel. Sucked. Three nonfiction books sold (for between $3 and $15 thousand each). A dozen nonfiction proposals didn’t. Another novel didn’t.

    I got a big-time agent with my next novel. That one didn’t sell.

    I wrote another. That one didn’t sell, either.

    Got an offer of $3,000 for the previous one, and turned it down.

    I wrote another. That one sold for a fuckton (and completely tanked), as part of a two book deal. But that was pure blind luck.

    Wrote another, as part of a two-book deal, each for $15,000.

    Why am I not writing comic scripts?

  12. B. Macon 10 Jun 2011 at 3:05 pm

    “Why am I not writing comic scripts?” Well, I assume you’re being facetious, but here are some (overgeneralized) reasons a novelist might not want to write comics:

    –The main customer group for Western comic book publishers over the past 20-odd years has been guys aged 18-30. If you’re writing something that doesn’t appeal to that demographic, comic book publishers would probably be wary.

    –The length restrictions are SEVERE. Let’s say you start off with a 32-page one-shot. If you have an average of 75-100 words of dialogue and other printed text per page (which strikes me as relatively high), that’s probably about 2400-3200 words. (Hell, I’ve written a novel chapter which had 10,000 words). If you then get (say) a six-issue arc published, that’s 15,000-20,000 words. On the other hand, the shorter length leads to a higher hourly rate.

    –I think comic books are almost always heavy on action. Because of length restrictions and the necessity to generate interesting visuals, I think it is very hard to compete with novels on anything besides action. 🙁 (Graphic novels are more diverse but you’d still need to come up with interesting visuals).

    –The comic book market tends to be dominated pretty thoroughly by superheroes. If you’re not really into superheroes, you might get tired after a while. (There’s more variety in graphic novels).

    –Outside of the select group of comic book readers, there is pretty much no prestige for comic book writers and it’s harder to use that experience to land outside jobs.

  13. steton 11 Jun 2011 at 4:10 am

    Agentquery.com shows 66 agents interested in graphic novels. Not comic books by any means, but there’s always interested in a literary, Maus or Persepolis, type project. I checked publishers marketplace a while back, too, and there was more action that I’d expected.

    But I’m not sure that works if you’re not the writer _and_ illustrator.

  14. Anonymouson 25 Jul 2011 at 1:58 am

    ‘Let’s say you start off with a 32-page one-shot. If you have an average of 75-100 words of dialogue and other printed text per page (which strikes me as relatively high), that’s probably about 2400-3200 words.’

    But there’s more to writing a comics script than the text that appears on the page. The writer also has to describe to the artist what to draw in each panel on the page. Regardless of how many words get printed on the page, the writer still has to write the story that the artist interprets.

    There are different ways of writing comics, from a ‘full script’ that describes everything in detail to ‘Marvel style’ where the writer gives the artist an outline and then comes back after the pages have been pencilled to write all the dialogue and narrative text. Either way, though, there’s still more work involved than you seem to assume.

    Also, everyone here seems to think a comic is 32 pages. Well, yes, but a lot of those pages are ads. The comic strip itself is usually 22-24 pages.

  15. B. Macon 25 Jul 2011 at 3:30 pm

    “Also, everyone here seems to think a comic is 32 pages. Well, yes, but a lot of those pages are ads. The comic strip itself is usually 22-24 pages.” Ah, good call. My estimate was off. Not counting for ad pages, most of the comics I looked at from medium-sized publishers have 24 scripted pages and 1-2 pages of other content, like letters pages.



    “But there’s more to writing a comics script than the text that appears on the page. The writer also has to describe to the artist what to draw in each panel on the page. Regardless of how many words get printed on the page, the writer still has to write the story that the artist interprets. There are different ways of writing comics, from a ‘full script’ that describes everything in detail to ‘Marvel style’ where the writer gives the artist an outline… there’s still more work involved than you seem to assume.” That’s fair, but I think that the on-page text takes the large majority of the writer’s time. For example, if there’s a fight scene with few (or no) lines of dialogue, the writer will still have a role plotting the battle and fitting it coherently into the rest of the story, but I don’t think it’d take nearly as much authorial effort as a scene where on-page text is more central.

  16. Fidoon 15 Dec 2011 at 1:47 pm

    I am amazed none of you hit on the main thing comics and graphic novels have going for them right now…..Hollywood. Granted, you might not make big bank on your story, or artwork working for most publishers. I pay my artists on a pay as you go basis through PayPal so they get paid the instant they submit their work. On top of that, they get a share of the profit from the book’s sales once I realize my investment in the book, so there ARE royalties to be had. What do I get out of it as the creator and writer? I get the bank from the movie deal and, more importantly, the merchandising. Yes, comic makers may well not get on talk show circuits outside of Stan Lee, but we DO have fans and they LOVE wearing our gear. Say what you will of the comics….there is great money to be made as long as you have an interesting, action packed, character driven story….and phenomenal artwork, one can make a substantial living at it. And just to make my point succinctly, when’s the last time you saw John Grisham Underoos?

  17. ehrichon 09 Jun 2012 at 1:45 pm

    now lets re-write the above story in a super hero themed layout!

  18. Chrison 09 Sep 2012 at 7:29 pm

    Why is everyone looking to become rich off of comics?

    I’d be perfectly happy writing 3-4 books a month and making 70-90,000 a year from them.

  19. B. McKenzieon 10 Sep 2012 at 12:35 pm

    “Why is everyone looking to become rich off of comics? I’d be perfectly happy writing 3-4 books a month and making 70-90,000 a year from them.” Don’t quit your day job… 🙂

  20. Nayanon 30 Oct 2012 at 7:42 am

    @B. Mac.
    Let us assume that my 4 issues story arc gets accepted and published. Then the 1st issue bombs. Then what will the publisher do? Will they publish the next issue or just leave the story incomplete?

  21. B. McKenzieon 30 Oct 2012 at 10:55 am

    Nayan, I think the publisher would do its best to complete the run–sometimes it takes time for a series to acquire readers. However, the publisher definitely might end the series prematurely, especially if there have been any problems with the creative team.

  22. Nayanon 30 Oct 2012 at 11:39 pm

    One thing I dont understand. In freelance artists’ sites, rates are generally given in per hour basis (30 dollars/hr etc.). Now an artist may take as many hours as he want to complete the project. Then I will end up paying much more. How will I know how much time he spent for the project? It is reliable if the rate is in per page basis.

  23. B. McKenzieon 31 Oct 2012 at 3:42 am

    “In freelance artists’ sites, rates are generally given in per hour basis (30 dollars/hr etc.)” I’d recommend finding a freelance artist that would give you a rate for the project ahead of time. When I’ve looked for freelancers on DeviantArt, I didn’t have any issues on that front.

    PS: Speaking of DA, I think the biggest potential risk of going for freelancers on a budget is spending any amount of money on an artist that is not particularly close to a professional level. If the art is not in the top few percent of submissions, you will probably have to pay to have it redone later. If you ever have a dilemma where you can wait or rush forward with a half-assed job, I highly recommend waiting, especially when there are no hard deadlines. Besides, the few really good artists that charge relatively affordable rates will be buried in prospective clients anyway, so anticipate a lot of waiting if you have chosen the right person.

  24. Fayeon 10 Oct 2013 at 9:29 am

    I have a really good series comic book I would like to write, but I am not an artist. I looked to see if there is a comic book on the market that I came up with and there is not. I am not a professional writer, I am a nobody, an unknown, but I have a close friend who is an agent/publisher. I am wondering if the title and character needs to be copyright so no one else can steal the idea, and if they do, they can be sued.
    The average comic is 22 pages; 32 if you count the ads.
    I am still kicking around the Idea.

  25. Nickon 26 Dec 2015 at 11:22 am

    Pay for writing comics is directly relevant to the experience and pedigree of the writer.

    Name recognized writers will demand Upwards of $250/page and are often tied in to the property for additional compensation.

    Experienced without name recognition will command $100-$150/page.

    Inexperienced novice writers don’t get the opportunity to work on industry books, so they’ll set their rate basically whatever they can get from a potential client.

    For new writers, make sure you never work for free.

    http://www.NickMacari.com

  26. ChristianRon 14 Jan 2016 at 3:54 pm

    So would I have to learn a second trade or what kind of day job would I get to support myself or a family

  27. B. McKenzieon 14 Jan 2016 at 5:14 pm

    “So would I have to learn a second trade or what kind of day job would I get to support myself or a family.” Especially with a family, I would strongly recommend getting a full-time position unless/until you have actually demonstrated reliable earnings in fiction. Fiction writing is notoriously unreliable, and I’d estimate that 90% of the people that set out to get published don’t make it. Most of the fiction writers I know don’t earn enough to do it full-time.

    I don’t know what your skill set is like, so it’s hard for me to recommend a day job. In terms of full time jobs at publishers, I think entry-level editorial assistant positions would probably be the most directly relevant to becoming a writer, but the income level in editorial positions (especially entry-level ones) is brutally low. There are probably significantly more lucrative opportunities in virtually every other industry, especially if you have any inclination towards math or science whatsoever.

  28. ChristianRon 14 Jan 2016 at 5:20 pm

    I’m actually still in a junior in high school

  29. B. McKenzieon 14 Jan 2016 at 5:58 pm

    I would generally recommend going to college, and if you have any interest in math and/or science, I’d recommend majoring in a related field because the job market for liberal arts majors (e.g. history / English / political science) is at best sort of weak and at worst absolutely hellish. Personally, in the 1.5 years after graduating from a ~elite university with a major in political science, I totaled ~$15-20k in income. It was, umm, not a good time. If you’re thinking about majoring in something like creative writing or English, I’d strongly recommend dual-majoring with another major which has average salaries high enough that you could support a family before turning 35. If the workload of a dual major proves to be too much, you can safely jettison the writing degree (and, also, publishers generally don’t ask about their writers’ educational backgrounds and don’t care).



    I’m not sure what your financial background is like, but if your family is not particularly wealthy, my brief college financial planning advice would be to gravitate towards the best private university you can get into. I did a year at a public university (the University of Illinois) and, coming from a lower-middle class background, I was sort of counting on a noticeable financial aid package. In actuality, I got a 1% discount ($250 in financial aid). I then transferred to a university that waived ~$45,000 of the annual $50,000 costs. I ended up spending almost as much for one year at Illinois as I did for 3.5 years at the private university.

    As for high school, I’d recommend taking as many Advanced Placement and/or International Baccalaureate classes as you can successfully handle. Each AP class costs about $80 for the final examination and passing the test generally gets you 20% (sometimes as much as 40%) of a semester worth of credit from your eventual college, which works out to something like $3-6,000 in free credits per AP class. This will allow you to either take more advanced courses in college than you’d otherwise be taking, and ideally allow you to shorten your college tenure by a year (which will probably save $20,000+ in college costs and add $30-50K in earlier income).

  30. ChristianRon 14 Jan 2016 at 6:37 pm

    Well I’m going to a two year community collage. I think it’s two years and probably..most likely doing English majoring.

  31. ChristianRon 14 Jan 2016 at 6:37 pm

    But I don’t have experience in finance

  32. B. McKenzieon 14 Jan 2016 at 6:55 pm

    If you’re set on majoring in English, if possible I’d suggest dual majoring with any of the 30+ degrees that are financially very stable, 25+ of which have nothing to do with finance or economics. E.g. if you were thinking about teaching as a potential day job, getting a degree in teaching would provide a useful credential (a certification required to teach) beyond what an English degree would provide by itself.

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