[Voices from the Driver’s Seat] – Getting Published in the RPG Industry

[We are proper chuffed to welcome another industry giant to the ranks of people we’ve conned into writing down their thoughts for us. This time it is Cat Tobin, managing director and co-owner of Pelgrane Press, who offers her insider experience on everything RPG- and gaming-related. As a consummate professional she knows all the secret handshakes, passwords to insider lodges and where to get the best soy-milk macchiato in Europe. Invaluable and incomparable experience that she was willing to share with us. Enjoy.]

When I do panels, a question that often comes up (if it’s not the panel topic) is “How do I get published in the RPG industry?” There’s clearly no quick answer, but here are some quick thoughts on it.

First of all, write stuff (and finish it!)

It’s been said many times before by everyone who’s ever given advice on writing or being published, but it’s worth saying again: if you genuinely want to be published, you have to write; if you want to be a better writer, you have to write; if you want to write, you have to write. But let’s assume you’ve cleared this hurdle, you’ve written some stuff, and you think it’s pretty good. What’s your next step?

Secondly, self-publish it (seriously!)

I would always advise someone who has written their own setting or game to publish it themselves. Many of the most respected game designers and writers in the industry today, particularly in the progressive field of story games, are self-published. By publishing your own work, you have full creative control over it; you decide entirely how it reads, looks and plays. You also reap the full financial rewards from it (disclaimer: financial rewards may go down as well as up), and you don’t need to worry about finding the right publisher or dealing with complex contracts once you do.

Last resort (submit it to a publishing company!)

Unless you want to write for an already-published setting or system, you really should try and self-publish (see above). Generally speaking, publishing companies have more great ideas for games than they have the resources to publish, and it will be particularly difficult to get them interested in your setting if you are a first-time author.

If you are submitting something to a roleplaying publisher, I would advise you to send in an initial pitch first, like you would to a book publisher. This pitch should detail your idea, its key selling points and give a rough outline of the project. (Around 500-750 words is the sweet spot). The publisher will then let you know if it’s something they’d like to commission, and you don’t have to go through the heartbreak of throwing away a year or more’s work.

It should go without saying that your submission should be clear, concise and respectful. You should also make sure that you have strong ideas and your work is well presented – most roleplaying publishing companies don’t have time, or the inclination, to translate submissions that are carelessly spelled or have bad grammar or punctuation.

It should be targeted to that particular publisher. Explain how you see your submission fitting in with their existing products, and why it will appeal to their target audience, so they know you have a marketable product, and that you know their company and their systems. Mention any previous experience with their products or systems, too.

The more familiar a publisher is with your work, the more likely they are to publish your work, and think of you when they have a freelance opportunity. If there is a publisher you would particularly like to work with, take the initiative and make them notice you above all the other fans, so that when you come to submit your ideas, or they have opportunities they need filling, you have a wealth of experience to back it up. Here are some ways you can make yourself stand out:

Social media

Get in their (literal) Face(book). Make sure you’re an active member on their forums, and post on your own social media about their products. Write sample classes, monsters or adventures for their system, or actual plays of their games, and link to them on their social media. Hearing about their games gives writers and publishers a warm, fuzzy feeling, and makes them think well of you.

Playtesting

Many games companies put out open calls for playtesting. Sign up for them, playtest the games, and submit well-written (i.e. clear, concise, thoughtful) feedback before the deadline. This shows not only that you are passionate about their games, but also demonstrates your composition skills and ability to work to a deadline.

Community work

Become part of their Organized Play system, if they have one. Write convention adventures for their games, and run them at your local convention. Offer the publisher the adventures afterwards to add to their adventure banks (making sure they have no spelling or grammatical mistakes, are well-structured, easy to follow, and clearly laid out). If the company has a webzine, offer to write articles for that, too.

TL;DR

The competition is fierce if you want to get published in the roleplaying industry. But there are opportunities out there, too – and there’s never been a better time to dive on in there.

-Cat

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