This is what Indie Publishing looks like.

About a month ago I attended the Penny Arcade Expo with the final edition of my storytelling game The Dreaming Crucible.

Well, that’s not exactly true. It would be more accurate to say that I attended PAX while designing the Crucible, and spent the first day of the con finishing the game in my Seattle lodgings in time to release it in Friday evening at the The Dreaming Comics and Games booth.

In most if not all professional publishing models, this would have been impossible. If I didn’t have the game finished weeks ahead of the convention date, there’s no way in hell I could arrive on the scene with books in hand. Thank God I don’t follow a professional model.

I personally handled every step of The Dreaming Crucible‘s writing, design and production process. The only exception was the artwork of the talented Erin Kelso, the usage rights to which I secured via email. But I wrote the game myself, laid it out myself in Adobe InDesign, printed it at home on an inkjet printer, and assembled it myself using embroidery thread, a portable papercutter and scrapbooker’s glue.  I did not employ a printing service or subcontract any design or proofreading duties. I did receive the generous help of friends who coached me on layout and art direction, proofread portions of the text, and consulted on game design aspects. Those I thanked heartily, credited in the book, and gave a complimentary copy of the finished product. But as much as possible, the Crucible was a one-man operation on a shoestring budget.

Why does that matter? Am I just bragging or garnering indie “cred” by virtue of how punk rock I am? OK, maybe a little. But the reason I feel proud of the endeavor is: indie publishing matters. It matters because creator control of an artwork allows that work to be daring and authentic. It matters because it’s what let’s a guy like me, supporting a family on a single low salary and no savings, to publish at all. It matters because it sends a message to the world that yes, there are other options besides working for a company or selling yourself to a label.

And it allowed me, as I toiled on the finishing touches of my game, to pack up my entire publishing operation–laptop, craft supplies, printer and all–and ride up to Seattle with a friend, check in to my crash space at other friends’ house, and continue the work to completion. In any other model, I would have had no product to take to the convention, despite the game being “ready” in the sense of being conceptualized, playtested, refined and existing in my head in a fully playable form.

Not every indie publisher is even this “indie”. And I’m not advocating that they should. There are limitations to my current model, in terms of workload (I worked up to the deadline because if I didn’t, who would?), in terms of quality control (I was mortified to find some proofreading errors after I’d already printed and delivered my books to PAX. If you bought a book with those errors, let me know and I’ll hook you up with a corrected copy at my cost), in terms of availability (I can’t sell my handcrafted book on Lulu, for example). I may rethink some or all of these for future endeavors. I’d love to actually hire my friends to do layout and critique, for instance, rather than simply trading on their goodwill and thanking them with a comp copy. But in the final analysis I’m glad that, here and now, I did it all myself.

Indie designer Joshua A.C. Newman recently said: “The reason you equate all the quirky goodness you equate with “indie” is because the publishing model encourages it. The publishing model makes it possible.

Other models can make other things possible. But the unusual formats, unusual distribution methods, unusual mechanics, unusual themes, they’re all possible because those games were published independently.

The inverse is, of course, untrue: that independent publication is any sort of guarantee of unusual anything. It’s up to you, as a creator, to do something with the vast array of tools you have. “

I agree wholeheartedly. There’s considerable wrangling in the roleplaying scene, as in all artistic communities, over what “Indie” does or doesn’t mean, whether it’s a useful term, whether it has any correlation to quality, whether it’s just clever marketing, and so forth. I’m here to say that, for me anyway, “indie publishing” means Punk Rock. As in Do It Yourself. As in art that exists to explore the space beyond what the Man approves of or allows to be “popular.” As in art that whispers in the brain of the reader, “you can do this too.”

I’m all about that. I did it and I’m proud of the result.

And you can too.




2 Responses to “This is what Indie Publishing looks like.”

  1. 1 Graham
    October 3, 2010 at 8:52 am

    I love all this. One of my greatest pleasures for my Limited Edition Cthulhu adventures was dripping nail varnish on them.

    Once, I taught myself to make boards, for board games. That was fun.

  2. 2 Joel
    October 3, 2010 at 11:10 am

    Nail varnish. So cool!

    Now that I’ve had a taste, I’d love to continue to learn all kinds of skills. Board game boards? Sweet! Bookbinding? Bring it! In fact, that’s a great comment topic if anyone’s game: what handcrafting skills (for books or otherwise) have YOU developed? How would someone get a start learning it?

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