When I first started working on Goblin Stone, I had no idea what I was doing. It took me time to figure everything out, and I made many mistakes that cost me a lot of money. I turns out that publishing a book isn’t that difficult, it’s just a matter of knowing the steps involved in the process, and more importantly, the order in which to do them.
Step 1: Writing the Draft
This is the most obvious step, but it’s also one of the hardest. Writing for others is not the same as writing for yourself: you need to be extra clear in your explanations and make sure that you properly introduce all the mechanical terms, NPCs, places, and plot elements before you use them. Writing an adventure is even harder because you’ll need to organize your document in a clear and logical way, otherwise, DMs will spend too much time finding the information they’re looking for, nobody will have fun because of the waiting, and those bad reviews will quickly kill your book.
At this step, you shouldn’t waste your energy on polishing your writing. By the time you’re done with your first draft, you’ll probably have rewritten nearly every paragraph twice, and you’ll most likely make more changes after you show your draft to your friends and family.
Step 2: Revisions
This is the most tedious step, and when most aspiring D&D writers give up. Nobody ever gets the draft right the first time. There’s always something you’re going to miss: a paragraph that is hard to decipher, inconsistencies in the plot, lack of explanations, boring encounters, overpowered abilities, etc. If you’re rich, you would normally ask the help of a content editor to search for mistakes in your draft, but most of us have to settle for friends, family, and other D&D fans. Don’t hesitate to have multiple people check your document for potential errors, and do multiple rounds of playtesting. You can always work on your next D&D project while you wait for feedback.
Even though your friends might feel like natural candidates to help you with the revisions, I would advise against it. You need to work with people who aren’t afraid to hurt your feelings: if something in your draft is uninspired, you need someone to tell you so you may fix it. Fortunately, many D&D fans are incredibly helpful and they will take a look at your book, and even playtest your material for free. You’ll have to sell it to them, though. If you show up on the internet saying “hey guys, does anyone want to playtest my 2nd level adventure”, nobody will answer. You should at least give them a brief summary of what they will be testing or reading, and ideally, you will have a fancy illustration to show them. For example, when my friend Chris made the cover of Claws of Madness public, so many people offered to help that he had to turn most of them down!
Step 3: Editing
Copyeditors and proofreaders are the people who will check your draft for spelling and grammar mistakes, wordy prose, repetitions, clunky sentences, etc. If you can afford it, it’s better to have a copyeditor check your work, and then ask someone to proofread it. This step can be quite difficult for less experienced writers because the job of an editor is to be honest, and many people have a hard time accepting that they’re not as good at writing as they thought they were.
If you’re working on a tiny budget, you won’t be able to afford professional editors, but that doesn’t mean you should skip this step. Your friends and family are better than nothing! Another alternative is to ask published Dungeon Master’s Guild authors. Many of them would rather spend their time than their money on their D&D products. They will edit your draft in exchange for your help cleaning up theirs.
Step 4: Layouts and Illustrations
Once you’re finally done with the writing, it’s time to do the layouts and the illustrations. I put the layouts and the illustrations in the same step because they’re intimately intertwined. Quality art is very expensive and you should never commission your illustrations before you’re done with the initial layout. You will lose a lot of money if you don’t wait to buy your art! Sometimes an illustration just won’t fit in the layout, and that’s not something you want to find out after you paid $50 to $100 on it…
Step 5: Promotion
When your D&D product is finally ready, and available for sale on your favorite online store, it’s time to think about promoting it. There are many great blog posts and books about e-marketing on the internet, and I strongly advise that you read a few of them. Just to make it clear, there is no dodging this step. You can have the best D&D adventure in the world, if nobody knows it exists, nobody will buy it!