The Forge Forums

General Forge Forums => Independent Publishing => Topic started by: Armoury99 on May 03, 2008, 09:44:00 AM

Title: Advice on the RPG Pitch
Post by: Armoury99 on May 03, 2008, 09:44:00 AM
Hi all,

I've been a lurker for a while and seriously impressed by the depth of knowledge and wisdom on offer here at the Forge (even if some of it is so clever, it make my brain ooze out of my ears sometimes). Right now, I'm looking for some advice I can't see covered elsewhere, and would like pick your brains:

I'm looking for some advice on making pitches to existing RPG publishers/magazine editors, not for a whole system or setting book but individual articles for existing worlds and rules sets (I think its wise to start small...) Assuming I've got what I think is a good idea, what advice do the forge-folk have for getting noticed, and more importantly for getting my ideas down in a clear and professional format?

Thanks in advance.

Title: Re: Advice on the RPG Pitch
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on May 03, 2008, 10:05:46 AM
Heh, if you ask for advice here, the most likely one you're going to get is that you shouldn't be trying to get noticed by publishers, but by your target audience: then you'll publish your work yourself and ride on to riches and fame. Independent publishing, you know.

Other than that, my prime advice is pretty general:
  • Follow general publishing guidelines: be clear, conscise, professional. The same rules hold for rpg publishing as anything else. Write your pitch in a short manner, point out the main selling points and frame any cultural context that might be needed promptly. Remember to give an estimate on when you'd be able to finish the piece if given the go-ahead. Make the pitch quick to read and make a decision on; if it wouldn't fit on one sheet, it's too long, and that includes introducing yourself.
  • Know your target: larger publishers will often spell their stance on submissions somewhere. In all cases you know what kind of stuff they've published before, and therefore, what they might be interested in publishing in the future. Target popular IP that has lift in the current atmosphere. Meet with the publisher in person at a suitable convention to discuss your idea. Ask mutual acquaintances to introduce and recommend you, if you think that's what it takes.
  • Have easily accessible proof of your work and conduct. In the Internet times it's a good idea to have your own web page that showcases your work or hobby projects, as you can provide a link without drowning your cover letter / pitch in self-introduction. With the distributed nature of the internet one might build up something pretty impressive just by collecting links to all the stuff one might have produced for different venues over time. Don't let the portfolio get epic in length, either.

And, because this is the "The Internet Home for Independent Role-Playing Games", I might also note that you should consider carefully what you wish to achieve by working for or with another person as your publisher. I've myself made use of publishers pretty successfully as part of independent projects as well - for example, a game I'm going to publish in English at Gencon this year was published in a Finnish rpg magazine last year, after which I honed it and published it as an independent boardgame as well. That worked for me because I knew what I wanted to get from being published by the magazine; it was functional. On the other hand, I wouldn't personally bother to spend any major creative effort on contracted writing at this point - it doesn't suit my current situation at all for many reasons.

Title: Re: Advice on the RPG Pitch
Post by: Armoury99 on May 03, 2008, 12:09:08 PM
You make a valid point, although this query is also about starting small and building a body of quality work and raising my profile in preperation for that glorious ride to fortune and glory, since I'm very new at this and still examining my options (expect more posting soon). My definition of existing publisher goes right down to the guy/gal in their basement, hammering away long into the night on their personal dream as well - but point well taken.

Thanks for the advice.

Title: Re: Advice on the RPG Pitch
Post by: Ron Edwards on May 03, 2008, 01:01:52 PM

I'm not entirely clear on the pieces you're intending to write: what they are, and presented in what way.

Here's an example of what I think you might mean: a few years ago, I wrote a play-scenario for the game Hero Wars (now called HeroQuest). It wasn't too much more elaborate than what I and a few others had used in actual play. It was published in one of the supplements as it suited that particular supplement's theme.

Here's another example: way back in the 1980s, Hero Games put out a small magazine concerning their primary game at the time, Champions. Articles were not really full play-scenarios or settings so much as ideas: character design, rules applications, and approaches toward preparing for play.

So, are those the sorts of things you have in mind? That's the impression I got from your post.

If that's correct, then here are the points I'll toss out, not as directives or even advice, so much as observations that you can muse over and take into account.

1. Magazines such as the one put out by Hero Games are not common these days. There may well be a few that I simply don't know about and you do. If there are, and if you want to publish articles in them, then it should be easy to get started: read the submission guidelines and accord with them. After that, it's all a matter of (a) whether your article is any good and (b) if their editorial practices are any good.

2. The circumstances of the Hero Wars scenario were completely different from the classic submission + acceptance model. It was entirely personal. Greg and I corresponded pretty frequently at that time, and I really cannot remember whether he'd asked me to write it up, or whether I had done so and simply offered to give it to him. It may even have been a conversational hybrid of the two. So that event isn't really a plan so much as a constructive footnote to an already-existing professional friendship.

So my take-home is that a "pitch" doesn't really seem necessary. For the first thing, you're dealing with a magazine or whatever which already accepts submissions, so it's not as if you have to convince them to take you seriously. As I said, you and they simply have to be good. For the second, that's a matter of engaging in enjoyable conversations with people whose work you respect and whose games you play. So that's not a pitch so much as both people going "boink" about a good idea.

More good news: many of us have already set up a mechanism for others to get a jump-start in publishing through our games, in fact. If someone wants to write up material for Sorcerer, they can - they publish it and collect their money, I help to promote it. A couple of well-known publishers got their start that way. Clinton does the same, or actually even more laissez-faire, with The Shadow of Yesterday.

Oh yeah, one last thing.

3. None of the above has much to do with independence as discussed at this site. I am such a purist about work-for-hire that I did not accept payment for the Hero Wars thing (actually, technically, the payment was rolled over in a donation-contribution from me to the company), but that's just me. It certainly isn't contrary to the Forge's topic to write articles and participate in another company's support material for a game you like. The thing that's not eligible for discussion here involves having someone else publish your game, and you did not indicate anything about that. Therefore, Eero's cautionary point doesn't seem to apply particularly.

Let me know if you have any questions about any of these points.

Best, Ron

Title: Re: Advice on the RPG Pitch
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on May 03, 2008, 02:30:07 PM
The key part here, Armoury, seems to be that you want to "get a start in the business" so to speak, by starting small, gaining credentials and working your way up to making your own stuff with your own creative vision. Would you say that that reflects your intentions here, or are you really just interested in writing supplementary material for now?

I'm asking because the ultimate intent really is key to what you should do (insofar as we should be telling you that in the first place). If you want to make your own games, then there is quite a bit of data indicating that the best course is to go to it and do so. If there is some specific IP you've fallen in love with and want to work on, then the question of pitches and publisher relations is much more relevant. Even then there is certainly a large nimbus of hobbyist work wherein you can prove your chops and be as creative as you want, publishing for free with the tacit permission of almost any rpg company. (I can't think of one that currently hassles fan materials, at least.) So it again comes down to goals: if your goal is to create, you can do that just like that; if your goal more careerist and pecuniary, then the feasible techniques depend on where your expertise and interest lies.

Title: Re: Advice on the RPG Pitch
Post by: Armoury99 on May 04, 2008, 07:24:13 AM
The key part here, Armoury, seems to be that you want to "get a start in the business" so to speak, by starting small, gaining credentials and working your way up to making your own stuff with your own creative vision. Would you say that that reflects your intentions here, or are you really just interested in writing supplementary material for now?

You've hit the nail on the head with the first part of your question. Supplimentary materials are a way of honing my craft and learning more about the industry in these tentative first steps towards it. Of course I'd like to one day produce my own stuff (I'm already looking into that and laying the groundwork) but those are by definition big projects and frankly I'm unsure if I have the discipline and endurance required for it as yet. I thought that in the meantime some small articles for existing publishers would help give me writing practice and discipline, and establish a benchmark of quality required (one I reach it), and to be honest would probably provide some validation that I'm not living in a dream world regarding my skills. So while psychologically I want to get paid, its not my promary goal.

Title: Re: Advice on the RPG Pitch
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on May 04, 2008, 08:12:14 AM
Hey, this is starting to sound pretty sensible. Also, Ron's advice is really pertinent here: you don't need to adhere to "professional" standards in approaching publishers and laying your pitch if the goal is first and foremost to train yourself in writing and project management with the goal of becoming an independent/lead designer at some point yourself. It makes a world of difference whether you're into a project for self-improvement or for getting paid - the latter gives the payer something of a hold on you, which affects the relationship quite a bit compared to a more mutualistic relationship.

What games would you like to write for? That determines a lot of how you should approach the matter, exactly. Some companies and/or IP owners and/or designers are easy to approach and gain permission for publishing your stuff, while others are less so, I seem to hear. The important point is that there are always any number of games in the world that crave for attention from talented writers - the threshold issue is getting paid, really, but the beauty of an independent set-up is that this financial and investment issue all but disappears. If your goals are to train and prove yourself, and to get a bit of money for your trouble, then an independently set up project might be just right for you, depending on which IP you want to write for.

As an arbitrary example, consider Clinton R. Nixon's The Shadow of Yesterday: it's a flexible, reasonably popular fantasy roleplaying game and rules system that is all about dramatic heroic action. Owners of the game would love a quality supplement, they quack like little ducklings in distress at the fact that such have not been made during the last couple of years. If your sights were, hypothetically speaking, set on writing for TSOY, then there is practically no threshold at all for doing that as long as you're willing to take the financial risk of publishing yourself. (This is because the game is published under an open licencing scheme that allows anybody to work with it.) On the other hand, it'd be almost impossible to find anybody to publish that supplement and pay you, at the same time. Such are the wonders of open source licencing and independent publishing. Consider well; perhaps, depending on what game you want to write for, your best bet is to be your own publisher anyway. It's not that difficult to put out small product in pdf or small run printing.

(Also, about your presumption that you're not ready to publish a whole game yet: some might say that you are wrong and doing a whole game is not a big deal if you're smart about what you really need to write for it. I won't presume to know what kind of games you want to make: if your ambition has you publishing 300-page monsters full of tedious reference materials, then I won't be surprised if you want to hone and prove your writing discipline before tackling that. It's true that the grand work doesn't progress anywhere while you're off training, but the training will help to finish the big game later, and it will also help you realize whether writing an ambitious game is actually what you want to do, after all.)