ZineQuest 4 is just around the corner: this is a guide about how to launch a project for it and then see it through to the end. (What is ZineQuest?)
As a quick note—this is going to be fairly US-centric, as that's where my experience lies. I expect printing and production costs will hold similar-ish, but shipping will vary a whole lot. Apologies to the international readers; I hope you can find some value in this regardless.
This is a pretty mammoth post. There's an executive summary at the end. Strap in.
Why make a project for ZineQuest? The short answer is because:
- It can make you a (small) profit
- Having published projects people can hold in their hands is good for clout
- It's a lower-stakes way to learn the ropes of RPG production
- It's (sometimes) fun!
Obviously, neither RPG publishing nor Kickstarter are for everyone. There are lots of good reasons to do neither. But I assume, if you're reading this, that you're interested in Kickstarter and publishing RPGs, so we're going to proceed as if you've already made up your mind.
STEP 1: THE ZINE ITSELF
Traditionally, the requirements for ZQ projects were as follows:
- It must be 5.5" x 8.5"
- It must be saddle-stitched (stapled) or unbound
- It must be 48 pages or less
- It must be in 2 colors (typically one paper, one ink)
Following the rules means that your project gets by Kickstarter staff as "ZineQuest," and so when people come to the site and click the big scrolling ZINE QUEST ZINE QUEST ZINE QUEST banner, they'll see your project.
In practice, however, these rules are not really enforced; if your project hits 2/4ish of those, you should be fine. Really, the main requirement is that you say "ZineQuest" somewhere on your project page. I also recommend emailing games [at] kickstarter.com to tell them you have a ZQ project, to make sure it gets tagged properly.
That said, your zine should probably strive to be close-ish to those requirements, mainly because they're actually pretty good constraints for a first-time project.
Here's what that means, in practice:
- Zines are short. You don't have that many pages, and your pages aren't that big. Think small.
- Your colors are limited (perhaps not solely two, but <5 for sure), so your art has to be closer to black-and-white.
- At 8–10pt font, most zines hit a maximum of around 400–500 words per page, meaning you should keep your project under 20,000 words. (Obviously you can go higher than this, some ZQ projects came out to north of 100 pages, but <20k is a good upper bound.)
- Because it's stapled pages, production quality can't ever really be all that high. Zines are definitionally cheap.
Critically, there are no limits on content beyond being somehow related to RPGs. Here's a non-complete list of things that have been successfully launched as part of ZQ:
- Entire new systems
- Hacks of existing systems
- Adventures and modules
- Settings, both more and less agnostic
- Story- and lyric games
- Journaling, epistolary, and solo games
- Worldbuilding-y games
- Memoirs and autobiographical stuff
- Arts-and-crafts-y things
Essentially all ZQ projects (>95%) successfully fund. If you have an idea for a project and you want to get it out in the world, ZQ is a good time to do it.
STEP 2: THE KICKSTARTER PAGE
I have a longer post about this, but you'll need a page for your Kickstarter. Here's the fast rundown about what you need on your page:
- A description of what your game actually is. Assume I know what RPGs are; don't assume I know the intricacies of FKR vs. NSR circles, or the difference between journaling and epistolary games. Give me tangible, descriptive details of the game.
- What makes it cool, interesting, and unique. Most RPGs are a hack or derivation or modification of something else—tell me what makes your specific game cool and unique. If you have previews of content, use those.
- What the rewards are. Presumably a PDF and a zine, but detail those a little: is your zine an unusual size or shape? Do you have any fun add-ons? (postcards? patches? jars of bones?) If you can put together a mock-up of your zine, do it.
- Who you are. Tell me your name, where I can find you online (twitter/blog/etc.), and one line of who you are. Show me any relevant projects or experience you have; published stuff is ideal, obviously, but blogposts and short little hacks are always better than nothing.
- Stretch goals. See Step 0K. They can be very useful but also very dangerous.
For ZineQuest, I don't think you need a video. Yes, the biggest projects always have videos, but you aren't making a huge project, you're making a zine. Having a video won't hurt you, but if you're not experienced with video production already, I wouldn't recommend learning it just for ZQ.
2A: MARKETING & THE CAMPAIGN
So, this is not my area of expertise, but the short version is that ZineQuest itself is marketing. Yes, you should blast on Twitter, post on whatever discord servers you're on, tell all your friends, try to get on podcasts, post on the subreddits, and generally be loud about it, but—unless you have lots and lots of followers already, ZineQuest is most of your marketing.
Which is... fine, I think. Like I said, 95% or more of ZQ projects get funded. Having more reach never hurts, but lots and lots of projects get funded with nothing more than retweets.
You'll get spam emails and KS messages from shady marketeers; don't answer them.
STEP 3: PRODUCTION
AKA "turning your google doc into a zine."
Okay, you've got a cool draft for an RPG and just ran a successful Kickstarter campaign, hooray!
On paper, for a Proper Legit RPG, there are about 4 components to take a basic idea and turn it into a PDF that you might actually want to read:
- Writing. The actual, literal words on the page. In traditional thinking, this is the "game design."
- Editing. Taking the things the writer writes and making them actually good. This has the sub-types of dev, line, and copy editing plus proofing, but just assume it's all editing.
- Art. Pictures, graphics, illustrations, maps, and so on.
- Layout. Arranging the page elements together so they actually fit nicely.
A big-budget trad RPG will have multiple people doing all of these things, probably sub-divided into more specific roles throughout.
In practice, as you know, the only one of these that you "need" is writing (and even that's questionable). But! the more of them you have, the better your zine will be.
Here's a basic rundown on each:
You know how this works, probably: you write the words in the book, and (theoretically) those words tell people how to play their game.
This is your game, so you're likely doing the writing.
There are four kinds of editing, really, each of which matters for different reasons:
- Developmental editing (dev). This is where your editor reads your draft and gives you feedback on a broad level: mechanics, organization, style guides, the broad strokes.
- Line editing (line). Jarrett Crader, RPG editor extraordinaire, describes this as "unfucking sentences." Fixing grammar, word choice, flow, and generally making everything as good as it can be.
- Copy editing (copy). This is where your editor goes through your manuscript and makes sure that all of the style choices are consistent. Things like "HD2" vs "2HD" vs "2 HD" vs "HD 2" and so on.
- Proofreading (proof). You go through and make sure there aren't any literal typos or errors. Dev, line, and copy edits are about improving things, proofreading is literally about catching things that are objectively incorrect.
In general, you'll want an editor that is not you. If you have generous friends and family, a lot of this can be done at home. Your RPG friends and players can provide suggestions (dev edits); you might have a best friend or partner willing to typo-hunt for you (proofing).
In some communities, you might be able to find another designer who'd be willing to trade editing with you—you edit their zine, they edit yours. Extra work, but it's free!
Hiring an editor will more or less always be better (like me! I do editing! Hit me up!), but that will obviously dig into your budget.
This is a huge field, obviously, and other people have written about it in more detail than me.
My main advice you should think about the difference between cover art, full- and half-page art, and spot art (the small pieces that often "fill in" otherwise-empty space). You'll want your cover art done before your campaign launches, ideally, so you can use it on your campaign page.
If you're good (or even like, passable) at art, you can obviously make your own artwork. If not, there are many, many artists out there, many of them good and cheap. Either way, I would recommend that across your KS campaign and zine, you pick one artist and stick to them—a cohesive style is always an asset. (If you're looking for artists, check out #PortfolioDay on Twitter and r/HungryArtists on reddit. Always be polite to strangers, especially ones you want to hire.)
Another option is to use stock art, free art, and public domain art. Stock art from Adobe Stock or Shutterfly can easily come out to <$10 apiece; free and public domain art is, of course, free. There are better collections of resources elsewhere, but check out Pexels, Unsplash, and Wikimedia Commons to start.
This can vary a lot, but the basic things involved in layout are:
- Literal page formatting. One column or two? How big are the breaks between lines, columns, headings? Where do you stick page numbers, section markers, and so on?
- Font and typography. Which font(s) are you using? How big are they? Are you doing anything fancy with kerning, tracking, leading?
- Information design. What's the order and flow of things? Where do art and diagrams go? What about labels, keys, legends, and so on?
- Aesthetics. Does it look nice? Can it look nicer?
These are all fairly blurry categories, and there's more beyond them. The key takeaway is that good layout (even more so than art or editing, imo) elevates a blogpost or google doc draft into an actual book, something you'd want sitting on your table. As with art, there are many, many books and blogs out there about layout and graphic design (if you don't know where to start, I'd look through OSE, Mothership, and Mork Borg, then read Ellen Lupton's Thinking With Type).
Like editing and art, you can hire a layout designer to do layout for you (I do layout work! Hit me up!), but you also can do your own layout. This can be scary, but it's doable (I taught myself 80% of what I know about layout, fwiw). You'll need some software (probably InDesign or Affinity Publisher) and it'll involve watching YouTube tutorials and a lot of screwing around, but it is doable.
For a lot of newbies to RPG production, this is the hardest and most complicated part. Taking your document and turning it into an actual book is difficult, time-consuming, and (potentially) costly. That said, it is fundamentally doable. I did it with relatively little help or good examples, and while my first few zines were pretty shoddy, they did get made. I have faith in you.
STEP 4: PRINTING
Okay! You've got a fancy PDF, with good writing and editing and art and layout. How do you print it?
There are three common ways to print your zines: DriveThruRPG, Mixam, and your own local printers. Here's the rundown:
DriveThru is the major RPG marketplace. More or less every trad publisher releases their stuff through it, and many many indie types do as well.
There are two major advantages to DriveThru: first, it's popular, and thus will get you some eyeballs—I've made significant cash on DriveThru just by having my stuff there, even with minimal marketing.
Second, and more importantly, DriveThru will handle on-demand printing for customers: anybody who wants a copy of an RPG can order one off of DriveThru and they'll print it immediately. No print runs, no storage, no shipping.
It's basically impossible to over-emphasize how useful this is for super-fresh indies. You don't have to deal with storing copies in your garage, you don't waste any cash on excess copies, you don't have to mail anything to anybody: you set up the page, and then it's there. In terms of raw convenience, it's unbeatable.
There are, however, three major disadvantages to DriveThru:
- No zines. Since earlier this year, DriveThru's printer, LightningPress, no longer prints saddle-stitched books. You can still print slim perfect-bound volumes, which aren't so far off from zines, but if form-factor is a major sticking point for you, DriveThru can't deliver.
- Low quality and customization. You just... don't get that many options on DriveThru. Your inside covers will always be white, the paper quality's not that good, construction's often kinda flimsy. Big RPG nerds like me can spot DTRPG production values from a distance, and that's not really positive (not really negative, either, but you know).
- Cost. DriveThru eats a big chunk of your profits: they cut their production cost off of your basic book price, then take 35% of those profits. For example, you have a zine that retails for $10; it costs DriveThru $5 to print. Of the remaining $5, they take 35%: for each $10 zine you sell, you see $3.25.
In general, I think DriveThru is still a good option for first-timers. It's extremely low-risk compared to other options, it takes far less work on your end, and gets you a decent book. If you're feeling intimidated by other options, DriveThru is never a terrible idea.
Mixam is an online printing service. This means that you can, at basically any time, go on Mixam, plug in your PDF, and order a bunch of zines to be sent to your house.
You now have a bunch of zines sitting in a box at your house. There's no marketplace, no on-demand printing for customers, and no shipping or handling. You order some number of books, they print them and send them to you.
That said, there are two big advantages to Mixam:
- High degree of quality and customization. You can customize your inside covers, you can detail all the colors, you can pay a bit extra for nicer paper weights and things, the whole nine yards. If it's something you've seen on a zine before, it's highly likely Mixam can do it for you. (Tuesday Knight Games and Mousehole Press, who make Mothership and Artefact & Orbital, respectively, both print with Mixam.) They just make good zines.
- Cost. At low volumes it's basically the same, but DriveThru doesn't actually get cheaper with more copies—Mixam does. The flipside is, of course, that you have to do sipping and handling yourself.
If having a high-quality product is very important to you, Mixam is the way to go, I think. It's a lot more work on your end and a bigger risk if you want to sell copies later (see Step 6A), but if you're for-sure committed to it, it's a good choice.
4C: LOCAL PRINTERS
There are, somewhere in your local area, printers and print shops that could print zines for you. (Unless you live in the woods or something.)
These printers have the potential to be cheaper and easier and more wholesome than DTRPG or Mixam, but also the potential to be slow and shitty and unreliable.
It's worth poking around a bit with your local shops. I myself haven't ever printed locally (mostly because I'm a student and thus move around a fair bit, and also because I hate talking to strangers on the phone), but I have friends and colleagues who have. If you find the right shop, because they're humans you can speak with, you can locally get an even-more-customized product than you could through Mixam. They might also be shitty, though, no telling.
If you're in contact with your local RPG circles via FLGS / Facebook group / whatever, it might also be worth asking around to see if anyone knows any printers.
Worth investigating, but I can't guarantee any outcomes.
STEP 5: SHIPPING
This part is quite a bit different depending on whether you went with DriveThru or Mixam / local printers. That said, they start the same way:
First things first, you need to collect shipping data from your backers. This has two steps:
- Send out backer surveys. As a creator, you can send out a survey to all your backers, where they can answer your questions. You (obviously) need to collect shipping addresses and stuff here, but you might also ask other questions—backer names, specific tier rewards, etc.
After you've sent out the surveys, I'd allow at minimum two weeks before shipping. That'll get you most people, but the longer you give it, the more responses you'll get. You'll never get everybody, but if you can get >95% of backers to reply, that's good enough for now (probably).
- Collect backer data. Once the surveys are responded to, Kickstarter lets you export all that data as a .csv or other spreadsheet—extremely helpful. You can always export another copy when you need to.
This is where the shipping paths diverge.
5A: IF YOU PRINTED ON DRIVETHRU
Go to the "Publish" tab, scroll down until you see the menu on the right that says "Promotion" and hunt for "Send complimentary copies." Click it.
Add your title, go forward, and then click the option that says "Add, Edit, or Upload Groups." This lets you add that entire spreadsheet of backers you just exported from KS, with all their shipping data. DriveThru'll compile it into addresses, you keep hitting forward, and then you pay several hundred/thousand dollars to send out the copies to all of your backers.
That's it. They handle everything afterwards. You're done. Kickstarter delivered.
(This feature is the real appeal of DriveThru—the marketplace is nice, but being able to simply say "go" and have them handle all the shipping and printing for you? Unbeatable.)
5B: IF YOU PRINTED WITH MIXAM OR LOCALS
Strap in, this is where it gets a little rough.
Currently, you should have a box full of zines sitting in your closet, and a big spreadsheet of backer data.
Right now, you need two physical things: mailers and labels. Mailers are cardboard envelopes, basically, which are ideal for shipping zines; labels are the literal pieces of paper you stick to the outside of those mailers.
For mailers, get the smallest ones you can that'll still fit your zine (usually 9" x 6" or so). For labels, I would buy labels that can be printed on by ordinary printers: you swap out your regular printer paper for label-paper and print away. Both of these can be found at an office supply store (or via Jeff Bezos).
Now you have zines, blank labels, mailers, and a spreadsheet. You still need the actual shipping labels themselves.
There are lots of places that will sell you labels, but my preferred site is pirateship.com, as they're cheaper than basically anywhere else. Make an account, and then create a new shipment: put in the weight and dimensions of your package (I'd add an extra 10-20% to the weight, just in case), then upload the spreadsheet from Kickstarter. Pirateship will create a whole bunch of shipping labels based on that spreadsheet, which you then pay for and download as a PDF.
Now, take that PDF from Pirateship and print it out on your label paper, one shipping label per half of label-paper (this makes more sense when you see it in-person). Take those now-printed labels and slap 'em onto your mailers, then stuff a zine into each mailer.
A VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: when you get your labels from Pirateship, make sure to get a SCAN form with them. This is a big receipt that says "here's all the labels this shipment contains." Print the SCAN form with your labels. It's free, there's a button for it, you just have to get it.
Once all your zines are labeled and stuffed into mailers, call your local USPS office: tell them you're planning a large dropoff of [X] zines and that you have a SCAN form. They'll tell you to come around the back or side of the post office, somebody will come meet you, you'll drop off your dozens/hundreds of zines, they'll check the SCAN form once, and you'll be done.
If you don't do this, dropping off your zines will take literal hours, you'll annoy everyone else, and the USPS staff will hate you. Get a SCAN form. Save the sanity of both yourself and our boys in blue.
But—once you drop off all of your (labeled, mailer'd) zines with a SCAN form, you're done! Congrats!
STEP 0: BUDGETING
This is where it gets hard. The perennial question is, of course, "What should your KS goal be?" and the eternally-unhelpful answer is "It depends."
My basic piece of advice for budgeting is this: work backwards. Start with the costs that don't move, and build towards the ones that can.
Here's a step-by-step example.
Printing is, actually, probably the easiest to calculate. DriveThru has a pretty reliable print cost schedule, and Mixam lets you see prices on the fly.
As a baseline, assume you're going to print 100 copies. The smallest projects won't quite get there, but it's a good threshold to work from.
As a baseline, we're going to be making a 36-page black-and-white zine. A Kriegsmesser, say, or a Lay on Hands. On DriveThru, this runs about $1.85/copy, for a total of $185; on Mixam, a 100-copy run goes for about $130.
For reference, a 36-page color (saddle-stitched) zine on DriveThru is about $2.50/copy, for a total of $250; 100 36-page color zines on Mixam is about $250.
If you're printing with Mixam or locally: Pirateship will let you put in a sample package and then give you rates on the fly, which makes this process a lot more straightforward.
If you're printing with DriveThru: check out the estimated scheduling cost here. Historically it's been pretty accurate for me.
In general, domestic shipping inside the US for a zine will cost between $4 and $5. We're going to round that up to an even $5 for convenience and wiggle room. (It might end up being less, if you get lucky.)
International shipping is way dicier, especially in these global plague-times. This past year, in 2021, international shipping for a zine cost me about $15 per zine, on average. That varied a lot—western Europe is cheaper than most of the world which is cheaper than Australia which is (somehow) cheaper than Canada. It's hard to predict, but $15 is a solid baseline.
If you're not printing with DriveThru, you also have to buy mailers and labels. A 100-pack of mailers is about $30; 200 labels is about $15. We're going to round that up and say that, for mailers and labels, it's about $0.50 a copy—in higher numbers, that cost will drop.
Historically, as a dude writing in English from the States, about 30% of my backers have been international. That varies a bit, obviously, but I suspect that's a pretty reasonable baseline.
If we're printing with Mixam, 70 of our copies will cost about $5.50 each to ship, and 30 of our copies will cost about $15.50 each to ship—a total of (probably) about $850. You also have to pay them to ship the zines to your house (probably around $15), for a total of about $865.
If we're printing with DriveThru, 70 of our copies will cost about $5 each to ship, and 30 of our copies will cost about $15 to ship—a total of (probably) about $800.
Here's some fast math:
- Layout designers charge around $10/page. That's what I charge, that's what most indie/small-scale designers I know charge. If you're new or it's a really simple project or you have a good friend, it might be lower, but $10/page—which again, gets you very nice layout—is a baseline.
- Editors charge around $0.06/word for line, copy, and proof edits together, plus ~$25/hour for dev edits. Dev edits happen hourly because they involve, like, reading and suggestions and discussion. All the others happen per-word, based on your manuscript. (In general, for a ZQ project, I would tentatively say that dev edits are less necessary from a hired editor—talk to your friends and colleagues, then pay the editor for line/copy/proof.)
- Artists vary a lot, but you can generally probably expect to pay around:
- >$300 for full-page art (that is, 5.5" x 8.5"). The bigger and more complicated, the more expensive.
- $100–$300 for half-page art (half that)
- <$100 for spot art
- If your art's in full color, roughly double all of those
- These are, obviously, estimates. Really successful professional artists will charge more, but I've hired artists for multiple projects now, and they've generally held around these numbers.
- Be nice to your artists. Pay them what they're owed. Don't shortchange them.
The "traditional method" for paying you—the writer—for ZQ is that you get paid whatever the leftover profits are. Typically, this is not a lot. The traditional method is traditional because it's very cheap.
We're going to assume our 36-page manuscript is around 10,000 words; we could fit more, but let's say we have breathable margins and some nice diagrams and things.
A layout designer will cost us about $360 for layout. Simple.
If we're paying an editor for 8 hours of dev (quite a bit for a project this size) and the full run of edits, that'll come out to around $800. Cutting the dev reduces that to $600.
For simplicity, let's say we're going to get one piece of cover art ($300), a half-page piece of art ($200), and two pieces of spot art ($100 apiece): call it roughly $700 total.
For the full monte here, layout and editing and art, production comes out to $1860, round it up to $1900.
Of course, we don't need any of this. We could spend $50 on Affinity to do layout at home, skip dev edits, and spend another $150 on a very simple half-page piece of cover art for a total of $800.
You can go even further—download a bootleg copy of Powerpoint for layout, trade edits with a friend, and use exclusively free and public domain art, for a grand total of $0. Your zine will look, feel, and be cheaper, but hey, zero dollars is zero dollars.
Production is extremely variable.
One fast note—its customary that, once the project is done, every contributor to the project gets a copy of the game for free, from you. This is small in the grand scheme of things, but it's worth remembering.
0D: KICKSTARTER'S CUT
On paper, Kickstarter takes 5%. In practice, Kickstarter takes 10%. Assume 10% of your cash is going to Kickstarter.
0E: THE SLUSH FUND
You should set aside another 10% for "oh shit!" moments. They happen. That said, after the campaign ends, you can dip into this when you're coming up short elsewhere. Eat your slush fund before you starting eating your own pockets.
This is where the math gets weird: PDFs you sell on Kickstarter are, basically, free money. You still have to pay for production for the PDF, but you don't have to pay for printing and shipping after that.
How many PDF-only backers will you get? In my experience, about 25% of the total. If you have 150 backers, around 36 of them will be PDF-only.
But, PDF-only pledge tiers are usually cheaper than print tiers, sometimes significantly so. While in my experience they've made up around 25% of backers, they usually only account for 10-15% of your total funding. It's tricky.
We've arbitrarily decided we're planning to have 100 print backers, so we can equally-arbitrarily decide that we'll have about 32 PDF-only backers on top of them.
0G: SETTING THE TIERS
Tiers, or pledge tiers, or just pledges, are the various levels that backers can give you money in exchange for rewards. Usually, there is a cheap tier for just the PDF and a "standard" tier for PDFs + physical zines.
(Sometimes, there's an even bigger, more expensive tier that includes fun knick-knacks, like patches or stickers or postcards or jars of bones. I would avoid these for now unless you're very sure about them—they are almost always lots of extra work, headache, and sometimes cost.)
Generally, you need your physical zine tiers to do three things:
- Make enough to pay for itself.
- Make enough to pay for fixed costs (production)
- Not be significantly outside the expected realm of costs for these kinds of things.
Generally, speaking, most physical zine tiers for ZQ cost between $10-15. Any higher than that and you'll need to prove that you've got something real fancy to show off (like absurd production quality or a huge team or something).
Does this $10-15 track hit all three? Sort-of yes. It definitely hits #3 and #1. #2 is variable based on your production costs.
PDFs are usually about half of whatever the physical tier was; $5–$7 PDFs are standard. You could probably nudge it higher to try to raise more (but you might lose backers) or lower to try to get backers (but you might make less overall). As I said, PDFs are basically free money from your side, so the stakes are low—half the cost of the physical is a good baseline.
0H: PLEDGE TIERS' SHIPPING
On Kickstarter, you can attach shipping costs to a tier. Not only that, you can attach shipping costs to a tier based on the individual countries / parts of the world you're shipping to (so the US could be $5, $12 to the UK, and so on.) This is very handy, since it lets you modulate the amount people have to pledge for shipping.
Critically, these shipping costs are added onto the pledge, and thus to the total funds raised of the Kickstarter itself. If you have a $12 basic tier with another $5 added on for shipping, $17 gets added to the total funds raised on Kickstarter. If you have razor margins on your total Kickstarter amount, this matters a lot.
Let's do some math.
We're going to charge $12/copy for our (36 pg, B&W) zines, plus $5 for US backers and $15 for international backers (you might ratchet shipping costs up by a dollar or two, just in case).
Assuming all of our shipping funding gets eaten (it will), we're paying about $2 per copy, leaving us with a net $10 per physical tier. If we're sticking with our 100 print backers, that's an even grand; add on 32-odd $6 PDF-only tiers, and we have about $1200 to work with.
Some of that $1200 is earmarked: 10% of the total goes to Kickstarter ($1050), another 10% goes to the slush fund ($900).
This remaining $900 is for two things:
- Paying your artists, editors, and layout designers
- Paying yourself
Both of these matter.
0I: GAMBLING AND/OR INVESTING
Making a Kickstarter page is free; launching a campaign is free.
That said, I would broadly recommend that you front some of your own cash ahead of time to buy art. Every time that I've commissioned art for a KS project ahead of time, it has paid off many times over. In general, I would recommend that this is your cover art: make it the cover of your zine and the thumbnail on your KS page, to link the two together. Good art catches eyeballs and opens wallets.
This means, essentially, that you're gambling with several hundred dollars of your own money that your Kickstarter will succeed. If you have a full-time job, a $300 bet is not out of the question; if you're a mostly-broke grad student (like me), a $300 bet is serious.
Like I said, though, every time I've invested in for a Kickstarter campaign's page, it's paid off. My lowest-funded and least-successful Kickstarter projects were the ones with little art or crummy art.
0J: SO HOW MUCH SHOULD YOUR CAMPAIGN GOAL BE?
The short answer is: enough to pay off any investments you've already made.
Because of the way shipping and PDF tiers work on Kickstarter, there's no way to guarantee this number, unfortunately. But, using data, you can make some reasonable assumptions.
Let's say you've sunk $300 into art for the campaign page, so you need, at bare minimum, $300 in profits from the campaign. This assumes you're spending $0 on layout, editing, and your own time & effort.
Time for some weird projection math based on averages:
Each $12 pledge:
- Adds about $9 in funding you can use to your pockets
- +$12 pledge
- +$2, for 33% of a $6 PDF pledge
- -$2, for printing
- -$1.50, for Kickstarter
- -$1.50, for the slush fund
- Adds an average of about $22.5 to your campaign total
- +$12 pledge
- +$8.5 shipping (average of $5 US + 30% of $10 for international)
- + $2, for 33% of a $6 PDF pledge
This means that if you need $300 for art-debt, you need a pledge goal of roughly $750 ([300 / 8.75] * 22) in order to not go under. The rough hypothetical breakdown here would be:
- 25 physical zines, US (each kicking in $17)
- 10 physical zines, international (each kicking in an average of $27, varying by country)
- 10 PDF backers (each kicking in $6)
As a worst/best case scenario, imagine you get 125 PDF backers and nobody else: you make $300 in profit (post slush-fund and KS's take) and have to produce zero zines. Alternatively, imagine you get 28 international backers and no one else: you make $235 in cash, leaving you technically "funded" but actually still $65 in the hole. Neither of these will happen, but this kind of hypothetical math is worth thinking about.
If we hit the long-assumed 100 physical backers and all these math averages hold steady, you'll have about $900 for paying off art-debt, production, and your own wallet; your campaign will have raised $2200—a very respectable amount for a first time Kickstarter project.
(I think this math all checks out. Please let me know if it doesn't.)
You can see how, if you're paying for plenty of art and layout and editing ahead of time, Kickstarter goals skyrocket hugely despite the projects themselves not actually having all that much actual cash to work with (see NERVES and A Catalogue Chimerical as two examples of these kinds of high-upfront-goal projects). That's a risky play—projects with relatively high goals compared to others are much less likely to get funded.
Of course, if you do everything yourself and spend $0 before the campaign, you can make your goal whatever you want—think about how much money you want to take home at the end of this. If you don't care about the money (but you should), set your goal somewhere between $500 and $1000.
So what if you do want fancy art and editing and layout and everything? If you have such variable margins on everything, how can you ever be sure?
0K: STRETCH GOALS
There are, in my mind, three basic kinds of stretch goals:
- Creative stretch goals that are more work for you but have relatively low costs otherwise: extra pages, more content, more stuff in the book. These are... fine. They're fine. Do them if you want, but I'd advise keeping a very tight leash on new content, and write as much of it as you can ahead of time.
- Creative stretch goals that are more work for you and also have high costs otherwise: pamphlets, inserts, pocketmods, more zines, stickers, postcards, dice, the dreaded shirts. Avoid these. They're bad. They eat all your time and money.
- Non-creative stretch goals that cost money but relatively little time: higher production values, essentially: more art, more editing, more layout, snazzier zines, and so on. These ones are good: they make your book better and you can tightly control for them ahead of time.
My broad-spectrum advice for ZQ is that, if you really want snazzy editing and layout and art, make them stretch goals. Calculate how much the new stuff will cost you (you can do it on paper ahead of time, but also just talk to the people you want to hire), then make it a stretch goal. If you hit those goals, perfect; if you don't, well, at least you're not in the hole.
Calculate your stretch goal costs carefully. Add lots and lots of padding. Remember, every time you pay an artist/editor/designer/whoever for new stretch goal stuff, you're taking away the money that could instead be going into your own pockets.
I would strongly advise against stretch goals like #2. I've added pamphlets and inserts and shit into my ZQ projects, and they eat up tons of time and money. Avoid them.
Okay. That's budgeting. If you're still here, good job.
STEP 6: AFTER KICKSTARTER
You made your budget, you ran the campaign, you made the zine, you printed them out, you shipped them out to all your backers. Now what?
First, put the PDFs of your zine up for sale on itch.io and DriveThruRPG. These are the two major PDF marketplaces for RPGs, you want people buying them there. Post about them when they go live.
If you printed with DriveThruRPG, you should make your zine available for sale to the public through print-on-demand. Then, you're done. People will buy your RPG, and you'll make money in your sleep.
If you printed locally or via Mixam, you have a choice. You can:
- Print enough copies to send them out to your backers, friends, and family.
- Print some extra copies to sell to online retailers.
Option #1 is pretty straightforward: you make money off the KS, and anybody in the future who wants your game has to settle for a PDF.
6A: SELLING COPIES TO RETAILERS
Option #2 is a little trickier. This is another gamble: you're printing off extra copies, once that haven't already been paid for, in the hope that you can sell them later to make more money.
Here's how this works:
- You've sent out all your Kickstarter copies, and now have a box or three of zines left over, sitting in your closet.
- You contact online retailers (see the list below) and tell them you have a zine you'd like to sell, and why it's cool.
- They purchase some amount of copies (probably 5–15 or so) from you at wholesale prices.
- You box up those copies, walk them down to the post office, and mail them to the retailer. (Retailers pay for shipping.)
- The retailer sells them on their store.
- Go back to #2, rinse and repeat.
Wholesale price, usually, is 50% of normal price. If your zine is $12, wholesale would be $6. If a retailer buys 10 copies at wholesale, you make $60 profit.
The advantage to this is that you get to keep making money after your Kickstarter ends—if your zine is really popular, you might actually make hundreds or thousands of dollars.
The disadvantage is that, every once in a while, you have to message people asking if they want your game, box up a bunch of zines, and walk them down to the post office. Not an insurmountable challenge by any means, but it does mean you can't ever 100% stop thinking about the game.
How many extra copies should you order? There's no one single right answer, but my broad advice is about half(ish) as many as you had physical backers for during the campaign, with a floor of about 100. If you had 100 backers during the campaign, I'd order another 100. If you had 300 backers during the campaign, I'd order another 150-ish copies to sell to retail.
If it turns out your zine is wildly popular after the campaign and you run out of all your extra copies, congrats! You get to do a second print run—a rare achievement in RPG circles.
6B: SOME ONLINE RETAILERS
This is by no means a comprehensive list, but here are some online retailers who may or may not be interested in stocking copies of your game:
- Exalted Funeral
- Spear Witch
- LF OSR
- Ratti Incantati
- Monkey's Paw
- Rook's Press
- Four Rogues
- Floating Chair
No guarantees these folks will for certain want your stuff, but they're worth reaching out to. They all have contact emails, lots of them you can find on Discord or Twitter, too.
THE EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Here's how to do ZineQuest:
- You need an RPG. It can be almost anything in terms of content, but must be generally zine-sized.
- You need a Kickstarter page. Tell us:
- What your game is.
- Why it's cool.
- What they get.
- Who you are.
- If there are any stretch goals.
- I recommend paying a bit of money for nicer art ahead of time; it usually pays off.
- You need to produce the zine. There are four parts to this:
- Writing. This is probably what you do.
- Editing. This makes the writing better, and costs $0.06/word, usually.
- Art. This is pretty; big art costs >$300, medium art costs $100–$300, small art costs <$100.
- Layout. This makes the book pretty, and costs $10/page, usually.
- You need to print the zine.
- If you print on DriveThru, it's way easier but they give you shittier books.
- If you print on Mixam, you have to ship it yourself, but they give you nicer books.
- These generally cost about the same; Mixam gets cheaper with more copies.
- You need to ship the zine.
- If you print on DriveThru, you pay them $5 domestic and ~$15 international and they handle it.
- If you print on Mixam, you need to pay $5 domestic and ~$15 international, plus $0.50 for labels and mailers.
- Pay for your labels on Pirateship, then print them and stick them on your mailers. Make sure you get a SCAN form before you drop everything off at the post office.
- You need to pay for everything.
- Most zines are $10–15 on KS. Most PDFs are half that.
- Remember shipping gets added to your totals.
- Set your goal so that you can break even on any money you spent ahead of time.
- Use tactically-calculated stretch goals to pay for more art, editing, and layout.
- After the Kickstarter ends, you can still make money.
- If you printed on DriveThru, enable your zine for sale and you're done.
- If you printed on Mixam, you can sell your zines to online retailers.
- They buy a handful of copies at a time at wholesale price (50%) directly from you, then sell them on their stores.
Okay. I think that's everything.
I hope this has been helpful, thank you for sitting through such a beast of a post.
Feel free to share this wherever you want; if you have your own suggestions or ideas, please leave them in the comments.
If you have questions, you can always find me on Twitter at @HeadOfTheGoat, or on Discord at SquigBoss#1353. If you need an editor or layout designer, I'm available for work.
I look forward to seeing your zines!