Dear Jane Publisher,
My name is Gregory Amedesigner and I’d like to interest you in my game Sell It, which is a Eurogame similar to GreatEuro, published by you last year but aimed at a different audience. Sell It is a semi-casual party game for 2-6 players that plays in 45 minutes.
Enclosed, please find a sale sheet and game rules as PDF attachments. A complete prototype is available upon request.
This week I thought I’d dissect that and say why I think that it works. If you want to know why I wrote it, and in what context, please see Submitting your game 101: Don’t waste the publisher’s time. Otherwise hold on to your hat, here goes.
There are 12 points to remember in this short and sweet (or shot and bitter if you get rejected) submission:
1. Dear Jane Publisher
Right off the bat, no “To whom it may concern”, no “Dear publisher”, no “Attn: submission department”. This says that you know whom you’ll be speaking to and have done your homework. Of course, this assumes that you have done your homework – if the publishers guidelines state “send this to our submission department” and you send it to an editor’s private email cold, chances are you’ll get shunted to the end of the slush pile. So remember to do your homework! There are lots of decent designers out there who didn’t. If you can show that you did you’ve gotten a leg up on a lot of the competition.
Also, if you’ve met the person, remind them of it: “we met at XYZ Con last year and you had valuable feedback about my game Sold, Sold, Sold”.
2. My name is Gregory Amedesigner
Ok, you’re a game designer. Your product is, in essence, yourself. Sure, you’re pitching your games but you’re trying to build a relationship with the publisher, get them interested enough to publish more of your games, ask for more prototypes. Doing so without mentioning your name is just plain silly. So remember to introduce yourself. And remember to remind them of your existence when you can do so without being obnoxious or pushy.
3. game Sell It
Another no-brainer: tell them what your game is called. The name may change for final publishing but until then you need something to call it when you talk to your publisher (and when you remind them of your prototype).
4. a Eurogame
Type of game. Publishers want to know this and it, again, says that you’ve done your homework – you’re pitching a Eurogame to a Eurogame publisher. Please, please, please don’t try to send your Eurogame to an Ameritrash only publisher. Or your boardgame to a card game publisher. Or your simple BOD game to a wargaming imprint. That’s on the level of people who put a hair halfway into their manuscript to see if the editor has read that far or print their manuscript on violet paper sprayed with Oil of Olay. Just-don’t-do-it.
5. similar to GreatEuro, published by you last year
Here you’re again saying that you’ve done your homework. At the same time you’re relating your game to something they’ve already done in order to give them a mental image of it. It goes beyond saying that there should be a clear similarity between your game and the game you’re using as an example.
6. but aimed at a different audience.
This is a way to say that your game won’t compete with their already published game (that’s called market cannibalization and is usually a very bad thing). You might want to be more specific here if you’re sure what audience GreatEuro was targeted at. If that was for hard-core gamers and yours is for casual gamers then mention that (assuming of course that the publisher produces games aimed at casual gamers – if they don’t don’t submit!).
7. semi-casual party game
This gives more flavor about your game. It lets the publisher get their own image, just like the part about GreatEuro, of your game while at the same saying that yes, you really have done your homework (did I mention that you need to do your homework?).
8. 2-6 players that plays in 45 minutes.
More specifics. Once again you’re giving concrete details without actually describing the entire game. This is bait, a way to get the publisher to want to read your rules and sale sheet. Facts work great as bait. Just don’t try to be cute with them (“2-6 grandmothers fighting it out with handbags”). There’s a place for fluff and theme and a place for hard facts. If your theme is the main selling point of the game, mention it just like you did the similarities and number of players. If your game’s players range is important (2-6 is often better than 2-5 which is often better than 2-4; not always but often) then that’s what you should be stressing. But even if your theme is the main selling point you still need to mention the box side statistics.
9. Enclosed, please find a sell sheet and game rules as PDF attachments.
This says: “If you’re interested, here’s more goodies to make you drool.” Having these as attachments makes your pitch seem short and sweet when, in reality, it’s a 10 page read. It also makes sure that the publisher can download, share and print out your sales materials (yes, rules are sales materials). Sending them as PDF is often better as that’s a “locked” format where images won’t suddenly transpose to the next page because the publisher’s copy of word has a standard font that’s slightly larger than what your copy uses.
10. A complete prototype is available upon request.
You might think that playtesting your game before submitting it (or proofreading your novel or your rules for that matter) is common sense. Well, from the stories I hear that’s far from the truth. I met with one publisher who looked at my components and asked a single question: how many times have you playtested it (I was able to answer: “about 60, and about 15 of this version” after which he took my card and emailed me asking for a prototype).
11. G. Amedesigner
Remember, you’re selling yourself (oh, don’t give me those puppydog eyes, you’re your own best product!) so remind the publisher of who you are. Yeah, that’s a cheap shot but it’s still effective. Repetition makes people remember and when they remember they’re more likely to do something about you (and your game – hopefully buy it). Just don’t spam the pitch with you name.
The whole letter is short and sweet. The publisher can read through it in 30 seconds flat – in effect it’s an elevator pitch in print. While it’s full of information it’s very, very compact and doesn’t contain any spare words. Ok, so one might be able to trim the word count down by two or five or ten words (try it!) but there aren’t any spare thoughts in this letter. No digression. If the publisher wants to know more there’s the sale sheet and the game rules. Remember, the publisher is a stressed business person, who gets dozens of such letters each month, if not each week or even each day. Saving them effort is a point in your favor.
The 13th rule
Remember that you can ignore any and all rules to great effect.
There’s a corollary to this: ignore rules only if you know what you’re doing. Rules are guidelines, things meant to help non-experts to avoid the traps of any given situation. It might be something as simple as: drive slow if you’re driving on snow (tell that to a winter rally-driver). It might be something like: the best tea is brewed at 95 degrees centigrade for 3 minutes and 30 seconds (yah? you ever drink tea? I thought not). Either way, a rule is a crutch. It’s great if you’ve broken your leg but will hinder you if you want to run. But in order to run you must learn to walk and in order to walk you’ll need to hold on to something at first.