Well… perhaps empire is a bit grandiose, seeing as how my business only grosses a few hundred dollars a year. But Blue Max Studios (my publishing house) has put over thirty RPG titles out in the last six years, for a multitude of different games. What’s more, I have never lost money publishing RPG and supplements. What’s my secret? I actually can’t lose money as a gaming publisher, because I haven’t spent any in the first place. Everything I’ve done with Blue Max Studios, in all aspects of production and publication, has cost nothing. Want to know another secret? It’s not even that hard…
Step 1: Can U Write and Art?
I’m going on the assumption that you have an awesome game idea that you’re dying to give to the world, and some modicum of skill as an artist. I had a passion for drawing maps and deckplans of spaceships, and the ability to write well enough to put out my first supplement. If you have a great idea but you don’t think you can write or draw well enough, my advice is to do it anyway. Both writing and artistic skills get better with practice, and “perfect” is the enemy of “good enough.” Besides, you may be better than you think. What I know for sure is that if you wait until your writing or art is “perfect”, you will never publish anything.
Step2 : Assemble the Minions!
Every evil genius needs henchmen. In this case, that means the essential programs necessary to publish PDFs from your home computer. You could spend hundreds of dollars on Photoshop, Microsoft Office, SketchUp Pro, and anything else you can think of – but then you’re starting your new business hundreds of dollars in the hole. Instead, I downloaded GIMP, LibreOffice, Wings3D, and Scribus. My list can do pretty much everything the expensive list can, but every single one of my programs were free! This means I’m starting my business even, and every penny I make is profit!
Step 3: The System Situation
Unless you want to make the vaguest rules-agnostic products, you’ll need to pick a rules engine to power your product. If you’ve designed your own rules system – great! I had no desire to do that myself, but thanks to the Open Game License, I didn’t have to. OGL rules systems include D20 (D&D3.x and Pathfinder), OSR (D&D1e), 2D6 (Cepheus Engine, Mongoose Traveller/2300AD) And my personal favorite Open D6 (WEG Star Wars) My advice: pick the system you are most comfortable with, not the system you think will sell the most books. It’s much better to make a good product for a modest system than a mediocre product for a very popular system.
Step 4: Adventures, Core Books, and Splats, Oh My!
What kind of product you decide to publish is, of course, up to you. Adventures sell very well, as many of us these days don’t have the time to craft our own. Core Books are the big kahuna of RPG publishing and become an anchor for an entire product line. Supplements, or “Splats” are my weapon of choice because I’ve always loved collecting them and they’re short, relatively easy to produce, and moderately priced. Even if you’re working on a Core Book, you may want to publish some Adventures or Splats in the meantime. Having some products out there in the marketplace will help build your audience and give potential customers a reason to buy your Core Book.
Step 5: So…Now What?
Once you’ve written your book and produced your PDF, you need a place to sell it. I’ve sold my products exclusively through Onebookshelf (DriveThruRPG and RPGNow) in exchange for a 70/30 cut. You can elect to sell non-exclusive (60/40) and sell your books on other websites (such as Paizo.com or Amazon). I only have experience with OneBookShelf, but that experience has been a good one.
Starting in 2015, I began to publish books by other writers. Lots of people have great ideas for RPG books, but not everyone has the time or patience to edit, proofread, and layout books for publication. I’ve been able to handle the money side of that fairly easily so far – a 50/50 split of the 70% profits – because we’re friends and trust one another. If you want to publish for others, you’ll have to negotiate the sometimes prickly financial details for yourself. I strongly suggest you keep records of your sales and use PayPal to wire money to your writers and artists. In order to follow my doctrine of “spend no money” I always promise a percentage of sales in lieu of flat rates. You have to work out what’s best for you.
Success is in the eye of the beholder. If you want to quit your job and live off of your RPG profits, you will probably be disappointed. If you want to expand your hobby and see your work in the hands of others, then you will succeed. I felt like a success my first month. I was a year out of the hospital from a debilitating coma and hadn’t worked in all that time. So, when my wife and I were able to pay for our kids’ birthday parties out of the money my RPG books made, I considered it a great success. Here’s hoping you can feel that kind of success in your own endeavor, no matter how much money you make.