This is a story about money, and how to find it. It starts with a story set in my lean years when I just went to press on a new print run for Wannabe Press’s two most popular books.
We spent $8,500 to get 3,000 copies total: 2,000 copies of Katrina Hates Dead Shit and 1,000 copies of Ichabod Jones: Monster Hunter. This is not something we did lightly. We agonized over buying more books, but the truth is that we were spending too much and needed to reign in book costs. This was the only way to do that in the long run.
Since we’ve gone to press I’ve been telling people about my decision and the reactions have been consistent across the board. I’ve heard things like “I wish I had $8,000 to spend just on books,” or “I don’t have $8,000 to spent on books.” To which I always responded; “You think I have $8,000 to spend on books?”
Newsflash: I didn’t have $8,000 to spend on books. I didn’t have $8,000 to spend. Period. I worked on very low margins and every dollar went back into growing it.
Product sales is an industry where you can be defeated by success. Every time I sell out it’s a hollow victory because I just have to turn around and buy more products.On top of that books aren’t cheap. I spent $6.00 a book on a short run of 100 books and sold them for $20.
I was ordering books every couple weeks. I spent $3,000 buying 500 books. I was constantly in the hole. Every con I was pissed off when I did well because it meant I needed more supply.It sucked and was unsustainable. Something had to change.
I decided to make an investment in myself and move from paying $6.00 a book to paying under $3.00 a book by ordering a larger print run. Not only does this save me money in the long run, but the books are a much higher quality. I was able to get better paper quality and a hard cover version of the book for less than half my original costs.
Now I can pay $3 and sell a book for $30. That a much healthier profit margin and sustainable for the future.
But should I have done it?
I don’t know. It’s certainly a risk for my company. $8,000 is 10% of projected revenue this year. But that same investment can net me $90,000 if I sell out at full price. So it felt like a good risk.I haven’t always made good risks, but I’ve always taken risks. Heck, owning any business is a risk and I’ve owned six. Four crashed a burned. One folded after less than two weeks. I’ve been a serial entrepreneur most of my adult life, for better or worse. I’ve always needed capital to grow and sustain my companies. Capital is always a problem. Right now I have a little working capital in my business, and I did have money to pay cash for this print run (even if it ate into most of my profits from this year).
This wasn’t always the case.
I want to take you back to the origin story; back when I had nothing, and tell you all the times I should have thrown in the towel but didn’t, and how I got capital to invest when I didn’t have a pot to piss.
Note. I’m not telling you to do any of these things. In fact, please god find a better way.
The time I went $40,000 in credit card debt to buy gear
When I graduated college I wanted to be director of photography for movies and TV. I had a decent job doing live shots on Capitol Hill for Fox News, CNN, and others, but I wanted more. I wanted to shoot narrative films.
There wasn’t a ton of narrative film going on in DC, but I wanted to get in on the small scene that existed. I tried and tried but nobody wanted to hire me.
I didn’t own gear. I was constantly losing work to people that owned their own gear. In order to get in the game, I had to buy gear. I figured that if I owned gear (audio, video, lighting) I would get more gigs, and they would pay a kit fee for the gear I owned. However, gear cost $40,000+ that I didn’t have.
I really believed in myself though, and it just so happened that I was approved for a high limit Costco Amex credit card, which I signed up for and promptly went on an epic spending spree
Eventually, I ended up with a video camera, lighting, audio and editing equipment. I also owned $40,000 in debt. If you’ve never been $40,000 in debt let me tell you it isn’t fun. I was making just enough to pay my half of the rent and make minimum payments to my cards. I wasn’t eating down my debt, but I was breaking even AND shooting stuff for my resume. I was getting gigs all the time and because I owned the gear I could undercut other companies and get business. On days I wasn’t booked I could shoot my own stuff because I owned the gear.
It was the first time that I had an asset. I used that asset to be hired on non-profit documentaries where I worked on shoots with Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine, and narrative films where I was flown to Denmark to second unit DP a movie for a month. I shot student films and small indie productions.
I also created my own web series which I wrote, directed, and executive produced which you watch here. I learned about editing and graphic design. I still own the editing and graphics packages I bought back then to this day.
But it couldn’t last. In the end, the minimum payments were so crippling that I had to take out a debt consolidation loan to get that nightmare under control. We ended up taking on tenants for our second bedroom to help make ends meet. My dad stayed with us for a while before he retired and my best friend did too before we moved out. Was it weird to live with somebody else while my future wife and I were learning to live with each other? Sure, but we did it and we made it out the other side.
In the end, I didn’t stick with that career. After a bad accident I couldn’t lug around the gear anymore, and frankly, I was never very good at shooting stuff. That company was a bust, but I did end up with a tangible asset; the web series I made (even though it wouldn’t be out for years afterward), and the connections with other people in the industry that I’m still in contact with today.
More importantly, it gave me my first tastes of real business, owning both RPN Photography and BNS Media Group. I previously owned an idea house called Insert Name Here Productions, but that folded relatively quickly.
These were the first companies I owned for a while. It was in their failures that I was able to pivot to where I am today.
The time I used my settlement check to fund my first graphic novel
Between 2008 and 2010 I kept my head low. We were in the worst financial crisis of my lifetime. I couldn’t get steady work. We were still reeling from all the credit card debt from my failed company and accident.
I also couldn’t get anywhere as a writer. I had a couple of projects optioned and pitched around town, but mostly I was writing for my wall and my manager. It was a very demoralizing time for me.
I no longer had gear, so I wasn’t valuable to anybody. I was also new to LA with no contacts, so nobody took me seriously. Even my web series Connections was stuck in editing and wouldn’t make it out into the world until 2013. I had nothing and it sucked. Well, that’s not true. I had something; crippling debt. It was a struggle just to survive. Then we got a settlement from my accident and that all changed. Instead of massive debt I actually had a little money in the bank. Woohoo! Most people would invest that money, but we decided to make something. I knew I was either going to get something out into the world or I would never be a successful writer.
It was at this time that my manager brought me back into the world of comics, which I hadn’t read in years. I fell back in love and decided to do an ashcan of our first book, The Wannabes. Now, this was relatively cheap by my current standards, but the book was going to be about $600 to create and print. Not a small investment for anybody.
But I couldn’t give up.
I ate into the settlement money still left over from my car accident and took a leap. My career was stalled, and either I was going to try something new or give up. I don’t like giving up, so I tried.
And I failed.
Nobody wanted my comic book when I pitched it at San Diego Comic Con 2010. It was demoralizing. I went back home with my tail between my legs. Now remember at this point, I just dug myself out of a $40,000 hole with my only tangible assets being a web series (which wouldn’t come out until 2013 and an eight-page comic book which was unsalable.
So what did I do? I doubled down on books and made ashcans for two more comic books; Ichabod Jones: Monster Hunter and Paradise. That was another $1,000 investment with what little money I had left.
The time I funded a graphic novel with an IRA
After making the Ichabod Jones: Monster Hunter ashcan and shopping it around, a publishing company came along and offered me a contract to publish Ichabod!
I was in the money, right? Oh yeah, except not at all. They would publish the book, but they weren’t going to pay for any production costs. Which meant I had to either find the money for production or turn down the only contract I had ever seen. I couldn’t turn it down. I had to move forward. So I cashed in an IRA in order to fund the production costs. I paid the penalty and everything.
In the end, I made Ichabod happen; 4 issues, epilogue plus back matter content. In total it was about $8,000 for production costs. Not an easy pill to swallow for somebody barely making $20,000 a year.
Today, Ichabod has more than doubled that initial investment in four years. That’s today though. Back in 2011, I cleared -$8,000 on my taxes.
The time I used Kickstarter to fund my first print run.
It was a long and strange road, but eventually I got back the rights to Ichabod from the publishing company and decided to print it myself. With no money, it wasn’t going to be easy. So how did I do that? Kickstarter. I figured if I could raise enough money through Kickstarter, then it would be a good proof of concept and allow me to buy all the books I needed to start my company. This is the first time I ever used any outside funds to generate money for my business.
Luckily, it worked! We made enough for Ichabod and to cover the costs of starting Wannabe Press. More than the money, this gave me a boost of confidence that people wanted the thing that I made.
The time I used my salary to fund the rest of my first slate of books
Around this time I also had 13 of 22 pages of Paradise #1 finished, a kid’s book with a publisher, a middle grade fiction novel with that same publisher, and needed to edit my next novel while getting a cover done.
I wanted to finish the final nine pages of Paradise #1, buy back the rights to both my kid’s book and novel, and pay for editing services/cover design for my new book. This would be the foundation for my company, Wannabe Press, which publishes graphic novels, traditional novels, and kid’s books.
However, it would cost me $2,500 in order to make all that happen. How did I fund this?
I dipped into my salary. Around this time both me and my wife had jobs and I used what little remaining income there was to fund this $2,500 extra expense. Total return to date is over $7,000 BTW, and it grows every month.
The time Wannabe Press started funding itself
by 2015, it was time to debut our first slate of books. I didn’t want to be an online only company. My strength was in face to face sales and that meant going to shows. Lots of shows. Shows cost anywhere from $35 for a very small show up to $1,000+ for the big ones. We didn’t have a slush fund put aside for things like this, so I paid for the first cons and print books out of my own pocket.
I didn’t have to dip into my own wallet for long. Almost immediately those shows started paying for themselves AND turning a profit. People bought Ichabod. They bought my novel and they bought my kid’s book. The books were now paying for the shows and giving me enough left over to let me invest in new shows and products. After we launched our second slate in 2016, revenue at shows doubled! In 2017, we doubled our sales again.
So there you have it.
I have funded my company in almost every way possible. I funded them with credit cards, with a settlement check, and with my salary. I used renters to lower my bills and crowdfunding to print books. I even cashed out an IRA to make things happen. I am proof that there is always a way to get money if you are passionate enough and crazy enough. The only question is how willing you are to take a risk on yourself. It’s not always easy. In fact, it’s never easy, but the question is this…how bad do you want it?
I write cool things, filled with monsters, humor, action, adventure, and generally awesomeness. Then, I sell those things to humans. I am pretty good at it.