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Author Topic: Lines vs. Authors  (Read 6244 times)
Joshua A.C. Newman
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Posts: 1144

the glyphpress


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« on: December 01, 2005, 08:12:21 AM »

Several times in recent threads, store owners, large publishers, and distributors have pointed out that game lines sell, where single books don't. I'm not going to debate that. I think it's probably true and lack the experience to add anything to the debate.

I suspect we have an opportunity to change something about the business we're in here, and I'd like some non-my thoughts on it:

We don't have to sell lines. Like musicians, authors, painters, performance artists, actors, composers, sculptors, storytellers, monologuists, and every other type of artist, we can...

get this...

put our names on our games!

A lot of folks already do this: Vincent puts his name on the front, for instance, as does Ron. But a lot of us (notably for this discussion, me) have been under the impression that saying that you're a company makes you seem bigger than you are. It turns out, it's transparent. It just makes you look like a teeny tiny basement company.

People know Ron because of Sorcerer and The Forge.

People know Vincent because of Kill Puppies for Satan and Dogs in the Vineyard. They're more likely to know the works than the people now, but they know the names.

Now, when I go to a bookstore (or Amazon, more likely these days) I'm looking for either a particular book or a book by a particular author. You probably are, too. Likewise, when I'm buying music, I'm looking for a particular musician (except in the case of Tzadik Records, which is run by a musician I like a lot).

So I think what we want to do is produce a personal brand. Make your books carry aesthetic similarities that make them a line, so someone will say, "Oh, this is a Ben Lehman game! I love his games!" and pick it up. Make things that should go next to each other on a shelf the way all my Asimov is together. Make it so that if you want to sell your games in a bookstore, the store owner will be able to buy the whole line of You.

That's my proposal. I'm'a do it myself and let you know what happens over the next few years.

Does this tap into the same thing as a product line? I don't know! Does making something a product line make it sell better outside of bookstores? I don't know!

Do you?
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the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.
GreatWolf
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Posts: 1155

designer of Dirty Secrets


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« Reply #1 on: December 01, 2005, 08:32:30 AM »

Designer ("German") boardgames have been doing this for quite some time.  Reiner Knizia (one of the most brilliant boardgame designers currently working, IMHO) has published games with many different publishers.  However, I don't have a particular loyalty to the publisher.  I'm not generally waiting for the latest from Fantasy Flight to come out.  Instead, I'm looking to see when Reiner Knizia is releasing his next game.  The production quality is directly related to the publisher, but the gameplay is on the designer, and that's what I'm looking to see.

In part, I look for Knizia games because I appreciate some of the hallmarks of his design philosophy.  Knizia games are generally solidly rooted in mathematics, require the player to juggle the subjective value of various options, and are usually constrained so that there is not enough time on a given turn to accomplish everything that you want to accomplish.  As a result, there is a certain tension in an Knizia game (be it light games like Carcassonne: The Castle and Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation or heavier one like Tigris and Euphrates or Amun-Re) that I find enjoyable.  Because Knizia has been able to establish a certain reputation, game buyers can expect certain things from his designs, and, indeed, look forward with anticipation to the various nuances that he will bring out in a future design.

Similar sorts of things could be said about Alan Moon (Ticket to Ride), Wolfgang Kramer with Richard Ulrich (El Grande, Princes of Florence), Kramer with Michael Kiesling (Tikal, Java), and so on.  Each designer (or designer team) has a certain flavor to the games that they develop, which their fans acknowledge and look for.

So, yes, this can work for you, if you can establish your reputation in this way.
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
John Burdick
Member

Posts: 105


« Reply #2 on: December 01, 2005, 09:05:09 AM »

I wish books constructed by farming out chapters to various writers would identify which chapters were done by which writers. White Wolf does things by chapters, and the discussions on rpg.net often reveal who the authors were. Based on that I've formed opinions on their work. I bought Blue Rose in part because of knowing John Snead's work for White Wolf and Steve Kenson's reputation for hacking d20.

A recurring topic of debate is the clarity of Rebecca Borgstrom's writing. Every time it comes up, someone cites a chapter she didn't write as proof of unclear writing. Since the only way to know is to have been following along on the forum the entire time, that is a understandable mistake.

John
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: December 01, 2005, 09:32:11 AM »

Hello,

Historical point: the first person to advocate this idea, Joshua, was John Wick, 2001-2002. Since he did so, and since he did sell a mighty truckload of Orkworld through personality-recognition promotion, the majority of independent PRGs have sported their authors' names on the covers.

Historical detail: Sorcerer's book cover was formatted before he made this point, although my name is on the spine. If the timing had been different, the name would have been on the front.

Best,
Ron
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Joshua A.C. Newman
Member

Posts: 1144

the glyphpress


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« Reply #4 on: December 01, 2005, 09:36:52 AM »

I wish books constructed by farming out chapters to various writers would identify which chapters were done by which writers.

Well, I don't know of any indie publishers who do this. It's not inconceivable, though, and I assume that, not only would proper credit be given, but there would be attention given to who got top billing, whose name was bigger, and all that stuff. It's in the nature of a collaborative exercise.

Point in fact, when Kenneth Hite reviewed The Mountain Witch, he gave particular props to Tim (the game designer), Don (the illustrator), and me (the book designer). He would not have done this if there hadn't been "About the Designer/Illustrator/Book Designer" sections on the last page.

By stark contrast, Dread, an indie game published without the Forge used not only two authors, but one of them used a pseudonym. That may be because they had an exclusive contract with another publisher or something, but it's foolish for most reasons, unless you're going to write lots of books under the name "woodelf".
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the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.
Joshua A.C. Newman
Member

Posts: 1144

the glyphpress


WWW
« Reply #5 on: December 01, 2005, 09:39:00 AM »

Historical point: the first person to advocate this idea, Joshua, was John Wick, 2001-2002. Since he did so, and since he did sell a mighty truckload of Orkworld through personality-recognition promotion, the majority of independent PRGs have sported their authors' names on the covers.

Oh, yeah, I know (though I didn't know it was Wick who brought it up). I'm proposing going beyond that. I'm proposing making a Ron Edwards brand that is as recognizable as the Vampire brand.

Quote
Historical detail: Sorcerer's book cover was formatted before he made this point, although my name is on the spine. If the timing had been different, the name would have been on the front.

It's never too late for a new cover.
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the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.
Josh Roby
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Posts: 1055

Category Three Forgite


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« Reply #6 on: December 01, 2005, 09:42:32 AM »

Wow, Josh, I've got to say that's a perfectly reasonable, useful, and bloody simple solution, and I can't agree more.
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chadu
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Posts: 134


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« Reply #7 on: December 01, 2005, 09:44:27 AM »

Are we talking simply indie, because Steve Jackson Games has been doing this for decades now.

CU
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Chad Underkoffler [chadu@yahoo.com]

Atomic Sock Monkey Press

 Available Now: Truth & Justice
Joshua A.C. Newman
Member

Posts: 1144

the glyphpress


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« Reply #8 on: December 01, 2005, 09:45:27 AM »

Well, maybe simple in theory. Developing a brand is a tough thing to do. Of course, the fewer people who do it, the better it is for those who do, I reckon.

And, for pete's sake, I'm Joshua, not Josh. Just like you.
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the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.
Joshua A.C. Newman
Member

Posts: 1144

the glyphpress


WWW
« Reply #9 on: December 01, 2005, 09:48:12 AM »

Are we talking simply indie, because Steve Jackson Games has been doing this for decades now.

Well, good point. And it seems to be working well. That logotype of his means that a) there's a particular design philosophy behind this game, and b) it's refined well. I can taste a Steve Jackson rule one room over, and that means that he's done a grand job. Particularly because he's not the only guy making the games; he's got a lot of people making them for him, but using his design principles.

So, yeah, good example.

I'd also like to know some cons to this, if anyone's got one.
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the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.
Josh Roby
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Posts: 1055

Category Three Forgite


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« Reply #10 on: December 01, 2005, 10:31:58 AM »

Actually, Steve Jackson hasn't written a GURPS title in... I think decades.  He's far more interested in SJG's sideline projects, and lets GURPS more or less run itself these days.  Which is tangential, but also reinforces what Joshua is talking about -- it's still a Steve Jackson product.

Building a brand is certainly a hugely complex process, yes.  Putting your name on the cover of your book, however, is the simple part that I'm lauding right now.  Lots of complex things are made up of very simple steps -- I'm always happy when a simple step is expressed in clear terms.
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Blankshield
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« Reply #11 on: December 01, 2005, 10:48:28 AM »

And in a couple of years, I'll let you know how it goes on the other side of the fence, 'cause I'm not letting go of Blank Shield Press.  Mostly because I like it, and it's mine. :)  And, you know, because I'm a teeny, tiny basement company.

In hindsight though, Death's Door should have had author (ie: Me!) information identified inside the cover.  I tapped Kevin for the artwork, and forgot to give myself writing credit.  Oops!

James
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I write games. My games don't have much in common with each other, except that I wrote them.

http://www.blankshieldpress.com/
Joshua A.C. Newman
Member

Posts: 1144

the glyphpress


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« Reply #12 on: December 01, 2005, 10:56:13 AM »

And in a couple of years, I'll let you know how it goes on the other side of the fence, 'cause I'm not letting go of Blank Shield Press.  Mostly because I like it, and it's mine. :)  And, you know, because I'm a teeny, tiny basement company.

Well, here's the thing: the glyphpress has been around for something like six years. Under the Bed is really just the first thing with commerciability. I'm not ditching it, either, because it's an umbrella for a bunch of projects and I don't want to rule out having other people under it.

Stephen King novels say:

Stephen King
Book Title
publishing company


The publishing company still exists and is a useful brand, but for other things.
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the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.
Adam
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Posts: 165


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« Reply #13 on: December 01, 2005, 10:59:29 AM »

I wish books constructed by farming out chapters to various writers would identify which chapters were done by which writers. White Wolf does things by chapters, and the discussions on rpg.net often reveal who the authors were. Based on that I've formed opinions on their work. I bought Blue Rose in part because of knowing John Snead's work for White Wolf and Steve Kenson's reputation for hacking d20.
FanPro typically does this with Shadowrun, as well, except for some books where many people had influence on many chapters, such as the Fourth Edition rulebook. But most of the supplements identify the author on a per chapter/section basis when possible.
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timfire
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Posts: 756


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« Reply #14 on: December 01, 2005, 11:00:37 AM »

Is there really any difference between branding your name and branding your [/i]company[/i]? I mean, look at Cheap Ass Games---you can't rightly call them a "line" in the traditional sense, but you can call it a brand. You can expect a certain aesthetic quality and all that. How's that any different from saying "a game by Joshua Newman"?
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--Timothy Walters Kleinert
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