Trade Paperbacks

So, you are ready to collect your comic into a trade paperback.

This is appropriate topic for me, because I’m busy putting our second “Johnny Saturn” trade paperback together
Printing: The most important issue in creating the trade paperback is choosing a printer, and whether you are going to go with offset printing or print-on-demand.  Offset printing requires a much greater investment up front, but makes for a much lower per-unit price.  Print-On-Demand allows you to only buy and pay for copies as you need them, making your initial investment much lower but your cost-per-unit much higher.  For trade paperback printing, I use Lightning Source, but there are other fine printers out there such as Ka-Blam and Lulu. It should go without saying, but compare the price breakdowns of each publisher.
Discount: Retailers buy your books from you at a discount, and often that discount is up to you to decide upon.  50% to 60% off the cover price is average.  So, as an example, if you set your book’s price at $12.00, and the full color, print-on-demand version cost you $8.00, and then if you sold the book to retailers at %50 (aka $6.00), then you would actually loose $2.00 per issue the retailers  buy.  If you go with offset printing, or black and white interiors, you will probably be able to bring the cost-per-unit down to the point were you can sell the books at a profit.  There are many, many variables in printing, so the example above is very generalized.
Note: The problem with offset printing, besides the initial cost, is that you order books in the thousands, yet the distributor may only order a few hundred copies, if that.  That leaves you with a garage full of books.  You may sell them over time, at conventions and such, but you still have to store them in the meantime.
Technical Specs: When the printer sends you specifications for the formatting of your book, follow these to the letter!  Depending on who you go through, you may have to resize the pages, or convert them from CMYK to RGB, or collect them in a PDF file, and any other number of variations.  There is no standard format that all printers adhere to. Again, this should be obvious, but I’ve known many first time publishers make this mistake.
Distribution: The books discount determines your distribution options.  To take your trade paperback through Diamond Comic Distributors Inc., or Haven Distributors, then they will usually call for a discount around 60%.  This means that you have to either a) produce the comic for less than 60% off the cover price, or b) raise the cover price to the point that it will cover your cash outlay. My print distributor is Lightning Source, which allows great leeway in setting your discount, but I don’t necessarily advice you to go below %40.  It may seem tempting to keep more of your money by taking a low discount, but it will impact your sales.  As an example, if you put your book on, and you have a low discount, then their consumer discount will also be low.  You can also sell copies yourself at local comic shops, conventions, online, in digital format, etc.
ISBN: A comic book trade-paperback is technically a book, so it will need an ISBN number.  Some printers, such as Ka-Blam or Lulu, offer ISBN services, but generally you have to apply for these numbers on your own and buy them in blocks.  Bar codes, which are built around the ISBN number, are much the same, and Ka-Blam will provide one for you at a fee, as will Lulu.  You can also make your own bar codes, but finding the right software is hit or miss, in my opinion.
Be sure to come back for part two of this article!