This week I'm interviewing Steve Russell of Rite Publishing. Read on to learn about how Steve and Rite Publishing got where they are now, how you can freelance for Rite Publishing, and more!
Could you tell us a little bit
My name is Steven
D. Russell, and I have been gaming for 20+ years now having started
out with the Marvel Super Heroes from TSR. I was doing a lot of fan
based work for the Wheel of Time d20 Rpg when a number of fans of my
work encouraged me to start doing professional design, so I started
submitting to anyone who was looking for freelancers, I did work for
Bastion Press, Expeditious Retreat Press, EN Publishing, and several
others. About the second time I got stuck with a manuscript after a
publisher dropped a line, I got angry enough to start my own company
believing I could do it better than them.
And so it begins,
Rite Publishing was born out of a desire to do things the Right way,
and because we started out doing things for Monte Cook’s Arcana
Evolved, for which we earned two ENnie nominations. Then about a
year later, we started with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game
where we achieved a high enough level of success that Rite became my
full time day job. It was during this time that based on our Heroes
of the Jade Oath product, Paizo contacted me to do freelance work
for Paizo on the Jade Regent adventure path.
Since then we have
launched a FATE line with The Demolished Ones, and a Diceless
tabletop game line Lords of Gossamer & Shadow (which uses
the official system for the old Amber Diceless Roleplaying, but with
an original setting).
How did you get into RPG design
and what kind of projects have you been working on? What have been
your best experiences?
It really started
with a desire to make the rules reflect the natural laws of my home
campaign setting, the Wheel of Time Rpg really showed how in setting
cultural taboos could impact how a game was played as well, this lead
to a similar style in my work for DrivethruRpg. But what really got
me into it was showing my work at GenCon in a small format that my
friend had created for me, to Joseph Browning of Expeditious retreat
press and his suggestion that I publish myself since I was already so
far along, so I did just that.
What have I not
been working on, as the head of Rite Publishing I do it all, manage
freelancers, marketing, development, design, write, edit, layout, art
direction, and proofread. I am probably at my weakest when it comes
to editing, and avoid any heavy graphic design if possible. As a
writer, I am working on our default campaign setting Questhaven for
Pathfinder, which is a setting that really focuses on the PCs,
adventures, and gaming rather than say naming all the flowers. I am
working on an adventure for Lords of Gossamer & Shadow, called No
Beast So Fierce, which focuses on a microcosm reconnaissance
mission, rather than the usual plane-hopping swashbuckling affair. I
will well be running it with some Kickstarter backers over Google
Hangout, as it is so easy to do with Diceless. I still do a monster
template every month for the Pathways e-zine and a GMing advice
article for Adventure Quarterly every quarter.
I have had so many
high points, but let us start with the big ones, 1001 Spells selling
out of its first print run, and its continued sales. Releasing Lords
of Gossamer & Shadow so that the world could experience Diceless
again was a big highlight, especially when I learned that half our
customers had never played Diceless before. The critical acclaim that
was reached by The Demolished Ones. From a writing stat point being
in Endzeitgeist’s top 10 with not just a product, but also
something I wrote this year, with 101 Mystical Site Qualities. In
addition, I love the interaction with our customers they are all so
enthusiastic and passionate, I love when I get emails from them.
In your opinion, what makes a good
Pathfinder RPG compatible product?
The key here is
compatible, so what make it good besides the basics of quality
writing, editing, layout, art, and proofing is the core idea. It
needs to be something that Paizo will never do; it needs to be
something that none of the other Pathfinder Compatible publishers
have done. There are plenty of great examples Ultimate Psionics,
Rogue Genius Games’ Talented Class line; Legendary Games focus on
expanding the Mythic rules, Frog God Games focus on first edition
feel, and Oone Games focus on a single city setting. EN Publishing’s
far out adventure paths, Fire Mountain games evil adventure path,
If you look at my Rite Publishing’s work, we did a high level
campaign setting and adventure with Coliseum Morpheuon and continued
support with Faces of the Tarnished Souk. We do a lot of focus on the
Far East with Jade Oath and Kaidan. We expand upon very specific
rules sets with products like 101 New Skill Uses, and our newest #30
Mercenary Companies which adds to Mass Combat. But remember even with
a niche you still need to concentrate on the quality of that product.
When and how did Rite Publishing
I got mad at other
publishers doing things wrong, and I had a lot of support and
encouragement from people that are still with me today. Though I
started a year earlier, we sold our first product on March 5th
2008, the same day I released it. David Paul who is the editor in
chief of Paizo, plus the lead editor of our 101 Series line edited
that first product, without him I would be nowhere. Soren K. Thustrup
and Bill Collins were amazing editors and supporters of Heroes of the
Jade Oath, and some of my own early Items Evolved writings both have
gone on to write products for us. Mark Moreland who is now working at
Paizo made Feats 101 my first Pathfinder product, and the
later Breaking of Forstor Nagar by Ben McFarland possible.
Mark was the one who said we needed a default campaign setting, so
Questhaven was looted from my home game. Perry Grosshans was a play
tester for my first published writings, helped my second adventure
get an ENnie nomination and is now the Line editor for Lords of
Gossamer & Shadow.
I also got started
because I had support from other publishers to get started and I
still do to this day. Joseph Browning’s encouragement, Monte Cook
giving a nobody and chance to play in his sandbox, Wolfgang Baur
talking to me about how patronage worked and sharing his skills
through those patronage projects, Paizo deciding to do a
Compatibility License and to feature those products on their front
page. The competition for the Pathfinder compatible market is fierce;
there are a LOT of great products and companies out there. Yet nearly
every single one of those publishers is a colleague as well as a
friend rather than acting like a cutthroat competitor.
What can you tell about the
products of Rite Publishing?
That if you tell
me the type of tabletop RPG you play, and what your play style is, I
can probably point you to something you will really enjoy. We have
worked with some of the most talented people in the industry, and
create some really fungible and unique products. Take Coliseum
Morpheuon for example our high level campaign setting adventure,
it can serve as the capstone adventure for any adventure path and it
fits nearly seamlessly into any world since it is on the Plane of
Dreams. Its companion Faces of the Tarnished Souk will provide
a bazaar of the bizarre that you can also reach simply by entering
the plane of dreams (ala sleeping), but it is written with stat
blocks for High, Mid, and low levels of play. However, what if all
you want is something to make your spell caster better. Well then I
point out 1001 Spells, there are over 100 spells of each level,
spread out evenly over the classes, heck you can even get it on Hero
This is not just
limited to Pathfinder as we do work for other systems, Fate,
Diceless, and some forthcoming Dungeon World supplements.
Can you give us an exclusive
teaser about a future product?
David Paul just
handed over a manuscript, with him as the author (this is a first for
Dave), called 101 Swamp Spells that do more if you are casting them
in a swamp environment. I have not even had a chance to read the
manuscript yet, but I am really looking forward to it.
What are the best things about the
products of Rite Publishing and what type of players or GMs would
you recommend them for?
The best thing to
me is probably our signature prose, especially with The Secrets of X
and the In the Company of Monsters series, where we right a first
person point of view, for example, In the Company of Fey gives you
the point of view of a member of the fey race we introduce, in
character. To me this adds the flavor back into the game, and makes
it a whole lot more fun to read than just a rulebook or instruction
manual. This started with our second product Ironborn of Questhaven
(which was eventually bundled into In the Company of Monsters. A 3.5
d20 era Open Gaming Content mechanical race original created by Mike
Mearls, which I took and wrote all new flavor text for, converted to
pathfinder and added a bunch of new ability packages, feats, spells
etc. for. It ended up being far more balanced and useable than say
the Warforged and I got a huge amount of positive feedback for it.
What are the current goals for
Rite Publishing? What are the biggest challenges?
To finish and
publish some projects that are overdue: Questhaven Campaign Setting,
Kaidan, and The Martial Arts Guidebook. I would like to grow to the
point where we bring on additional full-time staff member plus grow
to the point where we can increase the pay per word rate for
freelancers, bring more content to each free issue of Pathways,
increase our subscription base for Adventure Quarterly. To break the
sales records of every month we had last year. To release the
Treasury of Magic Items (similar to 1001 Spells but for magic items)
that is in layout right now.
Is there anything else people
should know about Rite Publishing or its products?
That we are crazy
busy creating product for you, I usually put in a 50-60 hour work
week, and we are motivated not just by your purchases, but by your
feedback and reviews; Good reviews make us feel great and want to do
more, bad reviews show us how to make improvement. Send us workable
feedback and we will give you better products.
How do you generally find new
freelancers to work for you? What is the application process like?
For Authors its
usually through Adventure Quarterly, which has an open submission
policy, I have also found them through open calls that we have done
for the #30 Series, these days though I have a decent stable of
freelancers that I can choose from. For adventure quarterly there are
submission guidelines on our website, and for #30 series I usually
want a query email, and then I assign you to write one piece of it,
once we have it down to what I like, I let you finish up the other
29, so that you know what I want and how to get there. I am still
working up an idea for Lords of Gossamer and Shadow open submissions,
as up to now they have all been hired guns.
For Artists, we
have an open submission call to do the cover of Pathways, we do a new
cover by a new artist every single month, visit Rite Publishing’s
contact page, follow the instructions there, and send us a query
email about doing it (be sure to get the subject line right and to
include a link to your portfolio). I get 1-2 every week and only have
space for one a month so be patient. For Cartographers
we are pretty set right now with Jonathan Roberts, Michael K. Tumey,
and Tommi Salama. However, when I do hire one it is via open call on
the Cartographer’s Guild forums.
For layout artists
and computer coders we an unpaid internship program similar to the
one Paizo offers and they can reach out to me directly via Steve@RitePublishing.com.
What are the main requirements for
a freelancer to work for you? What other skills and/or experience
Quality of work
(but do not go nuts tinkering, it is the editors and developers job
to say if its crap or not), reliability of work (do what you say you
are going to do, if you cannot meet a deadline say no), familiarity
with our products, original and unique ideas that are not too weird.
I have seen people
do this by giving me free stuff to put up in pathways, artists giving
me a piece to use as stock art (though most of them I just have do a
cover to pathways).
always a plus; if you do not have that, you can always do minion
work, putting our stuff up on d20pfsrd.com, reviewing our products
(which shows and that you can write). If you don’t like doing work
for free then make sure in your first submission that you go beyond
just the manuscript think about the OGL, the sales pitch (the back
cover blurb, the sales blub, the pitch phrase), the credits page
(dedication, special thanks, quotes), etc.
For artists: have
a solid portfolio, show me you can do a cover image, show me you can
do a monster, show me you can do a humanoid, show me you can do an
action shot with illusion of motion. Show me you can do objects
without being gaudy.
your portfolio should show that you can do battle maps, city maps and
overland maps plus do not forget isometric maps!
Can you describe a typical
assignment you give to new freelancers? What steps does the process
typically include from the freelancer's point of view?
For writers you
will probably get a second #30 assignment, where we go through the
same process, but it is possible that you will impress me to the
point where I bring you on to do something for the 101 Series, The
Secrets of , or In the Company of Monster series.
The process is
usually query letter, development of the idea (usually via email
sometimes via Google Hangout or Skype), assignment (including
compensation, requirements and deadlines [usually 60 days]), we do a
review of a small part of the manuscript so we can go over
specifically what I am looking for and what the freelancers needs
are. We have a turn over, then depending on deadlines there will be
an editorial review and it will be handed back to the freelancer for
revisions or if I am your editor and its close to deadline its likely
it will be editing while I am doing the layout, and it will be
released in a day or two. In the second case, it is likely I will
talk to you about issues you have. Common issues include passive
voice, and to forget the cool and fun factor in an effort to maintain
balance. You need to keep an eye on balance but if you do not bring
the cool and fun it will not matter because no one will ever read or
For artists it
used to be Icon Deck cards, as we had to do 52 of those but we are
finishing those. But we are doing Adventure Quarterly now with all
original art, our Lords of Gossamer & Shadow line continues to
grow, and I am working on more print products, which always need
covers. In addition, it is possible we will do another Icon Deck.
I try to keep it
very simple, art descriptions with compensation, size requirements,
and deadlines sent to you, which we talk about. A sketch followed by
one round of revisions, a tentative final followed by one round of
revisions. This can change if we are doing something special (like
an image specifically for a backer) but I always let artists know
about that beforehand.
What advice would you give to
Your ideas are
worthless; it is the work that matters, so get to work! If I did 5
spells a day 5 days a week for a month I can put out a 101 Series
book, I did this and a year later we had the 1001 Spells book. You do
not have to do it all at once but start working; it is through this
work that you improve, that you learn so much via feedback. I do not
care if you publish on a blog, on a forum, or do open submission with
every publisher out there, the people who do the work and want the
work eventually get the work. I have authors who I have to spend more
time with developing their books but I am willing to do so because
they are always there doing the work.
You don’t have
the time? Guess what? No one has time, they make time. I once
listened to Ed Greenwoood describe his work schedule and I felt
ashamed I was not getting more done, and I still do, but I also have
the best job in the world.