Care and Feeding of your Writer

So You’re a Small RPG Publisher
As we covered previously, this likely means you don’t have much money. It also means you’re typically more used to writing for yourself than getting anyone else to write for you. If you are used to it, odds are you’re most often mates who just happen to run the company together part time. If you have any degree of success though you’re going to find that you need to get other people to write for you. This can be traumatic and difficult, not to mention that since you probably do a lot of writing yourself the guilt at being a cheapskate, however necessary it is, bites deep.

Harking back to the previous article for a moment, artists, believe it or not, have it relatively easy compared to writers. Art is much easier to resell and people tend to value it more than writing. After all, writing’s easy isn’t it? Anyone can write down words! All you do with writers is feed whisky and porn in one end and then magical, golden words come spilling out. Writers also tend to undervalue themselves and, while it’s going to hurt to reveal the following data, that’s going to show just how bad it is.

My Typical Rates

  • I typically pay 1-2c (US) per word if I’m paying in that manner, but I normally don’t pay on that basis.
  • I pay $10-50 for ‘items’. This is typically $20 for a short adventure or a monster. This would be typical for something like Freakshow or 6-Pack.
  • I split profit, after deveopment costs are covered, 50/50 with writers/co-developers. This is the case in several upcoming projects and has been the case with much of Ian Warner’s work on the Shadow World and his upcoming games.

Of these, I prefer to split profits when it comes to writers as we’re all motivated to do well and pimp our projects then. If we fail then we share the failure, if we succeed then we all profit. It means we’re much more ‘in it together’.

Other Typical Rates
I have been paid various rates between 0.5c and 6c a word. This does not compare favourably with writing in other arenas. Even the dying magazine industry pays more than that. Women’s magazines paying 18c a word, even some blogging gigs pay as well as the best RPG work. PDF exclusive work tends to pay less, print oriented work more and we writers seem to be suckers for offering to take less money in exchange for more work. I’m a pretty established and somewhat sought-after freelancer and I’m still lucky to get the mid-range 3c a word even from middle-tier companies. Profit sharing, royalties and self-publishing to supplement freelancing seem like the way forward.

Caring for Your Writer
Order in Advance
Inspiration is an unpredictable and difficult to control. On a good day the words flow quickly and easily and pages fill fast. On bad days getting a word from brain to page is like trying to shit out Hellraiser’s Pinhead through an anus as small as a pinhead. If you have a loose deadline and a longer deadline there’s a larger amount of time in which inspiration can strike your writer and you make things easier for them as well as making yourself more likely to get better work.

Communication is always important but it’s quite hard to review and change writing along the way. Changing a written piece after a draft is a delicate and disheartening process an if this can be minimised, everyone gains. You should provide as much material and direction as you can to your writer to ensure that they know what you want.  The more you can do this in advance, the better.

Know What You Want
If you don’t know what you want you can’t very well expect your writer to know what you want. Certainly you don’t want to write the material for them but you do need to make sure you get what you want. This is a matter of content, style and focus. You shouldn’t be too exacting though, otherwise you really might as well write the damn thing yourself. Have an idea of what you want, but not a blueprint.

Professional and Personal
In a small hobby industry, even to a relatively high level, a professional relationship also benefits by being a personal relationship. Things move easier if everyone involved in work is forgiving, knows each other and understands what is going on as well as understanding each other. ‘Professionalism’ is often, too often, an excuse for acting like a dick, friendships – or at least pleasant acquaintances – are more likely to result in a good working relationship than cold distance. Though the stakes are higher when things do go wrong.

Pay Early, Pay Often
If you can, pay when you’ve received the work. Waiting for a publication – that may never come – is disheartening and feels like betrayal if it never comes. Bank transfers can take forever, cheques in foreign currency lose a chunk every time you pay them in. Paypal is often the best way to pay someone, despite its drawbacks. It’s simple, pretty instant and compared to a lot of alternatives doesn’t lose cash hand over fist. Paying fast is often better than paying more and paying something is always better than nothing. Short, targeted pieces are easier to write and easier to accept less money for, longer pieces require sustained inspiration and effort and deserve more compensation on that basis.

Right Tool, Right Job
Don’t try to get a writer to be something that they’re not. A writing style is as unique as an artistic style, if not as immediately obvious in its individuality. Choose a writer who knows the kind of things you want and is keen on them. Then they’re more likely to enjoy it and you’re more likely to get good work.

Freedom of Expression
If at all possible give your writer the freedom to interpret their instructions and write according to their own sensibilities and style. Given that freedom you’re likely to get some creative ideas and may well end up with something far better than you expected in the first place.

Editors Suck
A good editor presents a light touch, finds mistakes and cleans up the text and polishes it. A bad editor replaces the writer’s voice and style with his own and robs the writer of his satisfaction and moment of glory in finishing a piece. Sometimes things need editing, yes, but editing is an extra cost, hard to stand for the small press. Good editing is also hard to come by and is further complicated by regional variations in English. American and British English each have little ways that are interpreted as spelling or grammar mistakes by natives of the other. Best not to worry about it if you can’t afford a good editor but be careful not to ride roughshod over your writer when you do review and complete their work.

Editing and draft revision is a bloody difficult thing to stand as a writer. Everything feels like criticism, everything feels like an attack on your work. It might be necessary, it might improve the work but it’s a relentless torrent of negativity that is massively disheartening. It may sound silly but a simple ‘good job’, balancing the changes and criticisms with some positivity and nice things to say can make a big difference to a writer’s motivation.

Next time, care and feeding of your customer…