Back-end deals aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, if you’re looking to get paid for your work.
There are things to understand: you aren’t going to make any real money in comics. I know it sounds doom and gloom, but that’s a fact, and I can’t do anything about it.
Everyone you’re seeing on the stands at Marvel and DC? Every single one of those people are outliers. The ones with longevity, able to make a living off their craft? They’re the ultimate outliers. You can bet that they aren’t doing back-end deals. Because there’s no money in it.
This includes Image. Only the extreme upper echelon of creators there are making any real money. (Also, understand that the Image model is all back-end. You get paid after everything is said and done.)
I’m not saying never to take a back-end deal. I’m saying go in with your eyes wide open. A person who’s asking you to do work on the back-end is asking for free work. They can’t afford to pay you up front, but they’ll pay you out of the billions of fairy pennies that’ll come their way when the book sells.
Know what else they can’t afford to pay? A printer. Let’s forget about the fact that they can’t pay the creative team. The book has to be monetized some way, right? The only way to do that is to sell it. The best way to sell a book is to print it. Printing it, though, is a very expensive proposition.
And you have to do that over and over again, for as many issues of the book you want to create. If they can’t pay you, how are they going to pay the printer?
The web? Forget about the web. It takes time to build up an archive that can then be monetized. While it’s cheaper than print, you’re still not going to make any real money at it. Not overnight. Not in a year. Not in three years.
The next time you see a creator offering a back-end deal, figure out if you can do it or not, and what the creator is really offering you. Some creators can’t afford to pay you, but they already have a book that’s been approved by a publisher. If you’re looking for exposure over money, that may be a way to go. (This is not as rare as it used to be.)
Is the creator giving up rights? That can be an incentive.
Do you believe in the creator or the project? That’s also a huge incentive. Maybe the biggest.
But back-end deals are nowhere near as great as creators make them out to be. Ask intelligent questions before you decide to jump onboard.