Dice & Deadlines: Multiple Authors, One Product

I’ve talked about a number of different things that a freelancer needs to be aware of when writing for the RPG industry: deadlines, extensions, rewrites, professionalism, and contracts. All of that is based on either you the author or your relationship with the editor. But, if you open an RPG book and look at the credits page, you often see many names credited as “game designer.” This is because most RPG books are written by more than one freelancer.

Why there are multiple authors on a single product often comes down to time and effort. The RPG industry works on a very fast schedule. Most RPG core books are between 75,000 and 120,000 words. Most people cannot write that much in the allotted time. Thus, pieces are broken out into sections. It is much easier to write 30,000 publishable words in a month than 90,000 in three months. Burn out is always a danger.

Also, it comes down to skill sets. One freelancer may be excellent at world building but suck at doing stats. Another may be a math nerd, excelling at stats and all the crunchy bits of an RPG but couldn’t write their way through even an introductory scene. An experienced editor knows what her freelancers can do and makes assignments accordingly.

The Co-Author

Frequently, RPG books will have just two authors. That means these authors need to work together to make the book the best it can be. My experience has been when it is a co-authorship, one author is the expert in the IP and the other is an ‘up-and-comer’ as they say. In this case, the roles will be clear. The expert is in charge and the other freelancer works with them. All questions about the IP go to the expert. If you are not the expert, you need to be able to work with the expert and expand upon what they say.

Another co-authorship I’ve encounter is the clear delineation of tasks. On Shanghai Vampocalypse (Savage Mojo, Sep 2010), I was the sole fiction author. I was responsible for all of the world building, plots, monster description, and canon characters. My co-author was responsible for all of the crunchy stats. I described the monster, the weapon or the character and made a note about the power level and he wrote up the appropriate Savage Worlds stats for it. This was where my descriptions and my production notes had to be especially clear. I wrote my part and then threw it over the wall to my co-author.

The final co-authorship is the equal partners method where sections of the book are divvied up, each author writes their section and then the co-author edits it before the product editor ever looks at the work. This process involves the most communication and collaboration between the authors. Each author needs to know their own strengths and weaknesses and to fill in where the co-author lacks.

Over the Wall Never to be Seen Again…Until Production

Many multi-authored products do not have any contact between authors unless they are in-house authors. Most of the time, you will get your piece of the pie and that’s it. You will write it to spec, send it up the line, and never see it again until the book comes out in production.

What do you do then? You do the best you can with what you have based on the history of the product in question. You use the resources the company gives you, you meet your word count, you meet your deadline and you do your rewrites. That is all you can do.

Writing by Committee

Depending on the company you work for, you may encounter “writing by committee.” This is where a group of freelancers has been commissioned to work on a single product. Everyone gets their pieces of the book and as each finishes a section, they upload it to a site for the rest of the freelancers to see, critique, and build upon in their sections. It is a collaboration between the freelancers and the editor.

This is one of the most daunting and rewarding ways to write an RPG book. It allows for mistakes to be caught early, design features to be spread throughout the product, and after reading everyone else’s work, the writing you do on your section of the book meshes better with everyone else. It brings a cohesion to the book that other products often do not have.

This style of game design is not for the weak hearted or thin-skinned. Freelancers are passionate, opinionated people and you will need to know how to hold your own while being professional.

Editor Trumps All

Remember, no matter if you have just two authors working on a product or ten, the editor must ride herd over them all. It is the editor’s job to make sure that the product is consistent in tone and genre, concise and correct in information, and generally entertaining. While you have your pie of the product, the editor has the 50,000 foot view of what’s really going on–now and in the future.

Do you have any questions on what it is like to work with other freelance authors on a single product? Comment and I will answer you as best I can.

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