How to herd cats: getting 8 indie designers to work together on one book

Started by Rich Stokes, November 27, 2008, 03:11:37 PM

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Rich Stokes

This is a quick rundown of how the CE Journal came into existence.  Hopefully it'll be interesting to a couple of people and might even serve someone as a how-to for a similar project.  If someone else can learn from my experiences here, then it's got to be worth writing this down and making it publicly available.

1) Genesis.

This whole thing owes it's existence to Neil "Vodkashok" Gow1, who suggested the project in an email sent on the 12th of August:

"How much support do people support for their games, post publication? Is there scope for a CE 'house pdf' which we could put together and distribute free, or at a small charge, with bonus material for our games?  Almost like a house magazine, but less complex? Even if 6 of us put together 4 pages each, thats a 24 page pdf publication."

This idea was tossed about a bit, everyone seemed to like it.  Nobody's much looking at publishing a bunch of suppliments for their games, but there's certainly merit in a couple of pages of extra stuff for some of the games.

Once enough people were commited to providing articles for the book, I took charge as, I suppose, project manager.  Although it'd be called editor in chief if this was a magazine maybe?  Anyway, it was my job to make this thing actually happen and co-ordinate everyone else.

2) Getting Started.

We decided that we wanted to have the book for sale at Dragonmeet, which was at the end of November.  This seemed like an aggressive, but achievable goal.  If we were to meet that, we'd need to stick to deadlines and make sure everything worked out because there would be very little room to spare.

I started a mailing list for the project and everyone started kicking ideas around.  Very quickly the "rules" of the project took shape:

  • Only articles for existing games (or games which would be for sale by the time of Dragonmeet) were to be included.  This was very much not the place to put tidied-up versions of people's gamechef entries.

  • The Designer of each game was 100% responsible for their article and material for their own game.  That is to say that if any Hot War material was going to go in the book, it had to be submitted by Malcolm Craig.  He needn't have written it himself, but he has to submit it to me for it to be included.  This would be his tacit approval that he was happy for the article to be associated with his game.

  • Designers were to be responsible for providing artwork for their articles.  In the end, David, Gregor and I created our own art work, Andrew got some fantastic photos from Malcolm for the Dead Of Night stuff, and Malcolm and Iain got some great stuff from Paul for the Hot War and Mob Justice bits.  That meant most of the articles had artwork, and the running order was created so that the art would be spread out as evenly as possible.

  • The book would be sold at Dragonmeet and on our stall at subsequent Cons.  It would be done PoD via Lulu, because we we're talking low numbers.  It would then be available for purchase from Lulu after Dragonmeet, and also as a free-of-charge PDF downloadable from the usual places.

  • I'd personally bankroll the first print run.  Once I'd made my money back on that, any further actual print runs would be paid for with the proceeds from the first run.  If the book ever started making actual money (profit!) that would pay for later editions if we decided to do it all again, or maybe split among the contributors.

  • We'd try to make the printed book cheap.  We were not looking to make money on this, just to break even promoting existing games.

At this point, everyone decided what they'd be writing and started working on it.

3) Setting a Schedule.

With such an agressive project date, setting deadlines correctly, (and getting people to hit them) was going to be vital:

  • We'd be printing via Lulu for the Dragonmeet stock, meaning we'd need to allow 2 weeks for the books to arrive.  Allowing another 2 weeks for a proof copy meant that the book had to be basically ready to go to press by the end of October.

  • Paul Bourne, who's art has graced Contested Ground's books for years (and did the cover for 3:16) volunteered to do the layout.  We agreed that he'd get 2 weeks to do the layout and collate the art, which seemed fair.  That means that all the articles had to be ready for layout by mid October.  This became the deadline for artwork.

  • (We also agreed that Paul would do a no-frills print friendly version of the book for bundling as a PDF.  He'd do the layout for that after the print layout PDF had been sent to Lulu.)

  • Everything would need editing.  I asked people to try and do some self editing before submitting articles (rather than send me rough reading draughts) but realised that proper editing was also needed.  I set aside just over two weeks for editing and elisted the help of Scott Dorward to help out.  I'd do the first pass on everything, then Scott would do a pass, then it'd go back to the author to approve.  Finally, everything went for peer review, with every article getting looked at by at least two other authors.  In the end, we did this in two weeks, but if I had a do over this is the only part I'd change and I'd give us a bit longer.  I ended up taking two days off work to get it done, and Andrew ended up doing a bit more editing than was planned, but we got there!  Those two weeks took us to the start of October as the deadline for articles.

I posted this schedule to everyone on the 26th of August.  That gave them 5 weeks to get the articles written (although they'd been working of them for a week by then already).  Like I say, a pretty aggressive schedule!

4) Pulling it all together

To be honest, things went pretty much according to plan.  I took charge with a velvet gloved fist of steel, which is to say that rather than debating how things would be done (which frankly we didn't have time for), I decided how they'd work and asked if anyone had any objections.  My attitude was "Here's my idea, If you think you have a better one you quite probably do..."  There were a couple of times when other people's ideas were indeed better than mine, which was great.

To be honest, these are not a hard bunch of guys to work with.  I set some rules, which everyone agreed were reasonable, I set a schedule, which again everyone thought was reasonable.  We hit the schedule, (more or less, and certainly within the margins I'd built in) and managed to produce a great piece of work in a very short time.

So that's what happened, how we managed to get it to go from nothing to done is a relatively short time.  Intense peer review is probably the catchphrase for the project.  I hope this is interesting or useful to someone.

1 - Should I start calling him Neil "Duty & Honour" Gow now, I wonder?
The poster previously known as RichKS

Gregor Hutton

Thanks for posting this up Rich. The Collective Endeavour journal looks pretty good and I think it's a really sweet sampler, and supplement, to a nice group of games. I'm really glad with all the work that you put into making this happen, and for all the stuff behind the scenes by Scott and Paul too.