to publish or self publish


(i dont know if there is already a thread) i had a read of some already on publishing - they were helpful ......... but .....

****what are the advantages / disadvantages of publishing.

i dont know whether to publish myself as i have a small amount of savings and can get help with the scanning etc so it just needs printed up. i can also put them on my website (coming soon) and sell them on ebay.

help please!!! i am doing a 22 card oracle based on the major arcana


Well, the upside of having someone else do the publishing for you is:

THEY do all the printing & assume the costs for that.
They do all the promotion, getting the deck to the world market via book stores, new age shops, internet, etc.
They design the box, and get the actual physical decks warehoused for easy shipment.
They keep the deck going through all the reprintings necessary.
They take a big cut, since the assume all this under their care & only pay you a small percentage as the artist. Like book publishers, they figure they know the market and they assume all the financial & physical costs of manufacture, promotion & shipping. All you do is supply them with the deck they can make money on.

Self publishing means:

YOU foot all the bill for producing it and the little white book or instructions.
You figure out how to package it and keep the budget cost low on out of pocket expenses.
You figure out where your market is & how to reach them.
You store all the copies of it somewhere.
You ship them out, sometimes around the world which means some high postage costs.
You try to get them in stores where people can see your deck to buy it--the larger chain bookstores are not likely to carry them due to the way they only order from established companies, so look to the smaller independently owned new age or book stores.
You are responsible for the second printing if you need it & packaging, also the booklet updates.

It's less hassle if you can get someone else to do it all for you, but sometimes people just don't have that option. Fortunately you can get people to review your deck, thanks to the internet, but how do you get info on your deck out to people who aren't connected on the internet? If the larger bookstores won't carry from an individual, can you get advertisement into enough magazines to get an interest from the general public on something they've never seen yet? It can be done, but you have to make good choices, and the cost of producing the deck is going to be a big $ amount right off the bat.

I helped someone design a board game back around 1986. It cost 25 cents for the box, 70 cents for the printed card stock for the game itself. 15 cents for the stickers on the outside of the box that had the title of the game, and 4 cents for each of the dice (each game got one die). 200 were printed up, and it took 3 years to sell all of them, they were only sold at local science fiction conventions--we went to 5 or 7 a year. The games sold at $12 each. VERY small market, very localized, we got good feedback, and people enjoyed the game. We all thought of it as a success. Total cost put into the game (I'm not counting cost of a dealer's table at any of the conventions, or the admission price to get in, since we sold other things too) was $228.00 (US dollars). We made $2,400.00 on it in the 3 years. Nowhere near enough to live on, but it was an interesting experience.

Tarot/oracle deck production will be a higher cost, since printers charge more today than they did back in 1986, but if you think it's worthwhile, there's no reason to hold back on it. I know people who self publish children's books (my aunt & uncle actually). They sell them at book signings that they arrange to do at various bookstores locally, and have a closet full of about 1,000 printed books and greeting cards to move yet. But it's their 'thing' and they're happy with how they're doing it.

You seldom hear about these self publishing stories because not many are interviewed or have articles written up about them. But there's tons of people who go this route anyway.

full deck

Marketing is another consideration

What "HudsonGrey" says is true.

Here is another way of looking at that: If one assumes all the production and distribution costs, the real hurdle to overcome is marketing. If one spent more money on marketing and kept the costs for production and distribution to a minimum, this could be a better way to make more money.

The problem is finding a good marketing sub-contractor or an effective means of marketing. The internet helps for ordering and distribution and can also be used for marketing (it's fairly cheap). If one could market tarot cards through places or sources that have many connections or visitors (websites, tarot conventions, professional organizations) they could make a bit more money but I don't think anyone would get rich off of selling just "one" deck to the world unless they had an very unique product or marketing opportunity and strategy.

I did not even mention the problems of becoming a business if things get very busy, i.e., uncle sam's tax koan: "what's the sound of one businessperson paying someone else to deal with overly-complicated tax laws for businesses?"


Yeah, Uncle Sam....

Well, if it's like rummage sales, if you make LESS than $500 a year on it you don't have to declare it. I think. Check on that one. It falls into the 'extra income' like those $5 and $20 bills in your birthday card, your Christmas money from Grandma, the rummage sales, small craft sale, etc. Not a main source of income.

Targeting your marketing will help narrow down your expenses. People who get Circle Magazine or The Green Egg (is that still in production?) are likely to be tarot readers or collectors. Getting into a New Age newsletter too would be beneficial, BUT you have to show what the deck looks like, which means a picture ad, not a text ad, and those are higher priced. Getting a table at a science fiction convention is good. Walking into a new age store with a box of decks can work too. Sending email & linking your illustrated web site to it will be likely to get results.


This is very interesting discussion, does anybody know how many copies are usualy released by big publishers in first edition???
This calculation may help to figure out potentials, in another words if selfpublishing is worth a trouble.


That's a hard one. Ricardo on this board is with Lo Scarabeo and might be able to list figures if you PM him, I'm not sure he's looked at this thread.

Or you can email Robin Wood and ask her about what the first production run count was on her deck when it was released back in the 1990's, she'd give you an answer (she's very nice).

But I'm not sure how relavant the numbers would be to self publishing--on the one hand you've got a big publisher who advertises world-wide, looking at sales figures coming in from a number of countries, and on the other hand you've got someone in small town USA (or equivelant) going down to the local printer for a print run. The market varies per deck.

Mr. Rosales who did the Hello Kitty deck didn't push his, it was done as a lark & tapped into the Hello Kitty collectors group as well as the tarot group, so he just makes up decks as the requests come in.

The Tarot of the Crone had a limited run with word gone out & when they're gone, they're gone. The Mary-el tarot is working it the same way with the majors only deck that she just put out.

Then again, you get the occasional deck with all the bells & whistles done up really well with a printer willing to go the extra mile, with a lot of fanfare, like the one baba-prague is putting out, where pre-orders roll in and they can set the numbers based on response in the past 6 months.

But most artist done decks fall into the 'I've got it, maybe you heard about it but maybe not' category, which means you print up as many as you can afford to and then work at getting others to be aware of what you have. Sales depend on who likes the art, if someone collects decks specifically like yours, if people want to use it as a gift to someone, and a large number of other buying factors (most of which is out of your control). A cat deck sells to cat lovers and owners as well as tarot readers for instance. A deck based on Egypt draws in those who like ancient Egypt. Multi-marketing slants sure do help. If your deck is based on only 'tarot' you'd have the best luck aiming at tarot users and tarot collectors.

What is affordable varies per individual though. Spending $5 per deck to get it printed & cut means 100 decks will be $500 out of pocket expenses, plus shipping once they're sold. If you can get 300 printed up, that's a good run to start if you don't know what the demand will be. Or then again, maybe starting with only 50 decks might be more feasable. Larger print runs get you the benefit of a discount from the printer. You'd have to factor in the costs. You'd need to buy or find something to ship all the decks in (packaging) and mailing tape costs money, postage, are you doing up a box for the decks or mailing them out in zip lock bags? Cost doesn't stop right at the end of the printing of the deck. Will you do up a drawstring bag for each deck? Then there's fabric costs, the drawstring (and beads?) and sewing time to factor in. (Hint: always buy on sale, never pay retail).

(I hope I'm not getting long winded here...I do think it's feasable to do a self published deck & to sell them all). One place to offer versions of the art you do, that doesn't cost you anything till an item is sold is to think of t-shirt designs/coffee mugs/etc. and get a free account over at That way you have perepheral 'extras' that can make you money without out of pocket expenses, the costs come out of the price you set for the item and nothing is manufactured in advance. It's orders come/orders filled.


i must just thank you hudsongray for the cafepress link - this could prove very useful to the website that i am setting up :)


In the meanwhile I was given two options here; to get 1000 copies printed "for free "by local printers, and split profit. I certainly wouldn't agree with that one.
I believe this would be good situation if they are really aware how much one should invest in publicity and how important this is.. I believe that tehnical cost for them is less than 5 $ per deck, more you release lesser are print expences per deck. I may negotiate percentage of their profit if I find PR investor. Apart from this we have third instance of enterprise, which is distribution. In order to get real picture of expenses we need to calculate print, marketing and distribution as separate wholes that each have its own demands. Too much trouble.


all the bells and whistles!?

Well, I haven't thought of our deck that way, but maybe it's true in a way (a good way I hope). But we are both professional designers and that helps a lot because we are used to dealing with printers and the print process and also we can do all our own artwork, separations etc. (we also have a kind of barter arrangement on getting the website done, so again, it isn't a lot of expense). All this does help to keep down the costs.

Having said that, be prepared for costs to get high - ours have shot up for various reasons, mainly the fact that every time we see a better option we go for it (we like really nice paper etc). We are very lucky because we have a potentially good local market (Prague has more than 4 million visitors a year) so we hope to recover costs fairly quickly - and it means that a lot of our distribution will literally be done on foot! If we were spending this much on print and production and on top of that had to do a lot of marketing and distribution by post to shops in other countries - well, we'd have to have a huge lot of investment and I don't know if we'd ever get it back.

So to be honest I think if you have a good printer who is willing to do some sort of deal that keeps your initial costs down, then it might be worth at least negotiating - it could be a feasible way to go. It may seem unfair for them to want to split all the profit (it takes a lot more effort to design a deck than to print it for sure) but on the other hand it does mean that they are offering to take a risk and so perhaps a decent share of the profit isn't unreasonable? Maybe it comes down to what they are willing to do. If they are offering a high-quality print run with packaging etc. then once you weigh up what it would cost you to pay for that, perhaps it's worth considering? If they would just cut corners and run off something quick and cheap, then I agree, it isn't such a good idea.

By the way, going way back to the initial question that this thread began with, I just wanted to say that if you are doing a Majors-only deck you may not have the option of getting it done by a publisher. I think that very few of them do Majors-only decks any more. There is a good interview with Lo Scarabeo on Tarotgarden in which there is an explanation about this - basically the market seems to have changed (if I understand correctly) and so the demand for Majors-only decks is lower these days. Mind you, it doesn't mean that there isn't enough demand for a self-published one (don't be put off!) it just means that they can't produce them for a large market any more so the big publishers are very unlikely to consider them.

Nothing much more I can add because the answers from HudsonGray and others are so good and thorough!
Best of luck with it all and let us know how you are getting on.

(your deck looks good and very interesting but I wish I could see more, it doesn't download well on my machine, but then our connection is quite slow).


I'm bookmarking this thread and will come back and reread and reread! You've all been answering questions that I knew I ought to ask but didn't know where, and questions that I hadn't even considered asking, but now realize I should have. Thanks especially to HudsonGray and baba-prague for their comments.