Tabletop roleplaying is a niche industry. It’s dominated by one major player and a handful of mid-level players. There are dozens of small publishers, and hundreds if not thousands of individuals self-publishing their darlings. Breaking in is relatively easy thanks to sites like DriveThruRPG, Kickstarters, and Itch. Becoming successful is a lot harder. Today I want to talk about, in fairly high-level terms, how I earn a modest living creating things.
I’ve talked about passion and desperation. I’ve also mentioned going back to college to get a business degree, rather than pursuing a Master’s in Fine Arts for writing. That’s what I want to expand on a bit more here.
My previous publishing company, Asparagus Jumpsuit, was created as a live learning lab. I took the things that I was learning and tested them out using the TTRPG products I created. That’s how I figured out what products sold well, and what didn’t. It’s where I figured out how to apply marketing and advertising principles to this specific niche.
By the time I graduated, I had a business plan. I ran it past my instructors and advisors for feedback. They picked it apart and helped me to revise it. The final plan was my thesis. I graduated Summa Cum Laude.
I know that this drives the “art for art’s sake” crowd crazy. It seems soulless and corporate and the antithesis of what a True Creator should do. I also know that while they sit on Twitter complaining that they can’t making a living doing this, I’ve been… making a living doing this.
A Modest Living Creating Things
There is more to publishing than creating something, throwing it to the internet, and waiting for the money to roll in. If you want to make money, you need to treat your business like a business. That means sometimes you need to do what you have to do until you can do what you want to do. I don’t always get to make what I want to make, the way that I want to make it. Sometimes I need to make the thing people will pay for, so that I can make rent.
At the same time, two things are happening. I’m learning, and I’m building credibility. Every time I release something, I discover something new. It might be an idea that I can use in a future book, or something about the market, or a better way to so something. When I can deliver consistently, turning out well over 200 books in 5 years, it shows that I have a work ethic. It gives me ample opportunity to learn new things.
If you want to earn a living as a creator, you need to start with a plan. Know what you’re going to make, and how you’re going to sell it. Plan to have multiple revenue streams, and avoid putting all of your eggs in one basked. Then you need to grind.
Five years in, I still have to do what I have to do. I’m finally reaching the point where I get to do what I want to do. The next five years are where DXP takes off, and I get to create the games I’ve wanted to work on since Day 1. Now, though, I have the efficacy to do them well. I have the foundation that will let them not get lost in that vast sea of other games.