This was originally posted back in 2017. It lost the images during my site migration, so I’ve updated it to replace them. This is the first post in a series:
- Part One: Using Random Tables to Write An Adventure
- Part Two: Putting Everything Together
- Publishing An Adventure: Art & Layout on a Budget
- Publishing An Adventure: Pricing, Promotion, & Pre-Release
- Laying Out Your Adventure on a Budget
I went back and forth on whether to update this post or to just archive it instead. Firstly because it’s very image heavy and frankly replacing all the images is a lot of work, but mainly because 3 years after writing this I have huge concerns about the DMs Guild as a platform. Any semblance of “community” that once surrounded the DMs Guild is in tatters. Big players regularly throw their weight around in community spaces, ostracizing and generally bullying anybody who thinks that we should treat our peers with respect. I see new and old creators discouraged on a regular basis, and OBS sees any criticism of the Guild as a direct attack, even when it’s completely justified. Rules are arbitrary, opaque, and selectively enforced, and community spaces that OBS can’t directly control such as the DMs Guild Creator’s Circle group have been forced to shut down.
Then there’s the whole deal with WoTC and Mike Mearls which makes supporting WoTC through the Guild a moral quagmire. I honestly thought I should just take this post down. But it’s still a fact that, for those people who want to write D&D content, the DMs Guild is the easiest place to do it and, quite possibly, the place with the biggest market. Many people who I care for and respect make a sizable chunk of their living from the Guild, and it seems cruel of me to remove a source of information that I know has been helpful for people getting their start in writing RPG content because I disagree with the way WoTC and OBS do business.
So, I’m updating this post in case you need it. But I encourage you to think long and hard about whether the DMs Guild is the right place for you to publish your work before you just throw something up there.
The day has finally arrived! You’ve written your adventure, you’ve sourced art for it, you’ve had it thoroughly proofread, edited, and playtested, you’ve laid it out and designed a cover, you’ve settled on a release date and written all of your advertising copy. Now it’s time to put the damn thing on sale.
Where the last post in this series was very definitely not a tutorial, this post is pretty much a step-by-step guide to publishing your work on DMs Guild. I’ll also spend a little bit of time talking about some things you can do after launch to try and maximise your sales – though I’m definitely not a marketing expert or a salesman, and most of the time with my own releases I just fumble around and hope for the best, so take those parts of this post with a pinch of salt.
This is another image-heavy post. You can click on all of the images here to make them bigger; I’m not going to waste my time putting captions under all of them to tell you that.
The backend of DMs Guild is a little clunky and can sometimes be a bit unintuitive to navigate, but once you know where you’re going the process of publishing content is relatively straightforward. DriveThruRPG gives you a lot more tools to use, because you’ll have a publisher account (seriously, the pub_tools.php page has a ton of features). The way DMs Guild is set up, you’re essentially publishing under the DMs Guild publisher account; I have a suspicion that you don’t have those same tools because they’re available to the people who actually run DMs Guild, and that dmsguild.com/pub_tools.php would allow you to do things to every product published under that imprint, which obviously isn’t ideal.
The first thing to do doesn’t actually involve DMs Guild at all. It involves gathering all the files you’re going to upload together into one place, to make the process of uploading them as seamless as possible. You don’t want to be hunting your PC for the right files and worrying that you’ve forgotten something. You’ll also want to save another copy of your cover image that’s 900 pixels wide.
I recommend setting up a folder specifically for the files you’re going to deliver to your customers, and placing everything there. This is what that folder looks like for Breaker of Chains:
(Yes, I’ve already updated the adventure. No matter how well you have your product edited and proofread, you can almost guarantee a reader will spot a typo that you and your editor missed).
Now, there aren’t many files there, and you may be wondering why I recommend separating them from the rest of your working files. Here’s what that folder for Bulette Storm looked like:
As you can see, there was a lot more to keep track of with that adventure. This step saved me a ton of time when it came to uploading the files.
The second thing you’re going to need to do, if you haven’t already, is make yourself a DMs Guild account. I’m not going to talk you through this bit, mainly because you’re not an idiot and you can figure it out for yourself, but also because I already have one and it’s hard to take screenshots of a process I completed a year ago.
Once you’ve done that, you’re going to want to click on ‘Account’ as the top of the screen (or, alternatively, go to http://www.dmsguild.com/account.php). Then scroll down until you see the ‘My Content’ section, and click “Enter New Community Created Title”.
That brings you to this screen:
This is a fairly long page, and it’s where you’ll do the bulk of the work setting up your product. Be aware that you won’t actually upload the files yet. The first time I published something I had a mild moment of panic once I left this screen, thinking that I’d made the project live without actually including the product. You’re not going to do that, so don’t worry about it.
The top part of that page is pretty straightforward. Enter the title of your product, your name as you want it to appear on the listing, any artists you want to credit on the listing, and the number of pages you want to advertise your book as having. The actual PDF for Breaker of Chains is longer than the 26 pages I entered in that box, but as a rule I don’t include things like the cover and the credits page in the page count.
This is also where you’ll set your price. You may have noticed that Breaker of Chains is now listed for more than the $1.95 I was initially selling it at. We’ll get to that when we talk about post-release strategies that may or may not work.
Scrolling down, you’ll see this:
This is where you enter the text that is going to appear on the listing page. Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of that WYSIWYG editor; it can be a pain to use at times, and doesn’t always work as expected. The best example I can think of is that the paragraph styles (the drop down on the top right of that image) are very inconsistent. Most of the Heading styles seem to me to be the same size, and for some reason Heading 2 is the biggest of all of them.
This step is simple, though, because we’ve already written the text we’re going to include. Simply copy and paste it, and enter any links or formatting you want to include. Bear in mind that the DMs Guild rules forbid you from linking off-site, so you can only link to other products here. That’s why I don’t link to Loot The Room on my listings.
The really fiddly part comes when you want to include images in your listing. [This is actually less fiddly now, because as on 2020 DMs Guild allows you to upload images. I’m letting this paragraph stand for posterity, though.] You’re going to have to host them yourself, since you can’t directly upload image files other than the cover image of each product. I generally host the images myself on Loot The Room, but I’m fairly confident you could use a service like Imgur to do this. The main concern is to choose an image host that you can trust to stay up. You don’t want to have to go back into your listings to update the images if they suddenly disappear from the internet.
Just below the Styles and Paragraphs dropdown menus there’s a square icon with a cactus or a tree or something on it. That’s what you’re going to use to insert images. It’s going to give you this dialogue box:
Enter the URL of your image and a Description and Title. You can use the other two tabs in the dialogue – which I forgot to take screenshots of – to edit some of the attributes of your image. I honestly can’t remember what options you get other than changing the size of the image, which is all I ever use it for. I recommend a width of about 140 pixels if you’re including cover art of your other products (once you have other products). This is the same size as the thumbnails that DMs Guild displays, and it keeps a nice uniform look across your listing which I particularly like. You can obviously display whatever size images you want, though.
With the image inserted, you can right click on it to add a link to it. Do that, if you want to.
Another time-saving tip, once you’re adding a lot of images to your listings (at the time of writing this I’ve got 9 products on DMs Guild, so that’s 8 images in each post), is to keep the URLs of your images and links saved somewhere so you can just copy and paste them as you need to. I use Windows Sticky Notes for this purpose, but a basic text file would serve the same purpose. Since all my images are already the right size, I also don’t need to bother messing around with the Advanced and Appearance tabs either – which is why I didn’t take screenshots of them.
Once you’re done with the product description, scroll down to this:
First thing’s first – upload your cover image. Take note of the highlighted section. I always forget about this. You’ll see Photoshop open at the bottom of that screen – I ended up making my DMs Guild cover image as I was publishing the adventure. Don’t be me. Be better than me.
If your product isn’t an Audio product, don’t click the button that says it is.
Then you add your Filters (which I think of as tags). These tell DMs Guild what your product actually is – and thus, which categories and search terms to display it under. You can select up to three options under each heading. (One thing I forgot to show is that under the Adventures tab you’ll also be able to pick the level range of your adventure. Do that.)
Once you’re happy with your choices, scroll down again to this section:
I mostly leave this section alone, though you can protect your PDF a little if you’re worrying about people copying from it. In my experience that’s not going to happen; plus, under the terms of the DMs Guild licence, anybody can use your work in their own DMs Guild products. Seriously, though, don’t worry about this.
Moving on, we get to the previews. Previews are important. People like to see what’s inside a product before they buy it. That’s just a fact. I recommend enablng both the Flash preview (that’s the one that pops up like a digital book and lets you turn the pages and stuff) and the PDF preview (the one that opens a large PDF viewer and lets people scroll through a watermarked version of the product that they can actually read).
It’s up to you how much you show in a preview. I recommend giving at least the introduction to the adventure and some of the first encounter. If it’s just your cover art and your credits page, it’s useless. (In fact, I tend to start the preview after the cover page). [A current trend in 2020 is to show the entire product as a preview. Some people tell me that this increases their sales, but I see no way to quantify that. I don’t think it’s needed and won’t be doing it for my products, but you do you.]
The next section is for ‘Optional Information’. I’m honestly not sure how best to make use of this, or if some of these options even do anything:
I imagine that the ISBN and Stock Numbers are remnants of the DriveThru publisher tools, and that they’ll become relevant if and when I start publishing over there, but I honestly don’t know. [I started publishing on DTRPG not long after writing this post. I still haven’t used this fields.]
This is also the first time that I’ve included anything in the Purchase note. I don’t know if they actually display to customers who checkout through DMs Guild or not; I’ve certainly never noticed anybody else using it, but I tend to buy lots of things at once, in which case I probably wouldn’t see it anyway. I also don’t know if the same rules about external links apply here (though there’s no warning to tell you not to use them like there is in the product description).
The next section is the most important one, and it’s the one you’re going to be the most tempted to skip. It’s the DMs Guild Licence agreement.
Read it. Read all of it. Understand it. You’re signing away some very specific rights when you publish on DMs Guild, and you need to be aware of that. I’m not going to break down what those rights are, because I don’t want to miss anything. If you’re going to publish on DMs Guild – or anywhere, for that matter – read the contract. I can’t stress that enough. Understand what you’re getting into, and decide whether you’re happy with the agreement. If you’re not, don’t publish through DMs Guild. It’s that simple.
If you’re happy, check the boxes and click the big red button below that box that says “I Agree, set up my new title”.
There’s a good chance that nothing will happen when you click that button initially. The servers are slow – which you’ll have noticed if you’ve ever tried to download a big product – and there’s a good chance your cover image will take some time to upload. Don’t click the button again, and don’t refresh the screen. Just wait.
Eventually, you’ll see this screen:
This is where you actually upload your files. First, though, you’re going to want to click the “Share” button and copy the link there. If this is your first product you may not actually be able to do that yet – products still need to be approved, but I have a suspicion it’s an automated process. It certainly doesn’t take very long, at any rate.
The reason you’ll want to copy that link is that, unless I’m missing something obvious, there’s no easy way to find the link to your product once you leave this page until it appears on the front page of the DMs Guild and starts showing up in searches, which can take some time. Once you’ve got multiple products you can simply click on your name under any of them to see everything you’ve released, but copying the link at this step is going to save you a bit of time.
Once you click Upload Files, you’ll see this:
I actually forgot to take a screenshot of this page before I uploaded my files, so I had to go back in as though I was going to update the product. Still, this is the same screen (although on initial upload you won’t see that text box asking for details of the update).
If you have multiple versions of your product – a full colour version and a printable version, for example – you’re going to want to be careful here. Your PDF preview is generated from the first file you upload, and personally I always have trouble with this step because the upload tool seems to reorder the files somehow. I’m pretty sure Bulette Storm still previews the printable PDF. [I believe this has changed now and you now have more control over your previews, but I haven’t published to the DMs Guild in a while and can’t be sure.]
My advice, if you want to be sure you’re previewing the right file, is to just upload that file first and let the product go live. (There’s an option on this page to make your product available for sale that I also forgot to take a screenshot of, because I got caught up in releasing the adventure and forgot that I was also meant to be documenting it. Make sure you set it to the right choice so that you can actually sell your product.) Then you can come back in and upload more files, knowing that your preview is going to be right.
And that’s it. You product is uploaded and live on the DMs Guild. Now it’s time to start promoting it in the ways that we discussed in the last article. Make your announcements on Facebook, Twitter, and wherever else is appropriate, and then try not to check the Royalty Report every 5 seconds to see if you’ve sold anything.
The first 24 hours are vital for the success of your product. You’re going to be on the front page of the DMs Guild, and you’re hopefully going to experience a spike in sales. The simple fact of the matter is this – the more products you sell, the more products you’ll sell. It sounds like a tautology, but let me explain.
What you’re really hoping to do is to hit the Top 10 Most Popular products list (and, ideally, the top 7, since those are the ones that display constantly on the front page of DMs Guild). I’m not sure of exactly how the popularity is calculated, but I know it’s mostly to do with how much money you’re making. This means that an adventure being sold at $9.95 is going to jump higher up the rankings with one sale than a $1.95 product. It’s hard to get in that top 10, but the products that make it there tend to stick around for a while and tend to achieve bestseller metals.
I’ve never had a product in the top 10, so I can’t really speak to how to do it. Breaker of Chains has been my best performing paid product so far, though, so I think I can talk a little about some strategies that you might be able to use to both get that initial spike in sales and then sustain it, so that you don’t immediately drop out of the rankings once your initial buzz disappears.
We talked last time about the staggered release – i.e. doing a “soft launch” first and then hitting the main traffic drivers the next day. The idea behind this is that you get a spike in sales from your loyal fans and from being on the front page in the Newest section during the soft launch, getting you up the charts, and then sustain it by driving a ton of traffic over the next couple of days.
As I also said last time, though, I’m terrible at following my own advice. So when I released Breaker of Chains on Tuesday, I just shouted about it everywhere. I’m regretting that now that I’m off the front page and sales have slowed down – I can’t really promote the product in the same channels I launched in for a while, because that’s what spam is. Don’t be that guy.
Still, this has been a fairly successful launch. At it’s peak the adventure hit #17 in the charts, the highest I’ve ever been.
At the time of writing this it’s still hovering around #23, but sales are dropping off.
That brings me to a strategy I’ve seen a few people mention but haven’t really used until now. You’ll notice in that screenshot that the price is listed at $2.95, but we launched at $1.95. The idea is that as sales slow down, you increase the price so that the sales you do get hold more weight in the popularity ratings. I’ve never done it before, and I didn’t intend to do it this time – I would have mentioned it in the last post if it was part of my plan – but I can’t deny that it seems to have helped. I have no doubt that it’s helped keep Breaker of Chains hovering around the top 20 rather than simply dropping off the face of the earth.
If I’m being completely honest, I’m not sure how best to continue driving sales at this point. I ran a couple of Twitter competitions last night – none as successful as the one I ran for Bulette Storm, but there’s been nowhere near the same level of anticipation for this adventure as there was for that one – and gave a couple of copies away, but that didn’t translate into any extra sales. Of course, if I’d had a longer release window I could have been sending out review copies – which is something you should do, though I can’t really talk about the process of doing that because it’s not something I’ve ever done myself (again, do as I say, not as I do) – and I could use the resulting reviews to keep talking about the adventure without seeming repetitive.
At the time of writing this, Breaker of Chains has sold 36 copies. I’m genuinely very happy with the initial response, and the fact that people are reviewing it on DMs Guild is fantastic. It’s hard to get people to review things there, and I’m not sure how best to encourage people to do it. If I’m being honest, I often forget to go back and leave reviews and ratings for the products I cover in the Best Ofs. I fully intend to, every single time, but in getting the post itself written it often slips my mind to go and review them on the Guild as well. I’m aware that that makes me a hypocrite, and I’ve been slowly working my way through those posts and reviewing everything, but until I’ve done that and I review things regularly, I can’t complain about people not reviewing my work.
My goal now is to try and maintain those sales. If I can get a Copper bestseller in a week (which I don’t expect to happen, in all honesty) I’ll be ecstatic. As it stands, though, the adventure has already broken even (I spent $20 on stock art for the pregenerated characters, and that’s it), and it’s getting good reviews, so I’m happy. I’m a long way from achieving the sales numbers I’d like to have, but I can’t really complain about this launch.
I really hope you’ve found this series of posts useful. There’s a lot of work involved in making RPG content yourself, and publishing it can be a nervewracking experience. I find it incredibly rewarding, though, and the work isn’t so vast and so difficult that you can’t do it yourself without going bankrupt. We’d all like to be able to commission bespoke art and the like, but you can’t do that right out of the gate.
Oh, and since somebody asked for it, here’s a link to my Google Docs layout template. It’s basic, but feel free to play around with it and see what you can make Docs do!
Breaker of Chains out now on DMs Guild. I’d very much appreciate you checking it out.
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