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Getting a Job in the RPG Industry

October 10, 2012 4 comments

There must be something in the air. After the last two posts on breaking into video games and getting your game published, today one of my LinkedIn groups had a question from someone who wants to get a job in the tabletop RPG industry. Here’s what I told him. I think it’s realistic, but others may think I’m being too negative. If he’s really committed to tabletop RPGs as a career, he won’t be put off by what I say anyway.

All my tabletop RPG pals out there, please weigh in with your own advice and experiences – either here or on the LinkedIn discussion.

There’s barely an industry to break into. With very few exceptions (WotC, Paizo, Fantasy Flight), the industry is made up of garage operations doing it for love rather than money. Almost no one makes a living at it: I don’t. A little while ago I wrote a blog entry on the reasons for this.

If this doesn’t discourage you, start by freelancing. Pick your favorite 2-3 game systems and become an expert. Write a few pieces for each one and send them to the appropriate line editor. Don’t expect these to get published: they are just samples. If and when you get paying gigs, use the published work build up a portfolio.

Look at Kickstarter and Indiegogo for RPG projects. If you see anything you like, contribute cash (this establishes good faith) and write to the project’s owner and offer to create something for a stretch goal. Don’t expect payment for this until your name carries some weight.

Review games for sites like DriveThruRPG, RPGGeek, and Roleplayers Chronicle. Start a blog and post your work there alongside intelligent discussion of issues and market developments. Be active on the forums for your favorite 2-3 games. Go to GenCon and other major shows, visit the booths of your favorite publishers, and find someone to talk to about their needs.

Give this process 5-10 years (seriously). With a little luck and a lot of hard work your name will become sufficiently established that you can get regular freelance work. No matter how much you get, though, you will still need a “day job” to pay the bills. You will always be competing with an unlimited number of fans who write or draw as a hobby, and this keeps payment rates too low to sustain anyone as a career.

Keep an eye on publishers’ web sites, looking for vacancy announcements. Develop skills in graphic design, layout, and web site development that will set you apart from the mass of writers and/or artists. Consider acquiring business skills as well. Take your cue from the vacancies you see advertised: in my experience business and production vacancies are the hardest to fill. Writing vacancies, when they exist, are almost never advertised, for two reasons:

a) Any ad for RPG writers produces an unmanageable flood of applications. Picking out usable candidates from the mass of semi-literates and enthusiastic schoolkids takes too long. True story: when I worked for Games Workshop, an ad for a game writer produced multiple applications from 12-13 year olds (and a touching one from a 9-year-old, written in black crayon and accompanied by a sketch of his character) asking us to keep the vacancy open until they finished school.

b) All RPG companies use freelancers extensively to keep costs down. Therefore when a vacancy arises, hiring managers usually approach their best freelancers, filling the vacancy without needing to advertise.

Or, you can do what most people do and found your own company.

Set up a blog and post regularly, including free samples (skeleton rules in the GURPS light mode, free adventures) to give people a taste and make them want to spend cash on your products.

Use Facebook and game forums to develop a fan base. Send electronic samples to every review site you can find.

Once you have a base and some good reviews for your initial products, use Kickstarter to fund more. Look at current Kickstarter campaigns to see what works and what doesn’t.

Using print-on-demand and electronic distribution, you can avoid tying up too much cash in stock, but you have to do everything yourself because it will be years (if ever) before you have enough money to hire any help.

You’ll have to keep a day job, and free time will become an unknown concept, but you’ll be working in the industry you love and for some people that is enough.

I’m sorry if this sounds negative, but the reality is that the tabletop RPG industry is (and looks to remain) idea-rich but cash-poor, with writers in particular being a heavily oversupplied commodity.

Want to Get Your Game Published?

October 2, 2012 1 comment

Following on from the theme of the last post, I sometimes get emails out of the blue asking for my advice on getting a roleplaying game published – and sometimes for my help as well. It looks like John Kovalic gets similar emails.

John who? He’s the creator of the hilarious Dork Tower comics, the artist for Steve Jackson Games’ hilarious card game Munchkin, and the co-founder of Out of the Box Publishing. Go out and buy Apples to Apples. Right now. I’m serious. I’ll wait till you get back.

All of which means that John is a man who knows what he’s talking about. His blog yesterday contains a great deal of wisdom for anyone who is looking to get a game published. For added style points, he does it in a series of 17 tweets. Although he specifically refers to boardgames, this is good and valuable advice for any kind of game, including tabletop roleplaying games. So if you have a game that you’re looking to get published, read this. Read it all the way to the end. Print out the expanded section, and tape or thumbtack it up somewhere where you can see it every day.

And if you’re looking to publish a tabletop roleplaying game, you should also take a look at this. You need to be realistic about your chances of making money, even if you tell yourself now that you’re only doing it for fun.

Most people in the games industry get requests for free advice and free help from time to time. Most of us would love to be able to help, but most of us can’t because we’re too busy trying to make a living. No matter what you might think, none of us is sipping champagne on a yacht – not unless they’ve made it big in some other industry. So when someone else gives out good advice and saves me the work of doing so myself, it’s my duty to steal… ahem, pass it along.

A Blast from the Past

June 29, 2012 7 comments

Well, not a blast, exactly. Probably more of a slightly damp phut.

I was casting about for a subject for a new blog entry this morning. I remembered that sometimes, online booksellers advertise books I have written or co-written at prices that just make me laugh. For example, someone on Abe Books wants over $500 for a copy of the third Doomstones adventure, Death Rock. Other people on the same site are offering it for $7.00 to $22.00, which is altogether more reasonable.

I was going to muse a little about perceived value, and maybe throw in a wry comment about how much I wish I could claim royalties on these kinds of prices, but then I saw this. This particular sighting took me back 26 years, to the point where I first thought I might be able to make a career as a writer.

It was 1985, and I was an archaeology postgrad at the University of Durham. I was compiling 150-odd years of excavation reports on Neolithic and Bronze Age burials, systematizing the data, and building a database on NUMAC, the mainframe that Durham shared with Newcastle University. In FORTRAN 77. I was starting to become dispirited: this was my first experience with computers, and it usually took me two weeks to get a 15-minute meeting with my Ph. D. supervisor, who only wanted to know what books I’d read since last time and took no interest in the project itself. But that’s a story for another time.

Gamebooks were everywhere in the mid 80s. Following the success of Fighting Fantasy, all kinds of imitators – of all levels of quality – had sprung up like dandelions. Imagine magazine had just published an article on the gamebook phenomenon that I had co-written with their book critic Colin Greenland, and I was doing an occasional gamebook spot on BBC Radio Newcastle’s children’s book programme. Then, out of the blue, I got a phone call.

Now, “getting a phone call” wasn’t easy for a college student back in the 80s. Collingwood College had maybe half a dozen payphones throughout its corridors, for the use of 300-odd students. Mobile phones – which did exist, just about – fell into two categories: large consoles that Captains of Industry had bolted into the back of their Bentleys, and portable units that came in a satchel and weighed only a little more than their cost in gold. What I got was a scrawled message that someone from a company called Scribos had rung, and wanted to talk to me about a freelance writing project.

There was no Internet to look up this Scribos, and I had no idea who they were. So I collected a fistful of 10p pieces, wandered the corridors until I found a free phone, and called them back.

It turned out that they were an educational publisher, and they wanted someone to write two 6-volume fantasy series in the Choose Your Own Adventure format. The twist was, the language had to be kept simple: the books were aimed at teens with reading ages of 6-7. The concept relied on the read-comprehend-decide activity loop of the gamebook format, along with the popularity of the gamebook phenomenon as a whole. I was equipped with a Fry Reading Age Chart, and told that each book should come in at 50 entries.

I’d been sending articles to White Dwarf and Imagine for a few years by this point, but I never seriously considered the possibility that I might be able to make a living as a writer. But two things sealed the deal for me. First, the books were to be published by Oxford University Press. And second, I was offered 600 pounds for the project.

It just shows how touchingly naive I was back then. Certainly, 600 pounds was a tidy sum to a college student, but this was a one-time project and I never did the math about how many such projects I’d need each year in order to make a living. Between this and my modest but semi-regular checks from White Dwarf and Imagine, I thought it was a sign. I was on my way. Over the next few months, my archaeological research tapered off until I withdrew from the project entirely.

I never received publisher’s comps of the Quest Books series (The Adventures of Kern the Strong and The Adventures of Oss the Quick) so I still don’t know how they turned out. One was turned into a CD-ROM a few years ago, but no more seem to have followed so I’m guessing that wasn’t a great success. I’m sure they weren’t masterpieces; I was just starting out as a writer, and finding my way.

Kern covers

Ken Gober kindly furnished me with these scans of the covers for Kern 1-6.

The winter of 1985-6 was a tough one financially. I finished the Quest Books project and was paid (which isn’t always the case, as any freelancer can tell you), but the 600 pounds didn’t last all that long. TSR Inc. shut down Imagine magazine – my most lucrative market – and eventually the whole of TSR UK as well. Editor Paul Cockburn started the short-lived GameMaster Publications and I became a regular contributor, but I just wasn’t bringing in enough money.

Then, out of the blue, I got a letter. Paul and a bunch of others from TSR UK had fetched up at Games Workshop’s new headquarters in Nottingham. There was a plan to make a roleplaying game based on Warhammer, which had come into GW’s portfolio in the recent merger with Citadel Miniatures. And would I like to come down to Nottingham and talk? Everyone knows what happened next.

I come across isolated titles from the Quest Books series online now and again, but this is the first cover shot I’ve ever seen. I think about collecting them sometimes, but I’m not really a collector by nature. And what if I should look at these books for the first time in 26 years and discover they really weren’t all that good? Silly, I know, but there it is.

When I remember my confused, conflicted and wildly over-optimistic mid-twenties self in that winter of 1985-6, I can’t suppress a rueful smile. I really had no idea what I was doing, and in a reasonable universe I would never have got away with it. The Games Workshop job, coming when it did, was an unbelievable and completely undeserved stroke of luck. But that one decision, swung by the name of Oxford University Press and the promise of six hundred pounds, set the course of my life from that point on.

International Short Story Day


Today is International Short Story Day. Why today? Because it’s the shortest night of the year. Kind of cunning, don’t you think?

One of many events to mark the day will be taking place at The Book Club in London, starting at 7:00 pm. That’s where Stone Skin Press will be launching a preview edition of The New Hero, their inaugural story collection. Renowned game and fiction author Robin D. Laws has put together an impressive roster of writers (and a great cover artist) for this volume of iconic hero tales – and he also asked me to pitch in a story.

My airpulp yarn “Against the Air Pirates” features a rogue German zeppelin in the inter-war Pacific: I pitched it as “Disney’s Tale Spin written by Robert E. Howard.” More on my obsession with vintage aviation can be found here.

The story was a lot of fun to write, and I hope that some day I’ll be able to revisit Louie’s Place and see what Mike Finnegan and the other regulars are up to. Meanwhile, though, I can’t wait to hold the book in my hands and see what wonders the other writers have come up with.

Crowdfunding

April 19, 2012 1 comment

I’ve been hearing a lot about crowdfunding over the last couple of years, especially in the cash-poor but idea-rich tabletop roleplaying industry. What I haven’t heard is how successful crowdfunding has been at raising money. As of a couple of days ago, though, it looks like I’m going to be finding out.

Last week I got an email out of the blue from James Raggi of Lamentations of the Flame Princess. I hadn’t heard of him or his company before, because I really don’t do much in the world of tabletop roleplaying these days. I’d like to, but I can’t generally afford to work for the kind of rates that the industry pays: I wrote an entry On the Economics of Tabletop RPGs earlier.

I do make exceptions, but they are very rare. One is for Colonial Gothic, because I’ve known Richard Iorio of Rogue Games for years and I think the setting has a lot of potential. Another is for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, because it has been such a huge part of my gaming career going back to 1986. And I still write occasionally for GURPS, because it allows me to indulge my passion for historical and historical-fantasy roleplaying. Recently I had to turn down a project from a once-big publisher, because they were offering the same rate of pay as they did 20 years ago and I just couldn’t afford to do it.

Anyway, back to Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Casting about for reviews and then looking over the PDFs that I received, I found it was quite an interesting game. It’s an AD&D retro-clone, another phenomenon I had heard about but not investigated – but the main thing that interested me was the game’s focus on atmosphere and horror over old-school hackfests. So I’ve agreed to do something – maybe.

Here’s where the crowdfunding comes in. My adventure will be one of the bonus items if another project – a hardcover edition of the core rules – exceeds its funding target. Jim has also signed up Ken Hite, Frank Menzer, and some newer names to provide additional bonus items. You can find the details at Indiegogo – and make a pledge if you like what you see.

This is my first brush with crowdfunding, and I really don’t know what to expect. But I guess that in 44 days, I won’t be able to say that any more.

It’s going to be interesting.

On the Economics of Tabletop RPGs

January 28, 2012 30 comments

Almost 30 years ago, I wrote an article for TSR UK’s Imagine magazine on the subject of converting characters and adventures between different roleplaying game systems. I remember taking an unscientific poll at the time, and based on the content and advertising in the various RPG magazines I had to hand, there were around 50 tabletop RPGs on the market. Today, a quick look through DriveThruRPG.com turns up 97 game lines, and I’m sure there are many more that don’t sell through that site.

The year after my article was published, GenCon attracted 5,000 attendees in its first year in Milwaukee. Last year, a reported 36,733 people went to Indianapolis for GenCon, to say nothing of those who attended the various smaller GenCons around the world.

All this might lead the casual observer to believe that the tabletop roleplaying hobby has never been stronger or more popular – but I’m not so sure. Here’s why:

The FLGS Under Threat

In the 80s and early 90s, I was usually aware of 2-3 Friendly Local Game Stores (FLGSs to us game geeks) within a 30-minute drive of wherever I happened to be living at the time. They were places where gamers could go and browse, maybe play a demo or two, pick up new releases for whatever games they played, and discover new games.

Now, the FLGS is almost an endangered species. The major games – D&D, Pathfinder, and maybe one or two others – can now be found in big-box bookstores, but they don’t carry anything like the range of stock found in an FLGS, and small to mid-range titles are absent altogether. The online retailers carry a much broader range, but browsing takes serious determination. I suspect that game conventions are now the main way that gamers discover new games.

Follow the Money

When I quit Games Workshop in 1990 to set out on the uncertain seas of freelance game writing, I was paid between 2 and 5 cents per word. Twenty-two years later, that’s what most of the tabletop RPG industry still pays. A handful of the larger publishers pay 6 cents per word.

According to DollarTimes.com, a 2012 dollar is worth only 58 cents from 1990. So in real terms, payment rates have declined by more than one-third over the last 22 years. Many old-school tabletop RPG writers, myself included, now make their living in the better-paying electronic games industry. Many of the people I know in the industry – even those who own and operate RPG publishing companies – list a “day job” on their LinkedIn profiles, which is a sign that they can’t make a living from game publishing alone.

So what’s happening? Why do we see growth in the range of tabletop RPG titles and increasing attendance at game conventions alongside clear evidence of a drop in profitability? I can think of a couple of reasons.

Lowering the Bar

In the 80s and 90s, getting a tabletop RPG to market was a serious undertaking. Layout was still done with scissors and paste. The first desktop publishing programs were so expensive that only professional publishers could afford them. A print run of at least 5,000 copies was needed to break even, and publishers had to pay for printing and shipping before a single cent rolled in from sales. Nowadays, e-books and PDFs have slashed production costs and money tied up in unsold stock. Word can be used to turn out respectable-looking pages. Gamers who would have started typewritten fanzines in the 80s now run blogs and sell PDFs online.

I’ve always said that if you scratch a roleplayer, you’ll find a would-be game designer underneath. Today, the bar to entry is so low that anyone with a computer and an internet connection can start their own publishing house – and many have. For most, it’s just a hobby. For a few, it’s an attempt to make a living – or at least a little cash – from the hobby that they love. But almost no one outside a handful of the largest publishers is making any kind of a living at it.

So What About GenCon?

It’s easy to see how DTP, PDFs, POD, and various other acronyms have led to a growth in the number of tabletop RPG publishers. But surely the numbers from GenCon prove that the market is growing in proportion, right?

Yes, more people are attending GenCon than ever. However, if the market for tabletop RPGs is growing at all, I’m fairly sure it’s growing far more slowly than GenCon attendance. I would love to see how the age breakdown of GenCon attendees has changed over the last 20 years or so, but I haven’t been able to find any statistics on the subject. I suspect that a major factor in the rise in attendance is the increase in tabletop roleplayers’ disposable income as they get older. Couple this with the decline in the brick-and-mortar game stores, and for many people conventions have become the only place to mix with other gamers, play demos, and discover new titles.

But Don’t Panic!

Does this mean the tabletop RPG industry is dying? Far from it. It’s just not booming. It will never be what people hoped it would become in the late 80s, when TSR released a long-box edition of D&D aimed to fit alongside Monopoly and Clue on toystore shelves. For some, it’s a hobby that maybe brings in a little cash. For a very few, it’s a living doing something they love. There’s a lot to like about the fact that you can start your own publishing house from your basement or garage. As long as everyone realizes that the odds of striking it rich are vanishingly small, no one will get hurt.

Bits of Books, Part 1

January 19, 2012 Leave a comment

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be posting some short pieces of nonfiction that I’ve written over the years. Most of them were writing samples to accompany book proposals, and I’ll tell the story of each piece as I go. And if anyone reading this is in publishing and interested in using any of them, then I’d love to hear from you.

This first piece is about Brigid (a.k.a. Saint Bridget), a pagan Celtic goddess who changed teams and became a Christian saint. The style is inspired by Vicki Leon’s brilliant Uppity Women series of books, and also by Trina Robbins’ Eternally Bad: Goddesses With Attitude. I initially proposed Eternally Bad 2 to publishers Conari Press, but was told they had changed their editorial direction. I still have plans to write a book on goddesses in this style, but I haven’t yet found the right publisher.

Brigid

Copyright (c) 2012 Graeme Davis

If proof were ever needed that you can’t keep a goddess down, Brigid is it. Thanks to a shrewd career move, this former Celtic goddess is now a Christian saint, whose feast day just happens to fall on the same date as the previous pagan festival. The church tends to play down rumors that Saint Mel consecrated her a full-fledged bishop after a few too many goblets of communion wine, but no-one can deny her hard work and persistence.

Brigid – according to who you believe, her name could mean “fiery arrow,” “bright one,” or “exalted one” – was born into the Tuatha De Danann, the race of gods who conquered Ireland from the brutish Fomorians. Her father was no less than the Dagda, or All-Father. At her birth, it is said, a pillar of flame rose up from her head into the dawn sky, making the house look as though it was on fire. While the other gods stood around gaping, Brigid went straight to work.

She broke off a piece of the fire and dropped it on the floor, where it became the first hearth. Reaching into this fire, she pulled out a tongue of flame and swallowed it, where it burned inside her and caused flames to shoot from her hands; she used her magma manicure to invent the craft of metalworking. Drawing water from a nearby well, she heated it with her fire and made a range of herbal teas that were both delicious and good for the health. From the fire that burned inside her head she poured forth poetry and other forms of artistic inspiration. So she became the patroness of the hearth, healing, poetry, and metalworking, and the number one goddess of the Celtic pantheon.

Well, maybe not number one – that spot went to the enigmatic Danu, who gave her name to the whole race of gods (Tuatha De Danann means “Tribe of the Goddess Danu”) – but there are those who say that she actually was Danu, in addition to her other talents. In fact, she was so busy that some sources claim the Dagda had three daughters, and named them all Brigid. A few jealous souls began to whisper that, while one side of her face was beautiful, the other was quite homely, but she paid them no mind.

Being the daughter of the king of the gods carried the same hazards as mortal princesses faced. Brigid had to put up with a dynastic marriage with Bres Mac Elatha, who was half-Fomorian on his father’s side – a severe handicap in both the looks and personality departments – and penny-pinching into the bargain, which the rest of the Tuatha couldn‘t stand. Eventually they kicked him out, but rather than learning from the experience and working on his social skills, he ran off to the Fomorian side of his family for help, which started a series of wars. Brigid, meanwhile, started hanging out with the good-looking and cultured Turenn, whose father Oghma held the patent on the ogham writing system. Turenn was also her cousin and her ex’s nephew, but gods are usually broadminded about such things. This relationship (having been bitten once, she wasn’t in a hurry to get married again) was altogether happier, and produced three sons: Bran, Iuchar and Iucharba. They all went into the family business as gods of poetry.

While the other Tuatha De Danann were content with Ireland, Brigid had bigger ideas. Soon, she was worshiped across Celtic Europe; Brigantia, her brand name in mainland Britain, became a major kingdom, and a constant thorn in the side of the Romans when they showed up.

Brigid’s feast day was Imbolc, the Celtic festival when winter turned to spring. In addition to her other interests, she took on the seasonal job of making sure the ewes produced enough milk, which soon developed into overall responsibility for flocks and herds.

Her skill in poetry extended to mystical knowledge, and made her a favorite of witches and wise-women. She could look into her cupped hands for visions of things to come or things happening far away. Crystal balls were for amateurs. People were constantly around her door clamoring for her herbal recipes, but they had trouble remembering what she told them. Turning a handy twig into charcoal with the fire that still wreathed her head, Brigid taught them how to make Oghma’s marks on bark, so they could write the recipes down. It’s not known if he got royalties, but then it’s not known if she got a marketing fee either.

As the guardian of the hearth, Brigid’s permission had to be asked before banking the fire for the night, and her protection sought for the house and its occupants. She had a sacred fire at Kildare, which was watched over by 19 priestesses. They took turns on a 20-day rotation; on the 20th day, the fire was tended by Brigid herself. For all her success, she never lost touch with her constituents.

Of all her fires, the warm glow of compassion was her favorite. Once, two men came to her complaining of leprosy. A dip in her sacred well cured one of them, but when he was reluctant to help his still-leprous friend wash those hard-to-reach places with the healing water, Brigid saw red. She gave him his leprosy back, telling him not to talk to her again until he had learned compassion. Then, just to drive the point home, she cured his friend.

When St. Patrick showed up and started spreading Christianity, Brigid wasn’t at all impressed. She laughed at his snake-charming act, and spoke her mind about the new religion, which caused a few problems. The Christians slaughtered her priestesses and put out her fire, but she wasn’t ready to fade into obscurity with the rest of the Tuatha De Danann. Instead, she invited Paddy over for some tea and a chat, and by the end of their conversation she had decided that since she couldn’t beat ‘em, she might as well join ‘em. Before you could say “Christianized pagan deity,” Brigid was set up with the title of saint and an impeccably Christian background as the midwife who delivered Jesus.

According to the official story, she was the illegitimate daughter of a pagan Irish chieftain (some say he was a druid) and a Christian slave girl; mother died early, and she was raised by her father, who was quite tolerant of her Christian leanings. She kept the household in butter, employing miraculous means when natural sources ran dry. The story has her born 66 years after Patrick hung up his shillelagh, even though he is supposed to have baptized her personally. The Pagan Goddess Protection Program obviously slipped up here and there with her new identity. But then, her absolute refusal to change her name must have made them wonder why they were trying in the first place.

Her aversion to marriage was another thing that carried over to her Christian identity. According to early biographers, she hated her own beauty and the pesky men it attracted, and prayed to become ugly. The result was that one of her eyes became huge, while the other disappeared altogether. Rather than forcing her into marriage – and probably deciding that she wouldn’t make a profitable dynastic match looking like that – her father consented to her becoming a nun. As she took her vows, angels shoved the attending priest aside and presented her with the veil themselves. The wooden steps of the altar burst into leaf, and her good looks were instantly restored. After that, she traveled Ireland founding churches, nunneries, and monasteries (including co-ed establishments divided down the middle to keep the monks and nuns apart and save them from impure thoughts), and when she died, she was on the fast track for sainthood.

The new Brigid wasn’t all work and no play, though. Among other things, her bath-water was sometimes made into beer for thirsty clerics. She rescued a boar from hunters by granting it sanctuary in her chapel, and taught a fox to dance. She would often hang her damp cloak on a sunbeam to dry, which sometimes obliged the sunbeam to stick around all night. She even made two opposing armies invisible to each other, so that tempers had time to cool. When a passing merchant refused to give her some salt, she turned his entire stock to stone. Her larder never ran out, and one Easter a small cup of malt from her scullery yielded enough ale to supply all 17 of the abbeys and monasteries under her rule. In another legend, she gave some water to a man whose wife found him repulsive, and he enjoyed an adoring spouse for the rest of his life. Perhaps he washed with it.

St Brigid remained associated with sheep and milk. She became the patroness of Ireland, New Zealand, milkmaids, and poultry farmers, as well as nuns, newborns (from her supposed role in the birth of Jesus), and fugitives. In 712 she appeared to the army of Leinster, hovering in the sky before they routed the forces of Tara. She kept her sacred fire at Kildare, but the staff was downsized to nine virgins from the original 19 priestesses. On the other hand, it now had a nunnery attached. Men were still forbidden to cross the hedge that surrounded the sanctuary, and Brigid wasn’t afraid to show that she meant business. When an archer hopped over the hedge and blew on the fire, she struck him mad; he was forced to go around blowing into the faces of complete strangers and telling them that he had done the same to Brigid’s fire. When he was finally restrained he complained of thirst, and drank so much water that his stomach burst open and he died. Another would-be miscreant got one leg over the hedge before his friends pulled him back, and was lame in that leg for the rest of his life. The fire kept burning until 1220, when Archbishop Henry of Dublin decided that its pagan origins were just too obvious, and ordered it extinguished. History does not record what happened to him.

Her tomb at Downpatrick was looted by English troops during the reign of Henry VIII. Her cloak is in Bruges, in Belgium – no longer hanging on a sunbeam – while her head was left in Lisbon by a bunch of crusaders who died before reaching the Holy Land.

Although there have been more popular saints, Brigid is still around and doing well. In her original guise, she is becoming popular with neo-pagans. There is every chance that she will be the first goddess to make the switch to Christian saint and back again. You have to admit, this girl doesn’t give up.

“The New Hero” Cover Revealed

October 19, 2011 2 comments

Artist Gene Ha has taken the hero theme to heart and given the world a twist on ancient Greek pottery (Attic Red-Figure Ware, to be precise) for the cover of Stone Skin Press’ anthology The New Hero. As I said in an earlier post, I’m very happy to have had a story accepted for the collection.

I learned as an archaeology student that this style of pottery often bore mythic and heroic images, and Gene has included an element for every piece in the book. It’s a very impressive piece of work.

And if you’re interested, my story Against the Air Pirates is reflected in the second row, right hand side.

Let’s Put the Show On Right Here!

April 14, 2011 3 comments

I’ve been thinking more about author Barry Eisler’s blog series on self-publishing. As I seek to expand my own writing horizons beyond the games industry, it’s a question I have to ponder. Are we at the dawn of a brave new world where authors skip hand-in-hand over sunlit daisy fields, unshackled from the dead hand of big publishing? Or has a comet just hit the industry, requiring the survivors to adapt or die?

It’s been said that the best thing about the new technology is that anyone can get published. The worst thing? Anyone can get published. In the old model, publishing houses acted as gatekeepers, ensuring that only the very best work (in their own opinions – your mileage may vary) got before the eyes of the reading public. Now that technology offers a way around the gatekeepers, there’s going to be a lot of material clamoring for the reader’s attention. It will be of all levels of quality, and almost completely undifferentiated. Members of some discussion groups on LinkedIn and elsewhere are already starting to fret about a coming “sea of crap” that may make the reading public throw up its hands and stop looking for new authors altogether. Some have a touching faith that quality will stand out. We’ll see.

In any case, the authors who will succeed in this environment will be those who can stand out from the mass of self-published material. If authors self-publish they take on all responsibility for marketing, and for many that will be less of a learning curve and more of a learning cliff.

Social networking is being touted as one way – some say the way – to reach and build a readership. But if you’ve just published a book and no one has heard of you, why will they flock to connect? How many Facebook contacts do you have at the moment? If each and every one of them bought one copy of your work, would you make enough to sustain yourself? And how would you reach people who don’t already know you? “Buy my new e-book” spam, alongside guaranteed Canadian pharmaceuticals and sure-fire male enhancement products? The mind reels.

Let’s think about how readers discover new authors. Marketing is one way, word of mouth is another, and these both work for e-books just as well as they do for dead-tree books. However, browsing in a bookstore does not. Ever tried browsing through a book retail web site? They are much more geared to searches for books and authors the customer already knows, and the “other products you may like” functions can’t match the experience of wandering a favorite bookstore, latte in hand, flipping through things that look interesting. There’s a reason for the coffee shop and all those comfy chairs. They help sell books. And in all honesty, what proportion of Amazon’s customers goes there to browse, anyway?

The new technology provides a production solution that is much cheaper than the previous “vanity publishing” route. An e-book costs little or nothing to produce once it has been written, although let’s be honest, a printed book is still a pleasing thing to hold and read. However, the publishers’ marketing and distribution functions remain. And by “distribution” in this context I mean the process of making the work available in places where customers go, and doing so in such a way that customers will notice it. Arguably that is part of marketing, but I wanted to make that distinction.

Any author who wants to self-publish will need to learn how to handle marketing and distribution for themselves, and to do them as well as – if not better than – the publishing houses do currently. Some will, I’m sure, but many more will find they lack one or more of the time, the expertise, and the inclination. I, for one, would rather spend time writing than marketing, or learning to market. That keeps the door open for those traditional publishers that can keep up with the paradigm shift, and for newer “e-publishers” and service houses to whom authors can outsource these functions, along with tasks like editing and file conversion. I expect to see the latter popping up like mushrooms any time soon. Remember, the real money in the 19th century gold rushes was made by the folks selling picks and shovels.

So as you can tell, I’m still undecided about self-publishing. Right now the only thing I do know is that I can’t affort to ignore it.