Analyzing my DMsGuild Production Costs vs Profits

Last year, at the very end, I wrote a blog post sharing my experience with publishing TTRPG content in 2020. I went into financial details as well as I provided some key takeaways I had on that year.

My goal is to further detail some aspects of the publishing and creation process, in addition to insights on the business itself and marketing. This post is about production costs.

On my last post, I mentioned that I had a profit of around $ 4200 last year, considering a revenue of $ 5000. Which is quite fine: 84% profit is very decent. 

Let’s drill down a bit. My first product was The Great Trial, which costs me $ 132, spent across art, editing and ads. This was WAY too much to spend on a first product. It took me 56 sales in around 9 months to get my investment (ROI – Return of Investment) back. This was not ideal. After joining the Lounge, I learned that there are ways to create products at a cheaper cost.

My biggest release to date, The Isle of Endless Fog from Cities of Myth, was released at the end of July and cost me $ 75. It has sold only 26 copies, netting me $ 74.6, so I almost made my investment back. The only cost with that product was a custom cover and some interior art. This is an 80-page sandbox survival horror and for some reason, it is not selling as much as expected, but it least I can consider it paid for. Any additional sales will be all profit.

I then learned a lesson and decided to create my next product at zero cost. Rime of the Frostmaiden had been announced and I started to work on Encounters in Icewind Dale. I grabbed an arctic image from Piaxabay (CC0 Public Domain), modified it slightly and created my cover.  For the interior art, I used images from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, some of my own art made via Inkarnate and I brought in an editor on the Royalty model. I have 40% Royalties on that one. The production cost was zero. Later on, in November, I spent $ 60 on a Youtube sponsorship, but that was it. This product has sold 542 copies so far, netting me $ 1,253.73 in terms of profit, considering the Fantasy Ground conversion. I released it at the end of August, so we are talking about less than 5 months.

Another one of my great successes, Encounters in Barovia, was also created at a low (but not zero) cost. The cover is a modified Pixabay image, but I decided to subscribe to Adobe Stock, which costs me around $ 20 a month for 10 monthly assets, used on internal assets. Another cost that I consider for this product is the RPG Writer’s Workshop (now Storytelling Collective), which cost me $ 35. Finally, I asked Rogue Watson for a promotional video, but I will not mention the cost publicly, though it was quite a fair amount. My profit on that one is $ 1315 in 50 days, with the FG conversion.

Lastly, Encounters with the Dark Powers also was produced at a very low cost, namely, purely Adobe Stock assets, so less than $ 20. The cover is a montage of a Pixabay image with a Stock art, which worked very well. The rest is art that I already had from last month and new assets, as well as CC0 art. In 30 days, I am at $ 746 profit with it.

So, when to invest?

Covers matter. It doesn’t mean that you need to commission a fancy, custom one. You can have success with free covers. So always look for free or stock ones first. If you cannot find one, consider commissioning a cover. The minimum amount you fill find decent ones is usually $ 120. If your product is sold at 4.95 and you get 40%, you need to sell 60 copies to get it back. it is doable but many products don’t make it to Copper. Though I am of the opinion that with time and proper advertisement, all products are potentital metals.

In my case, I only commissioned a cover for The Isle of Endless Fog, but I have 2 more being commissioned because I couldn’t find stock for them, and also because I am starting to reinvest a bit of my profit into the business.

The recommendation is avoid as much cost as possible if you don’t have means to fund this from your pocket. Once you start getting returns, you can also invest back a bit.

How to be cost effective and where to invest?

Make use of Pixabay and similar public domain art and image repositories like Wikimedia Creative Commons. Under Google Images, you can click on Tools and select Public Domain, though you always need to double-check if the image is really CC0.

Stock Art like Adobe Stock is really worth it, as is Shutterstock even if it is slightly more expensive. Unless you barely release content over the year, 10 assets are a decent quantity for you to use. If you release more, you can consider getting the 40 assets plan, as I am considering.

Additional, you can grab add hoc stock art from DTRPG. Grim Press has many beautiful ones, so does Dean Spencer. I am Spencer’s Patron so I get credits every months to get more art. I subscribed to the $ 5 plan, which is quite worth it.

Mapping tools, if that is your thing, are also worth investing on. I personally use DungeonDraft (one time $ 20 purchase) and Inkarnate ($ 25 a year). Both a very worth their price. I made that money back and exponentially more in 2020, a trend that will continue in 2021.

Something else worth investing in is developing editing. usually, many editors ask for 20% royalties, which is very fair. But I often pay a mix of flat-rate and then follow with 10% royalties.

Even though I did invest a bit on marketing ads from Instagram and Facebook, I could not assess the right way to do it. I am yet to try Google Ads. I will have more details on marketing stuff later this year.

Last tip: learn as many parts of the process as possible. The only aspect I cannot do is editing. The rest, I can do: writing, cartography, layout, etc. This means you get more royalties on your products or save money by avoiding too much flat rates.

GMBinder is a great free option for layout and I have used it for quite some months, until I purchased Affinity Publisher.

So I should avoid costs at all cost?

Not exactly! If you have the means to pay for collaborators, like artists, writers, layout artist, etc, of course, do it! The recommendation is that at least in your first year, avoid spending too much on your creations. I now got to a point in which I am slowly start to reinvest my profit and consciously increase my production costs, which is also great to support other folks from the business!

Well, that was it for this article. Stay tuned for more publishing insights!


If you are starting in the business of content creation and have no means to fund yourself, I would recommend being cost effective: use public domain art, maybe sign up for Adobe Stock or use ad hoc stock art from DTRPG. Try to master most of the parts of the process so you maximize your gains.
Once you start reaping the benefits, feel free to invest here and there to up the quality of your products and support the TTRPG community.

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