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Update on my TTRPG Experience: 5-digits in 6 months, part-time

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At the very end of 2020, I wrote a blog post about my experience with TTRPG publishing for that year, which was my first one. Half of 2021 has gone through now, the pandemic still in place, though with vaccines and hopefully a light at the end of the tunnel. 

I want to provide an update on how this first half of 2021 has happened at CZRPG. You can take your own conclusions and decide what would work or not for you based on what I present here.

When I started at the very end of February 2020, I didn’t know what to expect. By the end of the year, I saw a huge potential in this business. I then decided to set what I thought was were bold goals for 2021, but they actually weren’t that bold. 

Content Warning: this post has information on financial results with amounts in USD.  

The Goals

I published my first paid product on February 29th and finished 2020 (a total of 10 months of business) with a revenue of roughly USD 5.000, which amazed me as I wasn’t expecting this. I also ended 2020 with 40 products under my name.  

So I decided that I wanted to double that, setting the below goals:

  • Revenue of USD 10.000 by the end of 2021
  • A catalog of 80 products under my name by the end of 2021
Based on that financial goal, I set a daily goal of USD 27 in sales.  

2021 Results so far

During a good chunk of the year, I actually was exceeding this daily goal, sometimes even doubling (I have quadrupled it in rare occasions). Also, towards the end of April, I reached 80 products under my name. Not that some of these products are either Fantasy Grounds conversions, bundles, translations, maps/map packs or even products that other people published using my maps. So my goals were actually not bold enough, but that’s fine. The main issue there is that I’ve set my goals based on my first year, in which I had my initial months with a very low revenue. Anyways, moving on.
This is what 2021 looks so far, as of June 28th:
  • Total TTRPG Revenue: USD 10.002,08
  • 167 products under my name 
  • 21 Metals total (including 2020)
    • 1 Platinum
    • 4 Golds (which will reach Platinum by EOY)
    • 3 Electrum
    • 5 Silver
    • 8 Copper
Here’s the financial breakdown for 2021:
  • DMsGuild: USD 6.455,75
  • DTRPG: USD 308,55
  • Shard: USD 99,62
  • Writing Flat-Rates: USD 593
  • Cartography Flat-Rates: USD 2050
  • Affiliate Sales: USD 423,16

In terms of products, what gave me this big boosts was the fact that I started to put out individual maps on DTRPG and Shard (same maps). So from these 167, some products are “duplicated” in two platforms.  

I reached my catalog goal in April and my financial goal in June.

But how?

I’ll try to summarize what I think worked well, and didn’t so you can take insights from that. And I’ll reinforce this: every person has their own experiences. It’s very hard to replicate someone else’s situation. I haven’t tried to specifically replicate anyone’s strategy, but I did learn a lot from a bunch of different people and extracted pieces of what I think would work. 

Hard Work. Too much.

I have a day job that consumes over 40h a week. On top of that, I work 20 to 25h a week on my TTRPG business, which became an LLC. I have to make some sacrifices to pull this off, and I don’t consider this a healthy path or one that I can stay on for too long. I have often sacrificed sleep, but I’m better now sleeping 7 to 8h per night once again. I do sacrifice some time with my family, which I shouldn’t do, but my wife understands it and my 5-year old daughter doesn’t that much, but I try to explain anyways. This is the heaviest part of this side-job. Finally, I sacrificed my video game time pretty much completely. Lately, all I do is pretty much work. 

IP-Related Products

The Intellectual Property (IP) of Wizards of the Coast is VERY powerful and the DMsGuild is pretty much the only place where you can lean on it. It took me a few months to start, more precisely August 2020, but most of my releases (though not all) have been related to its IP since then. This has worked very well as it has allowed someone without a name or huge catalog at the time to actually get some decent sales. These IP-related products represent 90% of my total revenue.

Cartography

This has been a core part of my strategy and it has been working exceptionally well. My direct revenue from cartography (commissions + stock maps) is nearing 40% of my total revenue to date. In addition, it also drive sales of my other products but I can’t quantity this. It’s something that I really enjoy and the VTT boom due to the pandemic surely contributed to more people consuming maps. Want to get started in the map making world? Check this post.

Presentation

Once I moved to Affinity Publisher, got myself a nice library of stock art through Adobe Stock, Dean SpencerGrim Press and now James RPG Art, I managed to up my layout which started to catch eyes and net me some nice feedback. Having a beautiful or badass cover with great internal presentation helps. I also started to use title logos in all my products. Meaning that the product title isn’t just a white font slapped on the cover, but rather some artistic logo-like title. Below is an example of a stock art cover with a title-logo.
Encounters in Icewind Dale Cover Cover

Marketing

Even though I’m only mentioning this now, marketing is key if you want to run this more as a business as opposed to a hobby or occasional side-gig. And when I say marketing, I’m not talking about social media. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, those are interesting because you mostly can promote yourself for free there taking in consideration each group’s rules. The downside is that all these platforms determine to whom they’ll deliver your promotion. The end result is that, overall, social media isn’t game changing in terms of sales platform. But they’re free so I’m not stopping social media promotion.
The real deal is actually a platform from the past millenia: emails. According to most digital marketing experts, email marketing is the way to go to actually get more sales. I’ve been putting a decent effort in growing my email list and providing interesting content to my subscribers. If you’re not subscribed yet, sign up here and get a free map pack plus access to free exclusive content every month. 
If you want to get started on this topic, watch this video from Chris and sign up to his email list to get his freebie. 

Cost Effectiveness

Something I try to achieve is being cost-effective. This means I only commission art when it makes sense for the project and I rely a lot on stock art. I do maps and layout myself, being able to the cost-effective in these aspects. I do need writers (when in collabs) and editors. With time, I intend to increase my costs with commissioned art but I’m not there yet. 

The Specifics

This year, because I’m working on a huge project called Chessenta’s Tyranny, I realized that I wouldn’t be able to write. So I employed a different strategy to keep the releases going. I started to invite writers and editors to work with me on different product lines. I’ve been acting as a publisher though on DMsGuild, they’re the actual publisher. But I do layout, art direction, cartography, publishing and marketing. Plus project management. 

Financially, this hasn’t brought me that much revenue as most of it still comes from solo products. However it’s been a great experience for networking and I could increase my catalog and my metals too. Last month I analyzed my sales and found out that 87% of my revenue comes from solo projects.

Something that has contributed a lot for me to achieve my goal already in June was an increase in map commissions. Every month, I get one or more often than not, multiple commissions, which are a nice complement to the revenue from OBS. Which brings me to the next topic. Why OBS and not DMsGuild? Because since April, I’ve started to put individual maps on DTRPG and Shard, and I could already see the longtail and snowball effects taking place in three months. One of the best aspects of DTRPG is the email list from your customer you can access and communicate with. It’s a very powerful tool. 

Conclusion

This year has been a bit different than 2020 as I’m writing much less than before, focusing more on layout, cartography, publishing and mapping. I’m very eager to put out this fully-fledged campaign module which is Chessenta’s Tyranny, but patience. It’ll come out this year. 

I put out loads of products this year thanks to the collaboration of many, many amazing people I worked with thus far. I landed a lot of map commissions which complement my revenue.

And finally, the most important part: I do invest time in learning marketing (still intend to learn more) and putting the best practices I learn in action. You may have the best product out there, but if folks don’t know about it, chances are you won’t sell much. 

Even though this is costing me a rather lot, I’m pretty happy with this experience and with this business, which is actually contributing to bring my family a better financial situation as we’ve been (still are are) in a tough spot.

Any questions, feel free to comment 🙂