Behind the Curtain #1

More than one of you has mentioned that you quite like it when you get to see some of the RPG industry from the publisher’s side. You can get a bit of insight from my Designer Diary videos but I thought I would do an occasional post on here as well, and how it relates to what you see me working on.

 Two of the publishers that go me started are Ken Wickham and Azukail Games.

Ken’s approach to selling his solo tools is best summed up as Sale after Sale after Sale. 

(Visit Ken’s Publisher Page)

It is more unusual to find someone who has paid full price for his books and it is to find someone who picked them up in a sale.

Ken is quite prolific, his first title was released in July 2016, and his most recent was yesterday. Between then and now he has published 209 titles. That is just over 40 a year.

His main ‘thing’ is Grammar Fuel. A random word system where you roll for a random Noun, Verb, Adjective, and Adverb to create your prompts. Grammar Fuel started life as a single generic tool, but more recently he has created themed variations, each with supporting random lists of ‘stuff’, books, movies, in fact, any form of inspiration.

The other influential person publisher is Azukail Games.

Azukail was the name of the publisher’s pathfinder character, which is a useless piece of trivia.

Azukail is not really a solo rpg publisher but has hopped on the wretched bandwagon in the past 12 months.

Azukail started publishing in September 2014 and since then has published 500 titles, and that could be 501 by the time you read this. That is more than one every 5 days, for the past six and a half years.

Azukail is first and foremost a list publisher. Masses of themed lists and random tables. The cross-over to solo is that we tend to like random tables to add an element of the unknown to our games.

Azukail’s marketing approach is best summed up as scattergun. Write enough, on enough topics and you will have something that appeals to everyone.


Do you notice the common thread of how prolific we are?

For comparison, I have published 275 titles between August 2016 and last Monday. That is a relatively sedate one every 6 days for the past 5 years.

Why so many and so often?

Because for a long time our best advertising was being on the DriveThruRPG homepage. When you are new and unheard of, your book may last a day or so, if you are lucky on the homepage, and during that time you may get a few sales.

When someone buys something they are asked if they want to opt in to email updates.

Throwing stuff onto the homepage is a way of building up that mailing list. Once you have a few names and emails, you can tell people about your new releases and they can start to drive a few new sales. Keep that up for long enough and you will have a big list and that list will generate enough sales to get best-selling titles.

The rankings on DTRPG are calculated by the total value of sales in the past 60 days or the product’s life, whichever is shorter. Selling a lot on day one is enough for you to hit the top of the hottest lists. That gives you more exposure and gives you more sales.

Azukail’s goal is to sell one book to every GM, and make at least a dollar from the transaction. Given that there are approximately 22M role-players, that probably would be enough.

All three of us are locked into a work pattern of one a week, week in, week out. And our customer base almost expects to see a new book every week.

The money is made from the bigger name titles, they take a little longer, but I can infill with things like Dungeon World Adventures, which take about 5hrs, and Cut Up Solo, which takes a Friday evening. I can also do solo rules for smaller rules-light games in a day or so [Knave / Maze Rats].

If you ever fancied self-publishing for RPGs, I would recommend stockpiling a stack of titles before you publish anything. These will give you a chance to hone your skills, learn what you enjoy and chances are, when you release your first title it will bomb and never be seen again. Where some people may give up at that point. Working on Adventure#2 when Adventure#1 didn’t sell is slightly disheartening. For you, Adventure#2 is already in the can and ready to go. You can release that, and if you have any emails on your list, you can notify them of your new title. As you work through your stockpile you can be writing new adventures to add to the list. chances are that you will get faster as you go. Your mailing list will keep growing, and sales increasing.

This will be an occasional series, but feel free to fire any questions at me, if you have any.

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