Over the weekend of Madicon, I — as the Convention Coordinator — had little time to just stop and enjoy the convention. One of the high points for me was getting involved in a conversation with two of the guests, Myke Cole and Jonah Knight about self-publishing versus traditional outlets (major book publishers) like Ace, etc. I know my answer to that debate — which I’m not going to discuss because that’s not really germane to this post — but ultimately, the discussion started me thinking about this issue in the gaming world.
Specifically, I was thinking about the difference between buying a product from Wizards of the Coast or Catalyst Game Labs versus buying something from an independent (or self) publisher. Of course, there’s also the middle ground where you have someone like John Wick who publishes under his own imprint but has the ethos of his previous career with a mainstream publisher (not that his ethos is his only appeal as a writer, but you understand what I’m driving at).
I recently purchased the new Gamma World — and I think it’s pretty fantastic — despite my love/hate/disgruntled relationship with D&D 4e (and mostly the way that WotC keeps messing with it). Ultimately, when I buy a piece from Wizards, I have certain expectations — based on their past performance and my own perceptions of their products. I was pleasantly surprised by how weird and “old-school” the new Gamma World is. It’s like 4E mixed with old Gamma World mixed with just a touch of Rifts.
I bring this up because the mainstream publishers in gaming are different from the mainstream publishers in fiction. Not that it’s easy to break into mainstream fiction, but I don’t generally go to the bookstore and look for the Ace imprint or the PYR imprint — I just look at the books, and maybe the authors. When I look at gaming stuff though, I am looking at what Catalyst is making, or WotC. It’s a different buying model.
But ultimately — what I really want to say is how impressed I am with the amazing amount and quality of the offerings from the self-publishing community. I’m only just really getting into exploring this market, but there is good stuff here. I’m not sure how “self-publishing” gets defined really in this community (I mean, is Castles and Crusades “self-published”) but I’ve really enjoyed the stuff I’ve taken chances on. Barbarians of Lemuria and Dogs of War by Simon Washbourne are amazing. Legends of Steel (BoL edition) is a great product. Castles and Crusades — while I’m not playing it — was a great read and I really liked the feel of the game. I recently looked at Stars Without Number at the urging of a few blogs and found another great read. Even the retro-clones are fascinating to me. I actually own pretty much everything TSR put out from the late 70s through the end, so I don’t really need Labyrinth Lord, but then — I’m not really the target audience… and the fact that LL makes that old-school play accessible to so many others (they’re running it at my local game store now) makes me happy. So many wonderful products and so little time.
I’m impressed, jealous, grateful, and often boggled at what the typical gamer can put together these days. Years ago (around 2004) I worked on my own game — which saw the light of day for one print run financed by my own dollar but never existed in any form that would appear on say, RPGNow. I enjoyed writing it, I enjoyed running it for my friends, but I’d never have the guts to show it off — or offer it as a real product to others. I linked the little six page Mary Sue game I made for my friends here on my blog — but that was the product of one very funny night of working on a little goof-off project — nothing to take seriously. To those who have such bravery and joy in what they do, I can only salute you and say thank you for your efforts. Even those who are producing work only on their blogs or in support of other systems (like the Firefly or Mystara conversions for the AGE system) are exceptional.
Why write this? Because I realized some time ago that I’m never going to be a game writer. I’m never going to grow up and work for TSR (especially considering that I am grown up and there is no TSR), I’m never going to publish the next great thing, and for a time I was bitter about that. Not that others were doing it — but that I wasn’t. This point brings the whole experience full circle though. That conversation about the publishing industry, about writing for a big publishing house or using the tools to self-publish ultimately came down to validation and review. Validation sounds like a horrible, passive word — but it’s not that the author needs validation, he is perfectly confident in his own work — but the idea that I might like what I write is a far cry from the editors at a major house liking what I write and putting their name on it and shelving it in bookstores next to the other, established writers they publish. The cachet they bring to the process is validating to the work itself. As someone working in grad school and submitting to conferences, etc, I’m used to the idea of review — and I think I’d need that review to trust that my work was ever good enough to deserve to see the light of day. Without it, I’d never have the guts.
So — at the end of the day — thank you. Thank you to everyone out there who is writing, producing and creating for this hobby of ours. If you are making stuff on your home computer and putting it out there for the world, sending out fanzines, working for Fight On!, writing OS adventures, or creating your own magical games and worlds from scratch, then god-bless you and thanks for all your work. Maybe someday…
…and as always, Thanks for Reading.