Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Book Cover

Gentle Reader, I cannot begin to describe how useful I find your opinions and your criticism. You cannot begin to understand how much information I gain, or the kind of information I glean, between having every sentence tweezed apart with deconstruction or a general statement of approval. When you suggest the change to a word or an idea, you do more than edit; you reveal the mindset you have, and therefore the market I must sell to.

Last night, a good fellow and friend, a professional ex-editor (I'll call him Phil), took a metaphorical club to me last night to correct my errors with regards to yesterday's post, making a very good case that while the content of roleplayng games is fair use, the TRADEMARK is not. And then he - incredibly usefully - actually found the trademark for DUNGEON MASTER. Here it is.

I've heard about it for years, people have chattered about it, disputed it, etc. WOTC ought to have a link to it on their front page.

Shame they have no intention of using it.

Now, there's a couple of issues. For one thing its in all caps. For another, it doesn't state that 'DM' is trademarked. The renewal deadline is next month, but ... somehow ... I think the company will renew it. Would be interesting if they didn't.

I'm not up on trademark law; like Phil says, I'm thinking like a journalist. I'm probably fine putting DM on the front cover, and putting it on a poster behind me at a trade show, so long as I don't make any money and I don't draw any attention to myself. Not much use there. At the same time, Phil is virtually shouting at me, "Why do it? Why take the chance? What the hell for? Why don't you invent a far more CREATIVE title? Why don't you use that brain of yours to be more creative?"

Phil is right about taking the chance. The image I've had in my mind is a table at a con, with a big glossy poster-board behind me, saying, "HOW TO DUNGEON MASTER." A sign like that will draw flies like vinegar. You don't need another word on the sign. The mere mention of the administration role will bring the curious and interested. But of course, that IS using someone else's trademark to sell my book. And it IS illegal.

What to do, what to do. There's a reasonable possibility that I'd still be free to use DM, DMing, Dungeon Mastering and so on in the actual text (though that does seem to annoy the pedantic among you - 'DMing' is NOT a word!). Just not on the cover, as the appearance of the cover is everything.

Let me go over the possibilities. Just doing this will give poor Phil apoplexy, as he can't understand what makes me so stupid I don't immediately take his advice.

  • I can adopt the title 'GM' ... or worse, 'referee' ... but I'll be fucked if I'm going to wear a black-and-white striped shirt.
  • I can ignore it, and expect to make such a little splash that it doesn't matter.
  • I can wait for the inevitable 'cease and desist' order, then cease and desist, changing the title and content of the book.
  • I can ignore any such order, and see what happens.  The "no news is bad news" argument.
  • I can risk being a success, then losing everything, even the possibility of being legally barred from writing anything else about D&D, including this blog.
Of course, I could shoot someone famous from WOTC in a scuffle (Chris Perkins! I vote Chris Perkins!) and become famous with D&D players for a few decades.

Decisions, decisions.

Well, admittedly, I don't want to take the chance. Phil is right about that. In the long run, it isn't worth it. I'll see how far I can push 'DM' in the text first, and keep it off the front cover.

That brings us to the title. And here Phil went off on me again, because I want to produce the book to have, well, dignity. Phil is anxious that the book actually sell, so he's shouting for AN EXCITING TITLE and AN EXCITING FRONT COVER. He's a bit aggravated that I'm like most writers here, in that I equate super-shiny with super-shit. Just about every published resource that exists in this hobby is a shiny, interesting cover wrapped around a lot of pages of useless dreck. It would be nice if my book did not emulate that format.

At any rate, an exciting cover is there so it will sell off a shelf somewhere. I don't think this book is going to sell off any shelves for awhile. At least, until people already know of its existence and are going to Borders specifically to find it. A random person picking the book off a shelf is going to be SORELY disappointed in the book. For one thing, there's no actual passage intended for the book that describes what a role-playing game is.

I got an excellent run down of the preview from a fellow yesterday, that I will call Vincent. He made a point that I can't fault him for making, but it was demonstrative of how the mandate of my Advanced Guide is meant to differ from other Role-playing books.

I included the passage, "... I questioned everything. I questioned everyone. I asked deliberately worded questions about why a rule was the way it was, or how it was expected to improve the game. I challenged people to play the game differently. I challenged people to tell me how the lack or addition of a rule had been better or worse." Vincent asked me (paraphrasing) to be more specific about what I discovered in asking these questions, and to give examples.

This is EXACTLY what I don't want to do. I don't want to write a book, like I write this blog, with examples of what I think makes a 'good' rule. What I want, what I feel is needed, is DM's who go out and do their own research. I'm not saying, "I went out and found the answers, and here they are." I'm saying, "I went out and asked for answers. Do it yourself."

It doesn't matter to me if people understand that in context or not; that's because those who DON'T immediately understand that, haven't been asking questions already. And those people who do ask questions will think, "Fucking A. I knew I was on the right track."

I'm not writing an answer book. I'm writing an academic breakdown of methodology and gameplay, which is going to make no sense whatsoever to someone who doesn't already play the game. Someone who doesn't already know what 'role-playing' is will come away very, very confused.

I don't care. This is an academic discussion. It's here for the already aware.

So where it comes to a 'creative' title, that's just silly. There's only two words that anyone already interested in the game is going to care about. ROLEPLAYING and ADVANCED. I know my audience. They'll open any book that says the word that describes what they LOVE, and adds elitism.

A title. I'll still need a title.

I suggested "An Advanced Guide to Role-playing Games," which was always going to be the subtitle of the "How to DM" book, and Phil harangued me for twenty minutes about how boring it was. Good old Phil. He does have my interests at heart. But he's wrong about making it something new and interesting, since then the audience won't know what the book is and they won't buy it. On some level, this thing has to have the content written on the wrapper.

So I'm thinking, okay, something with punch ... something short ...

Here is where I come to the usefulness of people's opinion. Because I couldn't help noticing how many times people wanted to change the words "in a running" or "during a running" to during a session or during the game ... both of which I do use. I take this to mean that there's a growing dissatisfaction with the 'running' of a game. As though, on some level, we shouldn't be saying, "I run D&D" or "I run a Steampunk campaign."

I really like that, you know? The word RUN - with respect to roleplaying - is a solid, immediately identifiable colloquialism, which you the gentle reader would recognize if overheard as proof positive that the person is a roleplayer: "I ran a few people last Saturday and ..." would be all you'd need to prick up your ears and listen for the inevitable mention of a game or system. You'd be disappointed if you were wrong.

So I mocked up a front cover this morning:



I like it.

20 comments:

lars_alexander said...

I like the cover. It's unpretentious. And I'm looking forward to reading what you wrote - and will write.

Studio Arkhein said...

I think 'run' is a wonderful word for what we do. When I thank a DM, I say 'thanks for running.' That sometimes gets a confused look for a second, but recognition sets in quickly.

I like your title. I gave some thought on a better title, but couldn't come up with one. The nearest I got was:

Baby, We Were Born To Run: A High-Octane Treatise On Game Masteringness

Oh well.

- Ark

Lukas said...

Alexis, it sounds like are trying to do something complicated that is simple to understand once it's said out loud.

You aren't trying to teach people the answers to the questions. You are trying to teach people how to find the answers. You are trying to teach them HOW TO LEARN.

It's more useful than most things. For one thing, it can be a lot more system agnostic.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Yes Lukas.

I'd like to tell them to sand the floor. Paint the house. Wax the car. Reason to be revealed later.

Jomo Rising said...

The title is important for the cover, but not as important as the bare chests and bimbage. Heheheh.

Ozzie Pippenger said...

That's disappointing that DM is trademarked. I thought it would have been great to use for the book, but obviously if there will be a real risk of legal trouble then it's not worth it.

I don't know if you're trying to seem intentionally humble or not, but I get the feeling that you're underestimating how successful this book could be. Companies manage sell books for a profit to a fairly large audience, and these books are usually only useful to players of a particular system. This book though will be useful to anyone who runs, or even plays, in any system. So this could potentially appeal to a broad audience, at least compared to most other gaming books. To me this doesn't seem like quite the niche product you're treating it as. There's no guarantee it will get big at all, but there's no good reason it won't, either.

About the new cover/title, I have to say my first impressions aren't good. That's probably the only useful feedback you're going to get from someone who doesn't do this for a living. I can only really guess about why I don't like it, and what could make it better. I suppose it looks a bit too blank, a bit too unfinished, and a bit too much like other books. Books with white covers also tend to get stained visibly, which could make it look kind of cheap and temporary. I'd say some kind of color scheme would be nice, or some simple image like a d20 on the cover. (If that isn't trademarked too.)

The title is alright. "Running" a game is definitely an expression people are familiar with, and it has a nice feel to it, kind of like DM. But I don't know if I've ever said "I'm going to run Friday" and meant D&D rather than jogging. It could even risk sounding like some kind of workout book about interval training and the best running shoes, to someone looking at it briefly.

Phil sounds like a reasonable guy from what I've heard of him. He caught the problem with using the term DM when none of us in the comments did. I'd like to see what kind of exciting cover he has in mind. If it's an elf princess with giant boobs casting a fireball, I understand your hesitance. But I can't say that I'm totally satisfied with the minimalist look.

I don't expect you to take any of my suggestions to heart too much. You know better than anyone the dangers of listening too much to the ideas of people who aren't experts on the topic. Probably specifically turning the book red or putting a d20 on the cover aren't great ideas, but hopefully my general first impressions are useful to hear.

JDJarvis said...

A non-owner of a trademark is allowed to refer to an actual trademarked product or it's source, aren't they?

Unauthorized product guides, do it all the time. Recognition of the trademark is advisable of course.

Trademarks can also slip into common usage if folks use it enough...
just ask the the makers of linoleum.

Hasn't there already been books that use the term DM? A series of computer games called "Dungeon Master"?

Not encouraging you to slam into the trademark wall Alexis but the days are numbered on Dungeon Master beign a trademark.

Alexis Smolensk said...

My intention is to use the cover page above and continue calling it a DM throughout the actual text.

Jomo Rising said...

So I guess these guys just got the permission needed, maybe they know something? http://www.dummies.com/store/product/Dungeon-Master-For-Dummies.productCd-0470050888.html

Alexis Smolensk said...

More than likely. I've read through that awful, awful book. It sounds like WOTC had its paws all over it.

Lukas said...

Oh as for the cover...

I'd ensure there's a small splash of color.

Double red line instead of a solid black or something although I am a fan of the simple approach.

I might even pull up How to Run to start about a third higher in that whitespace and see how that looks.

Jhandar said...

The part of me that loves word puns above little else is making me forward an alternative title:

'Beginning to Run after you Crawl: An Advanced Guide to Managing Role-playing Games'

It incorporates all of the thought behind 'run' and tacks on a jab at the history (and some would argue present) of the game being mainly about engaging in serial dungeon crawls.

Issara Booncharoen said...

As we are looking into the feeling of words, I'm unsure about the word managing, while it is accurate and a little thought hasn't turned up a better alternative it comes with some of the baggage you associate with GM. Perhaps it's just me.

More importantly I feel the cover would benefit from making it clear that this is a book about learning to DM, not a book about how to DM. Now you have mentioned explicitly that that is your intention the whole distinction seems like a rather large source of miscommunication.

Jay Murphy said...

"Running Your RPG,
an advanced guide for managing your game, players, and ideas"

Lukas said...

I think the title is plenty hilarious.

It strikes that point of seeming utterly simple, "How to Run" an absurd book without knowing the definition of Run being used.

Then, it follows up with the explanation to keep anyone from REALLY getting confused.

Furthermore, I do believe that while your title is good Jhandar, I wouldn't be surprised if the implications are that it would be a good book to pick up before ever having run before...

I am unsure if that is a valid conclusion to come to.

Silberman said...

To take a page from the Malcolm Gladwell titling manual, how about just plain "Run" or "The Long Run".

Clovis Cithog said...

How bout something like

“Advanced Roleplaying Mastery”
....
A Referees guide to run the popular fantasy replaying games.
OR ...
How to ARM yourself for gaming challenges
.. .
I am glad you researched my comment
from your glorious return 1 Dec 2013

Vincent Mitchell said...

Thought I'd spruce up your cover. Used the recommended Smashwords size and tried to keep the spirit (not "shiny").

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/50855627/howtorun.jpg

Alexis Smolensk said...

I don't like it Vincent.

I have acquired an artist who is going to redesign the cover.

Vincent Mitchell said...

Thank god. Been waiting on this book for a long time. Almost had a heart attack when I saw the current cover.