Thursday, July 7, 2011

Professionalism (my lack thereof)

[quick edit - this will turn into a two-part post because I tend to focus on the downside of being unprofessional, and I think there's a corresponding upside as well]

The topic of professionalism by people who are selling game materials as opposed to giving them away seems to have come up a couple of times recently; directly, in the case of Austrodavicus's posts about a dust-up with Pacesetter Games a year ago, and indirectly in terms of how it's dickish to attack a free publisher, as is the case with this most recent situation where a blogger pulled his blog because of an attack by another blogger. I won't go into that one because I'd rather not draw attention to the attack blogger: "don't feed the troll" is the way to handle trolls.

And another set of things that have brought it to my mind; (a) I forgot to send Pete Mullen a check and was a month late, and (b) I have been non-existent on the net for about a month.

This leads me to something that I've often said about myself, but wouldn't expect anyone to have been hanging on my every word about it, so I'll mention it again. I don't make any claims to be professional about what I do. That might sound, well, unprofessional, but the fact of the matter is that I don't have the capabilities to be professional, and I try to work around that instead of banging my head against a limitation that's too much of a stretch for me. That's a weakness, especially since I probably spend more time, although not in the last month, on D&D than many of the other publishers out there. With bipolar disorder and an anxiety disorder, I don't hold down a regular job, and I basically look after the kids and the house. Not only is my free time probably somewhat more than others have, more importantly it's flexible time. I can get on the computer when I want to, not just when a 9-to-5 is done with. So I really ought to be striving for a higher level of professionalism, and I don't. This really applies to the business side of Mythmere Games -- I focus everything on the quality because I can do that, but it's because of my limitations that I print things POD -- I avoid taking money for pre-orders, I avoid having to mail checks as opposed to using paypal, and I let lulu or RPGnow handle money, printing, and mailing.

I have had a tendency to tweak books after the initial publication, thereby screwing over the early adopters. I often miss emails from people, or fail to remember that [internet name] is the same person as [real name], is the same person as [email address]. I am perennially late on Knockspell deadlines. In some cases, I have totally fired off some vicious public attacks on people who make personal attacks on me like calling me a liar or saying that I publish stuff to make the boatloads of money they envision me to be making. Those are flaws, and (with the exception of trying not to tweak books) I try to work around these rather than fixing them.

The reason for not fixing them is that it would be a change to the whole reason I am in the online oldschool community. I'm a hobbyist, not a real publisher. I don't pretend otherwise. I always try to warn people that at some point I will drop off the net for months at a time because I'm in one of the downside swings in the bipolar cycle. Another example, from a smoking-area talk with Rob Kuntz -- he took me to task initially for the fact that while I agree maps work best in a module when they are separated from the rest of the booklet, my maps are included in the back of the book rather than being separate. His point was that I am publishing something that I admit is less than perfect. He changed his mind, though, from the answer -- publishing separate maps requires using a traditional publisher. You can't do it if you're using POD. And I am not willing to climb that mountain by dealing with the whole raft of additional issues involved with dealing with printers, taking money, and mailing things. I have always tried to get partners to handle that side -- whether that's Frog God Games, Black Blade Publishing, or lulu. I work around the weaknesses, and try to warn people about this, rather than making huge changes in my life that are difficult for me just in order to be more professional.

This isn't as much of a cop-out as it sounds, since if I tried to do that side of things I would absolutely leave people waiting for things for months. I would be bad at it, and it's better to recognize this head-on. I just try to warn people ahead of time about where my particular failings are -- the areas where I simply don't measure up, and where I know I don't measure up.

I think -- and definitely hope -- that the matter of professionalism is really a matter of telling people up front and in advance that "these are the areas where I fail, and can be expected to fail from time to time, and either cannot or will not improve."

In other words, I try not to make anyone think that I'm anything more than somewhere in the gap between a true publisher and a hobbyist publisher.

This isn't, by the way, a response to anything anyone has said about me, it's a response to finding Pete Mullen's check still on my desk instead of mailed. And reading Austrodavicus's post about a publisher other than me, and also the fact that I didn't post anything for a long time over the last month or so. But occasionally the emphasis people place on professionalism in our little publishing world makes me very uncomfortable because I don't claim to be one or live up to that standard. I do what (a) I can, and (b) am too lazy to make huge changes in my personal life in order to be what I'm not.

I do try to be honest and up-front about it, though. Hence this post.


  1. Thanks for that post Mythmere. I appreciate what you say, and I have also decided to stay as an enthusiastic amateur rather than trying to be a professional. I may not make any money, but I know I'm doing this for the fun, and there's a lot less pressure. I haven't got round to producing any proper supplements or modules, but I find that blogging suits my creative output best.

  2. You have to treat it in a wat that works for you. If it turns into something that is no longer fun or enjoyable, why do it in the first place?

  3. Matt, great post. I appreciate the S&W game, and I'm going to be running it for the first time very soon. If you ever need any material for Knockspell, I volunteer my services. I totally understand mental disorders, as I have depression and social anxiety disorder myself. Makes life hard sometimes, and I go through the up swings and down swings too, dropping out for weeks at a time. People find that hard to deal with, but in the end, this IS a hobby, not a job, unless you make it such. Sounds like your priorities are spot on my man.

  4. I love this post, Matt. Like you I am not able to hold a steady job and spend my days taking care of the house and kids. (While praying my disability attorney is doing his job ;-) )Trust me when I say that this is more than a 9-5 job!

    When I am not busy with the kids I am doing some light volunteer work with a couple churches in the area. So, I stay busy and do my best to keep this as a hobby.

    You know as well as I do what the disease can do when you get obsessive about something. So it is sometimes best not to get too wrapped up in anything.

    I personally think that the community has forgotten that we are all hobbyists and expects a level of professionalism and quality that is reserved for the big boys. It would be best if we remember that we are all gamers and some of us are hobby publishers.

    I had thought about throwing my hat in the ring a time or two but chose not to do so. Mainly because I want this to stay a hobby and not become a job.

    Keep up the good work!

  5. The measure of how professional one is, IMO, is not that one never makes mistakes, but is in how one *deals* with the mistakes one makes.

  6. I appreciate your honesty with this, as I have with a lot of your insights into our corner of the hobby.

    I guess I turn it around and think that in a hobbyist community you have a different standard based more on respect and decency level full stop. It's not about being error-less professional machines, but about not shafting the people who buy into your dreams.

    It's about being either prompt with a promised product or payment--or with a well-communicated correction--because it's the right thing to do for a fellow community member.

    And on the flip side it's about respecting the human limitations of the producer too.

  7. Hey, be honest and up-front is what I call quality in dealing with your fellow man. Appreciated!

  8. As someone who's only experience with you is online and through your rpg work, I can say, in that context, that I think you're doing Splendidly!

  9. Dude, and I'll comment as unprofessionally as possible. Your shit... um, rocks. It's fucking TIGHT. It's really good shit. Your take on OSR single-handed-ly inspired me to take on Old-School D&D instead of trying to make Current Version the game I want to play. Your Primer looks GOOD, it's written in a style I LIKE, it reminded me what I LOVED about D&D. You need to know that. All your material comes off as VERY professional and well made. But it also has the sincerity and honesty of someone who is doing what they want because they want to (Unlike D&D/WotC.) No bullshit focus groups, no crap-hipness, i.e. fakeness. It's not pretentious, like some publishers. Hell, it's better produced and slicker than some "Professional" offerings (RIFTS/Palladium.)

    You're doing awesome.

  10. Joseph Browning's comment is the key to all this. Everyone who gets involved in publishing (where people hand over money) is going to make mistakes. Everyone. The most important part is what you do once you've stuffed up.

    I do try to be honest and up-front about it, though.

    And this more than anything is the true character test, the "professionalism" if you like. People who don't grasp this are going to learn the hard way.

  11. A professional built the Titanic, an amateur built the ark.

    Matt, professional or not, you produce some amazing work. Keep doing what you're doing, man.

  12. Matt, you've been doing one hell of a job! You are a hobbyist and enthusiast and the sheer love of the game comes through in your work. Keep that up and you'll never go wrong.

  13. What? Not a profession? I paid hard earned money for your stuff and now you tell me it isn't professional?

    Sometimes not being a professional produces a professional looking product that is easier to understand and follow, which you have produced. I look forward to your other releases such as the Adventure Design Deskbook.

    Keep doing what you are doing. :)

  14. Thanks Mythmere for continuing to come out with more awesome unprofessional professional products!

  15. I'll echo the comments above. I appreciate your work and I've enjoyed our email collaborations. Keep up the great work Matt! Thanks!

  16. Hear what you are saying Matt, but heck the way you present your books and manage your business is alot more proffesional than ALOT of so called Professional publishers.

    What you do is a constant inspiration to me and D101 Games.

    VIVA the Hobby Publisher :)