I haven’t had a chance to playtest Clash this week, at least thus far. Work projects, freelance, making adjustments to my life and work routine (fuck, I’m getting old…I have a fucking routine now), and reading a couple of excellent books have taken up my time. I’m still hacking away at my thoughts on Lake Geneva…it’s a complicated subject that makes me feel slightly embarrassed. It involves a lot of romanticism that stir the iron hounds of my reason to tear it to bits. But it’s coming.
This week, I’m also going to stray away a bit from both Delve and Clash, and we are going to have a serious chat about pay. It’s been the topic on a lot of people’s minds lately. Within the circles, I run with and stalk on social media it heated up a bit. Nothing out of line, I believe, but let’s just say a publisher might have mentioned how little he pays, leading others to politely call bullshit, and points were either exchanged or were reverberated. Those who know me won’t be surprised that I have opinions.
So yeah, let’s talk pay and other economic realities of the tabletop industry.
First off, let’s face it. No one decides they want to write roleplaying game material for the glamor. In some states, you can do it for the drugs, but they’ve become such a cheap commodity the cool has been sucked out of them. You do it because you like these stupid fucking games. Strike that. You do it because, for one reason or another, you are obsessed with these stupid fucking games. And in all of that excitement, you are willing to do that work for free. After all, you daydream about your game, you prepare grand campaigns in your little fiefdom, you tinker with rules, and you have a rough draft for your own game. This shit is fun.
Don’t do it. Or at least be careful of how you do it. Starting by trying out for a fanzine or free publication (I recommend Wayfinder, but I’m biased), or writing your blog, posting on message boards, self-publishing, sure. But if you’re going to write for free, make sure it is what you want to write. If you’re doing it on spec, get paid. If you are writing to line someone else’s pocket, benefit their line or intellectual property, you should get. Accept no substitute. If they offer you less than 5 cents a word, start haggling. Why do I say 5 cents a word? Let’s do some math. Let’s just imagine you can write 1,000 words a day. That’s at least what Stephen King recommends in his book On Writing. That’s a challenging but doable goal even if you are doing it after work. On weekdays when I work on my own projects or freelance writing, I typically write somewhere around that, which many more often done at work during the same daily span. Those words will often be words in the rough. Nearly as much time (if not more) will be spent hammering those rough words to presentable words. Of course, this all imagines you’ll be writing narrative prose. Many times in the tabletop industry this is only a fraction of the words you’ll write.
The rest will be rules writing, and that is much slower going. Rules writing is technical writing. There is little room for fluff, padding, or flavor. Often each word features precise meanings, complicated interactions, and all those words need to do the heavy lifting. Revisions are more than flow, sense, grammar, and syntax. They also must conform to the standards of the system, be consistent and coherent with terms, jargon, and strict definitions and then there are the maths. You’ll be doing well if you can get 500-750 right words a day.
Cluttered around all of the principle writing (you know, the words they’ll pay you for) are outlines that need to be submitted, discussed, revised, sometimes promotional material that too many publishers just imagine you would be happy to do for free, your own self-promotion on this website or that bit of social media, maps, art notes, notes on design choices, and fawning emails to publishers even when you feel like they are feeding you shit. While it’s not digging ditches, it is a lonely frustrating existence with pitfalls and spiky bits. And, in the end, when it is all shiny and published, you’ll get $500, a month or two after it’s published for that 10,000 words of feats, spells, and archetypes you wrote. That’s $500 for 10-20 late evening’s worth of work. At best, that’s maybe $13.00 an hour, but it’s typically closer to $7.00 an hour, shy of the federal minimum wage. Of course, none of this takes into account all the creative energy, brainstorming, shit words that seemed okay at 2 a.m. but the next morning you have to fix, and rabbit holes you wiggled down only to find bupkis. But most people don’t consider being creative a job. They think that’s just what you do. Those people are stupid. There’s a reason writers tend to drink and partake in other more illicit substances. Your favorite author was likely high as a kite when she wrote those words you love or suffering from the intoxication of near-crippling anxiety or depression. Creativity takes its toll.
There is also this idea that if you love to do it so much, you shouldn’t want to get paid. Shovel that horseshit out of your brain right this instant. If someone dares make that argument to you, tell them to shove it way up their butthole…waaaaay up in there. That is the nature of work. If someone wants you to do work for them, for a product, and that product has even the chance of making a profit, get fucking paid. And get paid as well as you can and as fast as you can. Period. Or don’t do it.
That is all.