Sunday, January 12, 2014

Learning to POD

So blogging, huh? That's a thing I used to do :-)

Anyway, as I hope everyone knows by now, No Security is finally out. Go buy a copy...or fifty.

Since our company's PR philosophy is increasingly turning out to be "run through the minefield first and let everyone else watch," I thought I'd talk for a bit about adapting the No Security PDFs for print. I'm sure we'll eventually do a RPPR Game Designer's Workshop episode over this subject as well, but since our release schedule for that podcast is tied to the production of Red Markets, we are WAY off from talking about that.

Lesson #1: Don't ADAPT things for print when you can MAKE them for print

Not even counting correspondence with Ean via email, I must have spent 60 hours over the past few months over at Ross Payton's house trying to figure out how to make the PDFs into a book. My buddy was kind enough to work for food (mmmm...Freddy's), but without his years of experience in InDesign I'd have been completely screwed. Issues with the borders, the gutters, the bleeds, and the pagination came up in adapting the PDFs -- issues that would have never occurred if we'd designed for print in the first place. Many of the issues Ross hadn't even seen before, so a lot of our process was "What if we click this button this time? ...Nope. That causes the file to explode. Revert to backup and try again."

I don't regret starting with ransomed PDF's. Hell, we never reached the print stretch goal and just decided to do it anyway. But I have learned the hard way that it is infinitely easier to design for print from the start and make an electronic release later rather than the other way around.

Lesson #2: I am NOT a graphic designer

There's a reason graphic designers are paid money for what they do. I thought it was because they could perform the tasks of layout faster and with more style than a layman. I was wrong. They can do that, but they can also do it AT ALL, which is a bigger hurdle than I expected.

InDesign is the most baffling piece of software I've ever had the displeasure to work with (this is coming from a guy with training in AUTOCAD, a professional drafting software for mechanical engineers). No matter how simplistic, common, and necessary a command may be, InDesign seems determined to hide it in the least intuitive submenu-of-a-submenu possible.

I'm sure a lot of the struggle came from my lack of formal training and inexperience. I hope that one day I can get to the level of Ean and Ross: "Oh, you just need to quintingle the whatz-it! Just go to the flibberterfur menu, simultaneously hold down FQ and ^, then say "The swallow is separated from the flock" three times, and it's fixed!" But I'm definitely not there yet, and I shudder to think how much more time it will take to get there.

Which is why, whenever the next KS is ready to launch, I'm factoring a pro graphic designer into the budget. If I don't make enough money, I'll have no choice but to hack through the process myself, but I could write another book in the amount of time it takes me to figure out the simplest task in InDesign. I spent 7 HOURS one day trying to get the border to stop overlapping the page number on a single page. Take that inefficiency and spread it over the course of an entire book; there are few prices that wouldn't be worth avoiding that pain in the ass.

Lesson #3: Hire an editor

I knew this already. Your writing is never as good when it's produced in a vacuum. Certain errors are invisible to the author that made them. But between being an English teacher and the generous reviews performed by friends, I thought I had a pretty good handle on things. I did not.

I'd had enough time between completing the last scenario and putting the book together to see a LOT of errors I'd made in the PDFs (I'm embarrassed and sorry just thinking about it). I still attest that the quality was better than many others in the RPG industry in terms of clean prose, but I was nowhere near the professional quality I'd fooled myself into thinking I'd reached.

Again, I think I'll be trying to get the Red Markets KS to fund hiring a professional copy editor with a good turnover time. If we don't clear that much, I can do it myself and feel more comfortable than if I have to do layout on my own. But I realize now that it's going to seriously slow down production; I need to take more time to agonize over every word next time...especially since I don't plan on "soft releasing" as much as the material online next time around.

Lesson #4: You will not see the problems coming

Here's some pictures of the first proof copies I ordered:

Alright! The B+W and the color versions are looking comparable despite coming from different print houses. Things are looking good so far.

Okay: here's some of those editing issues I missed in the PDF's. The page number isn't bolded where it needs to be, and the spacing is inconsistent with the rest of the book. I can fix that.


No, seriously. Stop. This isn't funny anymore.

The mysterious let's-just-black-out-entire-pages-of-text problem took the better part of a week to figure out. And in fixing it, I caused a whole slew of issues involving the gutters and borders that took another week to figure out. Keep in mind that this was just an issue with the color version, not the B+W. That version had it's own set of problems.

Writing and art can be hard. Sometimes inspiration doesn't come like it should and slogging your way past it doesn't work like you hope. Day job concerns start intruding and production starts falling behind. But those instances are rarer than this kind of finicky technical crap. It's my feeling that messing around with this annoying nonsense is what makes so many books in the RPG industry late. It certainly held me back more than anything else.

Lesson #5: Using multiple POD services sucks, but it might be worth it

I have two versions of No Security. The color version is through DTRPG and their printer: Lightning Source. The B+W version is through CreateSpace. Color runs for $20 and B+W runs for $15.99. 

Both companies have different requirements for printing. That means I was essentially building two different book files, each meeting different technical specs for the interior and cover image. This was an enormous pain, and a lot of people have been asking me why I did it this way.

Well, my first concern was experimentation. I'd seen good sales with DTRPG but never used their print option before. Meanwhile, CreateSpace blows away their price per book (sometimes by as much as 60% cheaper, depending on the publication's specs). Furthermore, Ross was very familiar with CreateSpace and knew nothing about how Lightning Source operated. Since he was my only real mentor through the process, I had to play to his strengths. I thought by using two houses I could basically shop around and find out which one I wanted to use exclusively for Red Markets. 

But I may end up splitting between two houses again in the future. My CreateSpace version isn't doing very well in sales, and it's association with Amazon means that I lose a bigger cut than I do from DTRPG. However, that Amazon money means international shipping goes down by about $25 for anybody buying the book in Europe. International shipping is the biggest bane facing KS products today, and since CreateSpace's massive infrastructure means they can print across the pond rather than shipping there, I think it's a good way to offer international rewards in a KS when so many other projects are having to charge a $30 "you're foreign" tax or leave out international backers altogether.

If it can get more international backers on board for the KS, I'll probably adapt book files to multiple POD houses in the future. It's a huge pain, but if it clears me enough extra start up cash to hire a full-time layout person, then it's their problem. I can keep productivity up on my end with the writing/promotion side of things, and we'll just end up making more sales in the long run.

So how is it doing?

Not bad. Not great. As of the moment I write this, I've sold 15 copies on DTRPG and 2 on CreateSpace in about a week. That's 17 towards the magic 70 we need to break even on costs. As I said in this post, we need twice that to fund the initial art for the next KS. With the PWYW scenarios still pulling in some money, the 4 copies I sold to a local gamestore, and some convention appearances (hopefully), I'm confident the book will still prove to be worthwhile financially as well as in terms of experience. But I don't think it's going to fund the upfront costs of a Red Markets campaign. It looks like I'm going to need to find a better day job before then.

Hooray... I get to write out my address again because
you disabled copy + paste on your "e-application." Oh joy.

In Conclusion...

So that's the state of Hebanon Games in this post-book-release world. 

In other news, I'm about halfway done with the alpha playtest rules for Red Markets. Once I finish this temp gig I'm currently working until the end of January, I'll be nose to the grindstone until I finish the first campaign book for Arc Dream's Better Angels (it's about half-way done already). Then, assuming status quo is maintained, we should be ass-deep in playtesting and writing Red Markets, recording RPPR Game Designer's Workshop episodes, and designing a KS campaign. Finally, God and finances willing, I'll be headed to GenCon with the RPPR and IGDN crews, building another year's worth of things to do.


  1. From the side of a graphic designer working on book products, I feel your pain.

  2. Within some other information, Now i'm about midway carried out with the actual leader playtest guidelines with regard to Red-colored Areas. When i conclude this kind of temp gig Now i'm presently functioning until the end associated with Jan.
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