Wednesday, August 02, 2023

Nate Powell: Making a Living as a Graphic Novelist

 This post from January 2019 has been getting a lot of traffic, and it's worth looking at again. It's a breakdown of what a graphic novelist, at the top of his game, earns for a book. As you can see, $30,000 doesn't go as far as it used to. I'll share how money works for me below. 


Take a look:


Nate Powell has posted about the money he gets for creating a graphic novel.

Background: If you know graphic novels, then you know that Nate Powell has been doing them for a while and he is a well known, award-winning graphic novelist.

My friend Brian Fies, also an award winning graphic novelist and writer, first showed me the graphic below.

Brian is a pal (buy his book A FIRE STORY, from Abrams). I know Nate Powell by reputation. That's Nate's handwriting there, below, breaking down for us that he has to live on $6,375.00 for over a year while working on his latest graphic novel. He doesn't get the rest until afterward.

Brian Fies breaks this down. Here's Brian:

Graphic novelist Nate Powell posted this sobering breakdown about the finances of being published. As I just commented to a friend, these aren't entry-level numbers; these are "Nate Powell who is in the top 5% of successful working graphic novelists" numbers. Beginners wouldn't have it even this good.

A quick primer: an "advance" is money a publisher pays an author up-front, meant to cover some expenses while the book is being written. It is an "advance against royalties," which means you don't start receiving royalties (a percentage of sales) until your advance has been earned back--e.g., in Nate's $30,000 example, the author wouldn't get paid again until the royalties they were due hit $30,001. Some books never earn back their advances, so that's all the money their authors ever receive.

In my understanding, a $30K advance is very generous in the graphic novel world. Much more common is no advance at all.

Without getting too specific, Nate's analysis looks right to me. My numbers would be different, and I don't have an agent, but the bottom line is that creating a graphic novel is a long, difficult thing to do, and on a dollar-per-hour basis 97% of graphic novelists earn waaaay less than minimum wage.

I don't think you do it for the money (unless you're naive or stupid). You do it because you have a story to tell that nobody else in the world can. You do it because it's fun and fulfilling. You do it because you have to. You hope your story connects with enough readers that maybe you earn a few bucks and get a chance to tell more stories. Hoping that your story will find enough readers to make you rich (or even middle-classish) is just a lottery player's fantasy. It also happens from time to time.


Comicsbeat: Graphic novelist quits making graphic novels after trying to live on $10k/year for three years

Faith Erin Hicks on the Economics of Graphic Novels 



When I teach the Comic Arts majors at New England College, as I have for four years now, I talk about the practicalities of income streams. I mean, life is unfair. You can't control who you are and when you're born. The Golden Age of Illustration is over. There are people out there who can afford to work for little money or for free. Most of us can't. I can't.

I write down how I earn my money. I write this list on the board for them to see. For this year, it goes something like this:



Books and Magazines

I sell gag cartoons to some during the year. For instance, I'll have some cartoons in a new book from Reader's Digest later this year. 

Book project

This is a large, long term project for a client that I finished up this year and will see print soon.

Rights clearance

For publishers, I figure out who holds the rights to old gag cartoons.


I'm an adjunct at New England College where I helped design the Comic Arts program, and I teach cartoon classes in libraries, schools and museums.


I give talks on comics history mostly. This fall, I'll be doing a workshop on graphic novels for the National Education Administration in New Hampshire. 


I have a lot of gag cartoons for publication over at Cartoonstock and some sell every month.

Gallery Show

I'm scheduled to have a gallery show this fall, where I'll be selling some originals and signing. 

Other clients

I also create illustration and cartooning for clients. These are usually for industry-specific business-to-business presentation use. 


Some of this is small money, some of it is big, some of it isn't dependable. But so long as there are a couple of these events going on, there's income. This is my two cents and how it works for me, year after year.


1 comment:

Anon A. Mus said...

So it took him 3 years to write the book?