Commercialising Your Comics Art: What to Charge for Convention Sketches

Piggy Bank SketchMany comics artists are confused about what to charge for convention sketches. A complimentary sketch with purchase may be an excellent value-add for a customer who is already buying a book or other product. However, giving away your art for free and without a marketing purpose devalues your talent, as well as the actual physical artwork. Furthermore, it gives the recipient with no sentimental attachment to the sketches an opportunity to make money off your talent by trading them for profit on the secondary market like eBay. This is precisely the reason why celebrities charge for their autographs these days.

Comics creators who are paying good money for a table in Artists’ Alley need to learn how to think commercially so they can make a profit— offering convention sketches is one way of doing that.

So how do you work out what to charge for them?

We’ve put together a simple formula and 7 tips to help you get started:

  1. Determine Your Hourly Rate – Work out your hourly sketching rate. As a starting point, calculate it in a range from $55 per hour upward, depending on your experience and the strength of your portfolio. Alternatively, you could use the Australian Society of Authors concept sketch / model sheet rate of $55 to $65 per sketch.
  2. Do Your Homework – Prepare three sketches at home before you attend a convention. Time yourself on each one. The first should be a basic sketch, which should take around 10 minutes to 15 minutes to complete. The second should be a more complex sketch that should take around 15 minutes to 25 minutes, and the third should be fully detailed and take around 25 to 60 minutes.
  3. Determine Your Price Points – Calculate your price points for each sketch by adapting the following formula:
    Sketch Price = Length of Time Spent on Sketch x Hourly Rate
                                      60 minutes
    For example if your basic sketch takes you 10 minutes and you charge $60 per hour for your time then your price point would be $10. Apply the same formula to determine the prices for your next two levels of sketches.
  4. Orient Yourself Towards Profit – It is critical that you spend no more than the allocated predetermined time for each of your sketches otherwise you will be working at a loss. For example, if you spend 30 minutes on a basic sketch that should take you 10 minutes and that you would ordinarily charge $10 for then you lose 20 minutes of your time and $20 of your potential income.
  5. Price Your Commissions Separately –Your commissions need to be priced differently from convention sketches, as they are pieces than can take upward of 60 minutes and indeed can occasionally take several days to complete. You have an opportunity to raise the stakes by giving your customers a chance to request inked or coloured pieces. Some comics artists take orders prior to an event so they can get started on their commissions early and deliver them at the convention. If this is your preferred option then reach out to your customers early via your Facebook page, Twitter, blog or website and let them know you are taking commissions. Get them to pay upfront because there is nothing more frustrating than taking an order, completing the work and getting a no-show. Apply the pricing formula listed above in (3). You can also take orders and payment for commissions at the actual convention itself but you will need to capture your customers’ address and other contact details. If you need to post the commission out to them, then add enough money for postage to the price so it doesn’t bite into your income. Alternatively, you could arrange a delivery point and time for the piece to be picked up after the event.
  6. Establish Value and Protect Your Work – Make sure all your pieces are signed and dated with a permanent marker or ink to protect them from forgery and passing off or other copyright breaches. You may also want to take a quick photo of your sketch before you hand it over to your customer so you have some sort of visual record of your body of sold work.
  7. Promote at Point of Sale – Ensure that the display wall on your Artist’ Alley table or booth contains a samples of your three convention sketches variations with a clear indication on how much each of them cost. Alternatively, you could have a portfolio on the table with samples of the sketches at each of your price points, plus examples of commissions and the accompanying prices. This way, your customers can browse through the range and see the value they will get according to what they are prepared to pay. They may ask you to draw characters that are not in your portfolio but they will get a distinct understanding of what the final product will look like. Give them choice and it may work in your favour because comparing and contrasting what’s on offer may result in up-selling to a more expensive sketch.

Comics Mastermind™ has a commitment to contributing towards creating an Australian comics economy where comics creators’ published works, expertise and experience are valued both critically and commercially. We also focus on facilitating the shift from an Australian comics community to a thriving internationally recognised and commercially viable industry. The simple act of commercialising your convention sketches in a professional manner goes towards helping make that happen.

Julie Ditrich

© Julie Ditrich, 2014

Originally published in Comics Masterclass Spotlight (Vol 1. No 6, June 2014).

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