Ten Things You Should Know Before Getting Into RPG Publishing

C and writer CJ Ruby at the 4 Winds Fantasy Gaming merchant table, MisCon 24.

Most gamers dream of working in the RPG industry, seeing their amazing ideas in print and hobnobbing with the legends of the gaming world. My fellow dream girl Jennifer Brozek has the 411 on being a freelancer in the industry, and there’s little I could add to her sound advice. But for those who want to go a step further and become publishers – whether you’ve already been a freelancer for a while, or just want to go straight to the top – I have experiences galore to share.

What’s a dream girl know about RPG publishing? Plenty. I have three distinct professional personas. Of course there’s the dream girl you all know and love. Then there’s the shoe girl – she’s the one who brings home the bacon and the health insurance. But the domina of the three is the business woman – the co-founder of 4 Winds Fantasy Gaming, the editor, the writer, the layout specialist, the graphic designer, the bookkeeper, the booth babe, the Girl Friday. I have to wear a lot of hats being the leading lady of a small press publisher, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

There’s a lot of blood, sweat, and tears involved in the publishing side of the industry (OK, maybe not much sweat), and a lot of the hard work comes from things you don’t even think about when you’re starting out. There’s no RPG Publishing for Dummies book to guide you. Looking back on the past two years of our business, here are ten of the lessons we learned that anyone thinking about making the jump into publishing should consider.

Do It Right. And By Right, I Mean Legally.

Does the guy running your favorite FLGS pay for everything out of his personal bank account? He better not, and you shouldn’t either. If you want to set up a business, go through the legal motions to get a tax ID number for your company. I won’t go into too much detail here, but you’ll have to choose whether you want to be a DBA (“doing business as”, meaning the company is just you doing business under that name) or an LLC (limited liability corporation, where the business is a separate entity not tied to your personal credit). Once you have that tax ID number, go to the bank and set up separate accounts for your business. This may seem like a lot of work to go through before you even start, but you need to do it, and you’ll soon find it’s much easier to keep track of your spending when you’re using separate checkbooks. Speaking of spending…

Everything Costs Money.

From office supplies to paying your contributors to ISBNs for your books, you’ll be shocked at how much money you need to invest in your company. If you’re going the print book route instead of strictly PDFs (more on that in a future column), gird your loins now for that first printing bill. The expense that surprised us most? Shipping.

Contracts Are Of Utmost Importance.

Jennifer has already talked about the vital need for a good written contract, so let me just reiterate what she’s already said: a contract protects both the publisher and the freelancer. Verbal agreements are great for deciding who will pay for the pizza at next week’s game, but they won’t do you any good when an artist or writer misses a deadline and they claim you never gave them a due date. Always put it in writing!

Bang Your Own Drum. No One Else Is Going To Do It For You.

If you publish the most incredible RPG product in the world, but no one hears about it, does it still make a blip on the industry radar? Nope. You need to keep your pimp hand strong and promote the hell out of yourself. Build your internet presence (again, like Jennifer has mentioned): get your own domain and build an eye-catching yet functional website. Make a fan page on Facebook. Get a Twitter account. Frequent the forums for the companies your products support. In real life, march yourself down to the FLGS to talk up your books. Go to every con or game day you can, and go representing your company.

Professionalism Gets You Far.

This isn’t a suit-and-tie industry (thank goodness!), but that doesn’t mean you should go out representing your company in sweatpants and a holey t-shirt. Dress neatly, comb your hair, lotion up your tattoos so the colors are bright – basically, just make sure you look like you care about your appearance. But even more important than appearance is attitude. Any phone calls you make or emails you send in the name of your company need to be done in a professional tone, even if you are friends with the person you’re contacting. Be confident, but not cocky. And always follow Wheaton’s Law.

Your Friends Will Want To Help. Choose Your Helpers Carefully.

Your friends are likely to be your biggest supporters in your new venture, and like all good friends they will say something like, “If there’s anything I can do to help, let me know!” If you have friends who are good artists, writers, editors, etc, either present them with a formal proposal for work or ask them to send you a resume/sample. Look at them as you would any freelancer: can they meet deadlines? Can they handle it if you ask them to redraw or rewrite something? Will they balk at signing a contract? We have a ton of our friends working for us, but we know we’ve been lucky. You can definitely do business with friends, but you have to be careful.

Sometimes You Have To Turn Your Baby Over To Someone Else.

By “baby”, I mean “idea”. My husband and I have far more ideas for books and supplements than we can possibly write ourselves. Unless you want to drive yourself completely into the ground, working 20-hour days and never moving from your computer desk, you need to learn how to delegate in a hurry. It’s hard to hand your wonderful concept over to someone else to write, but it’s either do that or never produce anything because you’re so exhausted.

It Isn’t At All Glamorous.

Before we started our company, I had visions of what it would be like, sitting all day at my computer, writing and creating. I never pictured the days of running around town searching for printer ink and lugging boxes of books to the post office, or losing a whole day to answering email or disputing a bank fee.

You Have To Grow A Thick Skin.

The first time one of our products got a less-than-stellar review, I cried. Then I dried my tears, put on my big girl panties, and moved on. You can’t please all gamers all of the time, and not everyone will like your products. Look at bad reviews objectively. Did you truly do your best with that product? Is the writing/artwork/editing of good quality? Are you happy with it? If the answer to all of those things is yes, then chalk it up to “can’t win ‘em all” and move on with your day. If the reviewer’s criticisms are valid, learn from them and do all you can to improve.

It’s The Most Incredibly Fulfilling Thing You’ll Ever Do.

Running a publishing company is far more satisfying than any other job I’ve ever had. There are a lot of long hours and hard work involved, but every time I read something on a forum about players and GMs using our books in their games, I’m on Cloud Nine for days.

The Tip Of The Iceberg

There’s still plenty of room in the pool for new publishers, and I’m more than happy to do what I can to help them out. Since I have E’s blessing to write columns about the insider’s view from the world of RPG publishing, what would you like to know? Whatever questions can’t be quickly or easily answered in comments just might make it into a future column!

About c

By day, Connie Thomson (aka Ariel Manx) is a mild-mannered shoe salesgirl, geeking out about insoles, outsoles, and shanks. But when night falls, she takes her turn at the helm of 4 Winds Fantasy Gaming, where she writes, edits, and does layout for table-top RPG products. Regardless of her persona, C is always a fangirl, bookworm, and craft diva. (Email C or follow @arielmanx on Twitter.)

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