[Hell for Leather RPG] Things You Gotta Do Before Printing

Started by Sebastian K. Hickey, April 11, 2010, 03:23:04 PM

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Sebastian K. Hickey

Dear Diary,

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.


Tom Tom

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.

Tom Tom

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! :)

Sebastian K. Hickey

(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?)

Dear Diary,

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, 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.


Sebastian K. Hickey

Dear Diary,

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.


Sebastian K. Hickey

Dear Diary,

I received my proofs yesterday and posted about them over on Story Games.

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.

Kind regards,


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).

Sebastian K. Hickey

Over on Praxis, someone asked me for a conclusion. I'm including it here.

QuoteHi Jay,

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. I had to get in last one plug. Sorry about that.

Ron Edwards

Hi Sebastian,

This was a brilliant and powerful thread. I'll be pointing people to it routinely. Many thanks for including it here.

Best, Ron


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?