Designer Diary Pod Everything

*If*, and it is an if, DriveThru’s new site does not get its act together and start to serve the smaller publishers as well or better than the previous site does, many small publishers are going to have problems.

During the pandemic we had a little bit of a golden age for RPG creators. People had a lot of time to play games and many people had furlough payments or stimulus checks and student loan holidays and so on.Plentiful time and spare money.

That did two things. The first was that RPG sales boomed. The second was that a great many people started writing and self publishing. Some of these people made enough to either make up the difference between what the government or employers were paying to stay home and what they would have been earning, or they went all in and changed careers, and became full time indie game developers or adventure writers.

The problem with starting a new venture during a time of plenty is that it often does not equip you for the hard times.

Many people who became pandemic generation RPG artists are being doubly hit by the AI generative art, on top of the cost of living crisis, and then the end of stimulus and loan holidays.

On top of that nightmare we can now add PHNX, the new design for DTRPG.

When you become a publisher you get to choose if you want to be exclusive or non-exclusive. Exclusive publishers earn 65% commission and get a couple of marketing perks. DTRPG uses an internal meta currency to pay for marketing opportunities like banners and deal of the day. Exclusive publishers get a little bit more of this meta currency each month, but the bonus is almost negligible as soon as you are big enough to be making regular sales of your books. There is also an area of their homepage that is reserved for titles by exclusive publishers, but it is a long way down the page and it is poorly curated. I am doubtful how useful it is.

If you are exclusive you can only sell digital titles on DTRPG and your own site, but you can sell physical books anywhere.

Non-exclusive publishers earn 60% commission, don’t get the little bonus in meta currency, but we can sell anything anywhere.

It is not a clear cut decision. For most people Exclusive is the better option. The reason being that DTRPG is the number 1 storefront for RPGs, and the second biggest is probably Amazon. Would you seriously consider running a game from your kindle? I suggest that most people wouldn’t. That makes Kindle sales less than useful. Some of my top sellers are books about games, rather than games themselves. That changes the questions. Would you read a book on Kindle? For many people, the answer is now Yes.

The really important bit is that print books can be sold anywhere.

Amazon print on demand [POD] is cheaper and higher quality than DTRPG’s print partner Lightning Source. You don’t even need to be able to do page layout. You could just upload your Word document and let them do the layout. If you are lucky it will look good enough just like that.

It is better if you can do layout and it honestly is not difficult. There are two parts to the problem. The first is page design. The solution there is to find books that you think look great, and then experiment with your chosen software until you can copy the style of the books you like. I remember doing this and it was a lot of switching between my software, my example book and YouTube to find our how to do each stage. But I did it.

The second part is the technical specifications to create a POD book. That will probably take you an afternoon to get right. Most of the problems (if not all) that you will hit are well known and well documented, so a web search is your friend, or back you go to YouTube.

There are broadly three pieces of software to choose from. Scribus (free but harder to use). Affinity Publisher (one of payment, more than capable). InDesign (industry standard but will cost you your first born child or a monthly tax subscription).

There are other options, such as you can fool Word/Publisher into producing a print-compatible file, but they are unsupported and you will be on your own if you hit problems.

Most graphics programs will produce a print quality cover as long as you know the spec you are trying to hit.

This is not intended as a how to.

If you already have published titles, I strongly recommend trying to get them in print. I would suggest you just pick one site, start with Amazon, and get all your titles in print on the site. You can start at kdp.amazon.com.

Once you have everything listed, then start on Lulu.com, and do the same. Get everything listed there. Look for sites that will take your POD books, and get everything listed.

As you create new stuff, get it on to all the available sites.

The goal will be to diversify yourself, and build up your presence on each of these sites. Having one book available is not going to make much difference, having 50 will.

This is longtail marketing all over again, but this time it is entirely possible that you have the stuff already made.

If you cannot hit the specifications, consider turning two or three things into a single anthology to get the right number of pages.

Visit as many sites offering print sales as you can, see what formats they support, and then pick one that has the greatest cross-platform compatibility. Interior files are nearly always cross-compatible; it is the covers that cause the most snags.

If you are lucky, you will be building up your off site sales faster than PHNX is strangling your longtail on DTRPG.

Good Luck.

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