So, you created a Tarot or Oracle Card Deck - Part 2

So, you created a Tarot or Oracle Card Deck - Part 2

In October 2019, I published a blog post titled "You Created A Tarot Deck, Now What?" That seems like a lifetime ago, and after four and a half years, I have more information to share.

Recently, I sat down with a lovely oracle creator who wanted to know what was next. Should they print some decks and sell themselves? They asked if reaching out to a publisher is the way to go. I thought about all the new information I have learned over the last four and a half years and the experiences that now shape my decisions as a creator. So, let's start from the top. You created a Tarot or oracle deck that your friends think would be a hit. They love it, random people who have seen it love it, and you feel like your work may have a broad audience.

You have options, and like anything, there are pros and cons to weigh before making a decision that could impact future plans for your work. I am currently working on my 14th deck, the Garden of Enchanted Creatures and those 13 decks that came before it have taught me a lot about what it means to be a full-time Tarot and oracle deck creator. I have indie-published all of my decks at one point or another and have licensed my work to two publishers. Not all publishers are created equal, and not all indie projects are equally successful. However, the joy that comes from creating the work fuels me, and knowing that with every deck, I learn something new, I never look at a project from a negative position. 

The first question you need to ask yourself is, now that your deck is complete, how much free time do you have to devote to it? If you have a stressful job, spend your evenings caring for family, or have other obligations that require a constant commitment, consider if you want or have the bandwidth to add to your workload by independently publishing and selling your deck. I will go into what it looks like to sell your work independently later in this post. Working with a publisher may be the easiest way to get your work out into the world; however, although it can be positive, there are drawbacks there, too, for you to consider. 

So let's dive in:

The workload:  

Working with a publisher allows your creation to enter the marketplace without you worrying about sourcing a printer or managing the shipping. That being said, you have no input over who they choose to print your deck or the quality of the product. The customer service team at the publisher also manages any questions your customers may have (for the most part). I often find myself answering emails from people who purchased one of my mass-produced decks on Amazon or another site. Most of the time, I direct them back to the publisher because it is something outside my control. 

Not all publishers have the same expectations regarding artist/creator input or contributions after the signed licensing deal. I worked with one publisher that only needed my artwork and the manuscript for the book. They, in turn, had their editorial team fix any typos or errors. That was it; that was all they asked of me. Another publisher I worked with required a great deal of time regarding marketing events and manuscript editing. It often felt like the manuscript editing was like a game of ping pong with the added stress of deadlines. Although it wasn't "required," it was strongly suggested that I partake in live marketing events to promote the decks. Since this is my full-time job, that was not a big deal for me; however, if you work a full-time job, it may be harder for you to squeeze in the little "asks" that add up. Remember you will not be paid for doing this work - would you work 5-10+ hours for free at your job? Your payment comes through royalties, and oh, I will get to that later. Before signing over your work and potentially signing up for more work- ask the publisher what kind of commitment they require from you once the deal is signed. Knowing their expectations will save you a lot of grief in the future. 

Independently publishing your deck can be a part-time or full-time job; make no mistake, it is a job. But, it is a job that will enable you to do what you love. If you are like me, you devoted months to working and creating your deck without a salary. You do it because there is joy in creating; however, you still have financial obligations at the end of the day. I am a single parent and the sole breadwinner for my family. Being a full-time artist is challenging, but it is what I love, and maybe you will, too.

What does this job of being an independent artist require from you?

First let's start with finding a printer. You will need to find a trustworthy printer that can produce a quality deck. Speaking of which, at this point, you will need to decide what kind of paper and finishes you would like, what kind of box you would like, and how your guidebook will look. Recently, I wrote a post about why I chose to print my decks only in the USA.  This information may be helpful as well.

Beyond the cost to print your deck, a couple of good questions for the printer are: Are there any minimum requirements? What is their turnaround time, and what are their shipping costs? You may find that the printer has a minimum print run of 500 for the quoted price, and the freight charges add another $1 or 2 to the cost per deck. 

Now that you have found a printer and know its cost, the next big question is how you plan on funding it. Printers, as a rule, like to be paid upfront. If you have money in the bank that can cover the expenses or a credit card that can front the payment until you can sell the decks, that may be an option. Going this route can be beneficial if you know that you will sell most if not all, the decks quickly to recoup your costs. If you know ten people who want the deck but need to decide how to sell the other 490, you will need to consider how you plan to store the decks and if that will require additional costs. As someone who has lived in a small apartment with boxes and boxes of decks waiting to be shipped - they take up space! 

Before whipping out the credit card, I would suggest using a platform like Indiegogo or Kickstarter to fund the money needed to print your first deck for the following reasons:

These platforms help you tell your deck's story. What does it mean to you, and why do you believe others will benefit from it? This will help you figure out who your deck was made for and who your target customer is. These platforms also will put your deck in front of other people who have backed similar projects.

You will get a good idea after a couple of weeks if there is enough support to reach your printer's minimum order requirement. With Kickstarter, projects are all or nothing, meaning if you don't meet your goal, you do not get the funding, and your project may not have the resources to get printed. Indiegogo allows for all-or-nothing "Fixed Funding" or "Flexible Funding" that will enable you to get the money even if you don't meet your goal. With flexible funding, you may need to contribute out of pocket to pay for the printer and fulfill backer perks. 

Creating the campaigns is work. It takes time to find your voice and build momentum so that launch day is a success. It can take a couple of months of planning and marketing to get to launch day, which is huge! You want to achieve at least 50% of your goal on launch day because that will be the day that sets the tone for your campaign, and it will likely be your best day. 

Tips for having a good first day:

Use the pre-launch landing page to build up your project's email list. Plan on only 30% of those who sign up to actually pledge, so it is a bit of a numbers game when it comes to having a good launch day.

Post, post, post on social media! Spread the word that your project will go live in two weeks, one week, three days, and so on. Share your campaign with as many people as you can. 

Create perks that people want! They want your deck! 

Make sure your page is ready to go on launch day. Is your email verified? How about your bank? Don't let little things prevent you from hitting the launch button!

Let's put on that admin hat: You will probably have many emails to answer. Answering them takes time, and you will need to factor that into your daily tasks. 

Ordering supplies also takes some time. What kind of packaging do you need to ship your decks? Where is it coming from, and where will you put everything once it arrives? Boxes and bubble wrap take up space, and then add all those boxes of decks; where will it all go? Having this planned out prior to the day your shipment of decks arrives will help you stay organized and will make shipping out those decks to your backers/customers easier. I have my printer ship out my decks, which for domestic orders adds about $13-16 extra dollars to the cost of the decks; however, I don't have to buy packing material or store anything. Ask your printer if they have options to ship or partner with a shipper if space is also an issue for you. 

If you plan on shipping your decks, that, too, takes time. I still ship some of my decks, and although I have become speedy, it can take a couple of hours to ship about 30 orders, depending on the packaging needed. I can't stress enough that being a creator is a job, and most of it requires tasks that we are often not compensated for - there is so much stuff that goes on behind the scenes beyond making the art.  

So, when it comes to the workload, do you go with a publisher or become your own boss?

Before you decide, let's talk about money: Going with a publisher can sound very appealing, especially when you see their decks in stores and online everywhere, especially if they require little work from you. Surely, those deck creators are making bank, right? WRONG! Oh my gosh, so wrong.

When you license your deck, you will likely receive an advance. I have received advances for my decks that range from $4,000 to $20,000. The advance is paid in installments over a year and is not free money; although it will appear as income for that tax year, it needs to be paid back, and you do so through your royalties. Your royalty rate will be pretty low, figure about 50-60 cents per deck. That means if your advance is $20k, the publisher will need to sell around 30k decks before you receive anything, which can take years. So, let's take the high-end advance rate of $20K, a sum paid over a course of a year that most people would find hard to live on and divide by 12 months, that works out to be a little over $1,666 a month. Once the deck hits the stores they need to sell about 30k decks before you get paid again. Oh, I should also mention that most publishers pay only twice a year. From my experience with this, it is possible to go YEARS without seeing a royalty check. Don't even get me started on all the counterfeit decks out there that make it even harder for artists to receive royalties. Some people believe that if your work is published, you are making tons of money, and if someone buys a cheap deck on Temu, it doesn't hurt the artist - well, let me tell you, my small royalty checks go down every time I receive one. Yet, my Crow Tarot seems to be more popular than ever.  

If you don't need to make a living from your art, going with a publisher can provide some extra money over a year and not require much effort. If you want to be a full-time artist and live off your creations, independently publishing your deck may require more time and energy, but the payoff can be better because you decide how much to charge for your work. 

The most important advice I can offer anyone considering signing a contract with a publisher is this: Read your contract. Read your contract in the morning with fresh eyes. Ask someone else to read it; if you can, get a lawyer to read it. Don't assume that the publisher reads things the same way you do or that because your initial meeting was friendly, things will stay that way. Ask questions and get the answers in writing. Calls and video chats are all good, but ensuring that important details are documented will save you a lot of headaches. These are not artists; these are business people who care for one thing: their profit margins. 

Look for paragraphs that may restrict your ability to create or hold you to obligations that may make it harder or contractually impossible for you to work on another project while under contract. If it is unclear and is probably buried under a slew of legal jargon, ask them if signing means you cannot make another deck or similar work and sell it independently for a certain amount of time. If they say you can create freely, get it in writing. If they say no, there is a non-compete; you may need to ask yourself if that will hold you back as an artist. If you have more than one deck in you, I suggest negotiating that out of our contract. You may decide six months into the contract that you want to make another deck; it's nice to know your hands aren't tied. Not every publisher requires the same agreements to license your deck. And, just because, before signing the contract, they tell you that they want what is best for you and if something comes up, they will work with you, it doesn't always work out that way.

Being your own publisher has its perks because no one tells you what you can and can not create. You are the decider! But how are you going to sell your decks? Hands down, publishers win in the category of distribution. I mentioned Kickstarter and Indiegogo, but those are just one way. You can create an online presence with a nicely designed website. I like Shopify; I find it easy, and they have many apps that partner with them, such as Pirate Ship, the app I use for shipping. My printer has access to my shop through their app shipstation, which works relatively seamlessly. There are other avenues, such as Etsy, Facebook marketplace, selling locally, in stores, etc. There are plenty of ways to get your work out and to connect with the people with whom it will connect. Your first task is to create a deck you connect with that speaks to your soul, and then, like tree roots, you will connect with your community.

Freedom can look different depending on where you stand.

I prefer being an indie artist because I like freedom; I like making artwork on my schedule and telling the stories with the art I want to create without worrying about a committee. That is me, and that is how I work best. But everything has a trade-off. I spend half my workday making art and then the other half doing admin tasks, and most days, those tasks bleed into my "off hours." I work most weekends in some capacity, and although I am free to create, I often don't feel free to just "relax." However, I am free to create decks that will help me make a living, whereas a couple of years ago, that was not necessarily the case. 

Freedom might look a little differently if you publish a single deck or two over a few years. You may find that going with a traditional publisher frees you from all the tasks required to self-publish. You might discover going with a publisher allows you to focus more time on selling and marketing your deck rather than creating new work. 

There is no perfect answer. Going with a traditional publisher has advantages and drawbacks, as does self-publishing. The question you need to ask yourself is, what do you want from your art? Are you an artist or someone who made a one-off great deck and is looking to sell it? Are you an artist who lives to create, or was this something you did once and aren't too keen on doing it again, and if you can make some money off it, then great. As an artist, not being free to create is a horrible feeling, so the path is clear for me, but it took losing my freedom to figure that out.

MJ - 

My decks in order of publication:

Crow Tarot - published by US Games Systems

The Wise Dog - published by US Games Systems

Grimalkin's Curious Cats - published by Hay House

Guardian of the Night - published by Hay House

Urban Crow Oracle - published by Hay House

Förhäxa Tarot - published by Hay House

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The following decks will NEVER be mass-produced

ROAR Oracle - Indie published

Treasures from Above Oracle - Indie published

Raven's Dream Tarot- Indie published

Tales for Tomorrow Lenormand - Indie published

Unfinished Business - a ghostly Tarot - Indie published

Liminal Forest - Indie published

Crow Affirmations - Indie published

Garden of Enchanted Creatures - Indie published

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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