Monday, May 14, 2012
Publishing #1: Introduction and Order of Tasks
Producing modules and rulebooks requires a diverse skill set. The process begins with creative writing, then quickly moves into revising, editing, layout, art orders, illustration & map rendering, graphic design, communication with print houses, prepping print-ready files, uploading, order fulfillment, and more. Phew! Fumbling a couple of those parts can hamstring a great manuscript, and reduce it to a mediocre, hard-to-use product. Most of us have had practice with the writing end of the process, but gaining expertise in the rest of the steps usually requires plenty of trial & error.
This series of articles aims to impart a bit of expertise in a broad range of publishing steps, so you don't have to learn everything the hard way. I have outlines for future articles covering editing, layout, and working with artists, plus some notes on map design and working with local print houses. Please let me know if there's anything else you'd like to see covered.
Disclaimer: I don't have formal training in most of these publishing tasks; I gained most of this experience while producing a handful of modules, plus a few other personal, non-gaming items. There are multiple ways to handle most of the tasks, so don't take these articles as gospel. Feel free to share any alternative methods or ideas in the comments.
Part 1: A Publisher's Order of Tasks
Because of the prevalence of easy-to-use word processing & layout tools, new publishers can get a little bit ahead of themselves in the production steps. Fostered by exuberance, publishers sometimes jump too early into the art commissioning and layout processes, and either end up with a less-than-ideal result, or spend time and money redoing some of the steps. It happened to me when I published F1 The Fane of Poisoned Prophecies; because of my stumbles, I now know an ideal order for handling the major parts of publishing:
General Order of Tasks
1) Write the manuscript. Get all the way to the final draft. A draft isn't really final if you're expecting to make changes based on playtesting.
4) Commission Illustrations
5) Final assembly (put the illustrations into the spaces reserved during layout)
Don't do layout until after the manuscript is absolutely finished and edited. The best layout decisions depend on knowing exactly how much space is taken up by various sections of text. If you're still changing text, you can't know the exact size of that block of text. (But it's okay to do experimental layouts, to get a feel for the visual of how the finished pages might look, such as to help choose fonts, spacing, sidebars, etc.)
Don't commission illustrations until after layout is finished. In addition to helping the reader visualize the text, illustrations serve a subtle secondary purpose of filling up precise amounts of space. This allows the surrounding text to break nicely, with even tops & bottoms of columns, and with strongly-related pieces of text together on the same column/page/spread.
Later articles will give more justification for both of those keys.
The next article covers Writing Style Tips.