Thursday, 8 October 2015

Notes on micro-publishing, part 1

As Oddpool has been out for just over a month now - and there are still a few print copies left for around the price of a Starbucks coffee! - and because I want to make self-publishing RPG things a part of what I do, for fun and for profit, it seemed like a good time to look at the numbers and process involved thus far.

This is by no means a "how-to": I'm just going to say what I did, what I think went well and what I think I could do differently, and some little things I've learned along the way. I had three goals with making Oddpool:
  1. To have fun making something and sharing it.
  2. To learn a little about the behind the scenes logistics of this kind of enterprise.
  3. To raise some money towards artwork for future releases.
In this post, I want to share some of the practicals on how I made Oddpool, both my process for creating the files involved and what I did to make the printed editions. In a second post I'll look at what I did to set up a payment process, and how I went about sharing Oddpool. Depending on how long I waffle in that post, it might be a third post before I get on to reflecting on what I've personally learned, and the numbers side of things, but I will get to them.

Making Oddpool

I used Open Office to typeset the work. Although the final output file was a single page A4 pdf, I created an eight-page A4 document to work with. As I was working I shrank the page size on screen to roughly A7, so that I could see what kind of font sizes would be needed. Artwork was created using pictures I had taken in and around Liverpool, and then applying various filters in Paint.NET. There were about four or five printed versions leading up to the final file. Some of the changes along the way were due to adding content that was either missing or placeholder. Some were due to realising that there was a "bad" piece of design in my eyes: for example, having a map where the ordering of places was almost random - I changed this to moving clockwise around the map. Finally, after creating an eight-page A4 pdf, I used a simple Pocketmod-making piece of software that converted those pages into a single-sheet of A4 that could be printed and folded.

I had originally made Oddpool almost as a gag gift to give to some friends, so I had the concept (a little Pocketmod that took a few hours to make); it then took, I estimate, something like twenty hours more work to refine this to the final supplement/zine.

Printing and Assembling Oddpool

Although I was printing my own copies at home for prototypes, I wanted the limited run to be done by a better printer and on good quality paper. My wife had used Doxdirect to print some uni work, and their rates and turnaround seemed good. I had two small problems that added to my costs:
  • I had a date that I wanted to put the printed version on sale, and it was only a few days from the order date - which meant I had to pay for a faster turnaround and delivery option.
  • I didn't know which paper quality was going to be right - so I ordered 25 copies of both 90gsm and 120gsm.
Doxdirect worked very quickly, and the print quality was great on both paper stocks. 120gsm felt better than 90gsm, but 90gsm folded a lot more neatly. For the purposes of this experiment, I decided to put the 120gsm on sale as the "limited edition, signed and numbered" copy, but include the 90gsm for each buyer as well.

Once I got into the routine of folding and cutting the Pocketmods, I was able to work quickly; similarly for signing and numbering them. As my home printer was less than reliable, I realised at this point that I'd have to manually write the return address on the back of every envelope - not a major hassle, but a time cost nonetheless. I think that the assembly and envelopes took another three hours, but it could be done over a few evenings.

This post feels long enough for now, so will stop there and pick up tomorrow hopefully with more reflections on the process of creating a small RPG product. If you've got questions about what I've said so far, or questions about the kind of areas that I might be talking about - numbers, what I've learned, etc - then let me know in the comments or on G+ where I share this. Thanks for reading!

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