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Publishing a pdf RPG

Page history last edited by PBworks 17 years, 5 months ago

As an introduction, I can say that there are three basic steps to the publishing process: completing a product, publishing it, and promoting it.


Finish the Damn Thing!

The first thing to do is to finish something. Whether it's a 500-page monster of an rpg, or a 10-page supplement, doesn't matter. Create a completed, publishable product.


"Publishable" means that it has,

  • Perfect spelling
  • Decent grammar
  • Simple expression
  • Clear expression
  • Acceptable layout


In emails and forum posts, commonly spelling, grammar and expression are crap. That's alright for casual chats, but an rpg is an instruction book. Anyone can do a homebrew game system or world and present it to his mates. If the text is no good, you're there to explain things to them. But when an rpg is published, you won't be there to explain things, all the information they need must be in that book, and clear and obvious to them on a single reading. My advice is to get into practice at good writing in rpgs by having good writing in emails and forum posts. Give each a beginning, middle and an end, spellcheck them, use all the right grammar and punctuation, etc. Practicing in places where it's not important will help you when it is important.


I mention grammar and spelling because many people's posts and emails show they have issues with those, at least with caring about them. Grammar and spelling are not in themselves important at all; all that's important is to say things simply and clearly. However, when spelling and grammar are bad enough, the text becomes hard to understand. And many people are irritated by clumsy writing, so they won't read the thing to the end. So you need the grammar and spelling to be just good enough to be clear, and not to irritate any readers, while not taking up all your time trying to make it all flawless - an impossible task.


In producing and completing a product, it's often tempting to focus on the cool ideas you have, and to play around with them a lot. But good ideas are everywhere, no-one will pay you for them, especially not nowadays with the internet making so many good ideas freely and widely available; a day on a forum is like a whole issue of a magazine on that topic. Focus on the expression of your ideas - good writing. Many people imagine that writing and other artistic pursuits are a pure talent - you have your moment of inspiration and everything flows easily from there. That's not the case. Writing, like painting, woodcarving, etc, is a craft. It's a learned skill. Obviously, talent will give the thing a certain spark - but expressing yourself clearly and well is a skill which you can learn and improve.


So rather than trying to put all your great ideas into one big book, it's better to take just a few of them, and flesh them out, really deal with them thoroughly, expressing them clearly and well.


Then finish it. Nothing else matters if you can't finish the thing. You could have a ten million dollar book deal, the best editor in the world, and a five million dollar advertising budget with someone already buying film rights - if you don't finish the book, all that becomes useless.


There are other issues such as deciding whether and what artwork to use, and how to lay it all out, etc - but the first thing to do is to complete the actual text of it.




Begin with pdf publishing. It's very easy to get into. If you shop your manuscript to an existing company, you have to find someone who likes it, and then they'll ask you to change it for some reason, and maybe you won't find anyone who likes it anyway. And then there are contracts to negotiate, etc. But if you publish it yourself, there's none of that.


To publish, you go to RPGNow.com and set up an account. You then contact them to get it upgraded to a Vendor Account, which costs US$40. Alternately, you find a current vendor who likes your work, and publish through them. When this is done, you upload your completed product.


If it sells well, then it may be worth creating a version for Print on Demand sale. Print on Demand is a system where, instead of printing a pile of copies of your books and trying to sell them in whatever way (which is what punlishing companies take a percentage of your sales for doing), you make a version of your pdf good for a book (the formatting for comfortable reading is different for book and screen, or for home print-out and bound book), upload that, then when people order, the company gets a single copy printed just for that customer.




So, you have a finished book on pdf, and it's ready for people to buy. But they won't buy it if they don't know it exists. There are many ways to promote it. There's banner advertising, which various websites sell. There's forum posts. If you're already an active member of an rpg forum, then you mention your game. Involve the people of the forum in the writing process. "I'm writing d20 101 Magical Doorknobs, this is chapter one, what do you guys think?" As well as giving you actual useful feedback and encouragement, this creates in them a sense of investment in the game - they feel they contributed to it - and anticipation for the final product. You put links in your sig, get people to spruik your game for you in the "recommend a game that does X" threads, etc. Similarly, tell your gamer buddies about it, focusing on the gamer buddies who like to mouth off on forums.


Once published, get the significant rpg websites to review it. If possible, direct your review copy towards a hostile, nasty reviewer. Negative reviews create curiosity in people, and bring more of them to your product's webpage than do positive reviews.



Expected Sales

You won't become rich doing this. You have to decide what your aim is in publishing an rpg. A few possible aims come to mind,

  • Vanity - you want to be able to say you wrote a book, and have peope admire you for it, and admire the book itself
  • Cool ideas - which you want to share with the world.
  • Money


Because the money isn't great, and because roleplaying is a hobby for most rpg writers, they often focus on the first two. This leads them to offer their rpg for free. The problem is that people don't read free pdfs much. I wrote an article published on a website, it had over 2,000 downloads and ZERO comments or emails. I took it down, rewrote it, expanded it, then offered it for five bucks on RPGNow.com. It had over a hundred sales (there and other places), three reviews, about a dozen emails, and brought another guy into writing roleplaying games. People download the free stuff, but don't read it, and if they do they don't comment on it, or use it in their game sessions. So if you want people to comment on and play your games, charge them for the stuff.


The average sales for a non-d20 pdf on RPGNow.com in the first 12 months is about 25 copies; d20 pdfs achieve about twice that. However, the average product is not promoted at all. If you're an active member of forums and get yourself a banner advert or two, and if your product is not complete crap, you should be able to get twice those sales easily. If you want to make money, the key is to keep producing books. If you write your d20 101 Magical Doorknobs and then forget about it, you'll get your sales, and after a few months everyone will have forgotten you. If you come up with d20 101 Magical Codpieces in the next month, then not only do they buy this new book, but they buy the old books, too. This is the principle that most large rpg companies operate on - when D&D comes out with Monster Manual XII, Monster Manuals I-XI see new sales. So if you keep pumping out the books, then the sales of all the books will go up, not just the old ones.

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