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Section 2: Getting Paid – Publishing Advances

The NBN has come and gone the Internet seems to be working so far… hopefully it stays working so there won’t be any problems. On the other hand, this post will be the second-last one. The next one after this will address royalties and returns – and then Section 2 (about manga publishing) will end, and I’ll be getting back to drawing my next story!


  • This is part of an on-going blog series called “Being a Professional Manga Artist in the West“. The Table of Contents is here.
  • My comics-prose stories “Short Ghost Stories: The Man with the Axe in his Back” is available on Smashwords and Amazon. Read more at this link.



Part 5: Getting Paid – Advances

When people talk about publishing contracts, the first thing that comes to mind is probably money. How much will I get paid, and how will I get paid?

Money’s obviously very important, but the general answer to that question if you’re a manga-style artist in the West is: “Not that much,” and “in chunks.” Usually, the money you get is paid in 3 parts – once on signing the contract, once when you’ve reached a milestone, and once when the project is complete. Regardless of the sum, the money is called an ‘advance’, and regardless of whether it fulfils the normal definition of an ‘advance,’ (like in the event of work-for-hire), the money will usually be called an advance.

The first thing you must know about an advance that a lot of people don’t know:

An advance is technically a loan.

That’s right. It’s not ‘free money,’ or ‘payment for your writing of your book which we are now going to license the rights and then publish.’ The money you get paid upfront… isn’t actually yours, though you get to keep all of it, even if your book doesn’t sell well. However, if you screw up your end of the deal and don’t deliver your book on time (or to the publisher’s satisfaction), then the publisher has the right to demand the advance money back from you. Usually they’re highly unlikely to do so, due to the time and costs involved, but sometimes they may.

The advance is money the publisher lends you, in the expectation that you’ll have something to live on while you’re working on your book. When the book is done and published, the publisher fully expects you to repay that money. In other words, if a publisher advances you $10,000 to do your book, your book is expected to earn them that $10,000 back – not through the money they make, but through the money you make.


Well, I’m sure you’ve heard of this thing called royalties. I’m sure you’ve heard that writers (and musicians, etc) get royalties from publishers, which are a small percentage of the sale of each book. Typically, royalties are 8-10% of the list price (15% for hardcovers). This means that if your book’s retail price is $10, then you’ll earn 80c to $1 for each copy of your book sold.

You are expected to earn your advance back through royalty payments, before you’ll see any actual royalty cheques from your publisher.


Say I wrote ‘Awesome Story,’ and I sign a publishing contract with QC Publishing to publish the book. The advance was $20,000 at a gross royalty rate of 10% of the list price. The book will be sold at $10. The book just got published.

Question: So, how much royalties will I be getting right off the bat?

Answer: NONE. I’m in the hole to QC Publishing for $20,000, due to the advance they paid me. An advance is a loan, remember? It’s money I technically owe QC Publishing, which I have to recoup for them.

Each copy of ‘Awesome Story’ sold at $10 gets me $1 per copy. If I sold 1000 copies of ‘Awesome Story,’ then I’ve made $1000 worth of royalty money. Take that out of the $20,000 I owe QC Publishing, and I still owe $19,000.

Anyway, I need to sell 20,000 copies of ‘Awesome Story’ before I will see a single cent in royalties. If I don’t sell those 20,000 copies, then I’m in debt to the publisher, and the publisher may not want to publish my next book.

This is why 85% of all books don’t earn back their advance. It’s because not that many books will sell consistently over 20,000 (this is too small a number, actually).

Now, if ‘Awesome Story’ sold only 18,000 copies, QC Publishing is highly unlikely to ask for that remaining $2000 back from me. It’s simply a dick move, and no publisher does it because it’s unfair. Once a publisher pays an advance, the author usually keeps all the money, regardless of the outcome. However, nobody will be impressed when they look at your royalty statement either.

But hey! The Publisher lost money too, right? They took a risk and paid me $20,000, so they lost $2000 on the gamble, right?

Not necessarily.

Retailers take a 40-60% cut of a book’s retail price, so if a book is sold for $10, then $6 go to the retailer (whoever it is). The remaining 4% will be split between the publisher, publishing costs and the author. If the author gets $1 per book, the publishing house gets $3, which has to cover printing, shipping, warehousing, cover design, formatting, copy-editing and all the overheads of running a publishing house.

Anyway, assuming I sold 18,000 copies of ‘Awesome Story,’ then it means my publisher grossed 18,000 x $3 = $54000. Did they lose money? Depends. Generally speaking, publishers calculate print runs through mathematical formulas that will give them an idea of how many copies a particular book will sell. They will usually print a number of copies close to how they think the book will sell, and they will definitely make sure they’ll recoup their costs. The number of copies they print of a particular book isn’t a wild stab in the dark. It’s calculated to ensure that the publisher at least breaks even. If they don’t do that, they’ll go out of business real soon.


Next Wednesday – royalties and returns! Last post on this!

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Section 2: What is Copyright?

Ugh, Internet was down for two whole days. A suburn-wide blackout where I live – thanks to the NBN installation, there’s been a lot of hiccups in the Internet connection lately. I thought I’d better post this up while the connection is still here.


  • This is part of an on-going blog series called “Being a Professional Manga Artist in the West“. The Table of Contents is here.
  • My comics-prose stories “Short Ghost Stories: The Man with the Axe in his Back” is available on Smashwords and Amazon. Read more at this link.



Part 4c: What is Copyright?

Disclaimer: I talk about publishing contracts, but this is not a definitive guide. I try and keep my information accurate, but if there are any corrections, please let me know. This is not legal advice – I have no authority to give out legal advice. If you’re offered a publishing contract and you’re unsure of the terms, please find a legal professional who can help you.

To understand how a copyright license works, you must first understand what a copyright is.

A copyright is a creator’s exclusive right to make copies of their own work, and then distribute and profit off it. Hence it’s called a “copy right” – it refers to the right to make copies (and to do various things with those copies). This legal concept of “copyright” is protected by law, and protection is automatic, the moment you commit pen to paper and start creating the work. However, this protection extends only to countries who are part of the Berne Convention, and when it comes to court of law, it varies from country to country.



To give you an example, here’s a photo of all the books I’ve had published over the years. You can buy most of these as a print book from a bookstore, or from Amazon, or as ebooks from various places. The copyright on these vary, because some of these are where I worked only as an illustrator, while others I own partial copyright. That’s the thing about publishing – you don’t always own everything you do, and if you sell off a license, you no longer own the right to sell or distribute your own work.

An easier way to talk about copyright would be through the books I’ve self-published.



Here’s a pic of three books I’ve self published – “Queenie Chan: Short Stories 2000-2010”, and two versions of “Short Ghost Stories: The Man with the Axe in his Back”.

All of these books are copyrighted to me. Regardless of when I wrote and drew the short stories in “Short Ghost Stories”, I had copyright protection on all of those stories from the moment they were created. I own the exclusive right to make copies of “Short Ghost Stories”, to distribute and then sell it. By “exclusive”, I mean only me, and no one else, has that right.

If you bought a print copy of “Short Ghost Stories” off Lulu, and then scanned the book into your computer and then distributed it, then you’ve just committed “copyright infringement”. Scanning or reprinting the book in small numbers don’t really count as “infringement”, but distributing it en masse certainly will. You can own the physical copy of “Short Ghost Stories” (which would include all the paper, ink, and binding) and the right to do whatever you want with that particular copy. This includes the right to give it to someone else, resell to a used book store, to cut, to glue, to scan and reprint, and you can even translate and use it as a study. You can also scan it, link it to a page and talk about it (to criticize, to compliment or to hate) – all that is under fair use agreement. However, the right to distribute en masse (ie. distribute to file sharing sites and release the links) the contents of “Short Ghost Stories” is a right you don’t have. Profiting off it is also a right that only the copyright holder has.

You can purchase individual copies of my print book or e-book. However, no matter how many copies you purchase of “Short Ghost Stories”, the right to make money off the contents of the book via mass distribution doesn’t belong to you. Only the original creator (me) has that right. Or, if I licensed that right to a publisher, then they have that right. If I licensed that right to you (for a sum of money), then you have that right.

Now that you understand a bit about copyright and what you’re selling to a publisher, let’s talk about the length of a publishing contract.


Part 4d: If I Sell an Exclusive License to a Publisher, How Long does that License Last For?

If you have a good agent/intellectual property attorney, then hopefully the exclusive license to publish your book in hardcover/paperback and e-book only. Hopefully, that term of the contract will be 5-10 years, rather than the full-term of copyright. If it’s not a specified time frame, then it’ll be for the full-term of the copyright, unless there is something else in the contract that mentions a particular situation for a full rights-reversion.

A full-term of copyright lasts until the death of the creator, plus 70 years – and this is constantly getting extended. If you sell the exclusive right to publish your story to a publisher without specifying a time frame or an ‘out of print’ clause, then they’ll keep those rights until 70+ years after your death… so not only you, but your children and your children’s children will be affected.

These days, specifying a ‘time frame’ in your contract is a great idea. It’s because with the advent of e-books, ‘out of print’ clausesare now losing their original intent. ‘Out of print’ clauses used to be the last chance for a writer to get their rights back from a publisher, but since e-books are in print forever, these clauses have lost all meaning (and thus, their teeth).


Anyway, hopefully you got paid a decent amount. Next week, I’ll talk about getting paid an advance, and what that is. These posts are coming to a close, and there are only a few posts left, so I’ll make it quick.

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Section 2: Getting a Manga Published (Part 9)

Well, “Short Ghost Stories: The Man with the Axe in his Back” is out, and you can get it from the links below. I have also gotten a Cintiq drawing tablet, one where your draw only the screen. Colour art is now a lot easier, as evidenced by the Megaman fanart I pumped out in a few hours. WOOT! Expect some more colour art next year! :D


  • This is part of an on-going blog series called “Being a Professional Manga Artist in the West“. The Table of Contents is here.
  • My comics-prose stories “Short Ghost Stories: The Man with the Axe in his Back” is available on Smashwords and Amazon. Read more at this link.



Part 4: You Got a Publishing Deal!

Assuming your agent is successful in selling your work, and you got a publishing deal! Likewise, I can also assume that you were successful in selling your own work to a publisher (with or without an agent), and the publishing house has offered you a publishing deal. This means that the publisher will now forward a copy of your publishing contract, plus your advance. So, what does this all mean?

Anyway, this section will tackle some of the issues that crop up in a publishing contract, and also what to expect. There will be much talk about copyright, licenses, advances, copies printed, shipped, sold and returned, and royalties (if any).

Disclaimer: I talk about the publishing contracts, but this is not a definitive guide. I try and keep my information accurate, but if there are any corrections, please let me know. This is also not in any way meant to be legal advice – I have no authority to give out legal advice. If you’re offered a publishing contract and you’re unsure of the terms, please find a legal professional who can help you.


Part 4a: Dealing with a Publishing Contract

Every single publishing agreement is different, but I shall try and take a more generalised approach. The other thing is that it’s impossible to talk about publishing contracts without also explaining the concept of copyright. Still, it’s important I lay some ground rules down, because without it, you may end up not understanding much in this section.

There’s also the incidence of unscrupulous publishing contracts increasing, so I feel the need to warn people. A few years ago, publishing contracts only covered limited publishing rights, but now, many of them make a rights-grab for everything you have. The other issue is with the way money is accounted for inside various publishing houses for various publishing deals. What were once egregious accounting practices has now become the new normal.

This means the next big topics are these two things:


These are things that need to be addressed, in order for people to understand exactly what it is they’re selling when they sign a publishing contract with a publisher.


Part 4b: Firstly, What are you Selling to a Publisher when you Enter into a Publishing Agreement?

Read the question I posed above, and give me your answer.

If you answered “a story” to my question, then you’re wrong.

If you answered “a book”, “a novel”, “a manga” or a “manga-style comic book”, you’re wrong too.

If you answered “my story”, you’re even more wrong. If you sold “your story” to a publisher, it may well mean that you sold the entirety of your copyright to your story, which means that your publisher now owns your story, not you. When your publisher owns your copyright, they can make TV, movies, comic books, novels, audio books, video games, picture books, etc from your story without paying you a cent, because you don’t own the copyright anymore.

So, what do you sell a publisher, when you sign a publishing agreement?

You sell a license. Typically, a license to publish your work in book form, and book form only. A license is a “right”. It’s not any of the copyright you own on your story.

Specifically, it’s a license that gives the publisher an exclusive right to copy, distribute and sell your work, in a particular language, a particular region, and a particular format.

  • Region rights cover where the book can be published and sold. Usually the planet can be divided in whatever way you wish, but normally it’s by continents or countries. I can bag “US” rights, or “Canadian” rights, but typically people go for “North American” rights. I can bag “Japan” rights, or I can bag “Russian” rights. Alternatively, I can go “English-speaking region” rights, which would include the US, Canada, UK, Australian and New Zealand. (Oddly enough, it’ll leave out Singapore and India, which are considered different regions of the world)
  • Language rights are usually intertwined with Region-rights. It doesn’t make sense for a Korean publisher to bag “Japan” rights, or for a French publisher to bag “German” rights. However, it does make sense for a Taiwanese publisher to try and bag “Hong Kong and Macau” rights, including “China” rights if they can profit off it.
  • Format may be a hardcover book, a paperback book, an audio book, an e-book, or a book in braille format. (Once upon a time, the rights to these different formats were sold separately, though they’re now bundled into one publishing contract.)

The rights to make foreign-language translations, movies, plays, musicals, video games and novelizations off your story is a secondary right, known either as a “derivative right” or a “subsidiary right”. You can sell all the book publishing rights to your story (world-wide rights, all languages rights, all book formats) without selling a single derivative right to your story.

Now, a book publisher has no real business trying to get movie rights to your book, but they’ll certainly try to get it from you if they can get away with it. I call this sort of thing a ‘rights grab’, and creators need to be wary of this sort of thing cropping up in publishing contracts. Believe me, copyright is important, and understanding how to sell a license your copyright (or purchase a license for a copyright) is crucial to being a creator in this day and age.


Next week, I’ll talk about copyrights., which is very important.

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Short Ghost Stories: The Man with the Axe in his Back

“Short Ghost Stories: The Man with the Axe in his Back” is an experimental book I finished recently, a series of 8 short ghost stories. I first wrote them in proseformat, and then converted half of them into comics-prose. The purpose of this is to explore the best way of creating comics-prose – whether by converting a prose story, or by converting a comics story.

As a result, there are TWO versions of the same book. One with all 8 stories in prose-only format, while the other has 4 of the stories converted into comics-prose. In terms of conversion, it was successful… but ultimately, I found that it’s best to convert a COMIC into comics-prose, as I’ll explain further on in the past.


BUY AS EBOOK @ $4.99:
(Discounted to $2.99 until 31st August 2014)




Table of Contents

You can sample the stories on my site. I’ll be posting half of the comics-prose stories up on this site, starting in August 2014!


Thoughts on “Comics-Prose”

I’ve learned more about doing comics-prose through doing these stories, and my conclusion is this: Comics-prose is COMICS. I used to think that it’s 50/50 prose-comics, perhaps leaning more towards prose, but I turned out to be wrong. I started doing comics-prose by taking my comics and turning some of the panels into prose, and I find that this is actually MUCH easier than the other way around.

Turning my prose stories into comics-prose was HARD. Perhaps it was the way I write, but that’s why I managed to only turn half the stories into comics-prose. I found that often times things needed to be rewritten, but most of all, redundancies tended to pile up. There’s also this problem I call “prose-picture” tautology, which is where you have a picture of something, followed by prose that describes what happens in the picture, or PART of what happens. This is normal and not completely avoidable, but it seems to happen a LOT more when I converted prose into comics-prose, leading to rewrites.

My conclusion is the comics-prose is actually a form of compressed story-telling in comics. Manga is the ultimate in decompressed story-telling, and oddly enough, this form of comics story-telling is meant to compress manga-style story-telling.


Thoughts on professional copy-editing

I hired a professional copy-editor that works for a large publisher for this project, and while it was an interesting experience, I’m not sure I’ll do it again. It’s not the price, which was reasonable, nor the quality, which was good. It’s because the copy-editor, while managing to spot a few inconsistencies in the stories, also managed to INTRODUCE inconsistencies.

This became a huge problem between the comics-prose and prose-only versions of the story – ultimately, it became hard to reconcile the two versions using the same text. I imagine in the future, the comics-prose and prose-only versions of the same story will HAVE to be copy-edited separately. Which is too much hassle, so I just won’t bother (for now).

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