I Have a Publisher Superpower. Do you?

I have an advantage over many other publishers; I have a superpower.

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Some of you reading this—particularly if you’ve played at my table—may suspect this is proof I am indeed a sinister super villain. Worry not! I’m a tremendously decent chap and when I GM it’s all sunshine, unicorns and shiny platinum pieces.

Or not.

Anyway, if you a (prospective) publisher you are probably aware third party publishing (3PP) is a tough business. It’s often been said, “The best way to make a small fortune in the gaming industry is to start with a large one.”

Sadly, the is true. I’ve been slaving away over Raging Swan Press’s books, supplements and adventures for almost six years at time of writing (February 2016). It’s become abundantly clearly to me during that time, that this is a tricky, tough game to be in. But it’s not all doom and gloom

If you take a look at the directory of Pathfinder publishers on Paizo’s website you’ll see there are literally hundreds of companies publishing Pathfinder Roleplaying Game compatible books. However, a closer look at the directory reveals a depressing fact.

Most companies release a surprisingly small volume of products (under 10) before either switching game system, giving up or going dormant. Very few go on to gain any real traction. The reasons for this are probably legion and could form the basis for an entire series of posts.

Whatever the reason, though, by my quick count only twelve companies (except Paizo) have released more than 100 Pathfinder compatible products. (I‘ve picked 100 because it’s a nice round number and something of a milestone).

In case you are interested, the list includes:

  • Abandoned Arts
  • Avalon Game Company
  • Fat Goblin Games
  • Kobold Press
  • Legendary Games
  • Louis Porter Jr. Design
  • Necromancers of the Northwest
  • Purple Duck Games
  • Raging Swan Press
  • Rite Publishing
  • Rogue Genius Games
  • Super Genius Games

I’m willing to bet that if you play Pathfinder you’ve heard of at least half of this companies. You probably haven’t heard of many of the companies that have produced only a handful of products. (And I’m not suggesting that just because a company releases loads of products they are successful—or vice versa—but I would suggest the number of products in a company’s catalogue is indicative of its longevity).

So, what’s my superpower and how does it help me run Raging Swan Press? Well, my superpower is…

Persistence.

When I first started Raging Swan Press in 2010, I didn’t really know what I was doing. Sure, I’d been a freelancer for over a decade and had written dozens of adventures, helped run Living Greyhawk and even done some freelance work for companies like Paizo and Wizards of the Coast. However, I’d never dealt with the business side of thing. I naively thought that selling 200 copies of something would be a doddle; after all, I write good stuff!

My first month’s sales swiftly proved me wildly optimistic and tremendously wrong. In fact, my first year’s sales were terrible. I’d put a lot of effort in and poured by heart and soul into some books I *really* wanted to write. While I hadn’t lost money I hadn’t really moved forward. It would have been very easy to give up. But I persisted. I didn’t give up and I kept pushing forward.

If you want to be a successful third party publisher, that’s what you’ve got to do. Persist. Don’t give up. Your sales will be crap, at first. Remember most  businesses lose money in at least their first year. Why would your’s be any different?

  • You’ve got to be prepared to push through a period when you can’t afford the designers or artists you really want.
  • You’ve got to be prepared to push through a period of bad sales.
  • You’ve got to be prepared to push through a period where no one seems to have heard of your company.

(As an aside—to make you chortle—people still contact me to say they’ve just heard about Raging Swan Press; we’ve been around for six years and have over 300 products and people are still discovering us for the first time. Behold my epic-level marketing skills).

And probably, you’ll be doing this alone. While you might have family and friends who support your dream, many of them won’t have the interest, temperament or skills to help you. I’m lucky, I have a family that supports my endeavours, but their eyes do tend to glaze over a little when I start telling them all about the exciting minutia of my job.

That all said, if you persist eventually something great happens.

  • Your sales begin to climb. A new customer buys a book, likes it and then checks out what else you’ve released. (This is where a long tail helps immensely).
  • Someone writes a good review or begins to talk you up to their gaming buddies. (Trust me, when this happens you’ll get a warm glow inside).
  • Freelancers begin to approach you, instead of you chasing them.

At the end of the day, for most people, third party publishing is not about making enough money to buy a private island. (Although I’m working on it, I fear it might be a rather tiny, barren and remote island). The definition of success in this arena is somewhat more nebulous and difficult to define. Ultimately, everyone’s definition of success is different. By some measures, Raging Swan Press has been wildly successful. By others, not so much. (More about that another time.)

But one thing is certain: whatever your definition of success unless you persist at third party publishing, you will fail.

Creighton is the publisher at Raging Swan Press and the designer of the award winning adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey. He has designed many critically acclaimed modules such as Retribution and Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands and worked with Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Expeditious Retreat Press, Rite Publishing and Kobold Press.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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4 thoughts on “I Have a Publisher Superpower. Do you?

  1. So, basically, you’re saving up money until you can buy Rockall? Sounds like a standard supervillian plan.