Money and Deck Creation

Major Tom

Fascinating topic and an important one for deck creators.

Has anyone read The Painted Word by Tom Wolfe? If not, I highly recommend it as necessary reading for professional artists. It discusses the issue of making art for love versus making art to earn a living and make money. Can you dance the boho dance? :laugh:

Thanks for the figures you gave us Marie. Would it be fair to say that most of those in the medium category you've spoken to failed to plan for distribution costs? I've discovered that distribution is key to sales during my adventures with the Tarot Lovers' Calendar.

I was also beginning to think that a medium run might be my best option with my Marseilles, but judging by what you're saying....

I wonder if RiccardoLS is reading this and has anything to add. It would certainly be beneficial to have a publisher's perspective, even if that publisher has a 'stable' of artists...

I have this theory that says you can follow what you love and still earn a living. })


<<Thanks for the figures you gave us Marie. Would it be fair to say that most of those in the medium category you've spoken to failed to plan for distribution costs? I've discovered that distribution is key to sales during my adventures with the Tarot Lovers' Calendar.>>

Yes, I Think distribution costs are the killer, and I don't even know what depths the pricing politics at the big books stores like B&N, Amazon and Borders take it to.

I am sure you've already done the math, but just to get it here in writing:

Let's say you want to sell a deck with an LWB at a median price of $15.00.
The end retailer will not want to pay more than 50% of that, making it $7.50.
The distributer bought it from you at 50% of that, at $3.75 each.
Now, according to a recent post by Astra


There was a quote by Carta Mundi to print 3000 decks at 3.75 each.

So, if you have absolutely no other expenses besides the printing you will barely squeek by at even. Truthfully, you will have paid for the privelege of having a deck in print.

From there you can find cheaper ways to print and raise the retail price to see if you can find any profit.

To slightly change the subject, one of the things no one has told me is what the usual percentage is on the royalties to get that quarterly amount, anyone know? That would be helpful knowledge in negotiating a contract.



If the games publishers are anything like book publishers, royalties run 10% maximum, and generally you don't start getting them until after sales have passed the initial advance that you got when you signed up. If the initial promotion doesn't bring in some minimum number of sales, there may not be a followup promotion, and those sales may never materialize unless you're out there pushing the deck yourself.

And with books, at least, the publishers wait until the end of the return period to actually put the sales to your credit, because initial orders can be widely at variance with actual sales.

This is the area where a really good agent (find one if you can!) earns his/her keep, by negotiating the highest possible advance, to give the company an incentive to keep promoting, and keeping an eye on real sales so that the royalties come into your pocket in a timely fashion.


I think royalties are often around 5% of the retail price. The advance payments are just that - an advance on royalties. So as Astra says, no further payments come in until sales add up to more than the advance you've already been paid.

Some time back I did call a good friend who writes design books for the most respected design publisher - arguably - in the world. One of his books is on many university reading lists and has been translated into many languages. It was published about six years ago. He told me that his TOTAL payment in that time has been not more than $30,000 - i.e. about $5,000 a year. But he is co-writer, so a successful book could make double that if you were the only author. It is still not a lot of money for the two solid years of work it took (and this could perhaps have been even longer if he'd been sole writer). But in some ways it's true to say that publishing is a gamble - one might make more or less. I think it's rare to make a great deal from a publication though.

Can we apply his experience to decks? I'm not sure really, but I suppose it gives a roughly equivalent example. A lot depends on how long a publication goes on selling for - if the publisher decides to reprint that obviously helps hugely.

I think when we first began this topic my main concern was that I feel that some people may be in danger of actually LOSING money. To not make much is fine in many ways, but to actually lose money is different, and the more knowledge we all have the less likely that is to happen to people.


This is an extremely interesting thread and many of the points raised are relavent to me. (Both good and bad).
On the one hand I guess I might be described by some as one of the bad guys, namely a professional illustrator, not particlularly knowledgable of the tarot (at least not compared to the majority of AT members), but who was nevertheless approached by a main publisher with a proposal of creating a tarot deck.
But in my own defence, and in contribuiting another perspective to this thread, I would like to say the following. By the feedback I,ve been given from various sources it would appear that my deck (the Gilded Tarot) may well be a commercial success, and I don't plan to have a guilt trip about that possability. But having said that.... from the onset the project was absolutely entered into as a labour of love. I'm fortunate in that my income comes from other creative endevors. So the creation of a tarot deck and the physical amount of work it would represent was a decision I could take independantly of any direct financial reward.
I decided to do it for three principal reasons. One, I felt comfortable that my style and themes of many of my other illustrations would lend itself to such a project. Two, Llewellyn were prepared to give me (almost) complete creative freedom. Three, and this is something that was refered to in an earlier post, I felt that irrespective of any actual income, every deck sold would also serve as an advertisment for my general illustrations.
Does all this make me a mercenary to the tarot world, I'd really like to think not. After having initially joined this Aeclectic community to educate myself further, I'm still around, hooked, and loggin on every day. I also think it would be a little elitist to suggest that only those who are more experienced with tarot are qualified to tangeably visualize it for others.
Now at the risk of offending, there is another point to be made. There appears to be tremendous number of members desiring to create their own decks, only to brought down to earth by the marketing and financial realities. The large publishers are being painted as the commercially orientated bad guys. But a reality check please. Yes we know that art is subjective etc etc, but lets be honest some decks while they may receive encouraging feedback and comments from friendly Aeclectic members, simply wouldn't have a realistic chance of appealing to sufficient "paying" customers. Who decides what is artistcally good enough, certainly I would'nt presume to, but someone at the publishers does have to. Unfortunately individuals will also have to step back and try and objectively judge their "baby" in similar cold terms. Everyone thinks their own babies are beautifull, but only a few actually win the baby competition. And if its going to cost you a lot to even enter, well you see where I'm going. That also applies to small quantities, as in the case of my special editions, it may have been worth it for promoting and generally getting the word out, but after considerable material costs, the actual time required for printing, glueing, laminating and finally hand trimming each card.... forget it. That was the worst decision I ever made. OK thats it, don't be too mean with any responses :)


cirom said:
On the one hand I guess I might be described by some as one of the bad guys, namely a professional illustrator, not particlularly knowledgable of the tarot (at least not compared to the majority of AT members), but who was nevertheless approached by a main publisher with a proposal of creating a tarot deck.

Well, speaking for myself I would not describe someone like you as a "bad guy". Earlier in the thread I was just trying to point out that a lot of the people who produce decks are in fact professional illustrators - who do it as a job. Sometimes I think commissioning professional illustrators is done with cynicism by the publisher (the Lord of the Rings tarot is pretty awful by any standards - the least the publisher/editor could have done is make sure the illustrator had at least read the books!) but I do believe that most professional illustrators will take on a job like this in all good faith - the vast majority of illustrators care about their work and want to produce something of value in my experience - and that most publishers are simply trying to produce something good that will also sell.

The problem - the thing that means that we do see an awful lot of rather predictable decks - is simply that we do live in a very commercial environment, and that publishing has changed a lot over the last twenty years (as that Salon article I gave the link to details in a very articulate way).

The fact of course is that publishers do not, on the whole, make vast profits from tarot decks (I don't see publishers as the "bad guys" either). Fundamentally, publishing is a business, it's unrealistic to expect publishers to produce anything for sheer love (though it has happened of course).

It's true that many of the "babies" seen here would not ever make any money for a commercial publisher. Sometimes this is because they are not good. But sometimes it's because they are not "mass market". I think the creators just have to try to be honest with themselves about where and how their own decks fit in - and based on that make informed decisions about the best way to produce them.

Anyway, it's good you joined this discussion! Many thanks for that - and please do challenge us (well me anyway, I guess I can only speak for myself) if you think we are being unfair or unrealistic. It's all good to hear.


edited to try to be as clear as possible. I think this is a thread in which it may be a bit easy to tread on toes by accident ;-)

Also - OF COURSE the Gilded will be a success - and OF COURSE you should be proud, not apologetic about that. It's great!


Hi Cirom,

I don't think you are a bad guy, if there even is any bad guys. I don't think anyone has a problem with professional illustrators, or the hiring of them, including me. No need to defend yourself!



It's extremely realistic to try to look at things from the publisher's point of view, as they're the decisive step in what gets to market and what doesn't. And there are some decks that won't work for mainstream (Vertigo, Ironwood, etc.) yet STILL should somehow get published because there are definately markets they do fit in. There's, what, 9 different near-identical Rider decks out now? There's playing it safe, and playing it boring, but that's their decision, after all.

Still, black & white decks won't be looked at by the big guys. And some don't want to look at themed decks either. That's just a fact of life. Maybe it'll change in the future, maybe not. I don't see them as the bad guys because of it, though.


Cirom, given the work you put in to your deck, I'd say your presence in this discussion and others would be vastly appreciated even if you didn't have real-life hard information on publishing to contribute. It's gorgeous.

Publishers are not bad guys, but once you hire people to help you do a job, priorities have to shift to making sure you keep paying them on time, which means they have to be a whole lot more cautious in their choices. When outside investors looking at short-term profits are a key factor, then the shift all of a sudden goes from caution to fear, which, so far at least, hasn't been the case with too many of the game publishers. (Fingers crossed)

Marie, I wanted to slightly shift the emphasis in your costing equations. If you're self publishing, especially on the web, then you have three totally different sets of income from the same cards. The simplest is direct sales from your own website, either by check (chancy!), or with a relatively small percentage of sales going to someone like PayPal. On the decks you sell there, you probably will recover about 70-80% of the final sale price. You can also go after primary retail sales, both from other sites like Tarot Garden and small occult, new age, and spiritual shops who don't necessarily deal with distributors. On those decks, you'll get about 40% of the final sale price. Decks sold through distributors, the secondary retail level, will give you about 20%.

So, if you sell a mix, and are pushing the first two categories, you're much more likely to recover your initial investment and be able to put away a few dollars on the side.

Distributors can be a good way to get increased recognition over a larger population, but best if you've done the groundwork already so that there is a pre-made market and you know you can afford to print a large enough run to make money anyway.

If you have long term plans (as I think Karen and Alex have), then it's worth grabbing a distributor if one shows up interested, if only to get them used to working with you for future efforts, but for first year sales of a self-published deck, it's likely to be the least effective venue.


There's always self promotion & agenting too--getting a table at science fiction conventions and spirit fairs for instance, or having someone sell your decks for you at, say, a renaissance festival. It may be more trouble than it's worth, but it would reach a nice section of the public that's rather open to tarot since they're already there for either the New Age aspects or historical entertainment.

(Niche markets, rah rah rah!)