Addressing Critics of DM Tips Ebook

by Mike Shea on 2 March 2011

Sometimes you just happen to be surfing around with Bing when you pull up a six month old review of your own ebook that, how shall we put it, is quite critical of your work. That's what I found today. Overall, reviews of Sly Flourish's Dungeon Master Tips were positive. The design was a little lacking, there weren't enough examples, but people still thought it was worth the money. The Gaming Brouhaha review of Sly Flourish's Dungeon Master Tips was a lot more critical.

Taking lessons from Jason Fried on revealing and addressing one's critics, I wanted to show the review itself and post my response. As of this writing, the response isn't yet posted as a comment on the review, but I imagine that will be taken care of shortly.

Here is the review.

Here is my response:

First off, I appreciate you spending the money and taking the time to read my book. I also appreciate the time you took to write an honestly written review of it.

I'm not going to spend a lot of time defending the book but I can, at least, try to clarify what direction I had in mind when writing and publishing it.

I had a few considerations in mind when I first sat down to write it. I had just finished the excellent business book "Rework" by Jason Fried and I loved not only its message but also its style. I wanted to do a book just like that one but focused on my favorite topic of choice: building better dungeon masters. I wanted to write a short book focused as much as possible on the tips and tricks DMs have been refining for years to make D&D 4th Edition games awesome. I also wanted to do the whole book myself save copyediting (my wife and friends will be very happy to hear you couldn't find a typo) and the artwork (which I commissioned from Jarod von Hindman, a well-known artist in D&D 4th edition areas. I wanted to publish the book primarily electronically (there are now hardcopies available through Lulu) with PDF, Kindle, iBookstore, ePub, Mobi, and other formats available.

With that said, I thought I'd address a couple of your points:

The spartan design of the book was part choice and part simple ignorance on my part. I'm not a page designer and I wasn't prepared to commission one. As an one-man project, every additional factor meant either calling in a favor with a friend or loved one or commissioning someone out of my own pocket. I had no idea how well this book would do or not so I had to keep my up front investment small.

So with no actual page design skill of my own and not wanting to throw more money into a project that might never have paid for itself, I decided to stick to as simple a design as possible. I wanted the PDF to be readable on digital devices like the iPad so I kept the text big. I also wanted it easily printable on 8.5x11 so I kept it pretty straight forward.

The design is certainly not special but it was my hope that it wouldn't get in the way of the text itself. It was my philosophy that bad design is far far worse than a simple spartan design, so I went for the latter.

The same is also true for my latest book, Running Epic Tier D&D Games. I did it much the same way and the design is much the same as well. The only big difference is that I offer up an ebook package that includes two differently formatted PDFs for smaller or larger screens and an ePub version that one can copy over to an ebook reader. There's also a kindle version and an upcoming hardcopy version from Lulu.

The design criticism came up in a few places but its a hard thing to deal with without throwing more resources at it than I was willing to throw. It was important to me that these weren't vanity publications. I wanted them to be profitable, even if its just enough for coffee once in a while. For that reason, I didn't commission a designer and, following Groucho Marx, I wouldn't want anyone to suffer with something I tried to design.

Now on to the content.

I'm sad to hear that you didn't get any direct value from the tips in the book. My intent was to give people a book that, for experienced DMs, might help reinforce good habits and fill in some blanks. As far as the target reader, the target was someone who had a good grasp of the basics of running a game, or at least understood where to find the rules, but still needed some help really making their games awesome.

I spent a lot of time watching other dungeon masters run games. I'd been in a few different groups and a local and popular Living Forgotten Realms group gave me access to a lot of different DMs at different skill levels. I've also been pretty heavily involved in the online D&D community and I see a lot of the conversations going on. I think there are a lot of potentially bad habits that DMs can fall into such as spending significant time on worldbuilding and sticking to the rules even if it's not fun.

In the example of music you pulled, I haven't seen a lot of DMs stray from instrumental fantasy music and my hope was to get people to recognize that sometimes a little Lady Gaga or Rolling Stones can add something into the game it might not otherwise find.

One general criticism I received was that DM Tips didn't include nearly as many examples as it should have. You mentioned this in your review as well and it's a very valid criticism. This is something I took to heart when writing Running Epic Tier D&D Games. Many sections of that book includes specific examples to reinforce the points I make in the book and I think it makes the book a lot better with their inclusion.

As far as rehashing content, there's certainly overlap on the topics. This is also true for Running Epic Tier D&D Games. That said, I wrote both books entirely from scratch without referencing any previous articles and certainly without taking any of the specific words or examples from the articles. As a one-man show, both books are going to reinforce points I've made before in other articles. I mainly didn't want people to think they were buying a book full of cut-and-pasted articles from the website. This was an original work with a different focus than the stuff I wrote on the site. I've always seen the two working together, with the book being a basic primer to running great D&D games and the site adding in the details that the book didn't cover.

In conclusion

Again, I appreciate your frank review of my book. Reviews like this help me rethink the stuff I'll write in the future. I stand behind my book. I loved writing it, I love having written it, and I love that other people seem to have found it useful for their games. It certainly isn't for everyone, however, and I'm sad to see that you not only felt like it didn't have value to you but you don't feel it had value for anyone. I would ask that people check out the free sample chapters, read those, and decide for themselves if they think it will be the kind of book they are interested in reading and willing to spend eight bucks on.

Thank you again,

Mike Shea