The Actual Cost of Self-Publishing a Tarot Deck

Back in September of this year, I posted cost projections for self-publishing a tarot deck, “What Does it Cost to Self-Publish a Tarot Deck?” linked here. I think it’s worth your while to compare the projections from that previous post with the actual calculated and accounted for figures I’m providing here.

At this time we have completed packing and shipping out all sold decks and I’ve got a tally for you of actual costs. In other words, this is what I actually spent out of my pocket to produce Spirit Keeper’s Tarot and its companion guidebook, The Book of Maps, alongside an analysis of what I’ve actually earned in terms of income.

In a future post that will supplement this one, I want to talk about the intangible costs of independent publishing, everything from opportunity cost and work-life balance to the cost on your mental health and wellness. For now, this post will be about actual calculated dollars and cents only.

What line items #1-35 show is actual materials only cost to produce a tarot deck as an independent artist. Every item listed is materials only, meaning what I actually had to pay out of pocket to a manufacturer to print the cards, what I paid for shipping boxes, any of the paraphernalia that goes in to packing and shipping, postage fees, etc. These represent actual dollars and cents I had to spend to produce the physical decks.

Here I’ve also included what I’ve paid for art materials. Bear in mind that my cost of art materials is going to be substantially lower than most tarot or oracle deck artists, especially the ones illustrating in full color because my only cost is the ink pens. If you’re illustrating a deck with watercolors, oils, pastels, or even acrylics, heck even colored pencil, your cost of materials will go way up. That stuff is pricey.

My deck does have some additional costs I’ve itemized, such as the materials cost for crafting my own holy anointing oil, the cost of sandalwood incense, etc. because I am individually consecrating the decks, one by one. I did not account for the cost of ritual tools that I already have on hand prior to commencing this venture. These are only the costs that go into this deck project specifically.

As those of you who ordered the First Edition know, domestic shipping was included in the price of the deck while international shipping was an additional $17. You should also be aware that actual cost of international shipping is more than $17 for most countries, and we paid the difference. Since we used a business account to print all shipping labels, it was easy to track exactly how much money we spent on domestic and international postage in total, and that’s shared in Line #23.

Line items #25-31 represent samples printing for both the deck and book. Note that these are not the same as samples printing from the manufacturer you would place your order with. These are print-on-demand single-copy samples I ordered, not with my manufacturer, but with makeplayingcards.com and lulu.com just to get a sense of image quality and to make sure everything would look good. Recall earlier posts when I talked about how sampling with a manufacturer these days costs thousands of dollars. So I decided to take a risk and leap of faith, and skip the sampling process.

Then the subtotal is given up to Line #31, divided into 1,000 qty., and that’s how I calculated #32 and #33 for what it costs me to gift or replace decks. I gifted out 5 decks (think: Mary K. Greer, Rachel Pollack, etc.) and of the handful of decks I kept on reserve for “in case shit happens,” 6 decks went to replace damaged decks, mis-delivery, etc.

Also, these numbers are only up to date as of this writing. Technically, it’s still a bit premature, because even though we’ve shipped out all orders, we’re still waiting on confirmed delivery for hundreds of them. So these figures are still tentative.

Now that we’ve got costs out of the way, what about sales? How much money did I actually earn from this venture?

I offered two purchase options: $55 to buy the deck only or $65 to buy the deck and book set. In total, I sold 14 units at the $55 option and 970 units at the $65 option.

That’s a total of 984 decks sold + 5 decks gifted (Line #32) + 6 decks replaced (Line #33) = 995 decks distributed and are now out and about in this world.

Gross income from selling the 984 decks was $63,820.00 as noted in Line #38, but that’s before accounting for PayPal transaction fees, other transaction fees, and taxes. Line #39 shows that we paid almost $4.5K in transaction fees and $12.7K in taxes on our gross income for this deck project. Deduct the out-of-pocket cost to produce the 1,000 decks and you get a net earning (your actual earnings, buddy) of $30,610.61.

Basically, you self-publish and sell 1,000 decks and you earn $30K.

Now let’s talk labor.

Since I meticulously logged my hours worked, journal through everything I do, and keep a daily planner, it wasn’t hard for me to track labor. Line items with (B) indicate work I did and (J) is for work James did. In total, it took 1,790 hours to illustrate, design, write the guidebook, produce, pack, ship, and sell the First Edition print run.

Special needs decks that required special attention. =)

Line #48, miscellaneous labor, is super important for you to account for. Man, all sorts of stuff come up requiring your time and attention. For example, we had FedEx delivery issues for the magnets and stickers that come with the deck and I had to spend an untold number of hours on the phone with FedEx and the seller who shipped me the magnets and stickers. This is having a hiccup in terms of counting certificate numbers (since it was a limited edition run) and having to count and re-count and re-count again until you figure out what went wrong in the production line. It’s your mailing label printer going kaput on you and having to halt everything to spend the next three hours figuring out how to get your printer running again. Read into the “etc.” in those line items, because that’s where J did accounting and maintaining business records.

Also, none of these hours reflect social media time, which falls in this weird gray area, right? Because social media time for a business operating entirely via e-commerce is essential to sales income and for accounting purposes can legitimately be included when you’re calculating cost. But how do I count those hours? I didn’t. And so these figures exclude social media time, like the time it took to write this blog post or write any of the posts in this progress diary series.

Since the net earning was $30K, we take that and divide it by the number of hours worked. We get our hourly wage, which means James and I earned $17.10 per hour working on this deck project. That’s better than the minimum wage I was expecting it’d come out to be. For our zip code, the minimum wage is $11.00/hr. The living wage is $17.76/hr. per working adult. Our earnings rate ($17.10/hr.) is quite above minimum wage but below what the government considers a living wage for our zip code. Interesting, huh?

Let’s just talk about opportunity loss as a tarot reader/astrologer. For the six months I dedicated to this tarot project, I turned off all reading services. So I didn’t earn anything in terms of readings for six months. Using median earnings based on my own business income history, that’s a calculable (based on what we refer to as GAAP, or generally accepted accounting principles) $49,000 loss. Offset by the $30K I earned in those six months from this deck project (see Line #50), by choosing to undertake self-publishing my own tarot deck instead of doing readings, I sustained a measurable opportunity loss of $19,000.00.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I presume you’re an aspiring deck creator who may also already be a professional reader and if so, then before you commit to independently publishing that deck, I want you to be fully informed with the data you need to assess your business decisions.

Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing for a Tarot Deck

Compare your net earnings in self-publishing with what you’d earn in terms of an advance and prospective royalties in one fiscal year (usually none in the first year, by the way, because you’ll still be earning out your advance): typically with a traditional publisher, assuming a very generous advance, a popular, bestselling deck in its first print run, plus good royalty terms, then you’re looking at possibly $10K in earnings for that first print run. That’s right. About $10K even for a deck that everybody is talking about.

Let’s say you earn $30K self-publishing and selling out the first print run. Revisit the log of hours worked. We’re going to deduct Line Items #44-48, assuming they would not apply to you if you went the route of traditional publishing.  That’s a savings of 665 labor hours. Assume you are making $17.10 per hour based on the aforementioned calculations and that’s $11,371.50. Now let’s deduct that from your $30K earning, Line Item #50.

That means your $10K earned in the best case scenario traditionally published is equivalent to $19,239.11 (or for a rounded figure, $19K) self-published. It’s equivalent to the $19K because we’re offsetting by taking out the hours of labor you have to work in self-publishing that you wouldn’t have to put in if you went the traditional publishing route. Assuming you’re okay with putting in the tedious labor if it means you earn more money, then yeah, you’re looking at a comparison of $10K in traditional publishing vs. $30K in self-publishing.

Self-Publishing Subsequent Editions

One of the reasons James pushed so hard for doing a second edition, or second print run of the deck is because future print runs become a lot more streamlined and business-wise, cost-effective. If you only do one print run, then it makes that one and only print run rather uneconomical. By doing a second printing, you balance out the costs between the first and second print runs.

A lot of the costs you invested the first time around don’t need to be repeated in the second run, like the mailing label printer. We don’t have to buy another mailing label printer. I know, that’s like $200 out of $16,000 but you get my point.

My cost of production for a second run will remain the same and not go down because I am re-designing some of the deck art, so as far as the manufacturer would be concerned, it is a “brand new deck” and they need to re-do everything as if it were a brand new deck. Thus, no bargains or reduction of cost-to-produce.

However, let’s say as a deck creator you don’t re-design your deck and you simply order a second printing. You can very likely negotiate a reduction of per unit costs for printing because the manufacturer doesn’t have to do any more work. They simply push a button (in a manner of speaking) and print another run of the same files already uploaded onto their machines.

There’s also the learning curve. Your first crack at self-publishing your own deck requires a ton of down time and inefficiency while you try to figure out what works and what doesn’t and make a bunch of mistakes along the way. The hope is you’ve learned from your mistakes and your second crack at it will be smoother.

The down side to keeping up the print runs and continuing with deck sales is everything I’ll address in the subsequent related post on the intangible costs of self-publishing. Burn-out isn’t just something that may happen; it’s something that *will* happen. It is only a matter of time before you’re sitting there sticking mailing labels on boxes, you get a tiny paper cut, and you just effing lose your mind, break down, curl up in fetal position, and sob uncontrollably.

Your Takeaway

What should be your takeaway from all this? Hmm. I’m not sure.

I guess I would say if you can produce a marketable deck, then self-publishing can prove itself to be profitable and worth your investments, both in terms of money and time. I had assumed after you did all the math, the numbers would work out to be less than minimum wage per hour, so to my surprise, it’s not.

Hourly wage wise, you are making more than minimum wage for selling an indie deck, and you are earning significantly more money from it than if you contract with a major publisher and have your deck traditionally published. Since I presume you’re doing this for love, not money, it’s just nice to know that you can incidentally make some money from doing what you love.

But you also have to understand that the amount of labor you are doing per hour is a lot more than you would be working per hour at any other regular day job. For every hour logged here, there is no down time. There’s no hour of working time that includes me going to the bathroom, taking a break, eating lunch, standing around staring off into space, or shopping online while still getting paid. Every hour logged is serious super-focused labor.

And I really mean it: you have to read the subsequent sequel post on the intangible costs before you make up any sort of mind for yourself.

Finally, I want to note again that this posting and tally of calculations is admittedly premature, so I may return and add postscript updates if and when new data comes in. I wanted to write this now rather than later because if I procrastinate and wait on it, chances are I won’t get around to writing it due to the enormous amount of work I have left to do before the year’s end. (You know, like the 2019 Day Planners.)

6 thoughts on “The Actual Cost of Self-Publishing a Tarot Deck

  1. Wow!!! And you are well known with a substantial presence and following. Imagine if you invested all that time and money into creating a deck, paid for it to be printed and then sold only 100 copies…. granted that’s less time on the mailing out end, but you could lose money on this undertaking. As you you say, it’s really a labor of love…. and I thank you and James, too, for your labor of love, your attention to detail, and your beautiful spiritual practices surrounding the deck. Looking forward to receiving my deck this week and consecrating it and coloring my book!!!! It is the perfect time of year for this… a time to go deep and sink down into the Spirit Keepers Tarot.

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  2. Wow! Thank You for Sharing All info & progress updates!:D bow to amount of job you two did in such a short time!:D All these *working hours decks creators/selfpublisher forget to include in estimated cost & nerves it takes to organize sale & ship 1000 decks EXACTLY why I prefer POD!:D
    discovered new one that work bit different; http://www.ludocards.com/quote.php
    btw do you know what’s less money transaction fee paying with card or paypal?:)

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  3. That’s a lot of taxes!!! And a lot of math!!! But even more than all of that so much passion. Personally, the passion that shines through your work, videos and posts inspires me to put more passion into my daily life. Thank you for being so real and so true with all of us. Best of luck of your future ventures! ❤

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