Apr 26, 2017

My Adventures as a Print-on-Demand Publisher in 2016

Looking back from February 2016 to February 2017 it was quite a year finding my way through publishing several books:

  • 5 Core Rulebooks: Warriors of the Red Planet, Guardians, Colonial Troopers, Raiders!, and Freebooters.
  • 2 Adventures: Power of Fear (Guardians) and Mechanized Men of Mars (WotRP).
  • 1 Supplement: Beasties.

That's 8 books in a year, some of them quite meaty, all of them with quite a bit of art. In addition to a Book of Drawings (soon to be an OSR edition!). I've learned quite a bit about Print on Demand, and realize I have so much more to learn. It's exciting times for individual creators.

Several more books are in the works; as you'd expect a Beasties 2, a couple of Core Rulebooks that aren't just genre books, but are original settings. A card game and a board game that I'm debating making PoD, or running Kickstarters to actually publish them. I can't wait to show you those...

The two primary outlets I use are Lulu and DriveThruRPG. They each have their strengths and weaknesses, and that's what I really want to talk about. To share what I've learned about each, having fun creating stuff for this hobby, as well as earning a little bit of change to spend on more RPG books and games of course. :)

I started out using Lulu many years ago to print little books I'd take to gaming and comic book conventions. Sometimes I'd do artist sketchbooks, but Warriors of the Red Planet was my first foray into making a full RPG. Al Krombach did a great job of writing this genre book, he obviously has a deep love and knowledge of everything Sword & Planet and Swords & Sorcery related. So it was a great introduction to hobby gaming publishing.

Lulu is easy to use and will take just about any file you can get into PDF format, or even a Word doc. If you don't want to buy any software you can just use Google Docs and output a PDF.

If Lulu has a fault they try too hard to make it easy, and end up with a lot of useless interface getting in the way of anyone who has even a little knowledge of desktop publishing.

DriveThruRPG (RPGNow)
Relatively new compared to Lulu, DTRPG has really taken over the hobby gaming space! It's got a great community that is very active in reviewing and sharing the books they like. It has a harder initial learning curve to publish on, but once you're comfortable with it this is the best place to sell your RPG's.

Some advantages are it is great for PDF sales. The PDF's are watermarked, so when they inevitably end up on file sharing pirate sites you can see where the copy came from.

However, getting print copies available for sale takes a long time. From uploading the file to getting printer approval, to getting a proof copy so you can confirm it can take at least a couple weeks up to a month or longer if your file gets rejected by the printer for any reason. Lulu, by comparison, is much more forgiving in the process and their online tools give you a pretty good idea how the cover and interior are going to look.

Another advantage of DTRPG is the bundles you can put together. Usually print + PDF combo which can represent up to half of your sales there.

This is most certainly a hobby. I'm not sure how you'd turn it into a full time business unless you somehow struck gold with a runaway hit. For the time and effort put into these you'd make more money as a barista at a coffee shop, but would you have as much fun? So it's not about the money, it's about the love of the games.

How does the quality of the print books compare? Looking carefully side by side there is very little difference between LULU and DTRPG. The text is sharp, rich dark, and unbroken. Paper quality is about the same. The covers do vary in color from batch to batch. However when you look at artwork that has any grayscale or fine shading to it you can start to tell that LULU has higher resolution to their printing with the exact same files. So I'd say LULU for print* and DTRPG for PDF is the way to go.

This review only covers a small portion of the services offered, specifically PDF and soft cover books. As Night Owl Workshop expands into hardcovers, cards, and other items I'll have more to say in the future.

*My understanding is that LULU contracts out their print jobs to various printers, so can vary from job to job. If that's true I can't tell a whole lot of difference other than color variations on the covers. While DTRPG just uses Lightning Press.