In 11 weeks, HfL is going to be launched but I haven't even spoken to a printers yet. What the fuck do I do now? Where do I start?
Using advice from a mix of sources, I intend to post a diary of the process. Starting today.
I hope that new publishers will benefit from the experience.
Last night I got in touch with Brennan Taylor from Indie Press Revolution (IPR (http://www.indiepressrevolution.com/xcart/home.php)) and asked if he'd like to view the Hell for Leather Teaser PDF.
As a European publisher, I need to figure out how to get into the U.S. So far, my strategy includes IPR—who vet all of their products. Before I get too steeped in printing and distribution, I've got to see how the land lies with them.
I also sent a non-disclosure agreement (http://www.onebookshelf.com/joinrpg.html) to OneBookShelf, the parent organisation behind Drive Thru RPG and RPG Now (for PDF distribution). If that goes according to plan, I'll be able to release promotional and release products with them by the middle of May.
Today I got feedback from three important parties:
My application was accepted. I am now ready to publish PDFs through the RPG Now and Drive Thru RPG. I plan to use this to distribute the teaser PDF before release. OneBookShelf charge 45% off every sale which is forcing me to consider a $13.50 PDF. There's a lot of thinking left to do on pricing...
These are the printers behind Lulu Europe (I've been told) and boy are they good. I got a quote for 50 books, 84 pages each at 5.5in x 8in on 80gsm white text stock with a 300gsm card stock, gloss laminate, full colour cover: €195 including the setup fee. My sales rep is awesome. He's knowledgeable, quick to respond, and up front with the facts.
For US distribution I've chosen to go with Fidlar-Doubleday. The quote for the same quantity of books on 60gsm paper comes in at $248 (€182). Again, the support from these guys is really fantastic. They offer promotional materials (sans setup fee) if you order them with the title. In this way I hope to get 50 double-sided letter sized Targets printed on card stock as a bundled promo offer (with the PDF).
Today I also learned that matte finishing on the front cover is probably a bad choice for dark colours (advised by Paul Bourne and Gregor Hutton).
And I ordered two samples of paper so that I can figure out which option will be suitable for Hell for Leather (Hi-Bright white vs. Readers Natural cream). I'll keep you posted.
Today I finished the cover artwork for Hell for Leather and I found out that Fiddlar-Doubleday use U.S. Web Coated (SWOP) v2 as the ICC colour profile in their RIP. If you're using them to print, make sure you convert your CMYK images to that colour profile to get a good idea of how it will look on paper. For example, here are two versions of the cover:
Euroscale Coated v2 (http://cobwebgames.com/images/CoverSpreadRGB.jpg)
U.S. Web Coated (SWOP) v2 (http://cobwebgames.com/images/CoverSpread.jpg)
Yesterday I got some paper samples from Anthony Rowe (aka CPI). I printed out a test page onto two kinds of paper. You can click on the link below for a look (sorry about the quality). The one on the left is their off-white option. I'd say it's around 50-60gsm. I was very tempted to choose off-white because I've always found high contrast pages difficult on the eye. However, you'll agree that the images degrade badly on the cream paper.
I did a little research. The reason the white paper does so well with printed images is to do with paper brightness. The paper is coated so that it reflects light better. This makes the blacks stronger and sharper. Also, the whiteness of the paper (different from brightness, which is all about reflected light), improves the natural contrast in tandem. Bammm. Punchy graphics.
So, having done my homework, I'm opting for 80gsm Hi-Bright coated text stock.
Paper Comparison (http://cobwebgames.com/images/imagestorage/CPI_Paper_Comparison.jpg)
Two days ago I posted the Hell for Leather Teaser (http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/product_info.php?products_id=80592) to Drive Thru RPG. It has been downloaded 66 times.
If you're going to upload a file to DTRPG and you're worried about the automatic Flash preview feature (which displays the contents of your book on the product page), give the system 24 hours to recognise your PDF.
Today I heard back from IPR. Hell for Leather has been approved, pending the signing of an SRA (Sales Representation Agreement).
P.S. The Teaser has been downloaded 92 times (in eight days, I think). I don't know what that means, but maybe you can use this as a guideline when you release your own games, to retrospectively measure success/failure.
This morning I found out that IPR sell ISBN codes for $10.
Converting an ISBN into a barcode is easy (http://www.terryburton.co.uk/barcodewriter/generator/) and will help distributors sort their stock. Happy distributors = good policy.
I'm buying an ISBN from IPR.
Today I found out that Anthony Rowe (CPI) in the UK use GRACol 2006 coated for their CMYK colour profile. I will almost certainly have to paint up another version of the cover to match their gamut.
Today I got my ISBN from IPR and an email from Fidlar Doubleday about estimated delivery times. They say they run 6-8 business day turnaround for printing and delivery. Is that possible? Let's find out next month!
[This post should have been made on the 21st June]
I just got a quote for shipping from Fidlar Doubleday. The cost (excluding VAT and other taxe) is $80.77 just for postage. It looks like I've got two options. Either I get the proof sent via email as a PDF or I send it to someone in the U.S. who I can trust to give me accurate feedback.
Would anyone like to help me out?
[This post should have been made on the 26th June]
My contact at Fidlar Doubleday relocated to San Fransisco. I didn't think much of it at first. But today, as I was trying to calculate how wide my spine would need to be in the cover artwork, I realised it could have been a serious problem.
My contact had been replaced by a fellow I'd heard nothing about. All of the communication I've had with this new guy so far has been neat and clean. He's given me no problems at all. The only thing is that when I email him, I have to wait a day for a reply (before I was getting replies within the hour). That's a little upsetting, but I can live with it.
I asked him to adjust my old quote (because of the increased page count). It all seemed fine. Today, while I was trying to calculate the width of the book's spine, I went back into the new quote to make double sure that the stock type was right. Holy balls! The guy had quoted me for the wrong paper! He had put down a quote for the rough, thin paper instead of the Hi-Bright stock I'd agreed on.
Look, this is not going to be big news to anyone with half a brain, but still, I almost got messed up by it. If you're getting a print done and your contact at the printer changes, make sure to double check everything before you proceed. You never know what the handover is like on their end, and what information will get mishandled along the way.
[This post should have been made on the 27th of June]
I converted my ISBN into a barcode today using this handy website (http://www.terryburton.co.uk/barcodewriter/generator/).
I changed the "Symbology" to "ISBN," and the "Options" to "includetext." I found that a scale of 3.5 x 3.5 created an image about the right size for a normal sized book. I exported it as a PNG and dropped it onto my cover in Photoshop.
Printers will convert your ISBN into a barcode for you, but they'll charge you €30. Save yourself the cash and do it yourself!
Having spoken with Jason Morningstar and Joshua Newman, and having thought about the situation at length over the weekend, I decided to cancel the hard proofs (the cropped but unbound version of the text stock and the un-cropped, uncoated colour proof that is sent out for publisher review).
I was going to pay $60 for the proofs (not including shipping) to be sent to Joshua Newman. The idea was that he would be able to spot any problem areas in the print run.
I still think it's a sound plan.
Except, with the looming GenCon deadline, I'm concerned that it will be a waste of time. By that, I mean that if the soft proofs are okay, I don't think that anyone unfamiliar with the project will be able to easily find problems with the printed layout. Okay, sure they'll be able to tell me if my layout sucks, but they probably won't be able to notice inconsistencies between the soft and hard proofs. So, essentially, I'd be asking Joshua to critique my layout, which is a consuming task and, since I won't have time to make changes, would be completely unnecessary.
It wasn't an easy decision. It's a huge gamble. Like, if Fidlar Doubleday are incompetent, I could end up with fifty copies of illegible print and I won't have any comeback. A dangerous gamble?
If I was more worried about the colour accuracy on the front cover, or if the layout held more importance to me, I think I would have gone for the remote proofing option (or I would have paid the $120 for the proofs to be sent to Ireland). As it stands, I'm concerned with getting copies to GenCon. I don't think I'm going to sell 50 copies in the next year, so it's important to me to keep the costs down and to get the game to the biggest markets. I hope it pays off.
Today I uploaded the proof PDFs to CPI (aka Anthony Rowe). The modified cost of each book (not including the setup fee) will be £1.84. CPI include a bound sample for proofing! That means I'll get to see the book in all its readiness before I commit to the 50 prints. Things are so much easier when you print things in your own continent.
Today I got an email back from CPI (Anthony Rowe) complaining that my "PDF contained transparencies." What does that mean? I did some research.
Older RIPs (Raster Image Processors—the things that turn your lovely PDF into something understandable to the printer), especially the ones built in to the printer's firmware, are not compatible with certain features of the PDF 1.4+ standard. In other words, they are obsolete. The newest PDFs standards have all sorts of cool, work-saving features to help designers with the job of production. One of those features is transparency, which includes blending.
So, if I have three layers of images—each blending over the one below, to create a funky effect—and I export this as a PDF version 1.5, the printer that uses an obsolete RIP firmware will not be able to rasterise the transparency properly. It will not understand what the fuck is going on. In order to circumvent this issue, I have to export the PDF using an old standard (1.3). Unfortunately, in doing so, I have to flatten the PDF.
Flattening the PDF is way more complex than it sounds. It involves building vectors for the text and the images, and can lead to some nasty artefacts where it guesses how to segregate an image into a vector/raster. I spent this morning bashing my head against the issue until I came up with a neat fix. I took out all the text, exported the entire PDF as a flat graphics solution (no vectors) and then imported that entire PDF back into the document and dropped the text layers back on top.
In a sense, I collapsed all the fancy image into one, non adjustable, flat layer. It's not a good solution for editing, but it's a good solution to preserve the look of an existing layout without having to worry about dodgy raster artefacts.
i've got an rpg going into print in about 3-4 weeks and here's my story so far:
phoned mongoose publishing to see what their policy was on independent games. the guy i spoke to refused to even look at my game!
emailed kurt ziegel from game geeks to see if he'd do a video review of my book when it's printed; he ignored me. i was disappointed about that because i used to think he was a genuine guy but i think he's sponsored to do the reviews he does now. bad sign.
i got hold of leisure games in london who actually took the time to look at what i'd done so far and said they liked it and would stock it in their shop when it's in print in a few weeks time. yay!
this is my first experience with trying to promote a work of mine and for every nice person it seems, like this forum's host ron, there's an unpleasant person that you have to deal with; like the guy from mongoose.
you have to believe in yourself and your product and fight till the bitter end to get it noticed.
your diary is very interesting. especially to me who is doing what you're doing. i've just contacted irp and drive thru myself now. keep up with the posts! :)
(Hi Tomas, thanks for posting your appreciation. In the interest of keeping this thread on target, I'm not going to answer your comments here. Maybe start another thread?)
Both prints have been processed for shipping. IPR should get their hands on the Hell for Leather book sometime this afternoon. What does that mean for me? A cleaner financial projection. That is, I now know how much I've spent, to the cent, in getting this game into distribution. With that knowledge, and my pricing structure, I can understand (and talk about) the cash bucks.
Over on Cobweb Games (http://cobwebgames.com/index.php/grind-figures-1/), I've outlined the cost per unit and projected profits via three methods of distribution (direct sales, IPR sales and DriveThru RPG sales). After some totting up, I've calculated the full potential earnings for 100 copies of Hell for Leather and the Target playsheet. From IPR, I could net around $300 if all the items sell direct to customers. That's not including PDF only sales and it wobbles significantly if retail get involved. From the direct sales (Cobweb Games), I stand to earn a much larger piece of the pie (around $600) but that's totally unpredictable. There's going to be discounts here and there, some of it will get chewed up by retail, I haven't deducted the stall costs, and so on and so on.
Today I opened up Hell for Leather for pre-ordering. I started by creating a "Merchant Account" on Paypal. They take 3.4% off any transaction + €0.34. That's not bad. I used their button making wizard to create a series of Buy Now buttons for my website. Using the pricing structure from yesterday, I made four buttons.
After I set up the shop, I promoted the game on Story Games, RPG.net and DriveThru RPG. Customers were able to visit the website and pre-order the package they were interested in. So far, most people have gone for the Deluxe Bundle even though it's the most expensive option. That could be because these are the grass roots folks. That's something to consider in another thread.
Anyway, the way it works is simple. A customer pays for their package using Paypal, I get sent a notification email, and then I use the "Canned Responses" feature of Gmail to automatically reply to the Paypal "Payment received" notification—thereby giving new customers instant access to the PDF bundle from a secure ftp address. This is my crappy, clumsy, jury-rig way to make sure that customers always get something for their money RIGHT NOW, even if they have to wait a few weeks for the pre-order to come through.
I received my proofs yesterday and posted about them over on Story Games (http://story-games.com/forums/comments.php?DiscussionID=12570).
I wasn't happy with the layout of the text on the front cover (I hadn't foreseen how cropped it would look in print), but when I asked CPI how much it would be to make a change, they quoted £50 (which is around a $1.50 mark-up on each book. Not worth it (this time).
I've approved the proof, so now all I have to do is wait for the stock to arrive. There is one last printing job I intend to look at in the next month or two, but I think, unless something wild happens in the next two weeks, that this thread is now closed.
I hope it has been useful.
P.S. This might be a good time for anyone with questions to pop them my way. Perhaps there has been something I've mentioned in the thread that you'd like more information about, or perhaps I mentioned some process but never returned to explain it properly, and so on. While it's all fresh in my mind, I'd like to explore any questions you have (to make sure it is recorded for me here when I need to come back and review the process next time).
Over on Praxis, someone asked me for a conclusion. I'm including it here.
I wish I could come up with something profound and useful in this closing statement, but I don't think there's much I can say. I suppose, if I was to do this again, I would probably print only in Europe. I had decided to print in the US and the UK to save on P&P charges to US clients. It turns out that there is very little pricing difference, really, and that by opting for two prints, I've had to pay two setup fees with two different printers. The intention was that IPR (and their big public profile) would help to shift a few copies and spread the word, and that this would offset and overcome any of the costs and profit cuts I'd take by using them. I think that my intention to use IPR was naive. I thought, somehow, that their marketing position would somehow lend itself to my game (by osmosis, of course).
The reality is that the game is going to sell on its own merits. IPR won't push the game. They have too many products. They will just make it available from their store front. I suppose that I had thought that there would be something more to it than that, but now I think I see it more clearly. If the game is going to sell, it is probably because I'll do monthly updates, visit conventions, do podcasts and playtest reports, jump into forums to remind people, create clever bundles, cross-promote and all that other marketing stuff I know nothing about. If that's true, then there was never any need for me to use IPR. That is, if the game is going to sell because of my work output, then why couldn't I have shipped the game myself and cut out the middle man?
So, that's what I would have done differently.
Also, mistakes-wise, I don't like the bleed on the cover. I think the text is too close to the edge of the cover, and now that I've seen the proof, I want to change it. But, of course, that will cost me oodles of cash. Which I can't afford. So I have to stick with what I've got. Therefore, the last word on this is straightforward: Make sure you preview, double-preview, and triple-preview your cover PDF. Make sure you look at it in the final format (by obscuring the bleed area). If you're not happy, change it. Once you order the proof you are basically signing the contract. This is the point where, unless there is a colossal fuck up, you're going to hold the book in your hands and wish you could change X, Y and Z. It's worth understanding that you can't fix everything.
A list of things I wish I had known before I started:
How to get my publishing software to warn me that I'm using Transparencies
That I should start painting my cover in CMYK mode
All of the ISBN stuff covered above
All of the colour profile stuff from above
That when they say 5-10 working days, they actually mean two weeks
Incidentally, the game is ready to buy from the shop (http://cobwebgames.com/index.php/shop/). I had to get in last one plug. Sorry about that.
This was a brilliant and powerful thread. I'll be pointing people to it routinely. Many thanks for including it here.
It was a very interesting read. Lots of good information. Would it be possible to sticky it to keep it at the top, or would that be inappropriate/unecessary?