SFWA Shares Findings on Comics Writing and Graphic Novelist Pay

[Based on a press release.]

The Comics Committee of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc. (SFWA) has announced survey results documenting current industry norms for advances and per-page payment rates for the work of comics writers and graphic novelists. 

Sixteen acquiring editors (50%), publishers (25%), and literary agents (25%) responded to the first survey designed for industry professionals (download report). Sixty-one creators of comics and graphic novels responded to the second survey geared toward answering questions on actual earnings for their work. Their experience in the industry ranged from less than 1 year (5%), to 1 to 5 years (36%), to 6 to 10 years (23%), to more than 11 years (36%; download report). 

Key findings from the surveys:

  • The median advance creators received for a graphic novel was $9,400 solely for writing and $32,000 for creators who both wrote and illustrated their books. 
  • For comics that pay by the page, the median rate received solely for writing was $60/page, and the median rate for both writing and illustration was $70/page, a comparatively small difference. 
  • Creators who were paid by other methods than advances or per page rates reported similar figures, with a median of $8,780 paid for their work. Over half of those paid another way reported that they were paid via royalties only, with no advance. Crowdfunding and patronage models were also reported. 
  • Industry professionals were asked what they felt was the minimum professional advance and per page rates for writing comics or an average-length graphic novel. The high and median answers given were the same ($10,000), indicating a high level of agreement with that advance figure as a minimum professional rate. The median rate per page, however, was $45/page, with a high of $100/page and a low of $25/page. 
  • Industry professionals indicated that the intended reader-age category for a work may affect a creator’s pay rates.

The survey did not ask respondents to specify whether their reported pay was for creator-owned or work-for-hire projects, although generally, comics or graphic novels that pay by the page are often licensed titles with work-for-hire contracts. In the future, this is an area the committee would like to look into more closely.

“Our results illustrate that while comics and graphic novel publishing is robust, many publishers are unfortunately still paying far below what is considered to be a minimum professional rate, highlighting the need to push for higher standards of pay,” said Alison Wilgus, SFWA Comics Committee chair. “Going forward, this data will help us make informed and effective decisions as to how SFWA can best meet the needs of its new members from the comics community. I’m proud of the work the committee has done to date, and excited for what the future holds!” 

SFWA’s Board of Directors is carefully considering multiple factors, including these survey results, in the development of membership guidelines for the admittance of comics writers and graphic novelists. The Board thanks the Committee for their outstanding work and this useful contribution to the speculative fiction community.

For questions, please contact operations@sfwa.org.

[Based on a press release.]

5 thoughts on “SFWA Shares Findings on Comics Writing and Graphic Novelist Pay

  1. I see no mention of royalty rates. Are we in a regime where advances (against royalties) are almost never earned out? Are they just calling any up front flat fee an advance?

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  3. I see no mention of royalty rates. Are we in a regime where advances (against royalties) are almost never earned out? Are they just calling any up front flat fee an advance?

    Hey! I’m the chair of SFWA’s comics committee, so I thought I’d drop in to try and answer this.

    You’re right that we didn’t get into royalties in this first survey, and that’s for a few reasons.

    1) Because so many comics and graphic novels are collaborative, in cases where creators are paid royalties, they can be split in MANY different ways. Most of the time, the split will be 50/50 between writer and artist, but that’s not always the case. And if there are more than two creators things can get extremely complicated.

    2) One major difference between how the average graphic novel is sold to a publisher, as opposed to the average prose novel, is that these days most graphic novels are sold “on proposal.” In other words, the book will be written and drawn AFTER it’s acquired by an editor. As such, while professional comics creators understand that advances are not salaries, practically speaking an advance will often need to partially or completely cover a creator’s living expenses while they’re making their book, a process which normally takes well over a year. So in the graphic novel business especially, there’s a big focus on advances as a practical concern — even if a book earns out right after publication, that doesn’t help the cartoonist pay their rent while they’re drawing that book in the first place. This is, of course, a pretty major difference between the average cartoonist and the average prose writer, so I’m glad you’ve asked about it!

    3) As for whether or not advances earn out — in my personal experience, the situation with graphic novels is much the same as with prose books, which is to say that many books will never earn out. And because earning out is so unpredictable and can’t be counted on, most cartoonists and comics writers have to operate under the assumption that they WON’T earn out, and make their financial choices accordingly.

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