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Pitching your tabletop game to a publisher
What you need to know about approaching a TTRPG publishing company
Welcome back to Sebastian Yūe’s Newsletter! Today’s topic is publishing; specifically, partnering with a publisher to release your game. Before I get to that, I’d like to introduce the Updates section and the Coming soon section. The Updates section will appear at the start of each newsletter to catch you up on what I’ve been doing since the previous post. The Coming soon section will appear at the end of each newsletter and will highlight exciting things on the horizon.
Updates: so much editing!
The 2023 ENNIE Awards ceremony happened! Two products I edited, Incantations (Metal Weave Games) and The Session Zero System (Mythic Grove Productions) received nominations with The Session Zero System winning a silver award in the Best Aid/Accessory – Digital category. I’m proud to have worked on both games.
Flee, Mortals! by MCDM released! I was a proofreader for this mammoth book of 300+ monsters for 5e. As I was working on it, I kept having to pause to write down all the ideas it was giving me. It’s distractingly good.
The Ascended Court by Morgan Eilish is out! I playtested and edited this fantastic supplement for Monster of the Week. It’s a series of six mysteries set in Victorian England during the Spiritualist movement and I had such a blast playing through it. You can fight demons, foil plans, and uncover a conspiracy that goes right to the top. I can’t say more without spoilers but the thrill of killing the final boss is unparalleled.
The Constellation RPG Zine Anthology I curated earlier this year has shipped to backers! If you missed it, it’s available on the Hit Point Press website. There are community copies of the PDF available if you can’t afford to buy it. This project means a lot to me and I can’t wait for folks to get this beautiful book in their hands.
Now for the main event.
Disclaimer: As always, I am one person and everything written here represents my own opinions and experiences. None of it represents the views of my employer. Following the advice in this post does not guarantee you’ll be published.
I’ve worked at Canadian TTRPG publisher Hit Point Press for just over a year and a half. In that time, I’ve been involved with the publishing side of the company. I read pitches, I liaise with creators wanting to work with Hit Point Press, and I assist with the prepress review of manuscripts.
I’m going to break down the various parts of the publishing process and then get into how to pitch your game. I’ll walk you through questions to ask when meeting with a publisher, and I’ve collected some resources at the end for further insight.
What is publishing?
Broadly speaking, to publish a game is to bring it to market: making it into a thing that people can buy. Publishing is a multifaceted process and each publisher has different capacities and interests. A publisher’s ability to support you in one area does not guarantee that they’ll be able to support in other areas. They may or may not offer help with the following:
Consultation. A publisher can offer advice about various stages of publishing. Common topics include building and running a successful crowdfunding campaign, fulfilment, and manufacturing physical products.
Collaboration. If you want a publisher’s writers, editors, artists, designers, or other staff to work on your project as part of their job, know which roles you’re looking for and the scope of the work they’d be doing. This is a significant investment on the part of the publisher and requires a strong business case.
Marketing. A publisher can support your project by including it in their email newsletter, posting about it on social media, or running pay-per-click advertisements. They may also be able to host a digital preview of your product on their site or hand out physical preview booklets at conventions.
Production. If your game includes physical items of any kind, this is the manufacturing stage. A publisher may be able to make introductions to printers, manufacturers, freight companies, and vendors that they work with. Some publishers might be able to manage production for you. This means that they’d be responsible for preparing and submitting your files to the printer, and communicating with the manufacturers.
If your project is digital only, production could include bookmarking a PDF or optimizing it for fast viewing.
Sales. The transaction part of the process. A publisher could sell your game on their online storefront or assist with distribution and wholesale.
Before approaching a publisher
Figure out what you need. Based on the previous section of this post, establish which aspects of the publication process you’d like help with, then research several publishers. You don’t just want to find a publisher, you want to find a publisher that’s right for your game. You can pitch to several publishers at the same time and see what each has to offer.
When choosing who to pitch to, take a look at the kinds of products the publisher carries and identify how your game would appeal to their audience. Read their publishing philosophies if available, and scroll through their social media pages to see what their values are and what causes they support. If the publisher is in the right part of the market and their beliefs align with yours, they’re worth reaching out to.
Start your project. Put some concrete work into your project before you pitch it. Even if the idea has lived in your head for years, you still need a project sample. Having this proof of concept demonstrates to the publisher that you are committed and that you’re capable of follow-through. I’ll share more on this in the next section.
Nail down your selling points. What is unique about your game? Who is your game for? What’s the hook? What are players going to love about it? Feel free to mention that your game includes 9 new playbooks or 30+ adversaries, but the selling points should highlight the game itself rather than a quantity of things contained within it. Hold onto the ideas you come up with at this stage; you’ll need these for the pitch.
Familiarise yourself with the pitch guidelines or requirements of the publisher you’re contacting and adhere to them. Each publisher has their own internal process for receiving pitches and each requirement is in place for a reason. Following the publisher’s requests makes your pitch easier for them to manage and indicates that you’ll be a good collaborator. In the Resources section of this post, I’ve linked to the submission pages or forms for different publishers with clear instructions for pitching.
If the publisher doesn’t already specify what information they want, pitches should include the following:
An “elevator pitch.” Summarise your product in just one or two sentences. Focus on the experiences that players will have and the stories they can tell with it. This is the elevator pitch I wrote for the Constellation RPG Zine Anthology I curated earlier this year:
“Discover your new favorite roleplaying game with Constellation, an anthology of zines from 12 independent creators. Packed with action, horror, and intimate emotional experiences, this book includes new adventure settings and games for one, two, or more players.”
Unique selling points. Use the ideas you came up with in the previous section. Tell the publisher why people would be interested in your game. If you’ve done any playtesting or if you have an existing audience or community, feel free to include data and testimonials from them with permission. Working with a publisher gives you access to their audience, but the publisher is also interested in bringing your audience to them. If your publishing plan includes crowdfunding, showing that you have the support of a community is a positive thing to highlight.
Project sample. Publishers are much more likely to consider you if you have something to show for your idea. If you’re not sure what to share with a publisher, think about what you’d want to offer as a preview or teaser to represent the full game. A quickstart version of the rules, an introductory chapter, a starter module, or some player-facing mechanics are all solid choices.
This sample should be as polished as you can get it with writing, editing, art, and layout done so the publisher has an accurate idea of the final product quality. If the publisher likes your work, the sample can also be a valuable marketing tool to build interest in your project.
Team information. Tell the publisher about you and your collaborators. Name any previous projects you’ve completed, along with any awards you’ve received. Even if you’ve completed only small projects, those are worth mentioning. The publisher will be looking for proof that you can execute and deliver.
Your timeline. How far along are you in your project’s development? What are your milestone deadlines? When are you hoping to release? Publishers have plans for their own releases a couple of years ahead. Answering these logistical questions allows the publisher to compare your timeline with theirs and determine whether they have the capacity to help you.
Special: contact. If you have a contact at the publisher and you have their permission, let them know you are submitting a pitch. But don’t mention your contact in your pitch without talking to them first.
A publisher may or may not specify if and when you can expect to hear from them. There isn’t a standard timeframe for sending a follow-up email, but I think two to four weeks is reasonable, provided that the publisher is open to follow-ups. Otherwise, if you don’t hear from the publisher, it’s safe to say they’ve decided to pass on your project.
If a publisher is interested in your game, they’ll contact you to discuss next steps. Keep in mind that getting to this stage isn’t a guarantee that you’ll be publishing with them. You’ll have a discussion about how you can work together, detailed in the next section.
Meeting with a publisher
If a publisher gets in touch and wants to meet, congratulations! It’s an opportunity to chat with the folks you’d be working with and to see if you’re a good fit for each other. Take notes during the meeting so you have a record of what you discussed.
In the meeting, the publisher may ask you to summarise your game again. You’ll also get the chance to outline what you’re seeking from the publisher. The publisher will give you an overview of their own process and they may have further questions for you.
You can also ask them questions. If you’re uncertain about anything, ask. Some good topics to cover are:
Ownership. What would be the legal status of your game if you were to work with the publisher? Would you still own the rights to your intellectual property?
Exclusivity. Would you be able to sell your game elsewhere as well? Or would you have to sell through the publisher only?
Roles and responsibilities. What would the publisher be able to commit to? What would you be responsible for?
Finances. Would you receive an advance? How would royalties be divided? Is the split different for physical and digital products? Would you need to repay any funds?
Rejection. Not securing a partnership with a publisher doesn’t necessarily mean that they didn’t like your project. It could be that they are interested in your game but your project timeline doesn’t align with theirs, or you’ve made a fantastic game but their audience isn’t right for it.
Don’t despair if a publisher isn’t able to work with you. Instead, ask them if they have suggestions for other publishers who might be a better fit and if they have any resources they can recommend. Your meeting can still be beneficial even if the outcome isn’t what you wanted.
Interest. If a publisher is interested in working with you, they’ll say so in this meeting. Make sure you confirm any action items and arrange a date to check in with them.
Conditional interest. Sometimes, a publisher likes your project but it’s too early to discuss working together and they might ask you to meet again in a few months’ time. It may be that they want to see how your crowdfunding campaign goes before they commit. Or, they might need to consult with other team members before making a firm decision. The publisher will let you know what they need at this juncture. As above, make sure you confirm any action items and arrange a date to check in with them.
I’ve collected a mix of videos, write-ups, and news stories about TTRPG publishing, as well as a list of publishers’ submission information. The videos offer practical advice, the write-up adds the perspective of publishing a board game, and the news stories focus on independent presses and co-op publishing. I don’t have experience with the latter, but crowdfunding or partnering with a company is not the only way to publish a game.
Pitching Your Intellectual Property | Big Bad Con Online 2023
I was part of this panel alongside TTRPG colleagues Banana Chan, Carlos Cisco, Aaron Catano-Saez, and Austin Taylor. We discuss what to do when you’ve created a game that you want to publish. Whether it’s going to a publisher or licensing, we share things you should know when putting together your pitch, as well as what to look out for when you’re ready to sign that contract.
3 Options To Publish TTRPGs | Banana C. Games
Game designer Banana Chan breaks down three different ways to publish your game: self-publishing, co-publishing, and licensing/selling to a publisher and the pros and cons of each.
Pitching YOU: Putting Your Best Foot Forward In Industry Meetings | Big Bad Con Online 2023
TTRPG professionals Carlos Cisco, Omar Najam, Elise Rezendes, and Markeia McCarty offer practical and actionable advice for taking meetings with industry professionals. They share how to best prepare and how to give a solid and concise self-pitch. Each of the presenters come from different disciplines within the industry, ranging from streaming, community management, game designing, and writing.
Pitching to a Publisher | Jar of Eyes Game Gazette
Parts of this newsletter are adapted from a panel I did with Banana Chan and Aaron Catano-Saez at Big Bad Con 2022. Though there is no audio or video recording of the session, TTRPG colleague Lyla Fujiwara attended the panel and took detailed notes. Read the write-up here.
Small but mighty: Independent TTRPG presses work toward equity in game design | Polygon
Rolling Together: Indie RPG creators joining forces to change the industry for good | Dicebreaker
TTRPG publisher pitch pages
I had a quick look and these are the publishers whose submission pages and points of contact I could find easily. If you want to get in touch with a publisher and there’s no information about whether they’re accepting submissions or what they’re looking for, send them an email. It’s always worth asking.
Hit Point Press: contact firstname.lastname@example.org and ask for the publishing enquiry form
If you are a TTRPG publisher and you’d like your submission link added to this list, please leave a comment and I’ll do so!
Coming soon: conventions and crowdfunding
I’m heading to Big Bad Con in San Francisco at the end of September and I’m on five panels. Sign-ups are live and you can register for as many panels as you want.
So You Made A Thing: Now What? is about how to market your products. Before I got started in game design, I was in marketing and communications. Before that, I was a journalist. I’ll give tips on how to make press releases and press kits.
Timetraveling in Games is about temporal shenanigans in TTRPGs. I’ve been messing about with time travel for my home game and it has presented unique challenges but also opened up spicy narrative opportunities. I’ll be talking about those, as well as mechanics and cultural touchstones.
Seeking Sensitivity! is about sensitivity consulting. Though I take sensitivity consulting jobs infrequently these days, I have a lot of experience. I’ll discuss the scope of a sensitivity consultant’s role, what to expect from them, and tips for working with them. My next post will be about sensitivity consulting and will include discussions from this panel.
Running Your First TTRPG is about getting started as a Game Master or other tabletop storyteller. I’m new to running games and am a first-time DM for my D&D campaign. I’ve previously run one-shot sessions of games written by me and by others. I’ll share what I’ve learned so far.
Freelancing Full Time in TTPRG is about making a living from freelance work alone. I freelanced full time for a few months before I got my current job. I still take contract work while working at my day job. I’ll talk about the benefits and drawbacks of each.
The Fablemaker’s Deck of Many Things (Hit Point Press) is an oracle deck based on the eponymous 5e magic item and illustrated by Yoshi Yoshitani. I designed alternate effects for the deck of many things and I wrote for the oracle guidebook. It’s coming to Kickstarter on Tuesday, October 3, 2023 at 10:00 am EST. Sign up to be notified when it goes live.
I’ll also be handing out sample foil-coated cards at Big Bad Con. Pull from the legendary deck and keep the card you draw!
Vynestra: An Ancient Rome-Themed 5th Edition World & City Setting (Vynestra) is a setting inspired by ancient Rome and Venice where players can be demigods. I was a sensitivity consultant for this fantastic book. The campaign goes live on September 19, 2023. Check it out here.
If you find any typos in this newsletter, kindly let me know.
—As ever, Sebastian.