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46709 Posts in 5588 Topics by 13299 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 51 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: Sounding Board for Hardback/Softcover dilemma  (Read 6485 times)
hoefer
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« on: August 26, 2008, 01:08:15 PM »

Hi All,
I've been "ghosting" this forum for about 3 years now and want to start with thanks for all the great wisdom you've all imparted.  Now the dilemma.  My product is called Century's Edge (Wholesumentertainment.com), it is a late Victorian-age RPG that offers a broad canvas to its players (you can do detective stories, gothic horror, steam punk, westerns, "high adventure" jungle crawls, etc.).  It utilizes a lot of the fiction of the time, and comes across (and I actually hate this comparison, but I suppose it serves as a quick summary) something like the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (though the players are running unique characters -not famous ones).  Now that you have a sense of it, the basic rule book is close to being finished (I'm laying out the last 5 chapters in Adobe) and I need to decide if I should publish in hardback or soft cover.  The book is nearly 400 pages long (see below before you jump on this number) and I am worried about the "solidity" of a soft cover with this many pages (though many printers are willing to do it).  The very genre of the game seems to cry out for a hardcover release, but the rule of thumb is that "hardcover indie books are always heartbreakers."  I would probably price the hardcover at $39.99 and it would cost me $14 to print it (please tell me if there's a better deal out there -my email is below).  The best soft cover quote I reached is $9.00 and I figure I would price it for around $33 to $35.  I don't figure I will make much (if any) money for the first year of business, as I have to get the product name out there (I've been getting demo booklets in the hands of every Podcaster that will take one), I have to pull ahead of this sudden cluster of Victorian/pulp games that have come out, and have to establish that I am one of the Indy Pubs that is here for the long game (and going to support the system with future products and multiple free downloads).  What would you guys do?  Does the "genre demands it" even fit into the equation?  How concerned should I be with the 400 pages won't stay bound in a soft cover?

In case sales expectations come into question: the people I talked to at GenCon (some smaller publishers and a guy from Alliance) looked through the demo booklet I'm selling on my site and suggested that sales would probably be around 100-250 copies -I've got no idea if these numbers are sh*t, I've only sold a few Demo Booklets.  I'm getting about 10 "actual" visitors a day to my website, and only a few downloads a month of the free "quick play rules."  During my demos (which I've been running at conventions for the last few years) I get a very enthusiastic response (out of 8 players 3 typically ask where the book can be purchased immediately after the session, one guy even hunted me down at my hotel to buy a copy... Only a single sale but it really felt good...)

Many of the big industry regulars I talked to said that I needed to dissect the book down to smaller chunks and sell them separately -more profit.  They also said that a 400 page book is too "scary" for the average gamer.  I'm not sure that this is a reality.  First, I have very limited starting capital so paying to bind 2 books means a smaller run of each than binding one big one.  Also, some of my favorite purchases (the ones I really felt I got a good deal on) as a gamer were "big" books.  As a youth I loved the expansive pages of my Champions rulebook and as a college student I loved going through all the options of the Palladium Super Heroes Book.  My 400 pages include some fluff.  I've got a lot of "locality" information and a good deal of "monster write-ups" but I can't release another CE product until I move a good portion of this run, so I felt I had to set up every buyer with a nice chunk of material to keep them gaming for the next year while I recover/build more capital.  Further, I've heard many people complain about systems where the GM has to cart around 4 different books to feel "prepared" for a session -isn't this where my game could be different?

Please, I am a total newbie in this industry (though I have been a hardcore RPG consumer for 90% of my life); give me your best wisdom on where you would go with this project and why.  I will take all comments and arguments either way with joy.

Thanks!


Louis Hoefer (hoefer@wholesumentertainment.com)
Whole Sum Entertainment
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iago
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« Reply #1 on: August 26, 2008, 01:40:50 PM »

Have you considered doing an 'early release' as a full on print on demand thing ala Lulu, requiring no up-front capital, with you selling books directly from the Lulu website/storefront?  You have a lot of questions that amount to you not knowing the level of interest in your product.  You've also mentioned a relative lack of tolerance for risk.  Lulu, while its unit costs work out pretty high, lets you pretty much eliminate those risk factors, and lets you dip a toe into the water instead of diving in.

I'd also point out that unless you have an established brand/name to work off of, it can be very hard to get folks to hear of you and your product and to come along and buy it.  All the more reason to go for risk-minimizing solutions out the gate, and then "back into" doing something bigger and higher-risk once you've gained some momentum (this is essentially what I did for Evil Hat).
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Eero Tuovinen
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #2 on: August 27, 2008, 01:04:46 AM »

The softcover-hardcover dilemma is not one of product identity, but one of sales channel choice. Different books do well in different sorts of environments. Are you going to sell the book yourself face-to-face at conventions? Are you going to sell through a web store? Retailer sales? All these react in different ways to different-looking books - insofar as I understand it, success depends on making your product work in the context it is represented in.

If you just want to have a couple of hardcover copies of the game at hand to show off at conventions and sell to a couple of collector-type fanatics, then you might consider specially printing those at Lulu or similar for a high per-copy cost. If your plan is to wow the average gamer in the average game store, then you might need to make a large print run of hardcover copies at affordable price, and also invest lots of money in marketing. (And prepare to lose it all - I can't remember the last time I saw a small press success with this strategy.)

If you're working with relatively limited capital and are risk-averse, I'd go in slow steps in your stead. As Fred suggests, POD printing and selling the game direct in the Internet and at conventions will give you some much-needed experience in how the market reacts to your sort of product and, more importantly, how you react to it; selling your game and making money on it for a year or so with a low-risk arrangement might allow you to find out where your heart really is as regards this whole rpg publishing thing. Also, PDF: nowadays many gamers appreciate the convenience of having a large game book in electronic format.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: August 27, 2008, 04:22:26 AM »

Hello,

Eero's points are good, but my concern is that you may not be asking the right question at the moment. I'll quote myself from this thread: Scheduling for the '09 convention circuit:

Quote
you may be focusing too much on your book, which when all is said and done is merely a presetntation method, and not enough on your game, which when all is said and done is what you're selling.
...
The book is not the activity. The book is packaging. The question is whether the game is any good, and if good, does its subject matter inspire people to try the game. You need real feedback about the game before you even begin to think about the book.

Now, that may not be correct in your case. For all I know, your game is tip-top complete in the fullest sense. If so, then you're ready for the next point, which Eero has touched on already. That point is, you do not have to arrive at a single fixed form in which your book will appear for all eternity. All you need to concern yourself with is what it will be or look like for the next step. So it's not a matter of whether paperback or hardcover is better; it's a matter of what suits your current needs as a publisher and promoter.

In 2001, I chose to publish Sorcerer as a hardcover. It certainly wasn't the only such independent game (e.g. Obsidian in 2000), but it was an unusual size, being smaller than the standard looks-like-Vampire book design, and more oddly, with a clothbound surface and slipcover. At that time, internet printing and fulfillment were far more primitive than they are now, and I did have to consider retailer-based strategy. I decided to risk a relatively expensive form (actually, I did get a good deal on it) partly for novelty value, but also because I thought the game could back it up.

However, that is coming into the middle of the story. The game had been for sale in one strategy or another already for five years. It existed as a name-recognition object already, at least among a small subset of gamers including many publishers, and it wasn't even a book at all, but a PDF. Nor was the ultimated printed form a goal from the start. I didn't decide to print Sorcerer as a book at all until after August 2000, and didn't come up with my concept for the printed book until November or so.

My point is that the format of the book serves many purposes, and that one's purposes can change. The decision you're dealing with is not a door you walk through once.

Best, Ron
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hoefer
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« Reply #4 on: August 27, 2008, 05:58:23 AM »

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iago
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« Reply #5 on: August 27, 2008, 06:26:56 AM »

$75? Ahhh, you've got a color interior.  Man, that's rough.  Color is not friendly for print on demand, and the sales volume I'd expect you to do out the gate really wants you to do stuff on a POD scale.

I'm simply concerned for your shirt, and the potential losing of it. :)
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: August 27, 2008, 06:38:32 AM »

Hi Louis,

You're still saying "my book" and describing the object as a set-in-stone thing, as a synonym for publishing your game. Why is it a 400 page full-size interior colored object? That is not obligatory. It sounds as if you have even gone so far as to establish files meeting this description - and if so, it's still not obligatory. You may be a bit stuck in the idea that the book must look a certain way or be presented in a certain way, as a fixed part of "publishing."

I won't offer suggestions for all the different alternatives, because those decisions rightly belong to you, and they are so many and so various that whatever subset I pick will probably be mis-read (by someone, not necessarily you) as an exclusive or preferred or recommended list. My real point is that you can keep all your files and images and that beautiful tome you've been dreaming of for years ... as a later step, something to move to, rather than the only and first and perfect way that the game can even exist as a product.

I appreciate all your points about PDFs and the industry and the mainstream ... and as it happens, I think all of them are invalidated by observation and experience, and I'm glad that your phrasing implies you're trying to shake these assumptions rather than hold to them.

I'll begin with the concept of "mainstream," which I think you're using in the widespread reversed way which is common in hobby/fan culture. I wrote about this extensively in a series of threads called the Infamous Five, a few years ago; the relevant one is Mainstream: a revision. (The full record of the Five and their spawn can be found in The Infamous Five.)

If you're interested, check it out. I am not sure whether this subject would jack your thread, so I'll leave it up to you to decide if you're interested in pursuing it here. Otherwise, we can stick to the book cover issue.

Best, Ron
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hoefer
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Posts: 68


« Reply #7 on: August 27, 2008, 08:06:27 AM »

Just an update to put things in perspective or whatever.  Let me describe my "game" and my current vision for the "book" to see how this matches up with my proposed publishing approach.

The Game:
The game is a Vicotrian era roleplaying game designed to take adavantage of all the great types of adventures you could have in this setting (this both hurts me because it is somewhat generic, but it helps too in that a group of players can wonder through multiple adventures with different themes and feels: Old West, Shelock Holmes-Style Mysteries, Pulpy 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea-type fare, Gothic Horror tales, etc...).  It really stresses character development, progression, and even regresssion (as over arching goals in an adventure are succeeded/failed).  Esentially though, to my credit or discredit, it is a good old fashioned RPG.  That's not to say the mechanic isn't unique (I get alot of postitve responses about it).  Just that, a lot of the games discussed on this forum are going somewhere different in regards to how role playing is done -mine is not.  Because of this, I think it has a general apeal, but not the sort of appeal that draws in hard-core fans out of nowhere right off the bat (the kind that lovely acept ashcan products because they can see teh "cool" factor in the game itself).  I've been working on it/revising it for 5 years (I know, this is nothing compared to some).  Its current state plays almost exactly how I had originally wanted it to (genrally fast and cinematic, with just a small buffet of options to add depth for rolling and strategizing).  I've done longer runs of play testing to check character advancement.  I got it in the hands of every type of gamer (even non-gamers) you can imagine.  It seemed to appeal to most, however, the power gamer in our test group liked it but wasn't thrilled (the characters in the game are somewhat average people) -This actually made me happy...  At the cons, I get a good mix of players; lots of women compared to other RPG tables.  It does not seem to appeal to gamers under 16 initially, but with one test group I ran we had 2 players between the ages of 12-16 who were (at the outset) fanatic about it.  I've tried to fill it with historical (I'm a history teacher) context as well as literary references, characters, and settings.  The game requries a few charts to play, but character creation delves into a selection of a lot of Knacks and Limitations which make for a hefty printout (since we're talking about PDF).  The setting info and the "Fieldguide of Dangers" (monster entries) are (I suppose) fluff, but somewhat crucial to demonstrating the wide canvas the setting provides the GMs ("Wow, look an entry for Nobel Island (Dr. Moreau)...  Wow, look a write up for an Apache war band...  Look, a section on 'The Brotherhood of Ex-Confederates'... Oh cool, it's got a rough map of Castle Dracula in it...").  ...What else...  I want to put the game out as a big initial release of info, followed by a comprehensive beastiary, then a narrator's pack (with a screen and lot of generic maps for on-the-fly gaming -Victorian houses, Indian Camps, Budhist Temple, etc.), and perhaps periodic releases of adventure collections (in the size and look of an old dime novel).  The items listed here are in very early states of development (mostly stuff I created while testplaying and the such).  I have other ideas for where I would like to go but as you can see I've already surounded my self with a dreamworld of success and products that probably aren't intially realistic.  ...and I have 2 other un-related products I want to work on as well (LOL)

Now the book,
Aside from the cover options (hard or soft), My vision (and Ron I'm working toward stepping back from it, but I don't know what else to do that I think would sell this type of game -I will be reading the posts you suggested in a momment) is an 81/2 x 11 format, no bleeds, no color interrior, full-color custom cover, 400 pager (My publsihed 80-page demo booklet suggested that about 250 of these pages are absolutely necessary to nail down the mechanic and the supplemental rules -you know diseases, falling, combat options, dealing with material items and machines, etc.).  It uses a reasonable amount of art (about 1-2 pictures every 3 pages -much of which was public domain).

I'm not sure, but maybe this info would be useful in understanding why I think the book needs to be the way I've presented it, and maybe help steer me to another format of release...
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guildofblades
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« Reply #8 on: August 27, 2008, 08:42:43 AM »

If your book has no color interior pages, then why would it cost $75 on Lulu? It shouldn't.

Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Retail Group - http://www.guildofblades.com/retailgroup.php
Guild of Blades Publishing Group - http://www.guildofblades.com
1483 Online - http://www.1483online.com
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Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Publishing Group
http://www.guildofblades.com
Eero Tuovinen
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #9 on: August 27, 2008, 09:16:43 AM »

It seems that you have a pretty definite vision of not just the game you want to make, but the product as well. Although I definitely encourage you to question your assumptions regarding the big-book approach, also keep in mind that this particular approach might offer just the benefits you are looking for in publishing in the first place. If what you want is to make a big-book roleplaying game, then that's what you need to do.

However, if you decide that it's the game that's important and you're not wedded to the big book, then consider carefully how else you might be able to publish this particular game. We'd have to take a look at the actual game to give any really specific feedback on the topic, but as an illustrative example, consider The Shadow of Yesterday. It's a traditional fantasy adventure rpg that clocks in at over 200 pages, small pages as they might be. However, when I started writing a new edition of the game, I decided that this one-book approach was not serving the game as it is actually played: the game's rules are used for all sorts of things that have little to do with the fantasy setting in the book. So what I did was, I published a very, very cheap version of just the rules, to be followed by a separate setting book that would deal with the game's default setting. Part of the picture is also the fact that the game is licenced under a Creative Commons licence and thus available in the internet, for free. And my edition is the third for the game, and they all are pretty different from each other. So the "whole game" in this case is actually an indiscrete bush of internet materials, three web sites ran by different people, three different rules-sets, five print runs of the game and so on. It started as a "big book" (if not as big as yours), but I'm busy trying to break it down into parts that each are functional for their purpose. What makes this possible in this case is the already existing player-base of the game that is quite able to pick and choose their sources.

So that's one example of a relatively traditional game published in a rather untraditional manner. Without knowing anything about your game there are many similar things you might choose to do if you decide to detach from the big-book model. For example, if I guess the sort of game we're discussing here correctly, then the exception-based rules-material and ready-made character stat blocks take quite a substantial bit of that 400 pages. So one thing you could easily do is to publish all that stuff for free in in the Internet. Put it in a wiki, too, to allow fans to participate in improving the material. Then what you have left is what, 150 pages of game? That's what you publish, with instructions to go to the website for the crunch. The players will want that stuff in electronic form anyway to faciliate chargen and such. What's more, after you've made some name and a player base, nothing prevents you from publishing all that exceptions-based crunch in book form, either reprinting the full rules or just putting the crunch into its own codex.

Or something like that. Depends on what your game is like and where you want to sell it.
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iago
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« Reply #10 on: August 27, 2008, 09:35:13 AM »

If your book has no color interior pages, then why would it cost $75 on Lulu? It shouldn't.

He's absolutely right.  A 400 page 8.5x11 book at Lulu costs (rounded to whole dollars):

B&W Interior Softcover = $13
Color Interior Softcover = $65
B&W Interior Casewrap Hardcover(closest fit, 8.25"x10.75") = $25
Color Interior Casewrap Hardcover = $77

So if you're thinking it's $75, it's because you're looking at the color interior pricing.
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MatrixGamer
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« Reply #11 on: August 27, 2008, 10:37:24 AM »

Wow! It's been a loooong time since I've posted here but here goes...

When the bigger company/distributors told you the number 100-250 copies they weren't lying. Their assumption is based on what a person can sell themselves. I firmly believe that anyone can sell 100 copies of any book just working their social network for a few years. This would mean selling to your friends, going to local cons and game days and running games there, having a web page, talking about your game and actual play sessions on web forums etc. All stuff that is fun. I sold out of my first game "Campaign in a Day" the first Engle Matrix Game product in 1995 (after three years) It was 100 copies and they were three saddle stapled books. I think the hard and soft back question is less important in this kind of direct selling because you are selling your enthusiasm and dream. Honestly this is the fun part of the hobby. Some games really click with people and develop a movement - Dogs of the Vinyard comes to mind - but you can't bank on that though.

As to the technical question of perfect binding and 400 page books. Think of a phone book. They hold together very well so it isn't impossible to do. That being said 100 unit print runs are not done on the same machines. The big boys have million dollar machines, some POD printers are using the cheap Easy Bind machine. If a low end machine is being used then the pages will fall out. If you don't mind doing a little work you can stop that from happening with a drill, linen thread and a long needle. After you get your books, take one out and (using a small drill bit) drill holes through the body of the book next to the spine. Space the holes an inch apart. Then use the needle and thread to sew thread bindings in through the holes. The Ancient Romans did this, it works, and the threads don't detract from the books appearence. The Japanese do a similar type of binding but add in a strip of bamboo on either side of the spine so the threads don't cut into the paper.

 There are lots of simple home done things you can do if you are making small numbers. When it comes to profit though you want to keep things real simple and watch costs. Curbing enthusiasm is no fun but helps prevent over spending. I know this well. I use to make 20 of each title I took to Gen Con. This year I made 5 of my new titles of boxed boardgames and 2 or 3 of the old ones. That way I've not tied up my materials in dead stock. One thing I've not adequately figured out how to do at home is make a glossy covered color paperback. I can make nice smyth sewn hardbacks but glossy color requires a better laminator than I have or using varnishes. I'm liking what I'm reading about shellac (if disolved in denatured ethyl alcohol it is pretty low in toxicity) but that is getting way off topic.

Good luck with your game!

Chris Engle
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Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games
http://HamsterPress.net
hoefer
Member

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« Reply #12 on: August 27, 2008, 12:55:29 PM »

Loving the responses guys,

I must have read the color price on Lulu, I hope no one associated took any offense to my misquote.  Now are the prices you guys have posted for making a Print Run, or a single purchased printing of the book by someone who comes to their site?  I used to understand how they worked but I haven't kept up on it (at the time I investigated their company I thought I was looking for a POD that could press me 500 copies of a full-color hardback -Oh the sweat ignorance of youth...)

There was a question about "seeing" my game (which allows me a quick chance at a merciless plug -right Ron?) -You can go to WWW.Centurysedge.com (though this is a new site and you might have to approach it from WWW.Wholesumentertainment.com and scroll down to the CE link) there you can download a Quick Play PDF for free.  It gives a good feel for the rules, but unfortunately doesn't do the setting a whole lot of justice (the quick play scanareo is "a little" like our average game).

I think the topic is moving from hardback vs. soft cover to Big Book vs. printing alternatives.  (Do I have any responsibilities to start a new thread?)

I think it's been hard for me to shift paradigms because along my voyage I've thought that "All this in a single book, ready to play, one low price" would be a big selling point (I game with a lot of cheap *ss gamers).  And so, all along I wanted to believe it was about the game and about making a meager profit (in the long hall mind you) but it looks like I'm an "ego publisher" after all.  Infatuated with the idea of this game as a big hard bound book.  I just got to shake that I suppose or expect to fail.  I also just can't wrap my mind around the idea that people will buy "parted out books" (take no offense please) with the expansion stuff on the web.  Or, as I've stated before, even PDFs in general -I have a hard time putting my faith behind.  I guess the circle of gamers I've always kept with have equated internet publishing as "free stuff from the fandom" as opposed to books printed in the "expected" hard bound 81/2 x 11.  Before this game I wrote (IMO) a really nice original rule book for the old Transformers cartoon series (mostly Generation 1) and after not being able to get a rsponse from Hasbro (which was expected), I put the thing out on the web as a free PDF download (fanboy strikes again...).  I think the best its ever done (I don't even manage it anymore so as not to endanger my real game company) was 5 downloads a month -and its free!  What should expectations be like for a PDF Rule Book?  You'll have to give me some idea of your fan base to for it all to be comparable.  I would say that 100-200 have played my game and that I have about 10 people that really are supportive with it/constantly checking in with my site.

Hearing from Eero that a traditional RPG can sell in "unexpected" formats is encouraging though.  I will say this much, I'm still stuck in the mud on this one (for many years I've been talking about this book to play testers, foolishly saying how it would be so many pages, and have such and such in it -I feel weird stepping down from that, but the feeling will hopefully pass), still the next RPG product I have in mind is going to be formated for the Indy sales models we've been discussing.  Of course it's a less "traditional" game, so maybe that's why its so easy to see myself marketing it in "alternate" formats...

Chris,
  I am very excited to hear from you.  I demoed "Deadman on Campus" a while back and found it to be great experience -outside of the realm of other RPGs, but something entirely of its own -its the sort of game that could be played at a party of mixed company (gamers and non-gamers :-).  Kudos to you and your creative mind.  I'm also am glad to get reassurance that selling a 100 compies wouldn't be out of the question.  All about selling your enthusiasm, eh?  I got plenty of that.  Now I just got to find the right forums to get on, and figure out how not to be obnoxious with the whole thing once I'm there.

Thanks.


Louis Hoefer
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iago
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« Reply #13 on: August 27, 2008, 01:21:59 PM »

Now are the prices you guys have posted for making a Print Run, or a single purchased printing of the book by someone who comes to their site?  I used to understand how they worked but I haven't kept up on it (at the time I investigated their company I thought I was looking for a POD that could press me 500 copies of a full-color hardback -Oh the sweat ignorance of youth...)

You shouldn't be asking us this stuff.  You should be plugging numbers into this:

http://www.lulu.com/en/includes/calc_book_inc.php

And reading up on Lulu's extensive, excellent FAQs. :)

The numbers I gave were for single unit printings.  Bulk discounts kick in at 26 books (softcover) or 11 books (hardcover), if I recall correctly, and for softcovers at least scale up the larger print run you order.
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MatrixGamer
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« Reply #14 on: August 27, 2008, 01:29:51 PM »

Have a thick skin on the forums. When I started posting on RPG.net I was quickly "educate" by barbed responces when I crossed a line. It stings but heck - not that bad.

I think you'll have best results when you run face to face games at store game days, at local clubs, and whatever cons you attend. Are there any fanzines anymore? (Or is that what this is?) It's all a lesson in life. For a number of years my life lessons were all about bookkeeping. Now
I'm on to the fun of marketing and sales... (My cons are not like they used to be...)

Chris Engle
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Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games
http://HamsterPress.net
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