Don’t Go It Alone: People You Need To Know As An RPG Publisher

In my first column on RPG publishing, I discussed ten things you need to know before getting into the business. As if knowing things wasn’t enough, you also have to know some people. I’m not talking about specific people (though having industry contacts is definitely a plus – I encourage schmoozing and networking as much as possible), but groups of people with certain skill sets. There’s a lot of work that goes into publishing, and you need quality people to get it all done.

No matter how talented and creative you are, there is likely something involved in RPG publishing that you don’t know how to do, or that isn’t your strongest suit. Even if you are a lucky cuss who is good at everything, doing everything by yourself will lead to publisher burnout in a hurry. If you work at a slow enough pace to prevent burnout, you won’t get very many products out in a timely manner. So do yourself and your fans a favor and get to know some of these folks. They’ll make you a happier, more pleasant publisher, and increase the quality and quantity of your output.

Writers

I know you have a million and one amazing ideas for splat books, new classes, new races, and more. And I know they’re your preciouses and you want to write them all yourself! Sometimes, I feel the same way. But realistically, writing takes time. A lot of time. And you’ve only got so many hours in the day. Luckily there’s a plethora of talented freelancers out there chomping at the bit for work. Delegate your amazing ideas to them and let them bring them to life. There may have to be some back and forth discussion to make sure you’re both seeing the same vision for a concept, but it will still take up less time than you writing it all yourself, and it will free you up to do other things.

Editors

Every writer needs an editor. Why? Because even the best writer misses some of their own mistakes – in your mind, you know what you meant to write, so your eyes simply don’t see an error that’s right in front of you. Your editor should be someone who didn’t have much to do with the writing (at least not in the piece they’re editing), and they should have a sharp eye for detail. A poorly edited product is worse than no product at all. And while some reviewers (and even your friends) may catch the one “too” instead of “two” that missed the eyes of all the writers and editors and pick on it, most people won’t freak out too much about that – errors go uncaught in books put out by the big boys, too. A product that has tons of errors, though, will be universally panned.

Artists and Graphic Designers

Not everyone can draw, and not everyone who can draw can draw well enough to have their work published. While the written content is the meat and potatoes of a product, the art is the fried onions and gravy – the extra touch that makes everything more exciting and special. Artwork brings a visual aspect to your product that even the most flowery words can’t convey. Good artists are worth every penny for the beauty they can bring to your books.

Speaking of your books, how’s the layout look on them? If the answer is “not so awesome” or “great, I’m using Comic Sans and Papyrus for my fonts”, find a graphic designer to give your products the layout love they deserve.

Distributors and Retailers

So you’ve finished your book or PDF, and are ready to sell it. You can set up your own website or storefront and rely on direct sales only, but I can guarantee you’ll be sobbing into your bowl of Froot Loops when you realize your sales are almost non-existent. Don’t get me wrong, with time, dedication, and hard work banging your own drum, you can probably make your own sale outlet profitable. But how are you going to keep the lights on in the meantime?

Enter other sale outlets and distributors. If you’re selling PDFs, DriveThruRPG is your best friend. Selling print books? You can try to peddle your wares to various game stores, but I can tell you from personal experience that not many will buy directly from you. That’s why you need a distributor or two. I can’t say enough good things about Indie Press Revolution and Studio 2 Publishing for giving our little books a worldwide audience. Since we’re primarily Pathfinder-compatible publishers, we’ve been able to sell both PDFs and print books through the Paizo store. That has been a wonderful sales outlet for us! And there are far more options out there than the ones I’ve mentioned here.

Another great thing about not restricting yourself to direct sales only: it’s someone else’s responsibility to track down money owed.

Marketing Wizards and Drum-Bangers

It doesn’t matter how incredible your products are if no one ever hears about them. You need to get the word out, both through formal advertizing and word-of-mouth. Look into all advertizing options available through your sales outlets and distributors. Place ads in gaming magazines and e-zines, and in the programs of any cons you attend. There are plenty of people out there who work specifically to promote games and gaming companies – find them and listen to their advice.

Have vocal and passionate fans? Encourage them to promote the heck out of you! Whether they pimp your products on forums and Facebook, pester their FLGS to carry your books, or just get their gaming group interested in your stuff, it’s all good publicity.

Accountants (or Tax Professionals, At Least)

Neither my husband or I have a background in business, and I’ll be the first to admit that we struggle with the bookkeeping end of things. Your experience may vary, but we would be absolutely lost without the fantastic lady who does our taxes for us every year. She takes our shoebox full of receipts and notebook pages of records and in just two hours has our taxes ready to file, where if we tried to do it ourselves we’d be in tears and nowhere near done eight hours later. If you’re a tax guru, you might not need this help, but we sure do!

As your company gets bigger and more successful, you may need to look into an accountant to keep the books straight all year long. If 4 Winds gets much bigger, we’re going to have to go this route ourselves, and frankly I’ll be relieved to hand that part of the business on to someone else.

Don’t I Have to Pay Them?

As I mentioned in my last post on publishing, everything costs money. All of these fine folks are working for you, and deserve and need to be compensated. Your distributors and retailers will generally just take a portion of the profits, so you don’t actually have to cut them a check, but writers and artists need royalties or a one-time work-for-hire payment, and everyone else needs to be paid their standard fee.

As tempting as it may be to save money by not using an editor, skimping on advertizing, or bumbling through your taxes yourself, can you really afford to put out an unedited product that no one hears about (and therefore doesn’t sell) or make a massive error on your taxes that draws an audit? I didn’t think so.

How Do I Find Them?

As soon as your company’s name makes even the tiniest blip on the gaming industry radar, you will start getting solicitations from writers, editors, and artists from all over the globe. But until you reach that point, you’ll have to search for people yourself. When we first started, we already knew a few artists and writers. The rest we found ourselves online, or they found us. Regardless of who makes the approach, make sure you get a good look at their portfolio or writing/editing samples. Don’t just take their word for it that they know what they’re doing.

As much as we’d all love to have big names writing and drawing for us, they’re out of the price range for any tiny publisher. That doesn’t mean you can’t get quality work at a price you can afford – talented up-and-comers are the bulk of our creative arsenal, and we couldn’t be happier with the work they’re doing.

If you surround yourself with hard-working, creative people, your company can be a success. Learn early to focus on your own strengths and delegate the rest of the work to those who are good at it, and everyone will reap the benefits.

What other aspects of getting into RPG publishing would you like me to address?

Note: I will be away from home the 26th-31st attending MisCon in Missoula, MT. If you’re in the area, please stop by to see me in the merchants room or attend one of my panels! I’ll have limited internet time during the con, but I promise I’ll get caught up on your comments as soon as I get back home.

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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