How did I do it? I just tried, and failed…again and again…and then I soared!
After our first full year of creating D&D 5e content, what did we learn, where did we fail, and how did we succeed? Through this unorthodoxically transparent post, I hope other TTRPG creators can gain some tips and inspiration, and avoid some mistakes, so we can all be the best creators we can be!
*all figures are as of December 29, 2019.
2018 vs. 2019
While we started publishing in to the DMs Guild in March of 2018, it wasn’t a great year. January of 2019, when our Booms, Heals, and Bleedings was featured in an official bundle really kicked off a great year, which grew exponentially as I went on. Here’s some comparison’s between 2018 and 2019:
In 2018, in about 9 months of production, we published 7 total products. All were solo products, and 6 were Pay What You Want or free. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse later became a paid product, eventually hitting Copper in 2019. No products reached best seller status in 2018.
In 2019, in a full year of production, we collect royalties on 27 products. 22 of those products are royalties from editing or non-project lead collaboration, 2 are from 2018, and three were project management/lead collaborator projects. We produced no “solo” products in 2019 as we hired out both editing and layout. We have multiple best-selling metals ranging from Copper to Platinum.
In 2018, including free copies, our products were downloaded 1,786 times. We made a total of $82.56. Payment from PYWY was about .5% of total downloads, with each “donation” averaging about $.05.
In 2019, not including free copies, our produced products were purchased a total of 2,038 times, about half of which came from the official January bundle. Furthermore, products we have a royalty stake in, but were not in charge of producing, were further purchased a total of 1,756 times. Total income earned from all royalties equaled $5,044.88, 60% of which came from two titles: Grazilaxx’s Guide to Ancestry and Balduran’s Guide to Kingdom Building. Another 20% came from Booms, Heals, and Bleedings (January Bundle).
In 2018, we started affiliate sales in November of 2018, and in two months referred a total 45 titles for $6.05 in affiliate revenue.
In 2019, we referred a total of 745 titles for a total affiliate sales revenue of $135. This averages out to about 62 titles ($11.29) a month, or 2 titles a day. The average affiliate sale per title is about $.18.
We started our twitter in September of 2018, and while there’s no way to tell how much we had by the end of that year, we currently have 696 followers. Much of that growth came in the last 4 months of 2019 from successes like Grazilaxx’s Guide to Ancestry and “Follow Fridays” (#FF).
What to Do
So what did we learn from a year that we deem relatively successful? We think other creatives can benefit from the following advice:
- Diversify Your Skillset. Most of us aren’t going to be good at every aspect of creating, and very few of us will ever even be “triple threats” (writing, layout, and art). But if you’re able to develop more than one skill on the creative side, you reduce the amount of royalties you have to give away, and you double your chances for collaborations. So if you’re a writer… learn to do editing or layout. If you’re an artist, try your hand at some writing.
- Advertise. Ashley May has an excellent document about how to market your stuff, so we won’t go into it too much. But if you want to sell, you have to be involved in some aspect of the community whether it’s Twitter (the best), facebook, various discord groups, or a forum some way. Most people won’t just stumble upon your stuff, so if you want to take this seriously (it’s fine if you don’t), do at least minimal advertising.
- Collaborate. Collaboration is like creative magic. Somehow, it yields more than sum of it’s parts. Get on as many collaborative projects as possible and make a good impression. After that, lead your own projects. Even if you only end up with 2% royalty on some projects, it can still very much worth it in the long run. It’s the compound effect.
- Always Say Yes (To A Bundle). For Dms Guild creators in particular, ALWAYS say yes to an officially sponsored bundle. You can read up above what it did for me.
- Take Risks. Not every project is going to hit it out of the park. In fact, some will be complete flops. That’s ok–it helps you learn, refine your skills, and gauge the market. Plus, you’ll still sell some. So take some risks with the type of stuff you produce and with your time. I don’t recommend taking a risk with your budget, though.
- Track your Progress. Track your progress, whether it’s monthly, weekly, or daily. It helps you keep track of where you’re at, how much you’re earning, set your goals, and keep up enthusiasm. If you’re not running this like a business, once a month is probably enough. I update my earnings, goals, etc. every day. If you’re excited to check, you should… if you’re not excited to check, you probably still need to.
- Help Others. “A rising tide lifts all ships” is a phrase I often hear in this community. We value relationships, often equally or more so than our earnings, and mentoring and learning from others increases your own capabilities. The adage, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is accurate in this community in all the best ways. Helping others makes you feel great, and it’ll help you in the long run as well.
- Create What You Love. Don’t waste your precious time and mental energy creating things you’re not interested in. Whether it’s your project or someone else’s, get invested in the project or say no. Life is too short, and we make too little money, to work on things we dislike. There’s exceptions of course, especially for jobs that might be quick or easy, or are guaranteed to pay out, but those aren’t the norm.
- Pay Fairly. Pay others as much royalties as you can afford to give them. If you can, pay flat rate even. Also pay yourself. It’s a hard line to tread, but most of us understand slim margins and will do what we can to work for what we can. Price your products well so you can afford to pay yourself and others.
- Work on Yourself. If you’re running this like a business, you need to develop your personal growth. You’ll need to become better at project management, people skills, finance, whatever skillsets you need (writing, editing, etc.), marketing, and most importantly–mindsets. Setting habits, getting out of your head, and persevering will eventually make you feel successful, no matter your “earnings” or “production numbers”. I recommend the Improvement Pill, which is one of the youtube channels I watch every morning when I wake up. It psychs me up for my day!
What Not to Do
- Blow Your Budget. Margins are already slim, so set a fair and modest budget and do what you can to stick with it. You don’t have to have fancy art or covers to sell stuff, and many people will work for royalties for the right project. If you have money to burn, then definitely disregard this, but if you’re doing this as an actual gig (or side-gig), manage your money!
- Damage Your Reputation. Reputation is pretty much everything in this business, so do everything you can to cultivate a good reputation. Help others, apologize when you make mistakes, and realize that everyone has something to offer you.
- Get Burnt Out. It’s ok to take breaks, even if that means you won’t meet your goals. We all do this because we love it, the money is more or less a perk. If you feel yourself burning out, communicate with your teams and step back for a bit. There’s always more to do, but there’s only one you.
- Work with People You Don’t Want To. This one might be controversial. Of course we should aim for diversity in who we work with, and we should always be reaching to bring in new people. But if you’ve worked with someone and aren’t passionate about working with them again, then don’t! There’s plenty of people to work with, finding the ones you work with smoothly will be better for everyone in the long run.
- Get Stuck In Your Head. Your head is dangerous, so stay out of there. It will tell you you’re not good enough, don’t have what it takes, and are a fake. Watch self-improvement videos, practice positive self-talk, and surround yourself with other creators who support you… but for all that is good and holy, don’t listen to the voice in your head!
While we’re keeping some of our goals for 2020 more private, there’s a couple we’d like to share.
- From Momentum to Fluency. Instead of setting New Year’s Resolutions, I prefer to pick a “word of the year” and focus on that. Last year my word was “momentum” and I think I did pretty well gaining it. This year, it’s “fluency”: my goal is to become so knowledgeable and adept at the TTRPG publishing process that it becomes almost second nature to me.
- Production. Our goal is to increase the products from which we receive royalties by four per month, for a total of 48 for the whole year. This includes products published on Drivethrurpg.com, and will bring our total up to 75 products!
What goals can we help you achieve this year? What is your “word” for 2020?