The best advice I saw was: don't. Ok, you are going to ignore that advice and have two or three years to prepare and save money.
First, attend NTRPG con next year. You can visit with almost every old style publisher in the industry and with almost every one of the old style designers. Eldritch Ent, Frog God/Necromancer Games, Sandy Petersen. Odds are you will only miss out on Chaosium and Steve Jackson Games as far as old school games go. Talk with people about their product lines, look at the product lines.
Second, buy and read Marketing Without Advertising: Easy Ways to Build a Business Your Customers Will Love and Recommend by Michael Phillips and Salli Rasberry (Jun 5, 2008). There are a number of editions, similar names, any will do. Available cheap through Amazon but -- even cheaper through interlibrary loan.
Third, decide exactly what niche you will fit in the industry. I just saw an excellently produced Cthulhu mythos product for OD&D -- but it is going to compete with both d20 Call of Cthulhu and BRP Call of Cthulhu. cf Call of Cthulhu. It was a really good product, but good enough to squeeze into that niche?
Fourth, get an idea of the supply lines and distribution lines in the industry you want to sell to -- where will you meet people who might buy your materials on the wholesale/distributor/retailer level.
Fifth, if you want to pay a professional who knows the industry to talk about the industry, I'd retain Jennell Jaquays. As Paul Jaquays (before the transition), Jacquays edited or worked for just about everyone in the industry and in related industries -- and never did anyone wrong. Open, honest and intelligent and insightful. If you are going to pay someone, hire Jennell after you've done steps one through four above.
Sixth, do something, a proof of concept, in final form (the way it would look off the press -- you can use a POD or print on demand service to do a small run of five or less copies) so you can do the following:
- Decide if you have it in you to do tight editing (I find that I do, but my willingness to do it is highly dependent on being paid in advance. Until then I tend to be more interested in playing with the concepts than in refining them).
- Decide if you have it in you to do professional proof reading (I can do that too, I've been a professional editor -- but, see the above. I get more out of playing with things than editing my own work).
- Decide it you understand how to do professional formatting. There are some brilliantly executed works out there (being a judge for the Five Castles competition this year really wowed me. There are people who are executing brilliantly in genre, producing things that would pass for TSR products of the 1980s, and those who are producing things using modern sensibilities). That includes consistent artwork, presentation, use of white space, etc.
- Decide just how much material you can produce and why you want to produce it.
Oh, and what order to do all of that?
Start with step seven. Then do step three -- but you will revisit that. Then take step two. Then look at step four. Rethink step three (in light of step two) and do step six.
It has been one year. You are now ready to start applying what you learned in step six. Put together a business plan, map out what product line you intend to promulgate, get a much better look at independent publishing.
Year two, plan a launch strategy to go with your business strategy.
Now, all of that said, I want to note what some people have said on the topic:
David Morrison Trying to make significant cash in traditional RPG publishing is a tricky one, because there's an endless supply of gamers prepared to make stuff ever more cheaply. However, the market is within reach of a combination of disruptive technologies, design methods and gaming formats that already make more money than RPGs for digital publishers, but receive little attention from Tabletop RPG publishersYes. There are people who can and do make money.
Let me be clearer.
Monte Cook Six figures isn't impossible in the tabletop game industry, it's just difficult and not a good goal. But it sounds like that's not your goal. And happiness is waaaaay more important than moneyBut that gives you a two year plan for deciding if the industry is really for you.
Some additional useful links (and yes, these are somewhat random, designed to get you thinking, not designed to provide you answers):
- http://redwaspdesign.wordpress.com/ (for an example of the new alternative publication style)