Posts about the art, craft, science, and headache that is publishing.
"But!" you might say, "surely the quality of the product has something to do with its reception! Surely a good book sells well!" To which the answer is, in all seriousness, "No."

Okay, so look. This is how publishing works:

  1. You spend a lot of time, effort, and occasionally money on a project. You work your ass off getting it done, and then you work your ass off again polishing it and getting it really done.
  2. Then you release it into the wilds of the world. You make it available as best you can, and offer it up for consumption.
  3. Maybe some people will be impressed with it, buy it, use it. Maybe they'll say nice things about it. Maybe they won't.

As a publisher, you have control over steps 1 and 2. You have no control whatsoever over step 3. Ever.
Hopefully, by the time you're done with step 1, you've got a project that you're proud of. By the time you're done with step 2, you've presented it in such a way that you're proud of that. But because you have no control over step 3, you cannot take pride in the reception of your product. You didn't do that. Your pride in your work comes from making a good product and presenting it well. The feel-good that you get from the good reception isn't pride; it's fame. Fame is never earned; it is not something to be proud of.
"But!" you might say, "surely the quality of the product has something to do with its reception! Surely a good book sells well!" To which the answer is, in all seriousness, "No."
There is no correlation between any standard of quality and actual sales. Let me repeat that: there is no correlation between quality and sales. Sales are not derived from quality, they're derived from utility. Utility is, roughly, how useful a given product is for a given customer.

Alrighty. After surprisingly little headache, I have proofs coming from Lulu for Full Light, Full Steam in hardcover and in softcover. Hardcovers will be going for $30 and come with the Full PDF Preview. Softcovers will be going for $20 -- a steal, I tell you!

With copies in stock in a couple weeks, I've set up preorders and all that jazz:

Preorder Full Light, Full Steam!

As of today, I am sold out of Full Light, Full Steam hardbacks.

We've blown through the last of my stock after the Have Games, Will Travel podcast. I figured the stock would hold out for another week or so, but I didn't count on folks buying multiple copies! I am rather happy, despite having zero on hand.

This weekend I'll be doing up a new pdf for Lulu (with a few typos fixed and errors repaired) and getting a proof ordered. With any luck, we'll have new Lulu hardbacks within a couple weeks!

I love getting art for games in development. Nothing makes me want to write more than seeing awesome illustrations by talented people with fun spins on "my" material. Sons of Liberty is going to have a whole ton of art, and it's streaming into my inbox every week, now. It's to the point where I can't help but share:

Anna Krieder is doing the Connected (Diamonds) illustrations, involving networking, connections, and social-fu:

Jake Richmond is doing the Patriotic (Hearts) illustrations, involving courage, martial prowess, and sacrifices:

I am so looking forward to laying this book out, since I am going to be drowning in art assets to throw into pages!

I'm starting to solicit artists for Sons of Liberty. This is one of my favorite parts of publishing; seeing your work reflected through others' interpretations is simply awesome. I'm getting a LOT of art. This project needs a strong visual reference, and no matter how crazy my prose gets, it can't convey the same things as an drawing of Ben Franklin leaping out of an exploding building and Thomas Paine swooping in on an ornithopter to catch him.

But anyway, did I mention a LOT of art? If you know any artists that can do three-cornered hats, sailing ships, and laser beams, by all means shoot me an email or leave a comment here.

Hi, remember me? I used to post a lot. Now I don't; I have a job that actually requires my brain and a computer at home that's less than reliable. But do not mistake my lack of posting for lack of work. Here's a quick overview of what's on my plate:

Story Games Names Project - Jason Morningstar asked me to do up the layout of this project. Like so many projects of its kind, this started as a simple idea and has mushroomed to stupid proportions. At last count, the book is going to weigh in at a little under 300 pages and have like 800 lists.

Sons of Liberty - The rules chassis turned out to be surprisingly functional the first time out; I'm tweaking the situation creation ruleset, and then the system will be done. Then I just have lots and lots of writing to flesh out the figures and world that the game takes place in. Sure would be nice to have a functional computer for that (come on, tax return!). It will be released in early 2008, just in time for election year madness.

Agora: how shall we live? - This game is on the back burner, due out in 2009. It is not being quiet over there on the back burner, however. I have a little flurry of notes scribbled on Post-Its regarding improvements for the game. When it rolls around into active development and then to publication, I expect this to be a very strong design. Very much looking forward to it.

Perhaps you should put a pointer from here to NerdSoCal, so people know that you've picked a new home on the net.
-- ScottM

Hey there, folks. The above was left as a comment in the last post, which is, I'll admit, rather a long time ago. But I am not dead!

The holidays and the winter months with their meager sunlight devastate me and my freetime. But I am not dead!

I released Full Light, Full Steam at GenCon SoCal (my after-action report), which fell a little short of my expectations. But I am not dead!

I mailed out the 50 or so orders of the book, had all the international shipments returned to me, and shipped them out again correctly -- in the middle of Christmas post office lines. But I am not dead!

My new job has gone from "help out with our science curriculum" to "oh, did we mention, we've never done science before and could you handle, well, all of it?" But I am not dead!

In the few bits of freetime that I've had, I've been revamping (new forums, all my microgames, and other stuff!) with the awesome code suite drupal, which I also used to build, both of which are giant time sinks. But I am not dead!

I have been playing mad amounts of RPGs, from the weekly playtests to Primetime Adventures to Nobilis. But I am not dead!

I have a half-baked essay on gaming and politics brewing. I'm going to do a "the whole process of publishing FLFS" post. I'm going to tell you about all the awesome that is piling up for Sons of Liberty. Really, I am. Any time, now. When I have half a second to breathe.

But I am not dead!

It's finally time to run up the flag and see who salutes.

Full Light, Full Steam, a 192-page digest (6"x9") hardbound, is now available for preorder. When you preorder, you get both the book when it's released at GenCon SoCal in November as well as the PDF immediately ("immediately" being defined as "when I check my mail and send it to you"). If you're coming to GenCon SoCal, you can pick up your copy at the con.

If, for reasons beyond understanding, you've been reading this blog and you don't know what Full Light, Full Steam is, you can take a look at the webpage or click on the Full Light, Full Steam category to the right for design notes.

I'm kind of dizzy.

Final art for Full Light, Full Steam is in, thanks to Lemuel Pew (of Lethal Doses) and Kirk Mitchell. It's a perfectly awesome experience to see what has until now been only text and talk turn into such incredible images.

Here's three of the eight big illustrations in the book:

Figure 1.1 Lieutenant Hargrave occupies the attention of the pirate "Admiral" Black while HMS Chesterfield sees to his "fleet."

Figure 1.2 A saboteur wreaks havoc in the motor room of HMS Puncher.

Figure 4.1 Crewmen aboard HMS Aetherstone take a moment for tea.

Preorders begin later this week! Madness!

This was the day when it all became real. Everything went from theoretical and well-intentioned plans and turned into actions.

  • Kallisti Press is now a legal entity, as of this morning.
  • Kallisti Press has a bank account, as of this afternoon.
  • I have finalized the last week of my production schedule.
  • As of this evening, I have a final draft of the book, laid out, with art, to do a final proofread on.
  • I've chosen a printer, and as of tomorrow, I'll have a place on their calendar.

Today was that part of the roller coaster when you just crest the top of the first hill, your stomach floats up into your throat, and you realize exactly how high up you are. Which also means, I suspect, that the ride is just starting.

Holy shit.

Full Light, Full Steam is all laid out, sans art. So all I'm doing now is waiting for the art to come in... and fiddling with the design.

Fiddle fiddle fiddle.

Seriously, I should go do dishes or something.


Also, new title treatment:

All the copyedits and playtest edits have been added to the FLFS manuscript. The text of the first edition is, more or less, done.

Art, Layout, and Manufacture to go.

I will not add new, unplaytested material while copyediting.
I will not add new, unplaytested material while copyediting.
I will not add new, unplaytested material while copyediting.
I will not add new, unplaytested material while copyediting.
I will not add new, unplaytested material while copyediting.
I will not add new, unplaytested material while copyediting.
I will not add new, unplaytested material while copyediting.
I will not add new, unplaytested material while copyediting.
I will not add new, unplaytested material while copyediting.
I will not add new, unplaytested material while copyediting.
I will not add new, unplaytest...

Simon Rogers did a little stint of interviews among RPG publishers and compiled it all into an article, View from the Pelgrane's Nest: Is the RPG Industry Screwed?, which is pretty interesting and you should go read it. Go ahead; I'll wait here.

"The Industry" and its Woes

Now, I'm just going to skip over the guys who can't quite see past the way the business model worked twenty years ago, because, while they're quaint and all... well, they're like that uncle who kind of forgets that he retired but he wants to tell you how the business world works but he has trouble sending email. Three things interest me:

The d20 Glut - A lot of the interviewees mentioned this, and while I certainly saw the terrible fruits of the d20 phenomenon on the local game store shelves, I can't say that I was very impressed, or that it really registered on me. Oh look, another d20 product, cleverly titled 17 Rings of Power and containing... 128 pages dedicated to said seventeen rings, all of which are... pretty boring. I expected that this stuff either (a) sold slowly to people who either didn't think or didn't care about how they would use it in an actual game (the fetish-value of some of this material was relatively high) or (b) didn't sell and got returned to the distributor and hence to the publisher and the publisher went under, which they should have. You put out a dumbass product, you lose your money. That's justice. But apparently the retailers still have these copies? For some reason? Did they buy these books without part of the contract covering returns of unsaleable merchandise? Cause that's... oh yeah, more stupid business practices. You make dumbass decisions running your store, you lose money.

So Mo is advocating in Getting Around to (One of) the Point(s) (and I thought I liked parentheses) that players can, if they don't like how the published system does something, do it another way and get the same result.

Judson is talking in the Story Games thread The Akido of Game Design about how games can be designed with the naive assumption that all rules will be followed, with the even more naive intent to make the rules unbreakable, or turn the whole thing around and design the game rules so that "exploiting" them is how the designer intends it to be played.

It's not a new idea that players will ignore rules they don't like. However, I've read a big pile of posts and threads and articles where indie players and designers avow that they play their games "exactly according to the rules" or "exactly as the designer intended" which is, when you get right down to it, more or less impossible. (Short version: authorial intent has an influence on reader reception, but it does not and cannot dictate reception exactly due to the very nature of language.) Players will interpret rules, even if they don't introduce formal house rules.

A great example of this is Lacuna Part 1, where Jared refuses to allow players the illusion that they're following the rules exactly and producing a play experience as he intended. How you play Lacuna will be determined by your personal idiosyncracies, and in fact how you play says something about you as a person and as a gamer.

Process and Product

Alright, it took me forever to post this up, but it was a messy file that needed a lot of cleaning up to make it readable. Now it's pretty!

Read the Agora IRC Playtest from April 15, 2006, in all its htmlified glory.

Shreyas, DevP, and Vaxalon gave Agora a whirl a couple weekends ago. We uncovered a lot of textual concerns and clarified some rules questions, so it was good stuff.

More in-depth discussion at The Forge and Story Games.

Actual Play report from the final playtest of Full Light, Full Steam posted on the KP forums and on the Forge.

Now I wade into the post-playtest edit. Wish me luck!

The official playtest window for Full Light, Full Steam ends this weekend (although it looks like one final playtest will take place next week) so I will be returning to the FLFS manuscript with great trepidation to rake through it for one more editorial pass, correcting problems, and adding a couple more segments.

It also means that I'm arranging for art, and I've got three awesome folks lined up -- I'm really excited to see what they'll turn out. In order to make sure we're all on the same page, I've put together a little art guidelines package, part of which is some image files of solar steamers and their escorts and fighters. Since I was already doing these up, I thought I'd post them here so the likes of you can see my l33t threedee modeling skizillz using ten-year-old rendering software. This is why I'm getting other folks to do art for me.

The HMS Exemplar, a generic solar steamer
click the image for a compilation of four different views

A generic escort (technically, a Leo classification) -- no solar sails because they're battery-powered. Did I mention "batteries" are giant springs? Heh, that still amuses me.

A wing of fighters and an escort. The fighters are Rollickers, not that it matters in the least.

This weekend a friend of mine who plays in a game I'm not in was telling me a tale of woe and how she was getting rather frustrated with her fellow players. My friend wanted to frame a scene that would develop the ongoing narrative -- bang, here's the information we need to move forward with the story. Her counterpart across the table, however, didn't want to "skip" to that scene without delving through all of the fictional details that the characters would have gone through, regardless of the narrative impact provided by those details and the sifting between them -- otherwise, they were just cutting out large parts of the story.

In my design group last night, one of our members discussed his goals for the game he's designing. He wants the system to develop epic plotlines and encourage intricate characterization, both over the course of multiple game sessions, with a heavy emphasis on living the character and experiencing what it was like to be the character in these exciting situations and how those situations affected, challenged, and grew the character. And what word did he use to describe all of what he wanted? Story.

Ask a hundred gamers what it is that they really like about their game, and eighty-seven of them will tell you it's the story* -- but what one gamer means by "story" will bear little resemblence to what another gamer means when they use the exact same word. Not coincidentally, a lot of RPG books purport to provide "story" -- and can you blame them, considering that 87% of the market wants "story?" But because when it comes to RPGs, where books are only written by gamers with delusions of grandeur, what that guy means when he says "story" is almost guaranteed to be something completely different than what you expect when you play the "story" game that he made.

For some reason, when someone says "Marketing," most everybody in earshot hears "Advertising." This is a gross oversimplification. I'll counter with an oversimplification of my own: marketing is "getting people to buy stuff." Nearly every step of a business model is impacted by marketing, because every aspect of a business is in some way, shape, or form about getting people to buy stuff. Advertising is only a very small part of that much larger process. Marketing is not something that happens only after you have something to sell; when done best, marketing is a continual process that permeates the entire business venture, from start to finish. Which is really easy to say, and is a hopelessly tangled mess of actual practice. Here's my attempt to explain it in its most basic terms.

Talking the Talk

Marketing strives to increase utility.

In its neverending goal to get people to buy stuff, marketing focuses on providing customers utility, which you can think of as the valuable aspects of a product. Utility itself comes in five flavors -- form, place, time, possession, and information. Form utility is the basics of a product's features -- its sturdy construction, great taste, vibrant color, whatever. Place utility is where the customer is able to purchase the product. Time utility is when the customer is able to purchase the product. Possession utility is the means by which the customer can purchase the product -- cash, check, charge, trade, et cetera. Lastly, information utility is what the customer knows about the product. Marketing strives to increase utility -- so when you publish your book with better paper, you are increasing the form utility of the book. Quickly, compare a book which is only available for purchase at gaming conventions -- it has pretty low place and time utility, since it would be ridiculously difficult to get your hands on a copy.

We just finished our first playtest of Full Light, Full Steam, and nothing blew up! Well, nothing as long as you don't count the things that the PCs ran into.

In any case, an AP report of the playtest can be found at the forum.


I use AppleWorks, which has a pretty good spellcheck, and I still hate the damn thing. (I don't even know how you guys put up with MSWord's abominable "help".) I go through my entire manuscript and I swear I hit "Learn" about twice as often as "Replace". No, that's just the British spelling, Mister Spellcheck. No, Pallas is an asteroid, don't turn that into Palace. No, that's a game term. No, that's just an archaic hyphenation, I know it's been concatenated in the last hundred years but I really need it to be hyphenated here. Do not replace. Oh look, I transposed i and e there. Replace that one.


I just finished pulling all the pieces together for the first complete draft of Full Light, Full Steam.

After a relatively quick copy-edit, which I'll do when my head isn't floating, I'll have a playtest edition.

Which means I should probably start organizing a playtest, huh?

Edit: Well, let's start with a Call for Playtesters

This is what happens when you end up making a published product for general consumption based off of a home brew system based off of a campaign setting that you designed for you and your wife to play.

Welcome to, everybody. Take a look around the place, slap up a post in the forums if you like. I'm going to be getting comfortable around here; I hope you will, too.

So I went through the Playing the Game half of Full Light, Full Steam and styled it so now it's all consistent and ten thousand times easier for someone who is not me to read and understand. Then I beat the shit out of the old Storymapping chapter, diced it up and cut off all the useful parts, then shuffled them into the order needed for the new Engineering the Situation chapter. Wrote a few transitions, stringing the bits together into some semblance of sense. (Isn't it nice when you realize that you don't actually have to write as much as you thought you might?)

Segments Left to Write:

  • Remainder of Engineering the Situation (~1000 words)
  • Attention, Brave Young Boys! (~1000 words)
  • Organization of a Solar Steamer Crew (~1000 words)
  • Aphrodite and Ishtar, British Venus (~2000 words)
  • Kanykeys, Dutch Venus (~500 words)
  • Deimos, Japanese port (~500 words)
  • Various Lunar Ports (rethinking this section entirely)
  • Sollardam, Dutch Mercury (~1500 words)
  • Vulcan (~2000 words)
  • Asteroid Belt: Overview (~250 words)
  • Mechanical Engineering (although I may skip this one in the final analysis)

Then I do the big copy-paste of the Setting half of the book, apply styles, do a line-by-line copy edit, and holy shit I have a playtest edition!

Nathan's asking the question What Are My Goals over on Hamster Prophecy, and since I'm off on vacation starting today, I figured I'd kill some time in a similar fashion.

1. I am sure as fuck not making a living off this shit.
By this I do not mean "this doesn't pay well enough to feed my kids," I mean there's no way in hell I'm going to hitch my personal finances and the quality of my life to something as thrice-fucked as the gaming market. I'll keep my day job. This is a goal because I want to keep a nice, stable foundation outside the gaming market. To those of you who support yourselves on gaming, I salute your bravery and worry for your future. I'll be over here. Not evicted.

2. Game design is my avocation -- somewhere between hobby and career.
While for reasons I outline in Goal #1 I am not making gaming my career, it's at the same time not on the level of 'mere hobby'. Designing and playing games is what I live for -- it's the activity that I work my day job to support. In a very real way, gaming is more important to me than my career; it's just that my career is not the most important thing in my life (just an utterly necessary one). I'll be all pretentious and compare myself to Robert Herrick, who was a clergyman in England who also wrote poetry. As most of his poetry is about various women's breasts, I think we can all agree on how central to his life his job as a clergyman was. Replace 'clergyman' with 'textbook editor' and 'poetry about boobs' with 'games' and that's where I want to be.

3. I want to write and publish a game that lasts.
As with Herrick, who is remembered for his poetry and not his sermons, I'd prefer that my notable works be games, although somewhat different from Bob, I am interested in my audience and reaching a wider audience.

Silly, silly Joshua. The reason why you couldn't figure out how to write that chapter on Britain's rivals is because it shouldn't be a chapter, just a section within the chapter describing Britain. It should describe the rivals, not just as Britain sees them, but as the characters are likely to interact with them. Just move that bit over there, and oh look, everything makes sense, now!

Also, I seem to have misplaced the longhand manuscript of a segment I rather liked. This makes me sad.

So I spent the day home sick. Sick enough not to go to work, not quite sick enough that I uselessly lolled about in bed all day. So in addition to some laundry, I went through the Playing the Game half of Full Light, Full Steam. There were little bits and pieces that needed to be written, better transitions to be made, word choices amended to reflect rules changes. There were like fifty of them on my To Do list. I did Forty-nine of them.

With the exception of the Situation-Engineering segment, Playing the Game is done. We have reached, ladies and gentlemen, First Draft.

Now I gotta go stomp on the bugs and holes in the Setting half of the book.

So I'm looking for artists for Full Light, Full Steam. I'm picky. I'm very specifically looking for folks who can handle scenes and portray situations rather than draw a badass chick with a gun. Cause while those splat-pages in every single White Wolf book ever printed are pretty and all, they're pretty useless when it comes to describing actually playing the game. In any case, I am quickly discovering that this distinction separates the sheep and the goats. Lots of folks can draw people. I suspect that an art school emphasis on character studies make these a common topic of illustrations. The artists that can block out a scene and illustrate it without having people tilted at odd angles, without some people's hands obscuring others' faces, and without making gobblygook out of the spatial relations... yeah, not so many of those.