Saturday, June 14, 2014

3PP Interview: Steven D. Russell, Rite Publishing

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 about yourself?

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 get started?

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 Lab.

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 

What are the main requirements for a freelancer to work for you? What other skills and/or experience are useful?

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).

Experience is always a plus; if you do not have that, you can always do minion work, putting our stuff up on, 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.

For cartographers 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 use it.

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 aspiring freelancers? 

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.


  1. Thanks for the interview it was a blast!

  2. It was a blast to read too Steve. I really enjoy your insights! And thanks for your efforts on these too Mikko!

  3. My pleasure! Glad you liked it too, Tommi! :-)


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