I’ve been waiting about a month for a contract for the two books I was supposed to be working on this summer for Cubicle 7’s Victoriana line, and I have other projects that need attending to, so I’ve begged off.

This is emblematic of the role playing game industry and the lack of professionalism that surrounds it. Part of the issue is that the publishers tend to be fans and gamers who get into the business because “it will be fun” or “I can do this better.” Inevitably, they hit the hard wall of business reality: deadlines, coordination of talent, outsized expectations — this causes many of the companies to have trouble with paying their talent, or keeping to a schedule. They don’t figure on the ancillary time and expense of launching a game line (especially when licensing is involved!), or maintaining interest.

The other problem is the “talent”. Again, usually gamers and fans, they get into the industry for “fun” or as a means to bootstrap themselves into the writing field. They sometimes work for peanuts, but more often for the “love of the game” or “to get their name out there.” That leads to a lack of professionalism, and allows the industry to pay them as the amateurs they are. ($0.02 a word is typical. That’s $2000 for a 100,000 word book.) If also means the industry is used to half-assing their relationships and responsibilities with their artists and writers because they know they can get away with it.

What’s the solution? I don’t really have a practical one. Publishers need to look to the business plan first, and the talent needs to go in with the expectation that they are going act like professionals (no prima donna bitching when the editor cuts the writing you thought was superb) and get treated like professionals, including a reasonable pay schedule.

How do you know you are making an appropriate amount for a project? Here’s a tip: Figure the total payment for the project. We’ll work with the hypothetical 100k word count from above. Figure out how much you’re willing to work for hourly. My rate is, lowest, $20/hr. — about on part with what I get paid for for teaching college classes. (I do the same calculation for the flat rate I’m paid per class.) Below that, it’s not really worth my time. That means for $20/hr. I will dedicate 100 hours, maximum for a project paying $2000. If I block out 5 hours a day, that’s 25 days or roughly a month to do the work. Every time I’ve used this method, it has helped me with time management and motivation. I usually figure my time as a range — $30/hr. is my favored pay rate and would mean I’m happiest if I can punch out oa project in 66-67 man-hours, but I am willing to stretch to 100 as needed.

I’m sure an artist would have a different set of standards for getting paid, and if there’s an RPG artist reading this, please feel free to comment or drop a line on your thoughts regarding the industry, payment, etc.