Why Kickstarter RPG Vanity Press Rewards? Why Not Self-Publish?

Why am I dead set on buying role-playing game writing credits via Kickstarter? Why build a resume through paying to work for other creators? Why not, you know, self-publish my own RPG content? There are a number of options to sell third-party RPG publications: OpenGamingStore.com, DMsGuild.com, RPGNow.com, DriveThruRPG.com, Kickstarter.com (of course) and more. So why not be my own boss and dive in?

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I’ve touched on my major obstacle to doing more, time. I lack it so it makes more sense, for now, to do small parts of larger, collaborative projects.

Another major concern I have is being seen. I want what I write to be read. Would I develop a following out of the stone blue?

Then there’s the one my creditors care about the most – Profitability. Would I make more publishing than I hope to make as a freelancer?

Some of the answers to those questions appear in One Year on DM’s Guild, an entry by Jacob Driscoll on his blog The Wonder Waffles. In the article, he discusses his RPG sales in 2016 on the DMsGuild.com. Well worth a full read.

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Without reprinting all of Jacob’s research, here are the *edited* parts of his article that are pertinent to what I do (see his article for a fuller picture):

Productivity (Supply)

  • I’ve made a total of 16 Products […] Prices ranged from Pay What You Want (potentially free!) to $5.
  • These products have had about 340 Total Sales, in all, or a raw average of about 21 sales per product.

Profitability (Demand)

  • I’ve made about $250 profit for myself in royalties …
  • That profit works out for me to about $2.06 per page, or, hourly, $0.50/hour. Or, by word, about three-tenths of a cent per word.
  • On a per-product basis, I’m looking at an average of $16.19 profit per product. That breaks down to about $0.70 per unit …”

From the perspective of my vanity press experiment, there are some worthwhile pieces of information to be assumed from this. After buying two of Jacob’s products – People of the Eternal: Races of the Astral Plane and Hereos of the Eternal: Classes of the Astral Plane – and some Googling, Jacob has more experience in freelance RPG creation than I do. Because of his position ahead of me, his results are worth referencing as a roadmap for the road not taken.

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For this comparison, the most important difference between Jacob’s path and mine is our methods. I’m hoping to buy writing assignments, do a solid job and move from being a wanna-lancer that pays to write to a freelancer that gets paid to write. Jacob is jumping right into production and profit and contacting RPG fandom without working for a third-party publisher.

That deserves emphasis. He’s making money while I’m spending it. Jacob’s generated profits ($250) equal to what I spent on my first RPG Kickstarter vanity press reward ($250). He’s WAY smarter than me.

That said, I’m experimenting and that’s worth something. Testing a hypothesis has value… right? Right? I mean, what’s, ah, what’s money?

I mean, other than everything… hmm… uh, <sniffle>… back to topic…

kickstarter-logoJacob points out that, to-date, his per word pay rate (the normal measure for a RPG freelance writer) is $.003 (3/10ths of a cent) per word. While I have not jumped to paid writing gigs, many RPG publishers advertise freelancer rates of $.01 and $.02 per word and $.03 per word and $.05 per word, between three and sixteen times higher than Jacob’s current take. That said, I believe (and clearly Jacob does as well since this is the direction he’s moving) that he will grow a fanbase over the years and in the long game see more money.

In measuring his first year’s accomplishments, Jacob notes his total units sold in 2016 are 340. While that does not represent 340 individual fans, he’s been seen by a number of fans. In the article, he talks about the pricing methods he’s using to attract customers and get a greater amount of sampling. I am lockstep with him on the need for fans to see your work. It’s part of why I chose to buy onto Kickstarter projects. Because they funded, I know they were successful and that any work I do will get eyes on it. As an example, my short (few hundred words) location seed in Sasquatch Game Studio’s Primeval Thule for 5e was seen by at least 850 RPG fans. No one bought it because of what I wrote they bought it for the genius of what Sasquatch Games created. In that amazing campaign setting, the fans got to see what I added and, I hope, will look favorably on trying my future freelancer work because of it.

If Jacob is bringing in a check and building a fanbase and establishing himself, why don’t I? Why am I not going Jacob’s route?

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It’s still time. He’s putting in an estimated 10 hours a week. I have difficulty being certain I’ll have that week after week. But also there’s the exposure. I believe that saying I worked on X projects is more likely to turn heads and generate interest in future works. Then there’s the money. In the near-term, freelancer work has the potential to pay more. In the end, there’s my experiment. I think that there is value in a story. Saying you bought your way into your job, well, that’s a story worth telling.

Thanks to Jacob Driscoll for writing his article and John McGuire for pointing it out to me.

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Egg Embry, Wanna-lancer

Egg Embry wrote comic book short stories, edited comic book series, wrote and drew a webcomic, and contributed to comic book journalism across the 2000s. Now, he buys the opportunity to write for a variety of tabletop role-playing games in the tradition of vanity press. His purchases have been published by:

  • Sasquatch Game Studio’s Primeval Thule for 5e (2015) available at DriveThruRPG.com
  • Ember Design Studios’ Yrisa’s Nightmare for 5e and Pathfinder available at DriveThurRPG.com
  • Ember Design Studios’ Rats in the Street for 5e and Pathfinder available at DriveThurRPG.com

Kickstarter RPG Reward Level: Vanity Press – Primeval Thule

“Can I buy enough RPG writing credits to springboard from vanity press to a paid freelancer?”

Since my first game of D&D with J Edward Neill, I’ve seen tabletop role-playing games as an opportunity to tell stories professionally.

Jeremy Neill. Honest.

J Edward Neill was my first DM. Honest.

However, it’s not a profession that I pursued. I plead “responsibilities” – day job of nearing two decades, kids, over a decade into my mortgage, excessive comic book and TV consumption, you know the chorus to this song. I have not made time to create, to move from wanna-lancer to freelancer.

In 2015, that changed.

Certain projects on Kickstarter let you purchase the opportunity to submit content to their publication. The barebones of the idea looks like:

  • A publisher pitches a product on Kickstarter.com selling rewards to crowdfund it
  • I pick the reward that lets me write for their product
  • I pay, I write, they edit, they print, I rejoice

The writing is nothing too intensive, nothing that eats time. An adventure hook, a NPC, a location seed, a monster, or a magic item, just a few hundred words – my words, my name in the credits. This is my journey to freelancer and it starts with selecting the Kickstarter Reward Level: Vanity Press.

 

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Primeval Thule 5e by Sasquatch Game Studio

Primeval Thule is a Conan versus Cthulhu inspired campaign setting for Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition. Created by Richard Baker, David Noonan, and Stephen Schubert of Sasquatch Game Studio, they have written for D&D 3e, 4e, and – their most relevant product to this Kickstarter – Princes of the Apocalypse for 5e.

Interested in a free sample of Primeval Thule? Try Primeval Thule Traveler’s Guide to get a taste of their world.

For most gamers, the high-concept description, creator’s bibliographies, and setting sample decided their level of interest in backing this Kickstarter. For me, it was the $250 Dungeoneer Reward:

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The cover to Primeval Thule for 5e

  • Hardcover and PDF versions of the Primeval Thule 5e Campaign Setting – $49.95 / $19.95
  • A large pullout map and PDF of the Thule continental map – Cost bundled with the book
  • A GM’s screen – $25
  • A large pullout map of the city, Quodeth – Cost bundled with the GM screen
  • Six player reference cards and PDFs – Cost bundled with the GM screen
  • A PDF of Primeval Thule 5e GM Companion – $7.95
  • A PDF of Primeval Thule 5e Players Companion – $7.95
  • A PDF of Primeval Thule 5e Red Chains adventure – $2.95
  • A PDF of Primeval Thule 5e Watchers of Meng adventure – $2.95
  • A PDF of Primeval Thule 5e Secrets of the Moon Door adventure – $2.95
  • A PDF of Primeval Thule 5e Night of the Yellow Moon adventure – $3.99
  • A PDF of Primeval Thule 5e The Lost Tower of Viondor adventure – $3.99
  • Total MSRP – $127.63

All great offerings but the sentences that opened lil’ Egg Embry’s wallet were:

  • “[Y]ou’ll be invited to name a dungeon, ruin, or adventure locale and provide a brief background or description which will serve as the basis for our development of that site. (The copyright to the name and description you provide will be held by Sasquatch Game Studio, LLC. We reserve the right to reject and/or applaud inappropriate, vulgar, or unsuitable suggestions.)”
  • Vanity press upcharge – $122.37
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This image from Primeval Thule page 126 pops for me!

Their reward – pay-to-play or, for my situation in the era of credit cards, swipe-to-write – fit my time budget and my love of D&D. Combined with Thule’s barbarian-nightmare setting, their first-rate production values, and, top of my Christmas wish list, my words and name in print, I saw a path to freelancing with Primevel Thule as the first step.

 

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The Mammoth Graveyard.

There is a valley where mammoths go to die. Centuries of their ivory wealth litters the ground in testament to its consecrated importance. Overlooking those graves is a primordial, decaying fortress built onto a godly-proportioned mammoth’s skull and ribs. The ruins whisper of lost treasures, violence, a dead god, and a plea to escape. But no one does…

 

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Sasquatch edited my submission, elevating it to Robert E. Howard-lite, and printed it as a sidebar within their 5e edition of Primeval Thule Campaign Setting. The process was effortless – pay, write then submit while professionals handle the editing. The books have been delivered, read, and greatly enjoyed. Vanity press RPG writer’s credit number one complete! On to number two…

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Thulean Cyclops from page 228

 

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Kickstarter information:

Primeval Thule: 5e Campaign Setting by Sasquatch Game Studio LLC
Raised: $52,811 starting July 16th, 2015

Primeval Thule: Pathfinder, 13th Age, and 4e Campaign Settings by Sasquatch Game Studio LLC
Raised: $75,232 starting July 2nd, 2013

 

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Egg Embry, Wanna-lancer

Egg Embry wrote comic book short stories, edited comic book series, wrote and drew a webcomic, and contributed to comic book journalism across the 2000s. Now, he buys the opportunity to write for a variety of tabletop role-playing games in the tradition of vanity press. His purchases have been published by:

 

  • Sasquatch Game Studio’s Primeval Thule for 5e (2015) available at DriveThruRPG.com