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

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?
Actually, it's quite possible it won't. I've seen it happen. You can look through OBS and easily find companies that have numerous products that haven't sold a single copy.

But no, that's not what I said. What I DID say was, in essence, that selling three or four products at a price of $4.99 at OBS (meaning you're earning either $3.50 or $3.25/sale) isn't making a profit if the product cost you even a measly $20 to put together. And by "cost you," I mean it took you at least an hour combined, as a self-publisher, to write it, choose a free art piece, do layout, upload it, and then just let it sit there waiting for people to buy it, not doing any marketing at all.

Your own example doesn't bear out a scenario that fits the premise of this thread. Losing money certainly isn't a living wage.

$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.
See, this is why I say you don't understand the difference between a "sale" and "profit."

NO.

This is NOT profit. It's "gross profit" if you want to stick purely to business vernacular, but it's not "net profit," which is where the sustainability that is contextually relevant to this thread comes in. Your own example dismisses the person's time investment as a cost which is, frankly, contrary to one of the core points of this thread's purpose: writing takes time, and time is money, so publishers need to account for that in the rates they pay.

And, considering all the extra time needed to self-publish a product that only grosses $10, as per your example, the person probably would have been better off just doing the writing aspect for the low rate. Not only would they probably flat out make more than $10 doing so, but all that time they didn't spend on the other aspects of self-publishing could have been spent working on other projects,or looking for them at the very least.

This is why business has what's called a "break even point." It's an actual thing that matters to a successful business that cannot merely be hand waved away.

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.
You're confusing a lack of viable options for the guarantee of profit -- it just takes "time and discipline," as you put it. Just because an option is there -- is the most appealing option even -- doesn't mean that goal is reasonably attainable at a professional, profitable level.

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.
You don't think that some things just come more difficultly to others than they do to others? I mean, I know plenty of artists, and I have taught myself a bit about digital colouring so that I don't always have to pay others to do it, but do you think it's a lack of "reasonable intelligence" that prevents me from learning the skills they possess? There's nothing someone you know finds simple that you can't wrap your head around, no matter how hard you try -- and do you think that makes you less than "reasonably intelligent"?

I've published several documents expressly to handhold newbie publishers through the process.
I've written style guides on SEO writing. I'm working on a product that will help small press publishers learn a thing or two about marketing. I know for a fact that some of the content in both is going to be over the heads of some people. Does this mean that everyone who reads that material but isn't able to grasp it is not "reasonably intelligent"? Similarly, I own a number of books on digital colouring, so all the info is right there before my eyes, so why-oh-why can't I do it as well as the comic book colourists who wrote them?

It's almost as though something more than intelligence alone comes into play when learning the bare mechanics of new skills, let alone figuring out the artistic aspects of effectively implementing them.

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.
Well, consider:

a) not every freelance writer wants to work in the OSR community. Likewise, not every freelance writer wants to work in a market that is easily accessible via the OGL, creative commons licensing, etc. Some writers want to freelance because the games they want to write for are not open to third party publication, and those games may not pay the best.

b) as with any aspect of the market, the OSR community will only take on so much product before it bloats past the point of sustainability (d20 bubble, anyone?) Considering the OSR community remains a relatively small niche within an overall nice market, perhaps it's not the greatest example market to hold up in order to illustrate a point of "hey, anyone can self-publish RPGs for profit!"

c) even in a market that is inviting of third party publishers, and even if that market's standards are low, it's still not a guarantee of profit. Want me to start citing incredibly well-written, beautiful RPG books that absolutely flopped in their respective markets for unrelated reasons? Entire companies have come close to dying (if not actually been wiped out) by such scenarios. At best, an inviting market increases the chance of success, but it certainly doesn't guarantee it, no matter how much time and effort one puts in.

As for using Kickstarter to help people transition from writer to publishers, something you may want to consider is that going with Kickstarter has not only killed off products put out by freelancer-come-publishers, but also killed off their fledgling companies. Again, Kickstarter can help people out, but it has a number of risks that go with it that not everyone is able or willing to take on.
 
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.
Sure, it's an option. But keep in mind that I'm specifically responding to someone who is putting it out as an option that is guaranteed to be more profitable than freelancing even at terrible rates. My point has always been "um, no."

Anyone can take their Word document as is and try selling it because, really, the entrance bar for self-publication really is that low. They can try their hand at it that easily. It doesn't mean they'll make money doing it. Indeed, it's quite possible they'll come out at a loss once their time is considered. A loss is < $0.01 in total profit, let alone $0.01 as a per word rate of payment. It's just basic math.

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.
But the same could be said of you if you were working for a low pay rate.

Or giving it away for free.

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.
Quite literally telling people that time and discipline is all you need to turn a profit as a self-publisher if you're a talented writer is indeed naive and dangerous. Someone foolish enough to take it to heart, coupled with some of the "just use Kickstarter!" advice floating around here could see themselves winding up in some serious debt. It's already happened -- it's even happened to people who had a successful Kickstarter!

If ANYONE is giving out ANY advice that can be summed up as "X will make profit in the RPG industry a given" under ANY terms and conditions, you know their advice is to be avoided. Because, really ... advice that tries saying "RPG industry + X = guaranteed profit"???? Come on now ...

Who in their right mind believes ANYTHING can guarantee profit in this industry?

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.
Why? Because publishers are always right about which product ideas and output will be profitable?

I guess if you are going into self publishing with grandiose plans of profit and adoring fans, yes this advice can be dangerous.
Or if you go in thinking "time in" alone will see you through to profit.
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?
Oddly enough, just about every publisher I would care to talk to on the subject would disagree and say this is what freelancing is for.

Jumping up one's position in a market several tiers without already having a grasp on the requisite skills is not a wise move when it's your money on the table. That's why freelancing is helpful beyond the money it offers -- it creates networks and relationships that help you learn this stuff without taking on the risk of producing product that might fail.
 

knottyprof

Visitor
Sure, it's an option. But keep in mind that I'm specifically responding to someone who is putting it out as an option that is guaranteed to be more profitable than freelancing even at terrible rates. My point has always been "um, no."
Not sure who is guaranteeing anything, I don't remember specifically reading a post with a guarantee. Comments that even with a crappy product/ supplement you may make a few dollars sure.

I think the whole point of the article in the first place is that those looking into freelancing need to be knowledgable as to what they are getting into. The same applies to self publishing which is in a sense the ultimate freelancing project.

Quite literally telling people that time and discipline is all you need to turn a profit as a self-publisher if you're a talented writer is indeed naive and dangerous. Someone foolish enough to take it to heart, coupled with some of the "just use Kickstarter!" advice floating around here could see themselves winding up in some serious debt. It's already happened -- it's even happened to people who had a successful Kickstarter!

If ANYONE is giving out ANY advice that can be summed up as "X will make profit in the RPG industry a given" under ANY terms and conditions, you know their advice is to be avoided. Because, really ... advice that tries saying "RPG industry + X = guaranteed profit"???? Come on now ...
Again, not sure where anyone said freelancing or self-publishing guarantees success. As for Kickstarter projects, don't get me started. From what I have experienced (as a contributor) so far Kickstarters for an individual publisher/creator is generally going to end in failure or at least extreemly long delay times. Some publishers that have a lot more overall experience seem to have a better handle on it including Kobold Press and Dreamscarred Press, but they have years of experience generating both soft and hard products anyway. At this point there is no way I would be willing to take on a Kickstarter because there is a lot I don't know and could not adequately quantify to deteremine the amount needed to produce a successful kickstarter project. And I would not suggest a Kickstarter for anyone wanting to "Jump" into the business.

Bottomline is you need to know your strengths and weaknesses before you jump into any kind of industry (RPG or otherwise).


Why? Because publishers are always right about which product ideas and output will be profitable?
No, but they are the one paying for the project so right or wrong a freelancer has to be willing to accept the minimum standards and opinions of the publisher that commissioned the project.

Oddly enough, just about every publisher I would care to talk to on the subject would disagree and say this is what freelancing is for.

Jumping up one's position in a market several tiers without already having a grasp on the requisite skills is not a wise move when it's your money on the table. That's why freelancing is helpful beyond the money it offers -- it creates networks and relationships that help you learn this stuff without taking on the risk of producing product that might fail.
Kind of confused as to whether or not publishers know what they are doing anyway, you make a point to indicate that publishers are not always right or being able to gauge what products will be profitable then you seem to indicate that freelancing for publishers is the best move as it takes the risk of producting a product that might fail.

As a self publisher I have made some contacts and done some networking without the freelancer background so not sure why that is necessarily a requirement to connect with others in the market.
 

Blackbrrd

Visitor
Paying per word must really make the writers pad their stuff. No wonder RPG's are so verbose. Why write concise rules and get paid less!

Personally, I find they pay discussed here appalling. I think 12.50$ an hour is really bad, while 1.25$ is just not OK in any way.

Personally, I would be into buying adventures, but finding good 3rd party adventures that fit my game style is just really hard. Low sales -> no reviews -> I have no idea if it's worth my time or my money...
 

DaveMage

Slumbering in Tsar
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,

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?
These are great points. So much so, that for me, as a consumer, what has to be released from a 3PP has to be special for me to even look at it now. Small PDF? No thanks. Rules add-ons? No thanks. Slumbering Tsar? Yes, please. :)
 

Adam Jury

Visitor
Paying per word must really make the writers pad their stuff. No wonder RPG's are so verbose. Why write concise rules and get paid less!
My experience over the years is that this isn't true. Most writers don't struggle to write their section of a book and pad out 8,000 words into 10,000. More writers turn over 12,000 words, instead, and let editorial figure out how to fit it into the book. ;-)

I think there are a few reasons why RPGs are often verbose, but that's way off-topic.
 
This is NOT profit. It's "gross profit" if you want to stick purely to business vernacular, but it's not "net profit," which is where the sustainability that is contextually relevant to this thread comes in. Your own example dismisses the person's time investment as a cost which is, frankly, contrary to one of the core points of this thread's purpose: writing takes time, and time is money, so publishers need to account for that in the rates they pay.
Opportunity cost is a factor when choosing between multiple alternative uses for your time and resources. If you have your heart set on writing RPG materials, then your time is a sunk cost- you will be spending your time writing RPG materials come Hell or high water. The only question is which way you can do so such that you make the most money for your effort.

Your posts are full of so many statements that I disagree with or find difficult to support that I can't really enumerate all of them. Still, I'll try to address what seem to be the main thrusts of your argument. You insist that self-pub is a terrible idea for most writers because the returns on it are less certain than even penny-a-word freelancing and that such freelancing opportunities can be expected to be available to them. It is also a terrible idea because most writers lack the requisite business and layout talents to ever do so "professionally", and it is a terrible idea because many writers want to write for IP that is not commercially available to them. To which I say,

A) Freelance work even at a penny a word is not often available on demand, let alone a majority of aspiring writers. The choice is not between a penny a word and self-pub for these people, it's between nothing and self-pub.

B) Vanishingly few freelancers ever seriously expect to make a living at it, let alone to do so "professionally". What almost all of them want is to maximize the return on the amount of time and effort they are inclined to put toward the work. Again, self-pub has a very low bar to exceed to win a comparison with penny-a-word-if-you-can-get-it.

C) It's true. If you desperately want to write licensed IP you have no choice but to freelance for the IP owners. Self-pub can't help you there. I know very few RPG writers who are only willing to spend time writing for one IP, however, and most others need something to do with their quiet hours.

Self-pub at an entry level is dirt cheap. It requires nothing but an investment of time and effort. If you have already sunk the cost of your time in committing to write RPG materials, then it is effectively free. Freelance writers who are not satisfied with penny-a-word and the paucity of paying jobs are well-advised to consider their options in self-pub. It's my intention with Sine Nomine to make as many tools and resources as possible to help them get there. I want to see as many small publishers as possible out there, each one writing their own weird, wild stuff and expressing their own esoteric ideas. I want shy talents and frustrated writers to be able to take their material directly to the public. Sure, Sturgeon's Law is not mocked, and 90% of it will be crap, but I'd rather have 10% gold from a mountain than a molehill. It's not like we're going to run out of shelf space at DTRPG any time soon.
 

Anguish

Visitor
I'd like to thank the publishers who are participating in this discussion for being open and forthright. Generally the topics of income and profits are taboo, and it's heartening to see actual numbers posted.

Personally, I'm a consumer. I'm not published. But I'm a skeptical consumer. I never complain about things like pricing, or distribution models (as in the case of say... pre-painted miniatures coming in blind packaging) because I think about what's going on.

Is Paizo profitable? Yes. Are most 3rd-party publishers profitable? Unclear, but if so, not massively. Nobody's getting ultra-rich here. I pay attention, so I know that - for instance - Jeremy from Dreamscarred isn't using his private jet to fly over to Andreas' mansion every weekend for cocktails. No, they're both just normal guys with day jobs to pay the bills. This isn't because they're incompetent; I've read their stuff. It's because the market in which they participate isn't one with particularly deep pockets. There is only so much 3rd-party RPG "pie" to be had.

There are only a small number of positions in the RPG industry (at least - as as been alluded to - when supporting an existing game like Pathfinder or D&D) that can pay well enough to put a roof over your head. Doubling the number of "awesome" products isn't going to double the number of those positions. There's only so much money to be made in this hobby as a publisher, a writer, or an artist.

Raising product prices will reduce units moved. Finding the sweet spot is hard. With product prices as they are, and sales volume what I guess they must be, there just isn't a lot of room for anyone to be paid "as well as they should be".

Frankly, it's best for writers, cartographers, artists, and the likes to view this as a hobby until and unless they can land one of the plum jobs. Like all the other starving artists, you use what meager profits you glean from your early years to supplement your income from whatever else you need to do to pay the bills.

It's kind of like consumer electronics. I'm in IT too, but where I work there are some sales involved though we're mostly service. People freak out because "computers are expensive". They figure we're getting rich at their expense. See, they work hard for their money. We're just ripping them off. Fact is, the mark-up/margin on consumer electronics is (usually) pathetic. We're not talking about Monster Cables here, we're just talking about Ye Randome Laptoppe. We move the unit, and we're lucky to see $50 in profit, less our time to quote, order, unbox, test, prepare, and repackage the thing for you. Yeah.

End result is I think I'm realistic in recognizing that it ALL starts at the consumer's end. If we don't spend, publishers can't pay.

Problem is, a typical novel is about $10, in mass-printed paperback. For anywhere up to 600 pages of prose some writer struggled for half a year to produce. So when a consumer looks at a 16 page PDF or a 32-page leaflet adventure that was probably written in two weeks, laid out in a two days, illustrated with five images... it gets hard to imagine paying a big number for it.

There isn't a real answer here, because there's no real question. But regardless, once more, thank you to all the participants for... participating.
 

Medesha

Visitor
My experience over the years is that this isn't true. Most writers don't struggle to write their section of a book and pad out 8,000 words into 10,000. More writers turn over 12,000 words, instead, and let editorial figure out how to fit it into the book. ;-)

I think there are a few reasons why RPGs are often verbose, but that's way off-topic.
That is my experience as well (though I started in magazine writing and would never turn in something 20% over word count). Editors are really good at spotting padding when they see it and often have heavily developed outlines before they even talk to freelancers. Not always, but often.
 
Opportunity cost is a factor when choosing between multiple alternative uses for your time and resources. If you have your heart set on writing RPG materials, then your time is a sunk cost- you will be spending your time writing RPG materials come Hell or high water. The only question is which way you can do so such that you make the most money for your effort.
Well ... there you have it.

Of COURSE you'll always make a profit if you don't consider the time necessary to do something as an expense. However, considering one of the key points of this thread is "know how much your time is worth as a writer," I think you'll find you're wandering more than a tad afield in order to found a point that's a tad ridiculous. I mean, if I can say I'm making a profit by doing away with whatever expense happens to prevent that from happening on paper, how can a business POSSIBLY not make money?

That there is just FANTASTIC business sense.

Your posts are full of so many statements that I disagree with or find difficult to support that I can't really enumerate all of them. Still, I'll try to address what seem to be the main thrusts of your argument. You insist that self-pub is a terrible idea for most writers because the returns on it are less certain than even penny-a-word freelancing and that such freelancing opportunities can be expected to be available to them. It is also a terrible idea because most writers lack the requisite business and layout talents to ever do so "professionally", and it is a terrible idea because many writers want to write for IP that is not commercially available to them.
No, I do NOT say it's a terrible idea. I'm saying it's an idea not to be taken lightly, and not to go into thinking "I'll learn what I need along the way."

I think self-publishing is a great idea for people who do their research and prepare.

I certainly don't think profit is a given, as do you, so long as you just keep putting the time in. The facts of what happens to a lot of companies in this industry certainly don't support your theory.

To which I say,

A) Freelance work even at a penny a word is not often available on demand, let alone a majority of aspiring writers. The choice is not between a penny a word and self-pub for these people, it's between nothing and self-pub.
And yet being able to put out whatever product you want, whenever you want, isn't a guarantee of making money from it. Here's the problem with ALL of your reasoning: you keep insisting that "if you self-publish, the profit is inevitable. It isn't. It PROVABLY isn't. You can't swing a dice bag around on OBS without finding a publisher that has numerous products on their publisher page, but only one or two that are showing as having made any sales, and none of them having reached copper sales yet.

B) Vanishingly few freelancers ever seriously expect to make a living at it, let alone to do so "professionally". What almost all of them want is to maximize the return on the amount of time and effort they are inclined to put toward the work. Again, self-pub has a very low bar to exceed to win a comparison with penny-a-word-if-you-can-get-it.
Again, provably wrong.

There are some types of work I can crank out faster than others. WAY faster. It's just mindless typing to me. I can crank out WAY more of that at $0.01/word than I can something more detailed and thoughtful that I'm getting paid $0.03/word. Purely from an economic standpoint, it would make more sense to me to take the $0.01/word job in such a situation, which I've done.

Also, consider your response here hinges upon the lowered expectations of freelancers, and then consider the context of the thread you made such a response in. You may not see the irony here because, frankly, it needs you to actually acknowledge that self-publishing does not guarantee profit, no matter how much time you dedicate to it.

C) It's true. If you desperately want to write licensed IP you have no choice but to freelance for the IP owners. Self-pub can't help you there. I know very few RPG writers who are only willing to spend time writing for one IP, however, and most others need something to do with their quiet hours.
That's why it's just one option I presented. There are, however, people who like to stick to their niche. Even when there's an open license, there's no guarantee of sustainable work.

Self-pub at an entry level is dirt cheap.
Possibly. Depends on what you have planned and if it's viable. I hope you understand how the "I'll keep it dirt cheap" approach is not sure-fire winner without it being explained.
It requires nothing but an investment of time and effort.
Possibly (and again, I note, you discount any relationship between time having a monetary value attached to it, which is nonsense.) Oddly, most of the successful small press publishers didn't get started with free art or by thinking the time they spent devoting to their initial products wasn't an expense.

If you have already sunk the cost of your time in committing to write RPG materials, then it is effectively free.
Oh, it is? Interesting ...

Freelance writers who are not satisfied with penny-a-word and the paucity of paying jobs are well-advised to consider their options in self-pub.
Agreed.

They'd also be well-advised to do their research, consider the time involved to make money doing so, and not just jump in because someone foolishly guaranteed they'd make money doing so.

It's my intention with Sine Nomine to make as many tools and resources as possible to help them get there.
Ah, okay. A sales pitch attached to your particular line of reasoning. Everything comes into focus now. Thanks for the unbiased advice, Tony Robbins.
It's not like we're going to run out of shelf space at DTRPG any time soon.
Are the people who comprise an intended market, and the money they have available to spend, virtual as well?

There are two parts to the whole "supply and demand" aspect of economics and, as I keep pointing out, and understanding the role the "demand" aspect plays is kinda important.
 
Not sure who is guaranteeing anything, I don't remember specifically reading a post with a guarantee. Comments that even with a crappy product/ supplement you may make a few dollars sure.
Go back and re-read some of the things CardinalXimenes has said. He hasn't used the word "guarantee" -- just synonyms and statements to that effect. His guarantee is based on the fact that, hey, self-publishing costs nothing when you start out! You don't even consider your time involved as an expense, so even a single sale equals profit! He's also ignoring the possibility (and fact that it does indeed happen) that it's possible to put out a product and not sell a single copy.

So, yes, someone is guaranteeing profit, but they're rooting it in rather loaded, self-fulfilling terms.

I think the whole point of the article in the first place is that those looking into freelancing need to be knowledgable as to what they are getting into.
That message is in there, to be sure, but that's not all the article (or its writer) is saying. It's certainly not the latter, as verified by anyone who has followed up with Morrus' comments on it elsewhere. On Twitter, for example while tweeting about his article:

"Scary number of $0.01 per word rates out there. Don't work for $0.01 per word, guys!"

You won't, for example, find anything along the lines of "a good time to obtain experience and build relationships by accepting a low pay rate is when you're looking for the higher paying jobs. After all, if it takes you three times as long to find work that only pays you twice as much, you're losing money holding out for the higher rate, not making it. An important part of making money at freelance writing, no matter your pay rate, is knowing how to manage your time effectively in terms of cost-benefit."

There are times where I've made a lot more money working $0.01/word jobs than I would have working on a $0.04/word job because of what I was doing. A pay rate does not exist in a state of absolutes, just as what a writer is worth does not break down to any benchmark pay rate -- certainly not if you're an actual professional freelancer. There's always a context and other factors in play (if you're smart.)

The same applies to self publishing which is in a sense the ultimate freelancing project.
Disagree. With freelancing you (theoretically -- this is the RPG industry after all) get paid no matter the product's success because you're working for someone else and you've done the work and have a contract (hah!) You're also just doing the writing job you're hired for. When it comes to self-publishing, I don't know anyone who gets by just doing the writing, and if you are, then you certainly aren't just accepting a payment -- you're also paying other people. You don't still get a payday if your self-published product ends up taking a loss whereas a freelancer should (theoretically) already have their money and be laughing.

Again, not sure where anyone said freelancing or self-publishing guarantees success.
If you really want, I can go back and pull some of his quotes.

As for Kickstarter projects, don't get me started. From what I have experienced (as a contributor) so far Kickstarters for an individual publisher/creator is generally going to end in failure or at least extreemly long delay times. Some publishers that have a lot more overall experience seem to have a better handle on it including Kobold Press and Dreamscarred Press, but they have years of experience generating both soft and hard products anyway. At this point there is no way I would be willing to take on a Kickstarter because there is a lot I don't know and could not adequately quantify to deteremine the amount needed to produce a successful kickstarter project. And I would not suggest a Kickstarter for anyone wanting to "Jump" into the business.
Exactly. Kickstarter is something that can go oh-so-very wrong for self-publishers. And when it does go wrong, it's usually because of a lack of research, awareness of what's involved, and being unprepared. Everyone else is doing it, so you figure you can pull it off too, no problem.

Which is sort of my point about self-publishing in general. The fact that some are portraying it as a no-risk venture is dishonest. And, to be clear, I'm not saying it's not something freelancers should consider. Some would make a great go of it. But it requires careful thought, and awareness of what you can do, what you'll have to hire people for, what you'll be able to learn, and if all of that adds up to something you want to take on.

Bottomline is you need to know your strengths and weaknesses before you jump into any kind of industry (RPG or otherwise).
Exactly. This is my point.

Kind of confused as to whether or not publishers know what they are doing anyway, you make a point to indicate that publishers are not always right or being able to gauge what products will be profitable then you seem to indicate that freelancing for publishers is the best move as it takes the risk of producting a product that might fail.
I'm not speaking in absolutes, so I don't intend me pointing out one possibility to mean I disregard things can swing the other way as well. Basically, I'm saying that both have their risks, but I was addressing points someone else had raised because they were talking as though the risks only exist with freelancing.

As a self publisher I have made some contacts and done some networking without the freelancer background so not sure why that is necessarily a requirement to connect with others in the market.
Doing so has gotten me quick answers regarding costing, publishing processes, etc. and even permission to use an entire book's worth of art someone else owns at no cost because I wrote it for them but am going to re-issue it through my company. Also, without networking I never would have had the chance to work on the DC Comics RPG (getting a chance to influence the comics to boot!) or obtained a license to do my Armageddon products for the Unisystem.

It's not necessary, but it cuts down on risk, and it also cuts down on costs. You'd be a fool not to network with peers in this industry.
 
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Ah, okay. A sales pitch attached to your particular line of reasoning. Everything comes into focus now. Thanks for the unbiased advice, Tony Robbins.
All of my publisher materials are free and will remain free. As part of my Kickstarter stretch goals, I have released approximately $10,000 worth of art for free use by other publishers and creators, including all of the art I used in Spears of the Dawn, The House of Bone and Amber, Scarlet Heroes, and my upcoming Silent Legions game. My latest freebie publication includes an 8-page walkthrough of my Kickstarter production sequence for novice publishers to help them avoid pitfalls and fulfillment issues. I have created a free template module that recapitulates 1980s-style TSR dress; it includes both the InDesign source files for other publishers to use and a commentary layer to explain how to fit the page elements together and why I made the choices I did on each page. In the publisher folder I linked earlier in the thread, I included a short guide on basic RPG publishing methods and an in-depth analysis of TSR-era book design, with the InDesign source files for other publishers to rip and use, along with a set of Photoshop brushes with common old-school map symbols. I am currently working on another free template module echoing the B/X D&D module styles of X1-X5 and B3-B4, plus a short guide on creating old-school maps in Photoshop.

Your article on SEO optimization for publisher websites was doubtless helpful to many people. I'm sure you'll be contributing more to other creators in the hobby in the future.
 

Janx

Hero
I am not surprised by LPJ's attitude. It is a company I wouldn't touch with a 10' pole after his so called 'April Fools Joke', that he took weeks setting up to disappoint those who pre-ordered Razor Coast. This is the attitude of someone I have no truck with "And there is the problem, you think this is an equal relationship. It isn't." ~ disgusting.
The biggest problem I see with LJP from this article, is not the pay, but the openly voiced attitude of superiority and disdain.

I think it's totally fine that if you can only afford $.01, then that's what you offer.

But you should also dance with the girl that brung you. If somebody writes for that rate AND the product turns into a goldmine, you owe that writer a debt. They have proven themselves worthy of the money you didn't have back then.
 

Adam Jury

Visitor
Problem is, a typical novel is about $10, in mass-printed paperback. For anywhere up to 600 pages of prose some writer struggled for half a year to produce. So when a consumer looks at a 16 page PDF or a 32-page leaflet adventure that was probably written in two weeks, laid out in a two days, illustrated with five images... it gets hard to imagine paying a big number for it
Instead of thinking about what creative works cost to create, I encourage you to consider how much time you'll spend with it and the enjoyment you'll get from it.
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
My experience over the years is that this isn't true. Most writers don't struggle to write their section of a book and pad out 8,000 words into 10,000. More writers turn over 12,000 words, instead, and let editorial figure out how to fit it into the book. ;-)

I think there are a few reasons why RPGs are often verbose, but that's way off-topic.
I should hope that writing so grossly over your word limit is a mistake that a freelancer only makes once, get's corrected by their editor, and never does it again. I know this from very early experience. ;)

Early experience that I still get (rightly) teased about years later. XD
 
All of my publisher materials are free and will remain free. As part of my Kickstarter stretch goals, I have released approximately $10,000 worth of art for free use by other publishers and creators, including all of the art I used in Spears of the Dawn, The House of Bone and Amber, Scarlet Heroes, and my upcoming Silent Legions game. My latest freebie publication includes an 8-page walkthrough of my Kickstarter production sequence for novice publishers to help them avoid pitfalls and fulfillment issues. I have created a free template module that recapitulates 1980s-style TSR dress; it includes both the InDesign source files for other publishers to use and a commentary layer to explain how to fit the page elements together and why I made the choices I did on each page. In the publisher folder I linked earlier in the thread, I included a short guide on basic RPG publishing methods and an in-depth analysis of TSR-era book design, with the InDesign source files for other publishers to rip and use, along with a set of Photoshop brushes with common old-school map symbols. I am currently working on another free template module echoing the B/X D&D module styles of X1-X5 and B3-B4, plus a short guide on creating old-school maps in Photoshop.
Uhuh. That's all seemingly all noble and everything, but as your quote to follow indicates, you've read at least one article on my blog, so ...

Your article on SEO optimization for publisher websites was doubtless helpful to many people. I'm sure you'll be contributing more to other creators in the hobby in the future.
... did you also read the one where I outlined how people use free products as part of for-profit marketing? Such as to sell a particular agenda that may, when actually looked at, only work if you happen to ignore a few inconvenient facts like, oh, let's say ... just because you're not paying yourself a salary as an employee, it doesn't mean your time invested in a project doesn't count as an expense.

To be frank, if many of the things you have stated in this thread are indicative of your understanding of RPG publishing and business, in the general sense beyond your own company, you also illustrate that just because someone is giving away a ton of free advice and aids, even if they are themselves successful, it doesn't mean that advice is good for and applicable to everyone. I certainly wouldn't bother if that person was also saying "here's my advice on how profit in the RPG industry is just a sure thing matter of time!"
 

James Jacobs

Explorer
I should hope that writing so grossly over your word limit is a mistake that a freelancer only makes once, get's corrected by their editor, and never does it again. I know this from very early experience. ;)

Early experience that I still get (rightly) teased about years later. XD
Hee hee hee.

(returns to lurk mode)
 

Anguish

Visitor
Instead of thinking about what creative works cost to create, I encourage you to consider how much time you'll spend with it and the enjoyment you'll get from it.
Not a horrible metric, but one that I suspect won't get you where you're trying to arrive, logically.

The imaginary novel I mention is pretty much guaranteed to net me 2-3 hours of enjoyment. On my first read. I'm kind of wonky in that I will re-read books. Anywhere as little as a year and I'm good to go for a re-read. I'm fairly selective in what authors I pick up so I almost never get "meh".

RPG materials on the other hand vary. Something like Ultimate Psionics I'll use heavily. Accordingly, I throw more money there. I've backed the Kickstarter to a more-than-normal level, purchased two additional hardcovers retail, and purchased at least one PDF for someone as a gift. I expect to get a lot of bang for those many, many bucks. Similarly with Slumbering Tsar, I spent a lot on my signed and numbered copy and I got two and a half years out of it.

But those aren't the norm. The norm is... oh... the Malefactor (TPK games). Reviewed well, intriguing idea. Bought. And it's expansion. Have I read it? Partly. Will it ever get play at my table? Probably not. Not because of a particular quality issue, but because I buy support materials because they might come in handy.

If I paid for most RPG stuff what I figured I was going to get out of it, I wouldn't be paying because most of it I won't get anything out of them.

I try to measure an RPG product's pricing worth in terms of a} how hard it was to produce, and b} will I use it? Logue or Pett - for instance - could Kickstart a roll of toilet paper and I'd back it. Easy to produce... it's a roll of toilet paper. But their material is so good that I'd find a way to use it. Rappan Athuk... again I have a signed copy that I know will never get played, but I know it was monstrous to produce. Same with Razor Coast. I don't even like pirate stuff.
 

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