What's a Freelance RPG Writer Worth?

Freelance writers (as opposed to those on salary) tend to be paid per word. The rate varies from publisher to publisher, and on how experienced the writer is. Ed Greenwood, for example, can command a much higher rate than a new writer can. Obviously only you, the freelancer, can decide what your labour is worth - and if you're an experienced freelancer you probably already have a pretty solid idea what that figure is. But if you're a new writer, you may be a little lost. In this article, which I'll continue to update with new information, I'll tell you what rate a new writer can expect from various publishers.

[Note - this article will continue to be updated and tweaked; folks are suggesting excellent advice to include, so it's worth checking back]. Using publisher submission information on their official websites, and publishers advertising for writers I have compiled the below list. In some cases, publishers have kindly volunteered the information; thank you! At the moment, it's a bit sparse; but I hope it will grow. New writers can use this page to help them determine their own value and check out publishers that interest them. I don't want to tell you what to charge for your writing services, or what to pay freelancers, but hopefully the information here will help - a little bit - in making an informed decision. You can click through to apply for opportunities that interest you.

Advice: Here are a few things to be wary of. They don't have to be dealbreakers, they aren't necessarily bad, and you may well be OK with them, but you should be aware of them. This applies to new writers (and artists, for that matter).

  • If you're doing work for somebody, and you're not being paid, you are being exploited. (Doing work for somebody is different to doing work with somebody). Volunteer work obviously falls outside this category, but volunteer work should clearly be volunteer work, not work paid in "exposure" (see below).
  • Never work for the promise of "exposure", or for "experience". You should work for money. This is a common tactic, and is often puffed up with nice language, but it is exploitation and you should look out for it.
  • Also be wary of jobs offering payment solely in royalties (or a percentage), unless the company has a verifiable track record of good sales - and they should be able to provide you with solid figures. Do not be afraid to ask for these figures; they're asking you to trust them and take a risk by working for royalties only, and if they refuse you those figures you should proceed with caution. That doesn't mean you shouldn't do it, but do it carefully. Royalties on top of a fair rate is perfectly reasonable.
  • Be wary of contests which grant the copyright of your work to the company; that's often a way of getting people to work for free. Look for contests which allow you to keep the rights to your work, or which will pay you if they publish your work. There is a caveat to this -- it's reasonable for companies to protect themselves from future claims of similar development to past contest entries, but, as Paizo's Erik Mona says, even then "If we publish it, we pay for it. Period."
  • Look at what's being sold. "Work for hire" means the publisher owns the output completely. Other options include "first publication" (in which you retain ownership but the publisher gets to publish it first) and non-exclusive licenses. All of these are OK, but the last two are worth more to you than the former, and may make a lower per-word rate more palatable. If you're writing for an existing setting, keeping the rights to your work is far less valuable to you, because you're unlikely to be able to re-use it (you're not going to be able to re-use material about Drizzt or Yoda, for example). Be wary of work-for-hire combined with a low per-word rate.
  • Be wary of pay-on-publication work. That means a publisher can shelve your work and never pay you for it. Take pay-on-acceptance work. Some publishers will portray their policy of paying-on-acceptance as a beneficent act: it's not; it's the baseline you should expect. That said, it's OK if the payment doesn't come instantly, as most publishers do their payments en masse on a periodical basis - but make sure you know when to expect it.
  • Don't do "audition work" for free. You should be paid for that, too, although it is fair that that be at a lower rate. Game designer Ryan Macklin has a good article about this.
  • If you re-use Open Gaming Content, it is reasonable for the publisher not to pay you for those words.
  • If it's not in the contract, ask how stat blocks are paid.
  • Finally, don't work in exchange for product.
  • Remember, it's OK if a company can't afford you. There's things that all of us can't afford! And also remember that it's very, very difficult to make a living freelancing for RPGs. Some people manage it, but it's not easy!

Please feel free to send corrections or additional information.

The below list shows the rates I've been able to find published online for new writers.

This is just starting rates only. Experienced writers will already know what rates they usually get, and already have relationships with various companies, so they don't really need the information below. If there's an asterisk, then I've been able to confirm that the company in question pays experienced writers more, but it's generally safe to assume that these minimum rates are increased depending on the writer.

I've included links where I can so that you can apply to the companies that interest you.

Publisher
Rate/word for new writers
Notes
Paizo Publishing$0.07*
Wizards of the Coast$0.06*Freelance articles for D&D Insider; other writers work on salary
Pinnacle Entertainment Group$0.06*"Higher for some folks, plus a % of any crowd funding we do if they're one of the principle creators."
Evil Hat Productions$0.05
Atlas Games$0.05
Steve Jackson Games (Pyramid / GURPs PDFs)$0.04 (Pyramid) or royalties (GURPs)After publication. "Pyramid pays 4 cents a word, shortly after the article appears in final form in our PDF"; "...our base royalty is 25% of the cover price (this can go up for authors with a strong reputation that helps sell books, and can go down for inexperienced authors or those requiring very heavy edits)."
Vorpal Games$0.04
Posthuman Studios$0.04
Pelgrane Press$0.03*
Goodman Games$0.03Link is to Level Up magazine submissions; other submission calls have the same figure
EN Publishing$0.03*
Drop Dead Studios$0.025
Fat Goblin Games$0.02
Dreamscarred Press$0.02
Purple Duck Games$0.01*
Frog God Games$0.01*
Kobold Press$0.01 - $0.06"...strict minimum of 1 cent per word... Our rates for established, proven freelancers vary from 2 to 6 cents/word."
Bards & Sages$0.0125% on acceptance, rest on publication
Rite Publishing$0.01*Rates go as high as $0.11.
Raging Swan Press$0.01
Open Gaming Monthly$0.01"If your submission IS selected, you will receive 1 cent per word for your first published work. If your work requires very little editing (fixing typos, fixing grammatical errors etc.) then that will likely be increased to 2 cents per word. If your work receives great reviews and we use your work in future issues or products, you'll receive 3 cents per word in those future products."
Obatron Productions<$0.01Savage Insider; Word Count: 2,000 – 5,600 | $15 – $35
LPJ Design$0.005* (half a cent)Up to $0.02 with experience
Rogue Genius Pressroyalties only
Ephemeric RPGroyalties only$1.00 for every PDF or e-book that is ordered

What the Publishers Said


Discussing this subject with numerous writers and publishers turned into a fairly lively debate. Some of the statements made clearly illustrated why it's important that writers make themselves informed. Louis J Porter of LPJ Design says that "You kind find was to save money at the beginning that pays off very well in the long run [sic]" and that "Do I think I could get to a point were I make $10K month doing this, Oh Hell Yes!"

The way LPJ Design finds ways to save money in order to make $10K a month is to pay writers half a cent per word. As he says "if you are a first time writer never have sold ANYTHING to ANYONE, sorry you bring no value to my company... You guys sound like the college grad who wants to get paid $50K for just showing up. LOL!" I found myself very uncomfortable with Porter's language; he later said to one writer "You can die from exposure. Just prove to me why I should pay you more? You do that, you get paid better." and to that writer he later said "And there is the problem, you think this is an equal relationship. It isn't."

That said, the same company's calls for freelancers on various RPG forums take a different tone: "So if you are interested and not sure you think you can be good at this, I will just say, don't miss out on your dreams because you are afraid to go after them...It is your job to loose."

I can't help but feel that "I can't afford writers" isn't an great reason to underpay writers. It's OK to not be able to afford something but the solution is to find some other way to afford it, or accept that you can't afford it. Many small publishers have addressed this issue by using services like Kickstarter, Patreon, and others, which are great alternative models, although not for everyone. Erik Mona asked about products with margins so low that $160 is too much (assuming a 10-page PDF at $0.02 per word) "Does it make sense to put effort into projects that garner so little interest from the paying public that they require shennanigans like that? Is $80 a fair wage for what amounts to 4 days of work?"

And, definitely, the majority of small publishers do not intend to consciously underpay anybody. It would be unfair to point at a bunch of publishers and chastise them for being exploitative, and many tiny publishers can really only afford $0.01 per word (although James Ward observed "At $.01 a word you get what you pay for.") As Raging Swan Press' Creighton Broadhurst (who is a very small publisher and pays $0.01 per word) said, "If I thought I was exploiting people, I would stop doing what I do. But I don't think I am as I'm forcing no one to work with me." And I myself know what it is to be a tiny publisher with incredibly low sales, so I can certainly empathize with that position -- most micro-publishers are run by decent people paying what they can afford.

I have no idea where the line lies, though personally I feel uncomfortable these days offering anybody less than $0.03 per word (I have in the past), and wouldn't consider paying $0.01 per word. But that's just what I choose to do. Most writers I've spoken to agree that 2,000 publishable words per day is a fairly reasonable rate. As game designer Rich Baker observed, "It's hard to knock down 2000 word days, day in, day out. That's an honest 8 hours of work. At $0.05 per word, you'd be making $12.50 an hour... I am frankly appalled at the idea that someone might pay (or take) $0.01 a word in the 21st century. That's saying a writer is worth $2.50 an hour." Paizo's Erik Mona feels that "1 cent a word is not "bordering on exploitative." It is exploitative FULL STOP."

[As a side note, using Rich Baker's estimate of 2,000 words per 8 hour day, that works out to $10 per day at half a cent per word, $20 per day at $0.01, $40 per day at $0.02, $60 per day at $0.03, $80 per day at $0.04, $100 per day at $0.05, $120 per day at $0.06, and $140 per day at $0.07.]

With luck, this article should give writers some of the the information they need to inform themselves when considering freelancing, and ensure that the relationship is an equal relationship. I'll keep the table above updated as best I can, and folks can make their own decisions. Please do feel free to correct inaccurate figures or provide additional information! Also, if you're a freelancer, feel free to share rates (don't break any NDAs, though!)


[video=youtube;mj5IV23g-fE]https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&amp;v=mj5IV23g-fE[/video]
 
Russ Morrissey

Comments

knottyprof

Visitor
I'd find a qualified disagreement with this.

If you are able to write good RPG material, and you wish to maximize your financial return from that, I think you will do so by embracing self-publishing for at least the initial part of your career. I don't know how you'd grade 'properly', but if you want to publish profitably... well, yes, just about anybody with a pulse can do that. The profit will be measured in a half-dozen McDonalds Extra Value Meals and will work out at about 23 cents an hour, but anybody capable of using a word processor's "print to PDF" function can get a few nibbles off DTRPG. Use Scribus, download free art, grab free templates and guides, and almost anyone of de minimis technical competence and a few months of determined practice can put together a not-unendurable PDF product.

And to be candid, as sad as these profits are, they are likely superior to anything they're going to earn at 1 or 2 cents a word from a publisher. More importantly, they are the beginning of a years-long apprenticeship on how to publish and produce your own material, an apprenticeship provided by a cruelly uncaring market and a pitiless audience. It requires the development of numerous new skills and the cultivation of labor that an author might have absolutely no talent for- but it's cheap. It's very cheap. It requires only the investment of effort and discipline, and if you haven't got either of those, well, you're not likely to become much of a writer anyway.
I agree whole-heartedly with this. Even if you have to put some free stuff out there (which I have quite a bit), people will take because of that fact. Just don't be disappointment when numbers for free stuff doesn't = real sales numbers. Honestly I get about 1 in 10 $ sale versus free download (amazing how many people thing Pay What you Want means 0 and for those that do give the publisher something for their PWYW title God Bless You). Again, we are talking about exposure and a staple of samples of your work for other publishers to look at.

Honestly, unless you are living with someone that can support your life style, odds are you will have to have another source of income for a while if and when a career can be made out of game design writing (unless you can get into Wizards, Paizo, or other power house publisher). I'm sorry but .01 a word won't support anyone in today's market (at least not in the US). For 2,000 words that would come to $20. If you can do 50 words a minute and know exactly what you are writing (no actual design or development time), you are talking about 40 minutes of writing time. However, you got to figure at least twice that for actually developing the idea (if not a lot more). So from concept to finished (just written) product you probably won't be making more than $10 an hour if you are lucky. These are just some numbers I am throwing out for example and I am sure some can probably produce a lot more and many will produce a lot less in an hour and the numbers given do not even assume an average, just something to consider.

I produce products that have one to three pages of actual content and charge about a dollar each and even with basic layout, development, and writing most of those take me about 8 hours. So even if I sell 20 or so the hourly breakdown does not make it worth while as an actual career at this point. Does it make me feel good when I actually sell items? Hell yeah!!! But freelance writers (unless they are well established) should have no delusions about having a full time career they can retire from.

Just my .01 cents worth (or $3.90 at .01 per word :)).
 
I'd find a qualified disagreement with this.

If you are able to write good RPG material, and you wish to maximize your financial return from that, I think you will do so by embracing self-publishing for at least the initial part of your career. I don't know how you'd grade 'properly', but if you want to publish profitably... well, yes, just about anybody with a pulse can do that. The profit will be measured in a half-dozen McDonalds Extra Value Meals and will work out at about 23 cents an hour, but anybody capable of using a word processor's "print to PDF" function can get a few nibbles off DTRPG.
Incorrect.

Making a sale and getting money back is not "profit." "Profit" is the point where incoming money surpasses outbound. As I said, the idea that "just about anybody with a pulse can do that" is a false one. Sure, just about anyone who can put a product together can SELL a few copies of it, at least (but not always), but it doesn't mean they'll make a PROFIT doing so. And when I talk about "outbound" expenses, I'm talking about spending time actually doing the work instead of, for example, spending that time doing freelance writing for any number of FAR more lucrative industries.

The fact that many people, yourself included, don't differentiate between profit and being able to make a sale is part of the misconceptions I initially referred to.

Use Scribus, download free art, grab free templates and guides, and almost anyone of de minimis technical competence and a few months of determined practice can put together a not-unendurable PDF product.
And yet soooooooooooooooo many people who think as you do put out absolutely horrible product that never reaches a state of profitability.

And to be candid, as sad as these profits are, they are likely superior to anything they're going to earn at 1 or 2 cents a word from a publisher.
Not necessarily.

Let's say you're a guy who makes lots of homebrew stuff for his games, and all your friends say "why don't you try selling it!" So, you pitch some ideas around, apply to some freelance job ads, but nothing ever really seems to take off for you at a rate of return you feel is fair. So, "screw it! How hard can it be?" you say to yourself, and you jump right in using desktop publishing. After all, you've got great ideas and a pulse! Surely you can do better on your own, right?

Well, as it turns out ...

... it takes more to putting together an appealing, useful product than knowing how to use Word, buy stock art, and figure out the technical functions of a layout program. Stuff like branding, marketing, and aesthetics matter. So does an actual ability to write for your market. As another kick in the head, publishing actually involves a bunch of legal mumbo-jumbo that fits into a realm of law that is also one of the most misunderstood. Great ideas and knowing how to satisfy a free online community that downloads your creations from your personal website is not quite the same as knowing how to put something together, beyond the technical aspects, that people will pay for. (Even being a successful and experienced freelance writer is a far cry from this.)

So, you jump in with both feet and put out product that has all sorts of issues that you didn't account for because you've no experience writing for a publisher, let alone BEING that publisher. After all, as a freelancer you just write what and how you are told -- if you're lucky, you've got a style guide to work with that may shed some light on the particulars. And since you only get one chance to make a first impression, and you've done so to a market you've not already established a foothold in, you've just stuck both feet into something else. Something that doesn't smell so nice. If you're lucky, the potential customer base will give you a second (and likely third, fourth, and fifth) shot while you work out the bugs in your writing, production, and marketing. But perhaps they won't. What's worse is the fact that, as a freelancer, you would have been paid and moved on to something else days, weeks, or even months ago, but because you published it yourself, you've invested all this extra time (and thus cost) into the product that just takes a deeper bite. The fact that this additional expense doesn't show up on an invoice or pay stub doesn't mean it's not there.

Quite simply, no. No, publishing for yourself does not necessarily mean one is likely to get a superior rate of return versus freelancing. Not even remotely.

By way of example: a freelancer who has a working relationship with an established publisher they trust with an equally established customer base who works SOLELY on fair royalty rates is likely to earn a hell of a lot more for the same product than either a freelancer working at a low pay rate or who decides to publish it themselves. Still, even the one who works for a low rate is, given the odds of success in this industry, more likely to be better off working for a lower pay rate as a freelancer than they are self-publishing from a position of inexperience.

More importantly, they are the beginning of a years-long apprenticeship on how to publish and produce your own material, an apprenticeship provided by a cruelly uncaring market and a pitiless audience.
During which time you're quite possibly not earning any profit to account for the expenses your learning process is eating up.

It requires the development of numerous new skills and the cultivation of labor that an author might have absolutely no talent for- but it's cheap. It's very cheap.
It is NOT cheap.

Time is money.

Learning how to successfully publish to the point of profitability is a massive time eater. That means it's a massive eater of profitability.

If you break down the hourly rate it takes me to write and publish a RPG product compared to the $100 I can make writing a single 1,000 word blog as a professional web content writer, you see how Misfit Studios eats away at my overall profitability as a writer. And that is considering Misfit Studios is a successful and profitable (and by this, I'll clarify, I mean by comparing expenses to income) small press RPG company that has been around for more than a decade and has a large, established market.

Just how many of those benefits do you think new publishers without experience or, frankly, the know-how, going in are going to enjoy? Do you think they can all afford to turn down more profitable options in other industries to wait on fulfilling their RPG industry dreams?

Honestly?

It requires only the investment of effort and discipline, and if you haven't got either of those, well, you're not likely to become much of a writer anyway.
Again, another common misconception.

Some people, no matter how much time and discipline they show, will never become writers able to function at a professional level, no matter how good their ideas are or how much their gaming group enjoys their creations, let alone successful publishers. Whether they lack talent or the insight to foresee the right sort of product the market will bite onto (or any number of other things that can go wrong), it takes a LOT more to get by as a writer or publisher than just time and discipline.

Far more people try to make it as publishers than there are those who succeed, and the same goes for people who feel they have what it takes to become freelance RPG writers. (And by "far more," I feel comfortable qualifying that by adding "exponentially.") The amount of publishers who are successful enough to earn a living wage are even more rare -- they are the honest politicians of the RPG industry.
 
Incorrect.

Making a sale and getting money back is not "profit." "Profit" is the point where incoming money surpasses outbound. As I said, the idea that "just about anybody with a pulse can do that" is a false one.
Well, no. Suffice that I am very well aware of the difference between sales and profits and the definition of an opportunity cost. And yes, I reiterate that, strictly speaking, you can and will make a profit producing self-published RPG material, provided that you A) do so with a mind for economy and the use of free resources and B) are resolved to write RPG material instead of taking a more remunerative fry shift at McDonalds.

The analysis starts with the assumption that you want to write RPG material, and I don't think it's relevant or pertinent to bring in alternative means of earning money. The point is that you want to write RPGs and are weighing the alternatives between seeking paying freelance work and going into self-publishing, so those are the two alternatives to weigh. It is also assumed that you are capable of writing good RPG material, as if you lack this qualification it doesn't matter which choice you make, you're not going to earn anything consequential on it, though you will make a few bucks on DTRPG before people realize you're hopeless.

Conversely, trying to freelance... well, how many freelancers here can get all the work they have time and energy to do? At any price? Assuming that an aspiring and competent RPG writer can simply decide to work all they like at two cents a word is to assume facts not in evidence.

Given these assumptions- that you are going to write RPG materials instead of Mechanical Turking, that you are capable of writing halfway-decently, that you are using free tools and resources- then yes, categorically, you will make a profit in self-publishing. It will be a tiny profit at first, but through years of determined effort and unflagging labor, it can become something much more consequential.
 

knottyprof

Visitor
I think that is the whole point the article is trying to make, a freelance writer isn't something for the faint of heart. And I agree that Sales does not equal profit compared to the time spent actually making something. Either you have the passion and willingness to spend the time knowing that your final reward may be your passion for it more than actual $$$ earned. And whether your products are good or not consumers seem to let you know (either by lack of sales or for those not happy with the product a bad review). Point is that if you want to freelance, there are market models such as DriveThruRPG where you at least have the opportunity to give it a try.

Jeremy's posts about what he as seen with Dreamscarred Press was excellent at making that point. Even with a professionally done product, profit is not a for sure thing for any publisher on any particular product.

And if you put out an absolutely horrible product, then perhaps freelancing isn't for you anyway (at least not as a career).
 
Well, no. Suffice that I am very well aware of the difference between sales and profits and the definition of an opportunity cost.
When you initially say "but anybody capable of using a word processor's "print to PDF" function can get a few nibbles off DTRPG" as an illustration that anyone can make a profit at self-publishing, I don't believe you do know the difference between profit and making a sale.
And yes, I reiterate that, strictly speaking, you can and will make a profit producing self-published RPG material, provided that you A) do so with a mind for economy and the use of free resources and B) are resolved to write RPG material instead of taking a more remunerative fry shift at McDonalds.
"can and will"

"will"

Really?

You're again assuming a hell of a lot.

Like someone who WANTS to become a writer actually knowing how to write.

And knowing how to write for the RPG market.

And that knowing how to write for the RPG market also means having the ability to select and then write a product that the market will show interest in, no matter how many people assure you the market is there because they've said "oh, I'd TOTALLY buy that if it was available" but, as it turns out, the rest of the market who doesn't happen to know you personally disagrees.

Even when the person has all the skills and will necessary, as you are assuming to be so, success and profit are not guaranteed.

You take a lot for granted and speak in an awful lot of absolutes considering the massive failure rate amongst writers and self-publishers, including those who have the necessary skills.

The analysis starts with the assumption that you want to write RPG material, and I don't think it's relevant or pertinent to bring in alternative means of earning money.
It most certainly is relevant when people are talking about earning a living wage. Because what people think they deserve as a fair rate for their work, be it writing or art, ultimately doesn't decide how much they get paid for it. The amount of money the publisher has coming in and has left to pay freelancers based on their profitability determines that.

Someone can say "my work is worth X amount of money" all they want, but if the profit to be made form that work means the product no longer becomes worth publishing, then no, they aren't worth that rate, no matter how skilled they are.

The point is that you want to write RPGs and are weighing the alternatives between seeking paying freelance work and going into self-publishing, so those are the two alternatives to weigh. It is also assumed that you are capable of writing good RPG material, as if you lack this qualification it doesn't matter which choice you make, you're not going to earn anything consequential on it, though you will make a few bucks on DTRPG before people realize you're hopeless.
But that's my point: your entire proposed point of "just go self-publish" just assumes this to be so. Most people who think they're good enough to write RPG material simply aren't. Finding that out is one of the benefits of freelancing instead of, as you suggest, just jumping into self-publishing because of the relatively low entrance bar it requires. Your assumption that even skilled RPG writers can make it as self-publishers is also flat out wrong. Yes, some can, but some simply won't ever be able to wrap their heads around the process or learn the skills needed.

Do you think everyone can figure out Sribus? InDesign? Even how to use Word to get an acceptable looking layout?

How about knowing how to brand products -- or even what "branding" means? Because, I have to tell you, far too many small publishers have no idea when it comes to this.

And do they all have an eye for graphic design? Font selection? Maintaining proper eye flow during layout when the time comes to figure out where to place those sidebars?

Do they understand the legalities of copyrights and trademarks? Considering one of the lowest entry bars in self-publishing for the RPG industry is OGL-based publishing, do you think all writers can understand what that entails? Do you think they'll all figure out how to do it properly and legally?

Because it's all so easy so long as you put in the time and discipline, as you say?

Conversely, trying to freelance... well, how many freelancers here can get all the work they have time and energy to do? At any price? Assuming that an aspiring and competent RPG writer can simply decide to work all they like at two cents a word is to assume facts not in evidence.
Oh, not many, relative to the overall pool, to be sure. But the fact that you think "just go self-publish!" is some easy answer to that conundrum is just ... confounding.

Given these assumptions- that you are going to write RPG materials instead of Mechanical Turking, that you are capable of writing halfway-decently, that you are using free tools and resources- then yes, categorically, you will make a profit in self-publishing. It will be a tiny profit at first, but through years of determined effort and unflagging labor, it can become something much more consequential.
No.

Categorically, no you won't.

It's not guaranteed. It's not even in the greatest realm of possibility.

Sure, you'll be able to "self-publish" in the sense that you can get a product out there, but you will NOT "categorically" make a profit from it just because you put the time in.

I mean ... wow ... the liberties you take with the realities of self-publishing, let alone doing so profitably, are so far removed from what the industry is actually like, I really don't know how to respond to your claims at this point beyond staring at my screen in disbelieve at the absurdity of it.
 
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Michelle L-M

Visitor
Of course, if you're using a Kickstarter funding model and you add the wage into your budget, and then you fund... then you have no excuse not to pay decently.
 
I mean ... wow ... the liberties you take with the realities of self-publishing, let alone doing so profitably, are so far removed from what the industry is actually like, I really don't know how to respond to your claims at this point beyond staring at my screen in disbelieve at the absurdity of it.
I made over sixty thousand dollars last year from indie RPG publishing. That is net, pre-tax profit, after subtracting all expenses for art, production, fulfillment, and OBS' cut of the take. My gross sales were approximately $107,000. My first product was released in November of 2010.

I am reasonably well-acquainted with making money at this pastime. I'd like others to be, too.

I've made the terms and qualifiers of my advice clear. Those with no talent for writing RPG material, those who do not use free resources, and those who are unwilling to put in the time and effort to develop their business will do no better as a freelance publisher than they will as a freelance writer. Those who do possess these qualities and do choose to employ them will, however, make some amount of money. Given the paucity of decent-paying freelancer jobs for writers, I have reason to believe that they will make more self-publishing than they will through freelancing. I can't say that the arguments presented have convinced me of the contrary.
 

brvheart

Visitor
I would not encourage anyone to try and write for today's market. Too many publishers paying pennies on the dollar over what rates used to be and cost of living has gone way up. A penny a word is something I would never write for and I have written for cheap in the past and often didn't get paid or got paid pennies on what I was supposed to. Sales in the 100's of copies may be ok for some micro publishers, but they won't afford being able to pay anyone what they deserve to be paid for their time even starting out. I commend Morrus for starting this thread and informing people who are would be writers. Me, I think I am done with attempting to write. Been there, done that. Never even covered expenses. As Bob has passed away the person I was doing it for is no longer around.
 
I made over sixty thousand dollars last year from indie RPG publishing. That is net, pre-tax profit, after subtracting all expenses for art, production, fulfillment, and OBS' cut of the take. My gross sales were approximately $107,000. My first product was released in November of 2010.

I am reasonably well-acquainted with making money at this pastime. I'd like others to be, too.
That's great and all, but ...

... it has nothing to do with the assumptions you're making about the general terms you've proposed. Well, let me correct that. I think it has to do with the assumptions you're making but not in the way you mean. I think it's quite obvious that because you've been able to do it, you have ended up taking a hell of a lot for granted on behalf of everyone else who may try walking the same path. Do you honestly think that everyone who made the same decisions as you has the same chance at success as you've enjoyed? That there are no additional factors you've not accounted for that have nothing to do with your presented qualifiers?

I mean, the process of self-publishing comes relatively easy to me, when you talk about the mechanical aspects. I can intuitively learn software easily, which is why I headed IT for a multinational company for nearly a decade despite having a degree in English and NO IT training. As such, picking up things like InDesign came easy to me. The fact that I did this for a market research company helped me understand about branding and marketing. I've even found I can do some things better in InDesign than people I've worked with who went through courses and got certification in the software.

That doesn't mean I think those same things come easily to everyone, or that other things involved with publishing were as intuitive to me. There are some aspects of publishing I continue to struggle with over a decade in, while some of my peers find them to be child's play.

Wanting others to be able to do what we have done, and thinking that it's just a matter of time management and discipline are two very different creatures. One of those creatures has very little realistic footing in the RPG industry.

I've made the terms and qualifiers of my advice clear. Those with no talent for writing RPG material, those who do not use free resources, and those who are unwilling to put in the time and effort to develop their business will do no better as a freelance publisher than they will as a freelance writer. Those who do possess these qualities and do choose to employ them will, however, make some amount of money. Given the paucity of decent-paying freelancer jobs for writers, I have reason to believe that they will make more self-publishing than they will through freelancing.
And yet the reality of the situation, as seen by the amount of attempts that fail, does not back up your claims.

Your assumptions simply take as given a lot of factors that you don't talk about, such as marketing, the market itself, product selection, and having a head for business. Even the qualifiers you state as being assumed are so particular that it's clear that, while profitable and sustainable self-publishing is going to be a viable option for some writers, it certain won't be a standard option anytime soon. Certainly not in the terms you present.

I can't say that the arguments presented have convinced me of the contrary.
Well, unfortunately not everyone believes in math ...

EDIT: By the way, one of the biggest assumptions you're making, even if everything you've said were true: freelance writers want to put up with all that extra hassle and loss of time required to self-publish. Because I have people approach me with projects, not because they think it will necessarily earn them more money if they publish through Misfit Studios, but because they don't want to invest the time needed to publish it themselves. You discount a lot of factors.
 
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arjomanes

Explorer
I made over sixty thousand dollars last year from indie RPG publishing. That is net, pre-tax profit, after subtracting all expenses for art, production, fulfillment, and OBS' cut of the take. My gross sales were approximately $107,000. My first product was released in November of 2010.
To be fair, Sine Nomine has fairly unique offerings.

Though I buy hundreds of PDFs, Red Tide was one of my favorite books I've purchased in the last few years, and one of the few I opted to get in print (along with books from Frog God Games, Lamentations of the Flame Princess and Wizards of the Coast).

I wonder if the OSR community is very different than the Pathfinder community. Zak S could also join this thread and talk about Red & Pleasant Land, but that wouldn't be the norm for most writers or publishers.
 
I made over sixty thousand dollars last year from indie RPG publishing. That is net, pre-tax profit, after subtracting all expenses for art, production, fulfillment, and OBS' cut of the take. My gross sales were approximately $107,000. My first product was released in November of 2010.

I am reasonably well-acquainted with making money at this pastime. I'd like others to be, too.

I've made the terms and qualifiers of my advice clear. Those with no talent for writing RPG material, those who do not use free resources, and those who are unwilling to put in the time and effort to develop their business will do no better as a freelance publisher than they will as a freelance writer. Those who do possess these qualities and do choose to employ them will, however, make some amount of money. Given the paucity of decent-paying freelancer jobs for writers, I have reason to believe that they will make more self-publishing than they will through freelancing. I can't say that the arguments presented have convinced me of the contrary.
There is one big point of differentiation between you and some of the other folks posting here: you are releasing your own RPG. Most here are releasing supplements for Pathfinder or D&D. Without knowing how your sales break down, that would imply that the money is in NEW roleplaying games, not supporting existing games.

But that's at the 30,000 foot view, so you're welcome to correct that assessment. :)
 
There is one big point of differentiation between you and some of the other folks posting here: you are releasing your own RPG. Most here are releasing supplements for Pathfinder or D&D. Without knowing how your sales break down, that would imply that the money is in NEW roleplaying games, not supporting existing games.

But that's at the 30,000 foot view, so you're welcome to correct that assessment. :)
Exactly, Jeremy.

Not every market is the same. Not every publisher's position or capabilities within the same market are going to be the same, no matter how skilled they are as a writer. The market is a fickle thing, and entering it as a publisher thinking "I've put my time in and I'm a good writer" is going to get one by is, well ... dangerously naive advice to be passing along.
 
I think it's quite obvious that because you've been able to do it, you have ended up taking a hell of a lot for granted on behalf of everyone else who may try walking the same path. Do you honestly think that everyone who made the same decisions as you has the same chance at success as you've enjoyed?
I think we're just disagreeing on the scope of success that can be expected. I don't expect that anyone, talented or otherwise, could just cargo-cult repeat my processes and profit as well as I have. I had the luck to choose the right market niche and supply a need that wasn't sufficiently scratched at the time. I was there with a POD core book the month that OBS started offering them. Stars Without Number had the luck to be pushed by many people at the right place and right time. After a certain point, hard work and moderate talent simply make luck possible rather than foreordained.

But honestly, you're telling me that slapping a $4.99 mini-splat up on DTRPG won't catch at least three or four purchases while it's still sitting in the "Latest Products" listing? $10 may be nugatory, but if you're determined to write RPG material and have done it with free tools and resources, that's $10 of profit, and it's $10 of profit you chose to get. You were not obliged to find a publisher willing to pay you, which is a very non-trivial undertaking for many aspiring freelance writers.

The harsh truth is that there is not an unlimited supply of publishers willing to pay even one cent a word for a freelance writer. An aspiring writer's choice is often not between freelance rates and trifling self-pub returns, but between nothing and self-pub. Learning how to use Scribus and how to lay out a basic, respectable RPG product is not a trivial undertaking, but I honestly don't believe that a reasonably-intelligent person willing to spend a few months of real, freelancer-worthy work with the product can't learn how to make a modest and adequate product with it. I've published several documents expressly to handhold newbie publishers through the process.

I wonder if the OSR community is very different than the Pathfinder community. Zak S could also join this thread and talk about Red & Pleasant Land, but that wouldn't be the norm for most writers or publishers.
I think the OSR community is exceptionally friendly to self-publishers because it has such low minimum standards for production quality. Some publishers actively seek to emulate bad or naive typography just to mimic the classics of the genre. Though to be truthful, given the extremely low book design standards of the RPG industry in general, this maybe isn't so much of a distinction from other sub-markets.

There is one big point of differentiation between you and some of the other folks posting here: you are releasing your own RPG. Most here are releasing supplements for Pathfinder or D&D. Without knowing how your sales break down, that would imply that the money is in NEW roleplaying games, not supporting existing games.

But that's at the 30,000 foot view, so you're welcome to correct that assessment. :)
Stand-alone RPGs undoubtedly give the best profit-to-page ratio for me, especially given the Kickstarter money they bring in. Even so, supplements normally pay off their modest art investments handsomely- short supplements of 32 pages or so average around 2K profit in the near term, while longer supplements of 64-100 pages net out about 4-6K. I'm going to try a Kickstart for a full-color 64 page supplement later this year and compare the take with my b/w full-game book KSes to see if Kickstarter might improve supplement profitability. The Pathfinder market ecosystem might be very different, and I get the impression that higher production values are expected, but it might be worth seeing what kind of wiggle room you have there on production costs.
 

PaulO.

Visitor
I appreciate the initial post, and the discussion, as I sometimes dream of writing. But I think an issue here is that there are lot of people who, like me, wish to write. The amount of fantasy content you can find available on the internet, and given away, is enormous. The market is flooded with decent writers, and decent content.

Creighton Broadhurst even wrote,
Very few people become freelance game designers to make decent money or to earn a living full-time. For me, I do it because I love sharing my “creative genius” and I get a real kick out of knowing people all over the world are enjoying my products and (hopefully) they are making their games better and more fun.
I think that is true for a lot of us. Which means there are a lot of us trying to squeeze water from the same rock. It seems that the supply of content outweighs the demand to the point that customers aren't willing to shell out much money on a regular basis for new content. Since publishers have less money coming in, they have less money going out to writers.

I don't know the solution. Publishers and writers to focus more on differentiation and branding? Broader economic issues so that we all have more money to better support the arts?
 

Adam Jury

Visitor
Also, in regards to the expectation that PDFs should be cheaper than print books I have a strong opinion (and not what you would think it would be as a publisher). My hang up with pricing PDFs as much as actual print books is that the cost to produce such items is a lot less than a traditional book. Sure there are costs for writers, art, editing, etc. but I know that a majority is in the actual production of the book itself.
This depends on a LOT of variables ... the size of your print run, whether it's offset/print on demand, and, of course, how much you pay your creative team.
 

arjomanes

Explorer
I don't know the solution. Publishers and writers to focus more on differentiation and branding? Broader economic issues so that we all have more money to better support the arts?
Maybe a co-op people could join that provides subscription material? Something like a DDI for indie design (magazines get partway there, and of course the well-read blogs). Kobold Press is kind of close to that, but you don't really need a membership to read all the free material on their website. It seems writing for a kickstarter book pays better, while writing an article for the website pays considerably less.

I'd be curious to see what happens with demand in the next year with 5th edition. A new supplement to the OGL or GSL may make a difference, or it may not. Some publishers are creating 5th edition compatible content under the existing OGL, but that seems an additional legal hurdle that many publishers want to stay clear of. It does seem to me that there's a market for 5e material, but to what extent I'm not sure.
 

knottyprof

Visitor
Not every market is the same. Not every publisher's position or capabilities within the same market are going to be the same, no matter how skilled they are as a writer. The market is a fickle thing, and entering it as a publisher thinking "I've put my time in and I'm a good writer" is going to get one by is, well ... dangerously naive advice to be passing along.
But it is overall a reasonable option for those that want to try their hand at writing and game design. Whether or not it is good, bad, or just bland is indifferent. As pointed out from the article itself, the wages of freelance writing for a small to moderate gaming publisher will be limited at the very least and many who want to "break into" the business may be willing to do many of the items listed as exploitative just for the chance. Self publishing on Drive Thru RPG or other similar sites is relatively simple to set up and doesn't cost anything until you actually sell something. So if I have the option to try and find work as a freelance writer making 1 to 2 cents per word (with the assumption that a publishing company will even be willing to give you a project) or just going on my own to develop a few ideas and try to sell them, I think the self publishing road is an effective way to at least test the waters.
I am a small publisher that does all of the work myself from writing, layout, some artwork, and even branding. Sure I don't know all the ins and outs of the business but as a glorified hobby it gives me an opportunity to learn and who knows what the future may hold. If my company never makes me enough money to give me a real salary, at least I am learning and actively committing to a hobby and sharing my ideas with others.

So I am not sure how the advice is naive or dangerous to anyone. Sure, you may find out that you are a less than spectacular writer and your skills are not what you thought they were, but there really is no harm in trying and the cost minimal compared to other types of self starting businesses. And if you were strictly trying to find work as a freelance writer, any publisher that actually gives you a project will definitely let you know whether or not the material you generate is acceptable or not.

I guess if you are going into self publishing with grandiose plans of profit and adoring fans, yes this advice can be dangerous. But if you realize that it is only a vehicle to test your skills and talents and possibly share some ideas with others while making a little money, then what is the harm in trying your hand at self-publishing?
 

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