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Subject: Rulebook Editing - Would You Pay $50? rss

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Dustin Schwartz
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Hi folks, I've been editing board game rulebooks for about 18 months now. I've got 20+ rulebooks under my belt for which I was the lead writer or editor. I've worked professionally as a writer and editor in the past, although I'm currently employed in radio.

Up until now, all of my work has been pro bono, because 1) I dislike reading subpar rulebooks myself, and 2) a lot of publishers in the post-KS era are one-man operations who don't necessarily have the skillset to create a top-notch rulebook on their own.

When I edit a rulebook, I don't just correct typos. I take a deep dive and suggest structural changes, study the game's terminology lexicon, and make sure I understand how to play the game so that I can anticipate FAQs and address them within the rules document. For a 2,000-word rulebook, I generally invest 10+ hours.

With some increasing pressure and workload at my day job, I find myself at a crossroads. Editing rulebooks for free is still something I love to do, but the extra work is taking its toll on me and I fear I can no longer continue to do so for so little return.

My hope is that charging a nominal fee would make my work model a little more viable. So we come to my question: If you're a designer or publisher, would you pay $50 to have your rulebook edited/developed by a professional?
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Dustin Schwartz
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Thank you for any insight you can provide. Please note that I'm not searching for leads, but just trying to poll the general audience of industry folk.
 
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Michael Aldridge
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Speaking as a technical author, charging only $50 for 10+ hours of work, you're selling your services far short.
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Sounds very fair to me given your experience and how much effort you put into it. What got my attention wasn't that you correct typos but that you also take the time and effort to change the structure and terminology.

I'm working on my first game now and my rulebook is up to 12 pages now. Initially it was just text and very confusing. I've gotten the layout in a better form after following the usual chain of questions I get from playtesters (rule book starts with how to play, then how to win, then specifics in the game.) Now there's pictures too to help with explanations. I've been working on it for about 6 months now. And yet, I still have players getting lost and confused. The layout also isn't the most attractive or easiest to read, especially when I look at the finished rulebooks of Fantasy Flight Games and Days of Wonder.
 
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Joe Outside
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That sounds like a fair price to me--or at least, it sounds like a price I would be willing to pay.
 
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Nate Straight

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I wouldn't pay $50 because you're clearly not a professional editor if you're only charging me $50.

I'd pay someone who knows their own worth and can back it up with a quality work product and demonstrated past success.

Your challenge is less what to charge a game publisher and more how to demonstrate and advertise the value of your service to them, it seems to me.

$500, even up to like $1000, does not seem a terribly large expense, even for a small publisher, at least once you've convinced them of the value of the service.

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Gil Hova
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I would pay $50 for a rulebook editing service. I'd even pay as much as $200. Not great money, sure, but not nothing.

Still, you'd have to compete with crowdsourcing. I'm getting great feedback from dozens of people for my rulebooks for free, and for my next project, I may pay other people I've previously worked with, and who did excellent work. So any references and prior work you could cite would be very helpful.

Good luck, Dustin!
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Dustin Schwartz
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Thanks for the input, all.

To answer several questions: Yes, I'm aware that $50 is far south of fair market value for developmental editing. However, even though pro bono work is likely off the table for me now, I'm hoping to still be generous with my services. Perhaps that's foolhardy.

I keep a catalog of projects that I've worked on, sort of as my "CV" in rulebook editing. (link)

I'm open to feedback on how to better "market" my services or increase awareness of the value of a solid rulebook.
 
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It's not worth your time at fifty dollars. When I was freelancing as a technical writer I was charging fifty dollars an hour.

I would be skeptical of any writer who offered his services for five dollars an hour.

I recently did around ten hours of work for a certain designer. I told him that we could discuss compensation at a later time and that I had realistic expectations, given that he was a small-time dude and not a giant company. After I sent him my work he thought that a mention in the manual I had wrote was thanks enough.

This industry is trash for writers. Developers and designers are more than willing to throw money at a graphic designer or illustrator (although not as much as they deserve) but are unwilling to toss any money toward writing. There are many reasons for this but the two most important ones are these:

1) Many people don't see spending money on writing as a good way to generate sales the way they see it for illustrations. Thankfully, outside of this industry, companies know that quality writing is crucial to success.

2) Everyone thinks they can write. Seriously, this is actually one of the biggest problems for technical writers. Nobody walks around thinking they can throw some paint on a canvas and be as good as a painter, but everyone thinks they have skill as a writer. They are wrong and the countless threads that appear on this site in the rules section of almost every game is proof.

It's good that you've decided to start charging people money. It does kinda suck to anyone who is seriously considering employment in this field to know that there are writers that are giving their services away for nothing.

This industry is awful. There needs to be a giant change. Ten years ago I don't think anyone cared but I see more and more complaints about manuals on this site every day and I love it. Maybe one day we'll have manuals written by professionals and not the designer's uncle who once wrote for the school newspaper twenty years ago.

This is a long rant. TL/DR: Yes, fifty dollars is more than reasonable, if not incredibly absurd.
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IngredientX wrote:
I would pay $50 for a rulebook editing service. I'd even pay as much as $200. Not great money, sure, but not nothing.

Still, you'd have to compete with crowdsourcing. I'm getting great feedback from dozens of people for my rulebooks for free, and for my next project, I may pay other people I've previously worked with, and who did excellent work. So any references and prior work you could cite would be very helpful.

Good luck, Dustin!
If I'm understanding you correctly: Writers don't need to compete with crowdsourcing. Crowds don't write great manuals. Crowds are great for picking out spelling mistakes and grammar errors . . . that's about it.

It's funny, I've seen people compliment manuals because they believe the manuals are good. I've looked at these manuals and thought to myself: "shit, I can make this 15 page manual into a 8 page manual and not lose an ounce of clarity or content". Maybe that's another problem with the industry. Nobody really knows what a good manual should look like anymore! We are so accepting of trash that trash has become what's normal.
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Michael Aldridge
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broken clock wrote:
I would be skeptical of any writer who offered his services for five dollars an hour.
This is the key that Mike and Nate are getting at, and I agree wholeheartedly. Sure, you're being generous, but I as a customer am not going to have confidence that your work is that good. After all, you only want $50 for it.

Let's say that I am offering to install a security system in your home for $50 and charge you only $2 per month for monitoring. That's well below market rates. Would you believe that you got a really sweet deal, or would you be skeptical of the quality of the security system, the expertise of my installation, and/or the monitoring service I provide?
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broken clock wrote:
2) Everyone thinks they can write. Seriously, this is actually one of the biggest problems for technical writers. Nobody walks around thinking they can throw some paint on a canvas and be as good as a painter, but everyone thinks they have skill as a writer. They are wrong and the countless threads that appear on this site in the rules section of almost every game is proof.
Truth. I've interviewed many candidates for technical author positions, and some of the submissions we have received have been cringeworthy.
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Eric Francis
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I'm just going to echo what most folks here have been saying: You're underselling not only yourself, but every professional writer and editor. I've been a journalist for 25 years, a third of that freelance. I'd love to offer my services to game publishers, but the only competition tougher than the army of gamer volunteers without experience is someone with experience who's not going to charge what the service is worth.

Please, if you want to get paid to do this, insist on a market rate. Otherwise, I'd rather you just keep volunteering.
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Dustin Schwartz
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I would hope that people would put more weight behind the testimonials of other industry folks who've experienced my editing firsthand — or by picking up one of my rulebooks to read through it — than a pre-judgement based on what I am or am not charging.

Y'all are giving me lots of food for thought. Keep the comments coming!
 
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Eric Francis
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FreedomGunfire wrote:
I would hope that people would put more weight behind the testimonials of other industry folks who've experienced my editing firsthand — or by picking up one of my rulebooks to read through it — than a pre-judgement based on what I am or am not charging.
It's not the quality of your work I'm questioning. It is your business practices and how they are going to impact others who are providing, or want to provide, similar services. And please understand I don't mean to single you out; this is an issue in the broader world of freelancing, in every field.

So by all means, do good work for your clients. But charge what that work is worth. Otherwise, those clients and others will assume the value of what you (and other freelance editors) are doing is low, and soon the only people who will be able to afford to work for those rates are those who aren't professionals and don't have relevant skills and experience. Both our profession and the quality of game rules will suffer, I believe.

Finally, I certainly don't intend to offer offense, and apologize if I have.

</soapbox>
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Michael Aldridge
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FreedomGunfire wrote:
I would hope that people would put more weight behind the testimonials of other industry folks who've experienced my editing firsthand — or by picking up one of my rulebooks to read through it — than a pre-judgement based on what I am or am not charging.
It is painfully clear that most publishers don't know good rulebooks from bad ones (a point that Mike brought up earlier). If they did, they wouldn't publish bad rulebooks in the first place. So how will they know that your editing is good?

Assuming that a rulebook IS good, how will they know how much of it is attributable to the original writing and how much is attributable to the editor? Customers that pick up a rulebook won't see your edits - they will see only the final product.

The bottom line is that some people aren't going to check to see whether your work is good if your rates are low. For example, when I see advertisements for computer techs who will work for $20 per hour, I automatically assume that the work will be poor. I don't stop to get references on him, because that's what bad computer techs usually charge. The GOOD computer techs can - and do - charge much more than that.

So even if your work is excellent, your rates will turn off customers before they've seen your quality. Why do that when the solution is simple? Charge what you're worth and then show them that you're worth it.
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Michael Brettell
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I'm going to take something of a contrary view: You're someone who has been doing something for free, and now want to test the water with a nominal fee. I'd say there's a market for what you're suggesting. While it's true that people value what they pay, I'd be surprised if larger companies hired you on that basis. However, for people like myself who are designing their first game, spending $50 on this could well be worth it. I'd do so, safe in the knowledge that even if I end up disagreeing with your suggestions, its only $50 I've lost. Spending $500 is another question.

I wouldn't worry about all the people complaining that you're going to destroy the industry. You're not responsible for them. It's their job to convince people that they are worth the extra money.

My only words of warning are
- That as soon as people pay money, they expect a level of service, possibly far beyond what they are paying for. You will encounter people that pay $50, but expect $500 service. There will be a different attitude from the people that you've been doing it for free.
- It is VERY hard to raise your price with an existing client. Even though you can make it clear that this is a trial fee based on your level of professional experience, you will find it a hard sell to increase. Therefore, each client you get at the low rate is one you won't get - if you're planning on taking this further.

One final point - if I did want to evaluate your work, looking at the rulebook as it was published is not any use. What I would need to see is the rulebook before you got it, and afterwards with only your changes (as Michael has just said).
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Dustin Schwartz
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Thanks for the continued input. What would be considered "market rate" for developmental editing? Please note that I'm a thorough editor, but slow, so if I were to charge it would be per manuscript page rather than per hour.
 
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Are you an editor or a writer? Are they giving you a fully finished manual and expecting you to fix spelling errors or are they giving you a piece of shit and asking you to make it gold? Most manuals I write I write almost from scratch. Sure, they give me something THEY think is a manual, but I rewrite almost all of it and reorganize it. That's a lot more than editing and that costs a lot more.
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Dustin Schwartz
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broken clock wrote:
Are you an editor or a writer? Are they giving you a fully finished manual and expecting you to fix spelling errors or are they giving you a piece of shit and asking you to make it gold? Most manuals I write I write almost from scratch. Sure, they give me something THEY think is a manual, but I rewrite almost all of it and reorganize it. That's a lot more than editing and that costs a lot more.
Both/and. Most of my editing involves extensive rewriting as well. I usually receive rulebooks in a very early beta state, and handle macro issues like structural work and retooling the lexicon before I worry too much about micro adjustments to the copy.
 
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brettellmd wrote:
One final point - if I did want to evaluate your work, looking at the rulebook as it was published is not any use. What I would need to see is the rulebook before you got it, and afterwards with only your changes (as Michael has just said).
This is one reason why I've started keeping RAW and FINAL versions of all rulebooks that I work on. It's fun to look back and see how much fat I've trimmed out of a rulebook — I usually end up with at least 10% reduction (by word count).
 
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FreedomGunfire wrote:
brettellmd wrote:
One final point - if I did want to evaluate your work, looking at the rulebook as it was published is not any use. What I would need to see is the rulebook before you got it, and afterwards with only your changes (as Michael has just said).
This is one reason why I've started keeping RAW and FINAL versions of all rulebooks that I work on. It's fun to look back and see how much fat I've trimmed out of a rulebook — I usually end up with at least 10% reduction (by word count).
I would recommend that you not show an unedited rulebook from a game that is identifiable by the rulebook text. Your previous customers might be embarrassed if they found out that you were putting their raw, unfinished writing on display for others to see.
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Dustin Schwartz
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BosonMichael wrote:
FreedomGunfire wrote:
brettellmd wrote:
One final point - if I did want to evaluate your work, looking at the rulebook as it was published is not any use. What I would need to see is the rulebook before you got it, and afterwards with only your changes (as Michael has just said).
This is one reason why I've started keeping RAW and FINAL versions of all rulebooks that I work on. It's fun to look back and see how much fat I've trimmed out of a rulebook — I usually end up with at least 10% reduction (by word count).
I would recommend that you not show an unedited rulebook from a game that is identifiable by the rulebook text. Your previous customers might be embarrassed if they found out that you were putting their raw, unfinished writing on display for others to see.
Wise. Since it's not clear from the above, RAW versions are for my personal records only.
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FreedomGunfire wrote:
BosonMichael wrote:
FreedomGunfire wrote:
brettellmd wrote:
One final point - if I did want to evaluate your work, looking at the rulebook as it was published is not any use. What I would need to see is the rulebook before you got it, and afterwards with only your changes (as Michael has just said).
This is one reason why I've started keeping RAW and FINAL versions of all rulebooks that I work on. It's fun to look back and see how much fat I've trimmed out of a rulebook — I usually end up with at least 10% reduction (by word count).
I would recommend that you not show an unedited rulebook from a game that is identifiable by the rulebook text. Your previous customers might be embarrassed if they found out that you were putting their raw, unfinished writing on display for others to see.
Wise. Since it's not clear from the above, RAW versions are for my personal records only.
You could create a first draft of some pretend rules on your own, then edit that to demonstrate that everyone - including you - needs editing. Alternatively, edit a page of text of something that is unrelated to board games and use that to demonstrate your talent to customers.

Or... just get permission from a previous customer. It's all good as long as you ask first.
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If I was going to design a game with the intention of bringing it to market, I would value a good technical writer highly, and $50.00 / manual would just make me look for another writer. I am a journeyman floor layer and when people say they will install a particular type of floor for half the market value of said install, or less, I will always assume that they are not even worth that, and will not hire them.

It really is about time this industry realized that most rule books are trash, and spending less money on usless components and more money on concise rule books would be a better use of money. However, as long as there is crowdfunding, trash rulebooks will be the norm and unfortunately accepted.

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