by Mike Shea on 13 October 2022
This article shares the experiences I’ve had marketing my weekly D&D newsletter, my Patreon, my books, my Kickstarters and other parts of my RPG business - SlyFlourish.com.
On occasion I get asked by new or aspiring RPG designers on how to get their work in front of their audience. This is a huge topic but I humbly offer my own experiences.
Before reading on, it’s worth understanding the idea of the purchase funnel.
For me, the bottom of my funnel are joining my Patreon, buying my books, and supporting my Kickstarters when I run them. A big piece the middle of my funnel are getting people to join my newsletter.
The hardest part is getting started. Getting attention takes time, determination, and luck. I don’t know anyone who can build a solid loyal audience quickly without dropping thousands of dollars on advertisements.
Instead, I’ve had good experience building up Sly Flourish over more than a decade where I try to draw people into my work whether it’s my weekly D&D newsletter, my Patreon, my books, or my Kickstarters anywhere I can. This top part of the funnel — getting attention at all — is really hard to do and I don’t have great advice for it.
I talked to other independent RPG producers, all of whom agree on the power of a good newsletter, about how to actually get people to sign up for their newsletter.
The first was to have a website that people can actually find. This is my “write a weekly blog for 15 years” trick to success. Write articles on a site easily indexed by Google with articles people actually want to read. Often the more specific the better. General articles about running RPGs don’t do nearly as well as specific ones about specific adventures, specific tools, and other specific stuff people search for on Google.
For me, the habit of writing a weekly D&D article for more than ten years made it easy for me to offer a weekly newsletter. I've recently worked to keep my articles under 500 words because I don't think people actually read longer newsletters. One important note is that my newsletter is actually a newsletter. I don't just use it for marketing. Subscribers probably get five to ten newsletters before they see a marketing email.
Most people hate email popup forms but boy howdy do they work. Pop-up forms draw in significantly more sign-ups than a link or a form embedded on the page. Even if you hate them, consider using them. They work.
Offer a free product for people who sign up. It’s not enough to ask them for their email address. You have to earn it. Give them something. Something probably worth $2 to $5 if you were going to sell it. Make it good. Make it sticky.
Some have had success with giveaways on social media platforms. Reddit can work but its notoriously difficult to make a post in an D&D or RPG subreddit and not get pulled down as spam. Offer something for free that brings readers to your site and then offer them even more if they sign up for your newsletter.
Others pay for “lead generation” through advertisements with Google or Facebook but this can be costly. You’ll want to be careful with the math or the cost of a new “lead” will never pay for itself. I, personally, haven’t paid for subscribers.
Where you sell your products matters when it comes to bringing in customers into the rest of your work. Some sites do a great job bringing in new customers who don't know your work. Amazon and DriveThruRPG are good at this. Itch.io is not.
Some sites like Patreon expect that you’ve brought people in by some other method. Other sites, like Kickstarter, have their own built-in way to recommend you to new customers. Choose where you sell your products to see if that platform brings in new customers or only brings in those you already have. Again, your own book sale can be the top of your funnel to the rest of your work.
One recommendation I haven’t yet done is to reach out to customers either through your purchase email or in your products themselves to ask them to sign up for your newsletter. Everything should lead to signing up to your newsletter. A new subscriber to your newsletter might even be more valuable than the sale itself.
Many people look at YouTube as an end-goal since one can earn advertisement revenue through YouTube directly. I see it as a source of free content I create, just like my blog, but with a drive to draw people to the rest of my work. I turn off ads for almost all of my videos because I don’t see the sense in advertising someone else’s products when I can advertise my own. My videos do have ads, they're just ads of me talking about my books or my Patreon or my newsletter.
For now, YouTube is a great draw for people to find the rest of my work but I’m relatively lucky in this area. Many people start up D&D or RPG video channels and get hardly anyone to pay attention. I’ve had a lot of luck with TubeBuddy to help me tag videos, see which tags are popular, and see if the tags and titles I’m using are unique and sought after or flooded with other videos.
This is a big trick for not just YouTube but for Google as well. The most popular articles and videos are those who meet the needs (search queries) of lots of customers but have little existing content. You ideally want to be the only source of material available for a very commonly sought query. It’s always harder and harder to figure this out and other people are likely better at it than you. Still, tools like TubeBuddy help you see what people are searching for and which topic or tags answer their unmet needs.
Right now, recognizing that much of my success on YouTube might just be luck, I offer these recommendations for building a YouTube channel.
Seriously. Stop worrying about Twitter. Stop worrying about your follower count. It just doesn't matter. Social networks don't pay attention to followers anymore and neither should you. As an example, as the time of this writing I have 47,000 Twitter followers. Very respectable and people think it really matters.
Yesterday I posted a tweet advertising a one-day sale on my book Fantastic Locations. 47,000 followers resulted in 2,100 views of the tweet — less than 1 in 20 followers saw the tweet. Of those, 2 people actually bought the book. 0.09% of viewers (1 in 1076 viewers) saw and bought the book. 0.004% of followers bought the book (1 in 23,500 followers).
In comparison roughly 1% of newsletter subscribers bought the book. About 10x more value per view.
At this point 95% of my Twitter interaction is managed through automated Python scripts. I could lose my account completely and it wouldn't affect my business at all.
(Update, I've since left Twitter)
Quit worrying about Twitter. Focus on your newsletter.
I wish there were an easy answer to all of this. My easiest quip is “start a newsletter” but it’ll take a lot of work to make that newsletter useful and a lot of work to get people to find it. There aren’t easy answers — if there were, everyone would be doing it. Instead, I leave you with some hard painful recommendations:
Hopefully some of the information above gives you a little bit of leverage with these but there’s no magic bullet. I wish you the best of luck.