Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Putting Together Green Devil Face

As of 10:20pm (about 31 hours after they've gone on sale), I have sold 15 copies of Green Devil Face #1 and 18 copies of Green Devil Face #2. There are 5 contributor copies that need to go out as well. All of those are in envelopes and will be mailed first thing in the morning.

But how do we get from concept to mailing?

Step 1: Writing
The contributors and I first must write our material. Here is a close-up of the monitor at Command Center Theta, featuring one of my contributions to Green Devil Face #2, written in Microsoft Word. It must be said that the writing is the most important part of the whole thing, but it's also the easiest. It's all work from here.

Since I don't have pictures to show you, I'll just say Proofreading is step 1A and layout is step 1B. I hand the manuscript off to Maria to look over for any errors. I do all my layouts in Word, which gives a less than pro, but more than satisfactory result. I wouldn't do fancy layouts even if I had the expertise, and the even spacing of words across a line has never seemed a big deal to me... then again, I've been used to reading oddly laid-out music zines for years. I do have InDesign, but hell if I know how it works.

Step 2: The PDF
This is an easy step. I convert my finished Word file to a PDF. I have an ancient version of Adobe (6.something, I think) but it works decently. I use this to print out my booklets.

Step 3: The Printing
I have a piece of crap inkjet printer, which as I've learned over the past two days is completely inadequate for my current needs. My miscalculation on the per-page cost of printing is why I need to scoot up the price tonight. I went through 4 cartridges to get the orders ready. But even if it was cheap and efficient, it's slow. Printing out the 38 booklets, that's 540 A4 sides, effectively took all day (especially since I had to manually turn the pages over to do double-sided printing). I swear that thing only prints 2, maybe 3 pages a minute.

I've gone to an office supply store and talked to a salesman and figured out I need a nice cozy laser printer. 92€ plus 60€ for the cartridge, and it claims that it will print 2500 sheets on one cartridge at a speed of 18 pages a minute. I've currently got some limited edition CDs that I never listen to and have only kept because they're limited edition (like a frickin Rhapsody CD with pop-up monsters in the packaging) that are going up for auction in hopes of raising 150€ quickly.

Once I fix my printer issues, this entire process will be much more pleasant. And a lot faster. And much, much cheaper.

Step 4: Binding
While in Stockholm last month, we found this long stapler for 11€. We'd seen prices approaching 100€ for them here in Finland (which makes no sense at all), so we snatched it up. It works great, and is the single most important thing that allows me to make booklets at home.

Step 5: Trimming
When you fold a pile of paper, the outside edge is uneven. We're using a rotary cutter, which used to be used for Maria's sewing projects, to even out the edges. I also priced proper paper cutters (and at one point bought a cheapy crap-o doesn't-work one), but they approach 200€. Way later for that, as this works just fine.

Step 6: Crushing
OK, not crushing. But to make sure these things lay flat, we put them under the Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language for awhile. This picture is lame since I only thought to document the process when we had a final few left to make for the current orders. You should have seen the stack under there early in the day!

I keep alternating between saying "I" and "we." I do have to say that Maria is a saint. She was all excited watching me beam over the orders coming in steadily yesterday, and watching me freak out as I discovered the flaws in my plans today and offering to help out with many things.

Step 7: Stuffing the Envelope
This one also has a number of sub-steps that I don't have pictures of. When each order comes in, I enter it into my accounting database, and then I address the envelope by hand. I actually don't mind putting your addresses on these envelopes (although I'm sure the postal workers who have to decipher my handwriting wish I'd print the labels). It's putting my return address on all the envelopes that wears me down. At least I don't live in Britain. Have you seen what those addresses look like?

The final step, here at home anyway, is to lick the envelope. I went for the cheapest bulk envelopes I could find, and they are the old fashioned kind requiring some slobber to fasten. Yes, that's right, you get a free DNA sample with every purchase!

And tomorrow morning, mailing.

Now I know that it sounds like I'm complaining a lot, but I'm only really cranky about the printer. I really like this entire process. It probably would be saner to take it down to the local print shop to do, but I did that for Fantasy Fucking Vietnam, and it sold less than 10 copies. Can you say, "Bad marketing," boys and girls? Sure you can.

But I expect GDF has had its biggest single day, maybe if somebody gives it a glowing review I'll have another bump. And of course when future issues are released, that'll trigger some back issue sales as well. (...but I'll have a faster and cheaper and better printer by then... right, bidders?) But no crazy days like today outside of release days. I expect a long tail for these things, but I'm just a lunatic with a blog so only a clever few are going to pounce on the announcement immediately. No reason to have a big box full of stuff in the closet, especially when I'm not yet sure anybody gives a shit. If there's a steady string of releases that have sufficient interest, I'll start having the local Multiprint do all the printing work for me. (I can imagine selling a hundred or two of a release someday, but not enough to warrant a "real" print run, so yeah, Multiprint...)

But GDF is a community project and while I'll adjust prices accordingly to keep myself from losing money, I'm happy to do all this work at no real profit. However, I do have two smaller modules (Death Frost Doom, and, tentatively, For the Glory of St. McIver) I want to have out before a month goes by, both to be released using the method desribed in this blog. You'll forgive me if I want to make a few coins off of those (including that margin I talked about earlier that would make it possible for online vendors to pick it up), both for the effort put into them and for the gaming utility I fully intend them to provide, as well as to raise funds to get Insect Shrine paid off and out the door as well. Once those two modules are out and I have a little catalog to my name, I'll get set up at a pdf vendor or two and give that its proper attention.

I believe in print. Let's see where this goes.


  1. It's a secret thrill to get something put together by hand - and even more cool to see the process. Thanks for sharing that!

  2. Cool, informative post. Could you post a side view of that rotary cutter? I could use something like that.

  3. That is so cool. My geekiness for stationery and these sorts of projects predates D&D, I think, but damn if it isn't so much more fun to use a computer to make up for my lack of any real talent!!! I am inspired now...I may use Lulu to print a Gazetteer for my own campaign world, not so any one buys it, but so I can buy it for myself!

  4. Awesome post, and it's quite similar to what I go through to make copies of Supplement V: CARCOSA.

    My problem is with staplers. I can find staplers that are long enough to do the job, but aren't powerful enough to get through all the paper. On the other hand, I can find staplers that are powerful enough to get through all the paper, but aren't long enough to reach the spine.

    I seem to remember finding one that was both long and strong enough, but cost well over $100. That's insane.

  5. Have you priced this at a little walk-in print shop like Kinkos or some Kinkos equivalent?

    The big modern copiers can spit out fully finished stapled booklets like this, all day long.

  6. >>Have you priced this at a little walk-in print shop like Kinkos or some Kinkos equivalent?

    That's the Multiprint I was speaking of at the end. It's murder on a per-copy basis unless they're done in bulk, 100 to 200 copies depending on how thick the thing is.

  7. Back in my fanzine days, I had a friend who worked night shift at a print shop. We were midnight fanzine colluders for a while. Sadly, very few are interested in this sort of craft anymore (aside from scrap-booking grandmas).

  8. Jeff, check this link. That's about what I use. Note that using it for paper ruins it for fabric cutting. Luckily Maria's was old and in need of replacement so I get to use it.

    Everything's in the post so between 5-14 days customers can tell me whether the results were as good as I think they were. :)

  9. Thanks for sharing this, James. What type of paper did you end up using for the covers?

  10. 160g weight paper (normal printing paper is 80g, for comparison).

  11. Great post! Its awesome to see some DIY old-school printing; thanks for showing us the steps involved, it definitely makes this less intimidating for those of us considering doing the same.

  12. It's one reason why I wish more people would print their own stuff (maybe not hand-assembled...) and report on their methods and their results... so other people can learn from their successes and their mistakes.

  13. For stapling, you might try using a stapler that swings fully open. Put the paper over something relatively soft but firm (like styrofoam) and push the staple through the paper. Then, use a pen or whatever to bend the staple into final shape. I've used this method beofre and it works just fine.

  14. OK, you inspired me! I decided to print and make booklets of the Old School Encounters Reference and the Old School Monster Stat Block Reference. I am defintely old school when it comes to paper over PDFs! Although I use my computer a LOT for most everything game related, everything eventually goes to paper.

    FYI, these are a pain since they are so thick! My poor swingline stapler is not happy with me!

  15. Now to inspire you to make something of your own. :D

  16. Oh, I have quite the pile of material already. I have been toying with shopping around one of my recent dungeons...very Vikingish. Then there's my megadungeon...three levels done, many more to go!