So It Begins: The Artist vs. Business Reality

Thumbnails of the finished cards will illustrate this blog post so there’s a balance of images and text.

At the end of my post on creating a fluffy tarot deck, I relayed that James has urged me to print and independently publish the Spirit Keeper’s Tarot, and we’ll be doing so in black and white. As of this posting, I’m about 25% regretful that I said yes.

After preliminary due diligence, I noted that the minimum order quantity for most playing card printer companies is 500 units. Okay, I think I can do 500 units. Sounds like a scary lot of copies but maybe with effort and more marketing balls than I have, I can move 500 units….

Except then I learned that printing 500 copies of the deck is about the same price as printing 1,000. Okay, no not exactly, but for argument’s sake, the price difference is so negligible there is no good reason to order 500 instead of 1,000. Heck, if I order 1,000 copies, the number of decks I need to sell to break even is less than the number of decks I need to sell to break even at 500 copies.

Here’s the only problem. Can I sell 1,000 copies? I don’t know if I want to risk it. I don’t want a wall of my own tarot decks taking up space in my house for the next decade.

So there’s the issue of how many copies to order for my first (and most likely only, because this is a labor of love, and I don’t want to get into the business of selling tarot decks) print run.

Click on the images in this post for a larger viewing.

Then– and this is obvious, obviously, but the reality hits hard nonetheless– any added quality you want to the production value of your tarot deck is added cost. And it’s almost never a cost-effective add-on. There’s a reason mass publishers of decks have the lesser-than-the-indies quality they have– it’s to maintain a healthy profit margin. You want it in a box, you say? The cards should be a matte finish? Better cardstock? Gilded edges of any kind? What?–you say you want a ribbon in that box and a cut-out groove so that box is easy to open? All of this is extra cost.

If you pass the cost on to the consumer, your decks become expensive and you lose a lot of would-be purchasers on account of pricing bracket. If you eat the cost yourself, you’re really not making any money at all from a lot of work, and I do mean a lot. Ask anyone who has created and produced and is now trying to sell a tarot or oracle deck: it consumes their lives.

There’s also the reality that you can’t have it all. You want a matte finish? Well then you can’t have that pretty shiny gold gilt-edging. It’ll need to be matte. If you want a deck and book set, they want me to also produce this plastic insert tray thing, which I really don’t want. I hate those plastic insert tray things. They’re hideous and so bleh, especially in the presentation of a tarot deck. Then different types of book bindings have different pagination maximums that you need to think about. You can’t just willy nilly have any page-count for a book that you want.

By the way, to order a sample– yes to get a sample of your tarot deck from most manufacturers is around $250 to $300. That’s outrageous! You can print a copy of your deck from any run-of-the-mill print-on-demand website and it’s at most $40.

Why is it so pricy?

Lots of reasons, but there’s a pretty sad bottom line: a lot of Western deck creators say they want to place an order with these overseas manufacturers, order the sample, which used to be free or very budget-friendly and reasonably-priced, only to then renege and leave the overseas manufacturers hanging. They’ve expended a great deal of effort, time, and attention and all for nil. So actually, the outrageous sampling fees are due to Westerners changing their minds and stringing along the manufacturers for a ride. And now those of us honest deck creators have to pay for the assholeyness of the slimy deck creators that came before us. $250 to print a sample of your deck is fucking insane. Just to give you a comparison point, when I used to be a fashion designer, to get samples of your designed handbags and accessories was only about $40-$50 each, and that’s on the high end.

Table of contents to the deck’s companion guidebook, The Book of Maps.

The guidebook is yet another issue. So right now, the word count for my guidebook is over 50,000 words and just shy of 300 pages at the 6″ x 9″ trade paperback size. I tried cutting and shaving it down to a 70-page stapled LWB (little white book) so that something could fit inside the box with the deck, but no. I just can’t. Instead we’ve got the Big Book and I need to figure out economical logistics for getting deck plus Big Book to purchasers.

Here’s the problem. Most playing card manufacturers aren’t book manufacturers, so you need to find a second manufacturer to print your books. That manufacturer ships the books to your playing card manufacturer. You pay shipping. Then your playing card manufacturer packages everything together and ships the deck and book sets to you. Overseas freight. You pay shipping and it’s a lot.

Then, as if that’s not enough shipping payments, USPS packaging to ship just the deck or something deck box size vs. packaging to ship the deck and book set is a dramatic price difference– almost double. So then, on top of all the extra shipping costs I’ve incurred just to have a deck and book set for you, the shipping cost on your end to receive a deck and book set is also much, much higher than if you just receive a deck. James says it is not economical to go with the deck and book set. It doesn’t make sense for us to incur the added overhead and no self-respecting consumer is going to agree to pay for the dramatic increase in shipping costs just for an extra book.

So the artist in me is pissed and frustrated because in my world view, everyone who has the deck needs to have the book, too. I want everyone with the deck to have the book. But James says the reality is the book is not worth the money or trouble it requires. He says I need to chop a small piece out of the Big Book and turn it into a 70-page teeny tiny Little White Book.

But I can’t. If you’ll believe my word, I did try. I just… Look. 70-pages to talk about 78 cards, assuming it’s totally okay to not include any introductory sections or the Celtic Cross (tarot readers LWB joke…), is just not enough space for me to get into what I did for each and every card design.

No matter how we do the math, independently publishing your own tarot deck is a labor of love. Economists would even call it a huge financial loss, because all the time you put into this venture, you could be putting that time elsewhere and earning a shit ton more money. So that’s income and opportunity lost all because you’re busy printing and publishing your own tarot deck.

As the artist, there are all these features and details I want when it comes to the quality of the deck. As the business guy, James is trying to initiate me into the hard-hitting reality. And the numbers he’s crunching isn’t even toward making profit– it’s toward making sure we break even!

In terms of progress update, right now I’m proofreading the book and doing the digital final touches to the card images to make sure they look polished and professional after printing. You may (or may not) notice that there are substantial changes made between the photos of the drawings I shared previously and this final draft of cards.

Editing and Revising the Page of Wands…

In many instances, I decided I didn’t like how something looked, like maybe a face or the tilt of a sword, but I like everything else about the card. So what I did was, um, digitally behead the figure in the card so it was blank, printed out that card in high-res, then drew in a new head, and scanned in the revised card.

To add a greater variety of shading, given that this is a black and white deck, I hand-drew many different seamless tile designs, scanned those in, and then digitally applied the seamless tile as a “wallpaper” effect to the blank space I wanted to fill in.

There were other logistical challenges I faced due to not having foresight or adequate planning. I didn’t start this project with any intent of publishing the deck, so I drew the cards in a way that would have made them easy to cut out into actual cards.

Each drawing was actual card size. Had I intended on printing and publishing this deck for reals, I wouldn’t have done that.

Second, because I was going to cut them out to make a tarot deck of original drawings, I linked the cards together, three to a single sheet of paper. That way when it came time to cut, I only had to cut one line for every two cards– if that makes any sense. Whereas if each had been separately done, I’d have to cut four times for every card. It seemed clever at the time when I was just creating one deck.

But when it came time to scan in the images and then crop each down to same exact size, exact down to the pixel, this turned into a digital adventure.

Nonetheless, with some top-of-the-line tech, we’re getting really high-res scans, which sadly I should have thought to get access to when I offered the free Majors. Unfortunately, the image files for the Majors that you can download for free are lower-res and don’t print very high quality cards. With the full deck we’re producing, each card image is 1200 dpi….which means it has taken an inordinate amount of time to digitize. =) But my hope is the efforts will be all worth it.

Post Script

Look! If I offer the formatted digital files for the guidebook and just have everyone print out their own copy via, it will cost them a total of $9.30. If you’re lucky and snag a coupon code like I did in the above screen shot, it’s with free shipping anywhere in the U.S.! If I print and produce my own physical copy of the book to sell, I cannot compete with that price point. It’s insane.

Maybe offering the digital files to the guidebook and having each person print their own copy of the book is the way to go. =/

Read more entries from the

Progress Diary

documenting the production of

Spirit Keeper’s Tarot

19 thoughts on “So It Begins: The Artist vs. Business Reality

  1. I hope it works out well for you too. I am unsure if my book–not finished yet–will be self-publishing or not, but it certainly takes effort if that’s the way one goes–best of luck with it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Cari Featherstone

    The options are: print the deck and sell it, the guide book can be a digital download like the metaphysians year planner that we can publish ourselves on Lulu or similar. That way the guide book can be included in the card price or added as an option nominal extra.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Renee, aka Kitty

    Incredible amount of choices. For what it’s worth, here are my thoughts as a writer, a tarot card reader, a lover of your work, and a consumer. I think it matters deeply that the deck is to your standards. If this is a once-in-a-lifetime deck for you? Then it should be all that you think it should be. It’s your baby first and foremost. I think of the decks I’ve seen for say $100. Yeah it is a lot. But if it’s a labor of love from the artist (and this can be anything–not just a tarot deck. It can be a handbag, a concert with a steep ticket price, a beautiful edition of a book, a sushi meal, a German automobile…..) and you are making this purchase with that in mind, then it’s no mere disposable product where what matters most is cost. Some things are worth the money. They are cherished items. Not every purchase can be this (unless, you know, huge wealth–then they would matter because everything would be lush…. ) but there are those that indeed are. I think from the outcrying of your fans on social media for publication has suggested as much–that this will be a special once-in-a-lifetime deck to own. You’ve shared your very personal journey and we know this is no regular deck. If it was missing the book? I can’t imagine. I can’t imagine the richness of the research not going hand in hand with the cards. Something would feel off. I suppose it could be a separate purchase–but when your page comes up it says, “writer + reader.” As you are first and foremost a writer, by your own admission, it’s hard to think the deck could go out without the companion book. So I don’t know. That’s just my opinion–and of course I could be wrong, haha. But maybe poll your tribe and see if people are willing to get your quality if they shell out like $100 or would they rather have a PDF book they could use how they wished–online or hand printed or Lulu printed–and bring the deck in for less. I mean, at least you could include what you would have in terms of cover, etc. Not ideal, I know. Maybe you could poll for 3 options: deck/book set all the bells & whistles; deck with all the bells & whistles with PDF book; deck in a lower quality, a truncated LWB only. I mean, sheesh. Almost every deck I purchase is 40-55 bucks already. I kind of forget you can buy them for less. If you print 1000 and somehow don’t sell 1000? You could, I don’t know, give them away at some point with purchase of your classes or The Holistic Tarot? A charity for poor readers, haha. Take them out of the boxes and create a wallpaper out of them for your office? So many options indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Renee, aka Kitty

    Correction: My face is now red. Okay the comment above should have said if you were basically richer than god and all your purchases were lush, it would NOT matter to you anymore because when everything is special, nothing is special. And also, I know your page says “author + reader” not writer. Brain slip. And in the time I was writing this you added your post script! Great minds, haha.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I love the POD for the book.
    You might want to try a kickstarter to get the demand right. Just put an upper limit on how many you are willing to print — I know a guy whose life pretty much got ruined when his kickstarter got 20x the pledges he was able to handle.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “I know a guy whose life pretty much got ruined when his kickstarter got 20x the pledges he was able to handle.”

      I have always wondered about this. For most people doing a Kickstarter is a nail-biter of if you are going to make it, but I have seen tarot deck Kickstarters that raised massive amounts of money and my mind always goes to the task of actually fulfilling all those orders. Hundreds, sometimes thousands of orders.

      A deck artist who contributes to my tarot forum created a video showing what it was like to have the mail truck drop off 36 cartons of finished decks at once. It’s exciting but also terrifying.

      You can see the video here:

      When I think of all the work that goes into just packaging all those decks up, addressing envelopes, standing at the post office and mailing hundreds of pieces over several days and just managing all that in an organised fashion… I always hope the artist remembered to factor in all that time somehow into the price of the deck.

      I think very often they do not.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Stacy Cannady

    It has certainly be educational and very interesting following your journey on this labor of love. For what it is worth, I think you should package the digital files and sell the package. The lower price point of this approach may result in more people buying it for a look. A buyer then has the option to have a look and set it aside, print one piece or both pieces, or experiment with different card sizes for the deck (hard to color little bitty cards, hard to shuffle cards big enough to color, at least for us older folks). A buyer might print several decks, because, ya know, purple did NOT work on that card…and now I need a spare for a do-over. Selling the digital files means the buyer has an opportunity to experiment and DO STUFF that isn’t possible if the deal is to buy the physical set. I think DO STUFF is important. So thanks for the suff you’re doing and making it possible for us to come play too.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m in the middle of creating & self-publishing my own deck, and I’ve struggled with some of the same questions. (I have a HUGE respect for packaging designers now due to trying to figure this all out!)

    Although my deck & audience is quite different from yours, I’ve done a huge amount of research & comparison and have decided to go with Createspace for POD paperback copies, BookFunnel for ebook distribution, Gumroad for the pre-sale e-commerce processing (just to my own audience to test everything before I Kickstarter in October), Papermart for velour bags & boxes, and DriveThruCards for printing the decks. I HIGHLY recommend DriveThruCards (for their premium card stock) – they have excellent cardstock, good printing, no minimums, the pricing is quite decent for 65+ decks, and their customer service has been extremely good.

    There’s also a secret FB group exclusively for deck creators run by Pamela Steele that has a ton of resources & expert guidance. I’ve gotten lots of help there. I hope these resources help – and I’m super excited to see your deck in print!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Sebastian

    As much as I love to have a book in my hand – just offer it as a digital download. It is smart, economic and eco friendly.

    About the deck itself… kickstarter could be an option. Or some legally binding pre order option for you to calculate how many decks you need to make?

    Either way, I’m excited for this!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. cybermathwitch

    First and foremost… :::HUGS::: so much love and support to you for this. I’ve run into a small scale “labor of love and art vs. business” quandary, nothing to this degree, and it was emotionally gutting. Thank you also for being so open about this entire process (the good, the bad, and the downright ugly parts). I may or may not have bookmarked this to refer back to should I ever start contemplating a deck of my own more seriously.
    I’m excited to see what you come up with – *whatever* form that ultimately takes (and in the fwiw, I would be more than happy to have a deck and a print on demand guidebook for it, it certainly makes more financial sense and I personally like the flexibility of having both digital and print copies of materials). If nothing else, I’ve really enjoyed the look into the creation process you’ve given us, regardless of the final form it takes. I’d never, ever suggest that a creator do their work a disservice in terms of it’s presentation, but as a potential consumer (because yes, if I can make the budget work, I would/will absolutely pick up this deck!) I’m more interested in a deck like this for the content and sheer volume of information it contains than extras like ribbons or gilding.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. just to say I luv your blog & all your posts are preciuos resources!:)
    also you may wish to consider print on demand companies like gamecrafter & drivethrucards they both let you set your shop from their page & let people place order directly doing all print & ship work for you!:)
    & dtc have book option as well!^^ read more about selfpublishing on our forum here;!)/

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Mrs T

    Wow! I had no idea a deck creator had to go thru all of that “stuff”. It’s a wonder we have so many decks to choose from at all. I am a huge fan of all you have done and shared. I have to admit though that if the only option was a very high priced deck and book I would have to pass at this time in my life. It would make me very sad but that’s life. Thank you for taking the time and spending your energy seeing if you can share your baby with others. I of course hope it works out that you can share deck/book but if not I love you lots always. Blessed be.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. darkpenguin35

    It’s unfortunate that the author has to ruin an interesting (and useful) blog on the nuts and bolts of deck production with a hate-filled rant about “Western assholes” – it’s extremely naive, at best, and displays a surprising lack of knowledge of the print industry to assume – and declare – that a handful of “slimy Western tarot deck creators” have ruined the global print industry by reneging on some card-printing deals.

    Anyone interested in the reality of doing business in China – since that is where most of the printing worldwide is done – can read the China Law Blog, and come to their own conclusions.


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