Lessons I Learned As A TTRPG Creator in 2018

Over the last few months as a content creator, I steadily expanded my presence on social media, made a couple grand as a ttrpg/fantasy artist, and officially launched my own business. I’m still growing, learning, and aspiring for more in 2019. Throughout my early experiences, I learned some key things I’d like to share with you to help you be more successful as a content creator.

(I wrote a lot, if you want to see the TL:DR summary, scroll to the bottom, or find a category that interests you!)

READ STUFF

When I was prepping for my business in the middle of 2018, I’ll admit I didn’t know how to run a business or make a social media presence for myself. I was transitioning from pixel art to illustration and throwing myself into a new artistic field with little experience. The first thing I did was read all the business and art books I could get a hold of. I’m really glad I did, because I learned a lot of important stuff that prevented me from flailing around wasting my time. Things like how to be successful in social media, how to organize your time, how to promote your art.

The key thing here is that all the information I gathered was free. I used the library service to check out all the books I read for free. I read community blogs, I read guides on kickstarter, patreon, and ko-fi, I watched YouTube videos. All free!

YOU ARE A BRAND

If you’re a creator, a business owner, or just a regular person on the internet, you are your own brand. These are the key points I learned about building your own brand as a creative:

  • How you conduct yourself will reflect upon your business.

    This means you need to be conscious of the posts you make. Are the social media posts you’re making contributing to your community or target market? If not, don’t post them.

  • Stay on message.

    If your business is in fantasy enamel pins, your social media posts need to be on related topics. Sure, people also like to glimpse a bit of your personal life, but remember, people are following you because of what you’re creating, not because of what you’re drinking. (Unless, of course, your brand involves your personal life!)

  • Interact with the community.

    If you’re starting out, people don’t know who you are. You could make the most beautiful ttrpg dice or gaming tables, but no one is going to care or give a rat’s behind if they don’t know who you are. You need to give back to the community and build relationships before you can even expect anyone to be interested in what you do.

  • Changing your brand comes at a cost.

    If you’re new, it’s ok to shuffle around a bit with what you do. But once you become known for a certain thing (be it maps, great stories, etc), any drastic changes are going to reduce your influence. For example, changing from flower and garden art to low brow heavy metal art is a complete demographic/market change, and you’ll lose followers over it.

NATURAL COMMUNICATION > PAID ADVERTISING

People might be tempted to pay to advertise themselves on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram to get more likes and more followers, in the name of building their presence. In my experience, I can tell you right now natural community building and concentrated effort will do more for the number and quality of followers than if you pay for ads.

When I did a little Twitter Ads experiment last year (maybe I should write another blog about this), I found I earned 1.2-1.4 followers and 300 impressions per dollar spent. By engaging the ttrpg community and commenting on things I am interested in, I can get a couple of followers for free in five or ten minutes. One moderately thoughtful Twitter post can bring in 300 impressions. And if I make something for a big name in the community and they retweet it (I’ve been retweeted by Matt Colville and Geek and Sundry), you can easily gather tens of thousands of impressions for free (You’ll also piss yourself, because the first time you get a major boost on a post you’ll get so many likes and retweets it’s insane). Ads just can’t buy that.

As my own example, I consistently comment on D&D and ttrpg posts for Twitter every day, and try to post quality content and art. Over half a year, I took my floundering Twitter account with 30 followers from 2012 and turned it into a growing, 400+ follower brand. Sure, that might not seem like that much, but I’m on track for 1k by mid-2019.

MOTIVATION AND ORGANIZATION

If you want to maximize the amount of energy you can dedicate to your creativity, be it a hobby, a side-hussle, or a full time job, tackling organization and motivation are going to be the two biggest challenges. Or at least for me, those were my two main issues (ymmv).

These are the things that help me stay organized:

  • I follow a morning structure. When I wake up, I start with 15 mins of meditation to help me focus myself. I try to take quick, cool showers (it makes a positive effect on my mood). I bullet journal my goals for the day. I eat breakfast. No phone time until all the above is done.

  • All my everyday tasks are on phone alarms. If I need to take out the trash, water the plants, make lunch or dinner, it’s in my phone. This frees up mental space to worry about other stuff.

  • I break down tasks into smaller, actionable items. Smaller tasks help me battle procrastination. A full illustration looks easier when it is split into parts: sketches, line art, flat colors, shading & touch up.

  • Keep your files together in one place, and keep them backed up using whatever service you like (OneDrive, GoogleDrive, iCloud, Dropbox, etc). Having everything organized into specific folders under one directory makes it easier to manage commissions, personal projects, business account info, tools and references. I used to be a person with pictures on the desktop, some finished art on an external drive, some sketches in the doc folder, etc.

  • Make necessary sacrifices. I used to play a lot of video games. A lot. I’ve removed much of that time to focus on what’s really important to me- my art. I realize the older I am, the more important it is to be mindful of how I approach my life. Now, I’m not saying cut out all the fun stuff in your life. If you’ve got plenty of time, that’s great! But if you don’t, prioritize what’s really important for you.

We all deal with motivation issues differently. Common things I hear from different artists:

  • Why should I draw when it looks like trash/it’s not as good as <insert artist>.

  • I don’t want to post it because no one will like it/buy it.

  • I’m not in the mood to art.

  • I don’t know what to draw.

  • I’m too tired.

I personally tend to struggle more with the ‘getting started’ issue than I do with sharing or posting my work. Some things I recommend to stay motivated:

  • Acknowledge how you feel. You don’t have to grind every day. If you’re not in the mood for art, find ways to recharge yourself. Watch some videos, etc. Don’t judge yourself for it.

  • Know when you have the most energy/time for your art. I tend to have a very morning heavy schedule, and my mind is more active during the afternoon/evening. In this case, even if I haven’t drawn/written for the whole day, it’s easier for me to get something going in the afternoon or evening.

  • As mentioned above, give yourself a really small task to do, like ‘sketch one thing’ or ‘write a paragraph.’ For someone like me, who deals with procrastination issues, after I’ve gone through the motions of setting up my laptop and drawing tools and drawn something, it’s much easier to keep going. And if you only do a little bit and quit, good job on that too! For the day, you contributed to your art, and you can be proud of that.

  • Try some fun exercises that don’t place any pressure on what you draw. Take a sketchbook/writing pad on the go for spontaneous creating. Try automatic drawing! Explore what works for you.

  • Understand your feelings and your desires. If you want to get really good at something, you have to put a lot of work into it, every day. This is generally why people say, “It’s easy if you’re passionate about it!” The truth is, being excited or passionate about what you’re doing is what helps you push through the tough times. In my mind, success is the mix of passion AND hard work.

TEAM UP

Making supplements or other big projects is tough by yourself. In addition, not many of us are strong writers, artists, and layout masters all in one. Using the connections you build, team up to make projects with others. This is great because:

  • You gain real experience in your craft.

  • You can learn how to communicate with business relationships when pressure is low.

  • You can get your name on stuff and build your brand quicker.

  • You make really awesome connections with like-minded people, which can lead to friendship, motivation, and future business opportunities!

TO SUMMARIZE

To summarize my main points:

  • Read books and other content to improve your art and business skills

  • Understand how to build your brand and represent yourself well

  • Real interaction in your community/market is worth much much more than paid advertising

  • Understand that structuring and organizing your life will allow you to work more on your art

  • Find what motivates you, but also allow yourself time to relax and recharge

  • Team up to build your skills and make positive interactions with others early

Let me know if you found any of this useful! If you have any questions or comments, feel free to fill out a comment. You can also DM me directly on Twitter (@Zeshio).