Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Tale of Courageous Hobbits and Dead Wives

Back from Oulu. Took the scenic route on the return trip, so it was over 10 hours in the car.

Apparently a lot happened while I was gone. Swords & Wizardry placed in the Ennies, which is good for them, good for all of us, and good for me as long as everyone remembers LotFP releases are fully compatible with that game. :D

But right now, as I'm supposed to be processing a couple orders that came in over the weekend and preparing the package for the Official Finland vendor for LotFP (anyone else want to step forward for other countries?), I have a little tale to tell about No Dignity in Death: The Three Brides.

I never really wanted to be a full-time publisher. Or should I say, I really didn't intend to put in the work necessary to be one. I was happy putting out my one or two projects a year, available from just my own site, hoping that maybe one or another project would get "picked up" again by a bigger outfit, and being happy with my contributions that way.

... but Brave Halfling Publishing had made it known that they were accepting submissions and getting my name in print in different places was for some reason appealing. An email confirmed BHP was interested in publishing some of my work.

So I looked through what I had in my folder ready to go. First I was going to do one of my puzzle dungeons I'd annoyed my players with sometime back. I hit a wall when writing the actual manuscript (my adventure notes aren't much to look at and would require telepathy to understand as-is). I just wasn't feeling it. So what else did I have in my folder?

"Dead bride. Dead bride. Dying bride." I came up with a few ideas to combine those all into one adventure, and I made a few artwork thumbnails to show the visual presentation I had in mind. BHP was using a "B&W... and red" cover format for their "original edition" releases, and so I did my cover concept in that style. And I submitted it. John (Boss Halfling) liked the idea, so I went about writing the actual thing, and a couple drafts later had something I thought was ready.

My reasoning for seeking an outside publisher:

  1. I really didn't want to deal with getting artwork. Laura hadn't completed the Insect Shrine artwork at this point, and it had been almost 9 months. Every other artist I'd dealt with had either declined a further project or simply disappeared after agreeing to work for me. I thought gathering art for another project would take another year and I didn't want the stress. Not to mention making the maps...
  2. I'm horrible at selling. At least I was at that point. The original Creature Generator did a little over 20 copies, FFV did half that. Green Devil Face was still in the future at this point.
  3. As a Serious Publisher, BHP would get its releases into places that I, as amateur publisher, couldn't.
  4. I was hoping that as a publisher, BHP would perform some hard-core editing duties on my work.

Of course, what I really wanted was for someone to release the thing exactly the way I wanted it released, just without my doing any of the grunt work. After sending exacting art specs and distribution demands and blah blah blah, John let me know that perhaps I'm expecting too much and that it "wasn't the right time" for our collaboration.

I'd already released Green Devil Face by this time this happened (and proving I was capable of sales), and had already announced (and started work on) Death Frost Doom.

Since Death Frost Doom art was already commissioned (and being completed much faster since I told Laura that she didn't need to use that huge A3 paper for the original pieces), I decided to complete and release that first.

But since I was taking No Dignity in Death back in-house and was going to do all the stuff I didn't want to do in the first place, I decided that maybe I should just go all the way with it and do it right. Or at least as right as I was capable of.

As Death Frost Doom was completed, I looked into registering as an official business. Then I found out about the government subsidy for new full-time businesses. In preparing my presentations to convince the caseworkers about my business plan, I convinced myself it was possible (probable is a different story of course).

That was all eventually approved. I was open for business, and things have been going well. Death Frost Doom is in the three-figure sales figures (barely, but it is there) after less than a month in release. It caused a big splash at Noble Knight (I was told that the original shipment to them was expected to take months to sell out). I have two new books plus another Green Devil Face that will be officially released as soon as the post office delivers the big package to Janesville, WI. I'll be finishing the deal for that second Official National Vendor (as I mentioned above) this week, and I really hope their order ends up selling out astonishly fast as well. If I can build a distribution network like that, vendor by vendor, country by country, I may sell numbers so small any "real" publisher would cry and cancel the line immediately, but it just might be enough that I can still do this full-time even when my subsidy ends.

And I have three more projects fully conceptualized and ready to knock out, and in one case, almost totally complete already. And plenty more ideas for what to do after those are done, just waiting to be filtered and fiddled with to determine what's good enough and what's not.

I like my chances.

And now Brave Halfling is preparing for proper distribution supporting games from larger publishers. I like their chances too.

I can't be all dramatic and say "BHP rejected me and thus inspired me to start up a real publishing company just to show 'em," but I can say that if they had accepted No Dignity in Death with all the conditions and demands I had attached to it, Death Frost Doom would never have been at Noble Knight, I'd probably be charting my follow-up release for sometime early next year, and I'd still be applying for "dumb-shit-foreigner-can't-speak-the-language" level jobs.

It's really funny. No Dignity in Death was written first, and as I readied Death Frost Doom for release I was terrified that it was going to be seen as an ordinary dungeon crawl, and I didn't want to be pigeonholed that way, and it was a shame NDiD wasn't coming out first so people could see how wild my ideas were before going into the DFD dungeon.

Now that Death Frost Doom has gotten reviews beyond anything I ever could have hoped (I've gotten some nice emails and IMs beyond what I've linked as reviews), is selling steadily and well, and now that the review copies for the next releases are arriving, I'm terrified that No Dignity in Death and People of Pembrooktonshire are going to be incredible disappointments to people. We'll see.

It's going to be a wild ride, and it's only just begun.


  1. James, very exciting times. I'm going to order both modules from Noble Knight just as soon as they're available. In fact, I'm thinking about using Death Frost Doom as the first or second adventure for some players who have never role-played before. I think it will be quite an education.

  2. All I can say James is keep on keeping on, you're doing a great job and punching well above your weight. I look forward to each new product you release.

  3. Don't worry about letting people down James. Do what you want to do and enjoy. Sorry I couldn't get to game with you at RopeCon, but your games filled up faster than the sign-up sheet for a pie eating contest in a room full of fat men.