This is going to be the greatest blog post you’ve ever read. No, really. I’ve shown it to my mom, best friend and dog and they all agree that it’s the greatest thing since sliced Pedigree Pal!!! Come on, read it already!
Feeling enticed yet?
There are many problems in that first paragraph but there’s a cardinal one: it’s a waste of time.
Publishers are people. They wake up, go to work, toil, trouble and trudge then close up, go home, sleep and do it all over again. Publisher’s aren’t treasure hunters. They’re not looking for the most amazing idea ever for the most glorious game of all time*. They’re looking for salable product that’s easy to deal with**.
Remember that last sentence. Salable product that’s easy to deal with. I’ll dissect it for you.
Salable means that it’s possible to sell. Nothing more, nothing less. It doesn’t mean that people want it. People want lots of stuff. I want a golden Porsche and a diamond the size of Australia. Doesn’t mean that I could buy them even if you’d offer them to me. Where on earth would I put something the size of Australia?
Salable does imply producible. If it can’t be produced it can’t be sold. Sure, I love your idea for a Star Wars game with real X-wings. Now go and build them for me. At a price that your average 14-year-old can afford.
Salable also implies traditionally marketable. That either means that it’s possible to run TV ads for it (or BGG ads, or some form of effective marketing). The flip side to that is that people will sell their friends on it (this happens, but is rare – just ask yourself how often you’ve gotten your friends to buy games that you’ve already had). This means that the publisher must see from your pitch how they (not you or some other producer) can market your game.
Ticket to Ride is traditionally marketable. You’ve got a nice, clean theme, trains and neat-o graphics. People would look at an ad for TTR and go “hmm, I could get that for…”. As a comparison, take a look at Cards Against Humanity. It’s definitely not marketable. You can’t run a mainstream add for “pope kills hooker”. But CAH is a game that people sell their friends on (or forum readers, or podcast listeners). It’s viral, in large part due to it being un-marketable. But viral is hard to predict, while traditionally marketable is something that can be easily seen.
Now, easy to deal with means that it’s something that won’t require the publisher to shut down all their other activities in order to get out the door. In a perfect world it should be a game that arrives to the producer finished with ready to print components already laid out and emailed to the publisher’s preferred print house’s standards and the orders from distributors already filled in. And while I’m dreaming I want that golden Porsche.
In real life there will be a lot of work with every game. Publishers know this, authors know this. Now it’s the author’s job to make sure that the publisher doesn’t need to work more than necessary.
And here we’re back to that first paragraph. It gives the publisher extra work. Let’s say that the designer had done his (or her) homework. They’ve sent their submission to the right publisher, who’s accepting submissions and who has published similar games in the not so distant past. So why don’t they just tell the publisher what the publisher wants to know?
The publisher doesn’t care what your friends and family think. Those are biased audiences. The publisher doesn’t care that you think the game is great. If you didn’t you wouldn’t have submitted it (“Hey, this is a POS but it’s made of cardboard and has dice so maybe you can sell it. And geve me a big, fat ryalty, yah?”).
The publisher doesn’t want to be told what he (or she) should do. The publisher wants to know why.
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.
Short, plain, factual and to the point. There’s nothing here that tries to be cute or cool and everything that says that you’ve done your homework (assuming that you have). This email (for it’s mostly an email or an in-person elevator pitch) gives the publisher an overview of the game in less than 30 seconds. Then they can immediately decide whether to toss it or no.
Wait, you say, “toss it”?
Yepp, toss it. You want to make it easy for the publisher to quickly decide whether you’ve got a game that they’re interested in. If you’ve made an error, for example if the publisher has a different focus, you want to know it as soon as possible. Then you can submit the game to someone else. Thus you want them to know, and tell you, as soon as possible.
If you create a pitch that sells but misrepresents your game you’ll be wasting the publisher’s time. You won’t get your game published (no, Games Workshop won’t publish your Life of Winston Churchill Trivia Game, no matter how great it is – it’s not their market) and you’ll annoy them, possibly giving you a bad reputation (publishers talk, too).
But if you’ve aimed correctly then you’ve just proven that you’re the single most important thing to any buyer: professional***.
You’re easy to deal with.
And if you are, chances are your games will be, too.
*Ok, they are. But until they find that license to print money they want salable and easy to deal with.
** No, I’ve never been a game publisher. But I’ve freelanced for over ten years and in every genre I’ve ever worked in “salable and easy to deal with” is the key.
*** Hey, remember the days of door-to-door salesmen and penny stock boiler rooms? That don’t work, at least not twice. Sleazy and sneaky is definitely not the way to go if you want to build a relationship with anyone, least of all your publisher.