For those that don’t know, I have worked in the "biz". I have done playtest, sales, convention demos, writing, shipping, office work, the works. I have worked for Big Companies and some small ones. (My credits are a bit dated, but the basic info does not change.)
If you want to "break into the biz", don’t. Go get a real degree and a real job that pays real money. Unless you get lucky (and write the next BattleTech or Vampire), you, as a professional game writer, are going to be making as much money as a non union retail clerk. Though the perk of doing what you like and travelling to cons, does make up for the amount of macaroni and cheese you will need to eat. You will not get rich, but you will eat regularly. Of course, don’t quit your other job at any time during this process until you are well established.
If you do it anyways, find out the submission requirements for a company you like, see what they are looking for, and submit it. Many companies do not accept "outside submissions", so you may have to get to know the people inside the company personally (and not be caught as a stalker) before you can submit anything. If you submit things they are not looking for, your submission will probably never ever see the light over a desk. Once you have done a product or two, you might be in a position to try new things.
Most companies are not in the position to buy new game systems (and associated worlds). So if it is a new system you want to promelgate, then go into your business yourself or get some serious blackmail material over someone who controls another company. If you just want to publish material, then learn D20 and go for it.
if you are more serious about this…...
And the holy three, which is now two as one has met demise.
www.indie-rpgs.com (If you can make it there, you can actually make it.)
www.rpg.net’s design area. (friendly, but less helpful)
http://www.therpgsite.com/ Lots of small game publishers hang here.
In addition, don’t forget about getting barcodes and ISBN numbers (if you are printing hard copies) or a licensed version of Acrobat (if you are producing PDF).
You and your group will need to learn how to write to publishable level. You will need to learn how to set up a page. You will need to have a huge amount of art to support the book. You will need to get a business license, set up your financial records, your tax records, and inventory control. If you and your group can’t do this, stop now until you can.
You will also need to know how little you are not getting paid until product is finished. Will your people stick with it?
Some questions from previous posts.
How many of you have actually published physical books, and do you recommend the experience? I’ve gotten some quotes and such from a few printing houses, and it all seems fairly daunting… not to mention, of course, expensive as hell.
Well duh. It if was easy and cheap every Tom, Dick, and Reginald would do it. Remember you get what you pay for. So, if you think a cheap looking game book would sell, give it a try… it is only money after all… I would recomend a print on demand solution.
Also remember that your productiton costs (including any money to pay for artists, writers, etc) should come to 35% of the retail cost of the book. So a $20 book comes out to about 7 dollars to pay for everything. Todays round of $30 to $40, about 14 to pay for everything.
Do not forget advertising costs! Books which are advertised in print media (Wizard, Dragon, etc) sell better than those that don’t. If you can’t do that much capital, try online ads/ impressions.
If you can not go to The Gama Trade Convention, then do not try a print game. If you can not go to that, plus GenCon, Origins, and one to three regional conventions, for three years or so, you are going to be a small print hasbeen in no time. Plus out all that cash/ credit.
I am not trying to be a hard ass. I want you to know the realities going in. You do see the amount of time, effort, and money this requires. It is easier to write a game, than it is to actually sell enough of the game to actually be worth it (economically speaking).
And it is not that easy to write a game, from start to finish, that is complete and engaging to other GMs and players besides you and your friends. The internet is littered with the bones of those who thought it was "easy".
When do you think it become reasonable to publish a physical copy of your book?
Compared to the days gone by… oh yah. You can actually get a hardbound book for a reasonable price. Ten to fifteen years ago, that would of been five times the cost you are seeing and would of required a minimum print run of 5,000 to 10,000 units. These days, you can do it for a mere 1 to 3 thousand.
These days… try the PDF route… see if people like it and are willing to buy the PDF. If it seems to fly… roll your dice and hope for the best. Print on Demand is do-able these days.
Recouping your start up costs is easy to figure. Take those costs, divide by how much you make per PDF, and that is how many downloads/ purchases it will take. Then go talk to some other people at companies selling PDF games… see how many units they have sold. Think about if you can do it.
So that 14 dollars per unit must pay for the physical manufacturing cost, art costs, all your office costs (computer, paper, phone, fax, website hosting), housing all the product you have in stock (Print on Demand is expensive, but limits these costs), and all the various licensing and taxes- at minimum! Look at your costs for the year (including travel and advertising), divided those costs by 14 and that is the number of units you need to sell to break even. If you have enough cash to weather it out, divide that number times two, for the number of units you will need to sell in three years.
Of course if you have the Trust Fund to burn, just go for it.
How does the whole distribution thing work? Do you basically get a distribution house/company/whatever to take the copies of your books and place them in stores, like a kind of talent agent?
Nope: You need to find the distributors (the same people who usually wholesale comics in an area). You have to convince them that your game is worth it: demostration calls, free samples, business lunches/ diners, and bribes (I’m not kidding). They place you in their catalog and you see if local store owners are willing to order it (figure an average of 1 order per store in a given region… if the distributor only supports 40 game stores…. well you get the math). They order from you. You need to give them hard copy in under 2 weeks. They purchase those from you at 35% of list price. (who sell to game stores at 50% list.. who sell to us at list). They pay you back in 60 to 120 days for the units they bought. Then you wait to see if anyone re-orders.
UPS is your friend at this point.
Any more questions?
If you get lucky… a book distributor will pick your book up.. that is the big unit number sales.
Do not forget Canada, Australia, UK, and Europe. They like rpgs too. Sometimes you can get a grant from the US gov to subsidize your sales there (That darn trade imbalance is good for something).
Get the bar code and the USBN number. Most places will not sell your material without it.