Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Network Externalities and the Self-Publisher

posted by James

As a frequently-embittered freelance writer, my thoughts regularly turn self-publishing as a way to overcome many of the frustrations I feel as a faceless drone in the game biz hive. Like most writers, I have far more ideas than I have the ability to produce them, particularly if I have any interest in turning even a meager profit for my efforts. Unsurprisingly, I've been concentrating my efforts of those ideas that have something resembling mass market appeal -- or at least what passes for it in the current climate. The problem is, at least for me, what constitutes mass market appeal and how can a self-publisher ever hope to take advantage of it?

Looking realistically at things, my initial self-publishing efforts will have to be PDFs. That's because there's very little initial financial outlay and, if I do my homework, maybe, just maybe, I can earn a sum that pays for my time and effort in a vague approximation of my lower end per word rates. If I'm successful, I can think bigger in the future or perhaps even catch the eye of an established publisher looking to go a little farther afield in his offerings.

Now, the accepted wisdom in the game biz these days that the best way to do this is to go the d20 route. It's the game most gamers know. It's the one most gamers play. It's the one most gamers buy. I can't argue with that in most respects. However, unless you're Monte Cook, how much better do d20 PDF products sell than non-d20 PDF products? My guess is not significantly better. If that's true, as I suspect, then a self-publisher might as well go with a system that suits his project better rather than trying to alter his project to suit a system. Admittedly, that's good advice under any circumstances, but bear in mind that I'd actually like to make some money through self-publishing. If it could be shown that a particular approach would increase my sales by a significant factor, I would certainly do it.

Obviously, I don't think anyone can answer my questions definitively or, if they can, I doubt they'll come forward and share their information with us. That's too bad, because one of the things that I believe would help the industry, from top to bottom, is a better sense of its actual financial health rather than vague numbers, rumors, and innuendoes. It's very hard for anyone to plan an effective business strategy when there's so little information to go on. At least, that's how it seems at my minuscule end of the spectrum. I don't want to leap blindly into a briar patch, but neither do I want to sit on the sidelines forever, especially when I keep getting the sense that there are indeed openings for newcomers who have new ideas and approaches, as well as cleverly done examples of old favorites.