Publisher Advice: 3 Fundamental Questions You Should Ask About a Book

Before a publisher commissions a new book, he must be able to answer three absolutely fundamental questions about the project. If he can’t, the project is likely doom to failure.

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)
By William McAusland (Outland Arts)


As a publisher, particularly a new publisher, there is often a temptation to commission loads of books. More books mean more revenue (but sadly more cost) as well as greater exposure in a crowded marketplace and the likelihood of new customers finding your company.

However, before you charge like a crazed berserk into a new book there are three very basic questions you need to answer:

  1. What is the Point of the Book? Answering this question gives the publisher great insight into the content a book should include. For example, obviously a bestiary should feature monsters, the more the better! However, what should a new campaign setting include? How about an adventure? Whatever they should include, it’s certainly going to be different to the material found in a book of player options. Once you know the point of the book, you can determine what kind of material it should include.
  2. Who is Going to Read the Book? Fundamentally, is your book for players or GMs? Beyond that most basic of customer breakdowns, are you pitching your book at a particular subset of customer? Understand the smaller niche you aim your book at, the lower your sales rate is likely to be. Also consider that players outnumber GMs by about 4:1. Therefore, a book aimed at players has a much larger potential audience. However, most GMs are far more invested in the hobby than the average player by dint of the extra preparation and money they spend.
  3. What are the Readers Going to do with the Book? Will this book be required for constant reference at the table? Alternatively, can parts of it be taken and used in isolation from one another? What a reader is going to do with a book massively impacts such components as layout, frequency of art, the presence (or lack) of an index and so on. Understanding what your customer is going to do with the book enables you to provide the right tools and content to enable him to get the most from his purchase.

A publisher should not consider each of these questions in isolation from one another; they should be taken as whole. Answering these questions helps the publisher provide the right content presented in the right way for the right customer.

Once a publisher can answer these three questions, he can start to consider such complexities as content, budget, page count, art requirements and so on. He might even have a specific freelancer in mind for the project — for example some designers are better at crunch than fluff (and vice versa).

Help Your Fellow Publishers

Do you consider similarly basic details of a project before unleashing your team of crack freelancers? Let me know what they are in the comments below and help your fellow publishers be more successful today!

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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.

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