The indie TTRPG design scene can be really tough when it comes to getting your name out there or promoting your latest game. With the deaths of G+ and the Story Games forums, the indie scene is particularly fragmented right now, and it’s not entirely clear where a game designer should even go to get eyeballs on their work.
When it comes to choosing where to promote your stuff, you can definitely do a lot worse than The Gauntlet. Ours is a tiny community, but what we lack in numbers we make up for with intense passion. The tricky thing is figuring out how to get your game in front of Gauntleteers.
In this and a series of successive blog pots, I’m going to use my experience and position in The Gauntlet community to demystify the process a little bit for you. I’ll be looking at the different areas of our community, and giving advice on how best to approach each one when it comes to promoting your work.
The first entry in this series is about The Gauntlet family of podcasts. You can find that entry right here.
In this installment, I'm going to talk about Codex, and two things in particular: 1) the advantages to getting published in Codex and 2) the process for submitting your work.
The benefits of getting published in Codex
Straight away, you need to know you’re not going to make a lot of money. We pay 6 cents USD per word, which, while not horrible by the standards of the industry, is not enough to get your rent paid for the month, especially since we publish features in the 2000-5000 word range. Now, you retain ownership of your text, meaning you can market it other places, and so that 6 cents per word does not tell the whole story, but still: you can’t rely on Codex work to pay your bills.
It’s also not great for “exposure,” at least in the way that term is defined by bigger (more predatory) publishers, since our circulation is so small.
And so the question is: why do it?
Well, I happen to think there are far better reasons than immediate financial compensation and “exposure.”
If you’re a new game designer, the confidence boost can be critical
I think this is the single most important benefit of getting published in Codex, especially if you are a young or new game designer. Back in the day, many novelists used to get their start by publishing short stories in periodicals (and in TTRPGs, we used to have things like Dragon Magazine and Dungeon Magazine for new designers to get started on). My favorite part of Stephen King’s autobiographical classic, On Writing, is when he describes finally getting a short story published. When you read that part of the book, you can tell that that moment—that validation—was critical to his early writing career.
Obviously, the way we market our work has changed drastically in the internet age, and you certainly don’t need to be published by someone else to feel like your work has value, but I still think there is a huge psychological boost that comes with seeing your words edited, laid out nicely, and accompanied by beautiful artwork. I have had many of our first-time authors (and even some of the older hands) tell me that being published in Codex helped them overcome their imposter syndrome, that it helped them realize their work is good and worthy. I don’t think you can put a price on that.
You get to add an element of professionalism to your process
If we book you to write something for Codex, you’re going to have deadlines, and you’re going to have to learn how to shape your vision to conform to our needs. And you’re going to be making an obligation to us. Codex is not a space for you to explore; it’s not a space for you to be flighty or whimsical in how you work. Codex is a publication that releases on a certain day, every month, without fail. And we maintain a very, very high standard—a standard we do not compromise on. Now, this sounds tough, but it’s pretty basic professionalism. And, in fact, we’re a pretty light hand throughout most of the process and very easy to work with. But we certainly have expectations, and working within those expectations can only help you professionalize your own habits.
You convey seriousness to others
This is related to the above point, but basically what I mean here is that, when people are looking for other people to work with, they often want to know if you’re dependable and do good work. Getting published in Codex tells others a lot about you, and I have many data points to back this up: lots of Codex authors (and editors and artists) go on to do other work in the TTRPG industry. And you can always include your Codex work in your portfolio or as part of your CV.
You get access to me and my resources
This is a big one. Whether people like it or not, I control all of the levers in The Gauntlet, and I have a significant influence on the wider indie community. If you want to move on to bigger things in the community, you can do a hell of a lot worse than being in my trusted circle. If you’re content with being an enthusiast, that’s totally cool—I celebrate that and support that. But if you want to be more involved on the industry side of things, Codex is a great excuse for keeping in touch with me and getting access to my resources.
You can short circuit the process of becoming a member of the Gauntlet “fam.”
This is another big one, but it’s really on you to make it work for you. If you’re not a member of The Gauntlet when we publish you, particularly our Slack group, the smartest thing you can do is immediately join when your issue comes out. Here’s why: there is a critical window immediately after publication when The Gauntlet community is very hype. They want to talk about the various features in the issue, and they want to chat with the authors and ask questions. This investment in you and your work from The Gauntlet community usually takes weeks and months of diligently being present in the community, running games for us, and so forth. Being published in Codex short circuits that process in a major way, but you have to be ready to capitalize on it. If you just get your piece published but then never interact with us, it looks mercenary. Our membership may still get invested in your game, but they won’t get invested in you.
You might get asked to do follow-on work, or even create a whole series for the zine
If you create less work for me and the Codex team because you write well, we will be very interested in publishing you again. And if you write something with lots of potential for expansions, we might get behind that in a big way. Trophy is the big, bright line example of what I’m talking about. But there are smaller examples, too. Dark Designs in Verdigris, Storm Riders!, the LAOG manifesto works, and Pack of Strays are all examples of things that started as a single publication in Codex but were later expanded to be multiple features. In some cases, like Trophy, this can lead to being a separate, standalone project.
So let’s talk about how you go about getting published in Codex.
The first thing is to check the Codex page on our website. There you’ll find all the upcoming issues and their themes. If you have a great idea that would fit one of the upcoming themes, you send me a short pitch (one paragraph is fine) to firstname.lastname@example.org. Now, be mindful of the following: it will take me a long time to answer—days, and sometimes weeks—because of the way I organize my Codex work, but I will get to it eventually. If I like your pitch, I’ll ask some follow-up questions. In particular, be prepared to discuss projected word count. After I’ve asked my questions, I’ll make a decision and send you an agreement (we formalize terms with an email for Codex). Even if I don't accept your pitch, I'll usually give you advice on how to change the pitch for the future or otherwise develop the idea for publication somewhere else.
And now for the secret Starbucks menu stuff...
If your pitch doesn’t match an issue’s theme, or if we are already full on that issue, send us your pitch anyway. I will often make room for a really great pitch, or, if I really love the idea, set up a whole upcoming theme to accommodate it.
Another secret thing: I almost exclusively ping our Slack when I have a particular need for Codex. Being in our Slack and having the notifications for the community discussion channel turned on is a great way to stumble onto a Codex publishing opportunity.