Tabletop for Fun and Profit: The Lessons of 2021

This year has taught us many things about the tabletop industry. Let’s see what lessons we can take with us into 2022.

2021 was a weird year for Jakub and me, full of struggle and success – a strange mix of emotions. Personally, I went through various stages of pandemic blues, mental health issues, self-discovery, and fighting down my impostor syndrome, at least a tiny bit.

But for the Double Proficiency, as our registered, tabletop-industry company, this was the best year so far. We had tabletop games all around, a book published, a novel written, and over 500 illustrated encounters out in the world – but we’re only just starting!

Here’s what we’ve learned so far.

1. Do What Makes You Happy

If you were ever interested in finances and stock market, like I am, you know of one of the main rules: do not try to time the market. Trends come and go, and while I understand the point of trying to capitalize on the success of one project or another by making complimentary or similar projects, don’t do it unless you really want to.

If the experience of Herbalist’s Primer taught us anything, it’s that you can’t really predict what will capture the attention of the market. You can only see what captures yours. Even professional market research is not always 100% accurate, and as indie creators, we don’t have the time and resources needed to run a large-scale study. So, instead, work on what brings you joy.

At Double Proficiency, we like environmental sciences, astronomy, history, folklore, and the occult. One can call it a brand – but truth is, it’s just our hobbies. Everything we make, we make because we enjoy the process.

2. Show Your Work

Go read my review of “Show Your Work” by Austin Kleon if you’ve missed it and accept the single most useful marketing advice ever given. Share the process. Tell people what you’re working on. Make your excitement infectious. Holding your brilliant idea close to your chest is a defensive mechanism – I get it. As long as you don’t tell anybody, there won’t be any critisism or expectations. But there also won’t be any support.

3. Small Things Add Up

Over a year ago, we have started releasing our small projects, Globetrotter’s Guide to Greenery and Wayfarer’s Deck. We wanted to start small – just some plants and encounters, to learn how to do stuff like publishing and marketing.

Well, would you look at this now?

A collection of Wayfarer's Decks on Itch: 11 decks, 550 cards total.
A collection of Wayfarer’s Decks on Itch: 11 decks, 550 cards total.

Don’t be afraid or ashamed of releasing small things. A background here, a one-page dungeon there, and you’ll build your portfolio in no time. You will also receive the most valuable thing: feedback, which will in turn make it easier for you to grow and improve.

Your first release won’t be your opus magnum. Start small, then keep going. You’ll learn along the way.

4. Build and Cherish Your Audience

Being a solitary artist creating just for themselves and the muses sounds like fun – but that’s because I’m a peak introvert and my natural instinct is to avoid any and all interactions. And yet, this is unsustainable.

You need feedback if you want to improve. You need connection to know your audience.

It’s an amazing feeling to have a group of people cheering you on during your creative journey. Engage. Get to know each other. Build friendships (no, I don’t mean parasocial relationships, I mean regular friendships if you find somebody you’re really vibing with). Collaborate if you want to.

Ivory towers are bad for the environment and for the mental health.

5. Start a Newsletter Yesterday

Your newsletter is your best tool of reaching your audience. Start today if you haven’t yesterday. It doesn’t have to be anything big – but it will be yours, independent from social media, algorithm, corporate overlords deciding whether or not your content fits their target audience. Remember all those creators that had a massive following on Google+? Remember Google+ at all?

Start your newsletter and ensure the direct line of contact between you and your audience.

Which reminds me: sign up for our newsletter!

6. Never Stop Learning

If you’re ever stuck for inspiration, just find a thing you always wanted to learn and start doing this. Nothing fires up the creativity as much as building new connections in your brain. We live in a golden era of information, and all the knowledge you may have ever wanted is right there, at your fingertips.

I’m learning geology and marine biology now. The first is for Geologist’s Primer, obviously, the other is for Aurorae RPG. I’m studying the occult. And tarot. And theory of the mind. And gardening. And fashion history. With each topic, I get more inspired to make something of my own. Just watch me.

7. Go Outside Tabletop

Yes, we all love tabletop games. It’s a delightful hobby. But just like with breakfast, what about a second one?

As it happens, tabletop RPGs are what is called my ‘special interest.’ But I recognize that being immersed just in this single little puddle would be detrimental to my health, creativity, and self-actualization – not even mentioning development. Take a look outside of the industry and see what else can you add to the mix to make your life and your projects more fulfilling.

Chris Bisette from Loot the Room is also a musician, and their creativity inspires me to look at my projects from another direction.

Momatoes is not only a ridiculously talented illustrator, game and graphic designer, but she also uses her programmer background to make everything better. If we ever get a capybara emoji, it will be thanks to her.

8. Perfectionism Is Killing You

If – again, like me – you are a perfectionist, let it go. Yes, easy to say, but believe me, it is absolutely vital to weed out the perfectionism. It is stifling your progress, it leads to faster burnout, and in the end, the quality difference in the final work is not that great either.

70% of perfection is perfectly acceptable.

As much as we like to say that perfectionism is the ‘fake weakness,’ the one you use at a job interview, there are multiple studies showing the terrible outcomes of perfectionism on our mental and physical health. While we strive for perfection, a part of us is constantly aware that it’s an unattainable ideal – and yet, we still use it for comparison and consider any fault a massive failing.

Let perfectionism die. Your book will have some typos in it, no matter how much you try. The editing of the video will not be perfect. Somebody will find a way to break the mechanics you came up with. So what?

‘Good enough’ really is good enough. Finish your project and move on.

9. Get Your Bloody Rest

The work will never stop. There will never be ‘a calmer time next week,’ after you’re done with the current project. Accept this and put self-care on your schedule.

How to find the time? Here’s where we reach to a very similar concept in the financial circles: how do you save for your emergency fund? Pay yourself first.

Yes, time is limited, we all have deadlines to catch. Still: start by booking time for yourself, then assign the time for the projects you need to do. This approach has a couple of benefits:

  1. You put your free time on the schedule, which means you can just use it without feeling guilty – you have planned for this.
  2. You use your work time more efficiently – according to the Parkinson’s Law, work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. In general, the more time you have to complete the task, the longer it will take, either because you’re working inefficiently, procrastinating, or endlessly expanding the boundaries of the task. Have you ever started on a small, one-evening project but then it grew in your head to a book, and you haven’t finished it at all? Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about.

Schedule your time off. Your brain needs it. You have the time.

10. Hire an Accountant

If you plan to make money in this industry, get an accountant. Navigating the tax code between various types of royalties, single sales, VAT, sales tax, crowdfunding, Kofis, and Patreon is one of the circles of hell. Find somebody who already know what they’re doing instead of trying to figure it out yourself. Unless accounting is what you do already, your time is better spent creating.

What Did You Learn This Year?

Let us know in the comments what were your lessons this year!

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