DnD 5e - How to Write for DM's Guild
Last Updated: Mar 21, 2017
This article attempts to provide a thorough guide to preparing content for publication on DMsGuild.com. It attempts to guide you through the process of planning, writing, formatting, and publishing documents.
Keep in mind: I am not an expert on this subject. This guide was written as I went through this process for the first time while publishing my Monstrous Races document. While I was immensely successful, I can't guarantee that replicating my process will result in comparable success, even for myself.
I cannot make any guarantee as to the success of your product, and I won't make any attempt to do so. This is purely a walkthrough of how I got my content published on DMsGuild. It is not a guide on how to successfully write and sell an RPG product. Like selling anything, success is a complex mix of quality, marketing, timing, and luck. It's difficult to predict, and I do not have the expertise to guide you on how to do so.
Step 0 - Read the Rules
DM's Guild has rules. Before you consider publishing content there, you should read the sections on the General Information page under "About Dungeon Masters Guild" and "Frequently Asked Questions". These sections explain what content is allowed, file formats, etc., as well as numerous other points critical to the success of your product.
Once you understand the rules of DM's Guild, think very carefully about wether or not DM's Guild is the right place for your product. While it has advantages, it also restricts what you can do with your own content, and other authors are allowed to reuse anything you've posted to DM's Guild in their own products under the Open Gaming License (OGL).
However, this is a two-way street. You are also free to make use of other people's DMsGuild content, so long as you abide by the "Create, don't copy" guidelines on the Content Guidelines page. As suggested under the "Ownership and License (OGL) Questions" article, please be sure to provide links in your documents to the original source material. If someone's material is worth borrowing, it's worth giving them credit.
Step 1 - Planning
What do you want to make? The vast majority of content on DMsGuild is character options (races, feats, etc.), adventures, and monsters. Setting-specific material is fairly rare, but don't let that discourage you. Create whatever excites you. Think about what it's going to include. How big will it be? How long will it take?
For my first piece of content, I was overly-ambitious. I decided to convert the entirety of the Monster Manual into playable races. Since this was my first time attempting to publish anything on DM's Guild, this was probably a mistake. I encourage you to start with something more compact.
Step 2 - Research
It's entirely likely that someone else has had a similar idea to yours, or at least has published something similar enough that you can learn from it. Search the site as best you can. The filters on the left-nav menu can go a long way. Keep in mind that the titles you are primarily competing with will be listed under "Community Created Titles", which typically appears near the bottom of the page underneath all of the stuff which Wizards has posted.
Learn whatever you can from the existing content. If there are free options, download a couple and see what other people have published. Note price points, volume, quantity of art, and other details of existing submissions. When you go to the page for a specific product, the bar on the right-hand side of the page contains one or more icons. One will typically be the "Community Content" icon, but products which have sold especially well will have a "Metal" icon. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these products are published by WotC or professional RPG authors, so the competition is stiff.
While researching for my Monster Manual race conversion, I examined the huge number of documents which include new race options. Most documents which appeared were single races, typically with a "Pay What You Want" price. The few documents which asked for money fell into two categories: people who wrote garbage and expect to be paid for it anyway, and people who wrote stuff that is more than a single race. The first category is rare and easily identified, typically by really bad cover art and a really absurd price point. The second category is similarly identified by decent, thematically appropriate cover art, and often a price point which reflects a fairly large page count.
Step 3 - Gather Resources
Search through the DM's Guild Creator Resources. Wizards published several documents including folders of art taken from previous editions of Dungeons and Dragons for use in DM's Guild products. I suggest download everything available and looking through it all. It's free and won't take very long, and you may find several pieces that you like.
I also recommend downloading the Adventure Template. It's a Word document that you can use as a template for writing DM's Guild documents, if you prefer to work in Microsoft Word. If you use a different editor, look around on DM's Guild and several people have published templates for other software which should look the same as the official Word template. Keep in mind that you're under no obligation to match the template's appearance, but I found it helpful to have a pre-built template and not need to worry about making my document look passable.
Step 4 - Write
You have a plan. You have some resources. You know what else exists, and hopefully you've read a bit of it to see what you're up against. It's time to get to the fun part: It's time to start writing!
Unfortunately, I don't have a ton of guidance to provide here. I don't know you. I don't know what you're writing. I don't know what will and won't work. The best advice I can give you is to learn from the professionals. Look at the official rulebooks and your other official content, and try to replicate what you see there, at least in terms of quality and organization.
Step 5 - Edit and Proofread
If your document includes text, you need to proofread. If people are reading your document and it contains spelling or gramatical errors, they will immediately lose respect for your product. That means bad reviews, which means bad sales. Most products won't get more than a handful of reviews, so even one bad review can ruin your product. Don't give anyone a reason to dismiss your product out of hand.
Step 6 - Art
If your product is small (a single race, a single item, etc.), you may not need to include any art. A piece of cover art can be a good way to grab the attention of possible buyers, but it doesn't need to be huge, detailed, or fancy. Larger products should strongly consider art of some kind, as it's a great way to break up big chunks of text, and it can provide helpful "landmarks" in large documents which players frequently need to locate specific content.
Where you find your art is largely up to you. You can use the creator resources which I suggested above, you could purchase art packs on DM's Guild, you could use creative commons art, or you could seek out art elsewhere.
If you're investing heavily in art for your product, you might comission an artist to create art for you. Keep in mind that good art is expensive. Unless you can realistically expect a lot of revenue from your product, I don't recommend spending a lot on art.
Step 7 - Finishing Touches
All of the content is in your file. Add a table of contents if you think it's necessary. Double-check your title, your description, and make sure that adding art didn't make the layout look weird, or break up chunks of text in a way that will confuse your readers.
Once your product is finalized, export it as a PDF document. Be sure to open the document and look through it to ensure that it saved nicely, and that everything looks exactly how you want it to look. If you added a table of contents, ensure that the links work and go to the right places.
If you are writing in Microsoft Word (I am), make sure that you select "Export" from the menu instead of "Save As". "Export" allows you set some important options for how the PDF will be generated, including adding bookmarks to the PDF. If you have a large file, you need bookmarks. I suggest using the "Headings" option to generate the bookmarks because Microsoft Word's Navigation Pane will exactly match the resulting bookmarks in the PDF.
Save a copy of your cover page as a .jpg file. You'll need it when you submit your product. You can do this by taking a screenshot of the document while it's open, and crop it in an image editor like Microsoft Paint or something. The DM's Guild submission form has some additional guidelines:
Cover images should be 350 to 900 pixels wide (larger images, closer to 900 pixels wide, are better), in JPG format, and in 8.5 x 11 or A4 portrait aspect ratio. For quicker load times of your cover images, please try to keep their file size under 200kb.
Step 8 - Publishing
None of this is easy to follow or especially well layed out on the site, so do your best here.
If you don't have an account with DriveThruRpg.com yet, you will need one. DriveThruRPPG runs DMsGuild.com, and they share accounts. If you have published content on DriveThruRPG before, remember that the tools for DMsGuild are slightly different. Read the Publisher Account Questions article for some information on how pubishing works.
Once your account is created and you've logged in, go to your Account page, and find the "My Content" section in the middle section of the page. Click the "Enter New Community Created Title" link under the "My Content" heading. This will open the form to submit your product.
Fill in the form as well as you possibly can. Set the Title field to match the title of your document. If you're not selling your product as "Pay What You Want", be sure to pick a price point that will make it competetive with similar products (remember the reasearch you did in Step 2).
Think long and hard about how you want to handle the preview. A preview of your contant is a much better indication of what's in the product than whatever text description you could provide. If you have a single-page product, you can probably skip a preview. If you have multi-page product like a 300-page sourcebook, a preview is a really good idea. If possible, make the preview start at the beginning of a section, and end the preview at the end of a section. Trailing bits of text at the beginning or end of the preview seem frustrating and sloppy. Don't make the mistake of putting your cover page or your page of legal disclaimers into the preview. Unfortunately the preview needs to be one continuous set of pages within your document, so you can't pick-and-choose from multiple sections throughout the document.
The "In-page Flash Preview" is the preview which loads on the page with the product. The pages are converted to .jpg images. They're high-resolution enough that people can read them if they open the image by itself, but on the page they're too small. The full preview is reachable by clicking the "Full-size Preview" link below the product cover image (the PDF you uploaded). This preview is a PDF that opens in a pop-up. I recommend making these previews overlap, but the flash preview should be the fun stuff to look at and the full preview should be the informational stuff like your table of contents and the first few pages of the book.
Finally, scroll to the bottom, read and agree to the ToS, then submit the form.
Once that's done, there will be some confusing pages where you need to upload the actual file. Do that, then go to the "Edit a Title Listing" form and look for the "Make Public" button to activate it for sale. The button is hidden toward the top of the page in a table labeled "Product status". Do not click the "Update Product" button at the bottom of the page unless you made other edits.
Once this is done, your product is listed. There seems to be some delay before your product will appear in searches, but the product page will be live. Unfortunately, there also doesn't appear to be a link to your own product anywhere in your account. So to find your product, look at your browser's address bar while on the "Edit a Title Listing" form. Somewhere near the end of the URL, you should see some text that looks like "&products_id=230312". That's your product's unique ID number, which is how the software identifies it. Copy that number (230312 in my case), and go to this URL: http://www.dmsguild.com/product/230312, replacing 230312 with your own product's ID. This is the live store page for your product.
Congratulations! Your product is now listed for sale. There's very little fanfare, unfortunately. You don't get so much as a confirmation email.
Ensure that the previews worked as expected, and that your product description looks good. If they don't, go back into your Account and look for the "Edit Title" link in the middle section of the page under My Content.
I also suggest scrolling to the bottom of the product page and checking the "Follow this discussion" checkbox. It's nice to see what people are saying about your product.
Step 9 - Affiliate Program
Sign up for the affiliate program. Go to your Account page, and find "Affiliate Program" toward the bottom of the page.
Read the full instructions on the site, but here's the highlights on why you should both doing this: You get a URL parameter (mine is ?affiliate_id=389627, for example) to add to links to OneBookShelf's websites, and any time someone uses it you get a 5% cut of anything that they buy for the next 15 days. Even if it's not the product you linked to. Even if it's your own product. I'm looking at my own affiliate sales report as I write this and there's credit for selling my own product.
You might be wondering if it's okay to get affiliate credit for selling your own product. I'm not 100% certain if it's intentional (I'm never sure if anything is intentional with OneBookShelf because their websites are confusing and frustrating and full of bugs, incomplete features, and horrifying design decisions), but think of it this way: You could throw your product on the site and forget about it, collect your 50% royalties, and call it a day. Or, you could go the extra mile, put some effort into selling more copies, and earn yourself another 5%. If you didn't sell those extra copies, OneBookShelf wouldn't get anything. Instead, they get 45% of some extra sales, and you get a bit of extra cash as a reward for going to extra mile. Everybody wins.
Step 10 - Advertise
DMsGuild.com isn't built to make your specific product rise to the top. It's built to generate revenue for Wizards of the Coast. That means that what sells gets the most real estate on the front page of the site. If you want people to buy your product, you need to help them find it first, and then you need to encourage people to buy it.
I don't know much about professional advertising, but there are still some basic steps you can take to generate visibility. If you have friends who play Dungeons and Dragons, talk to them about it. Post links on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and other social media sites which you frequent and where you have an interested audience.
Be sure to ask people to review your product. Many people (myself included) are reluctant to pay money for a product with no credible reviews. You want reviews on your product to be specific, impartial, useful, and interesting. Ideally you also want the reviews to be positive, but that requires that your content is good (don't worry, I'm sure that whatever you write will be fantastic!). Positive but useless reviews don't offer much for a savvy consumer. Having 10 reviews that all have variations on "I know the author and he's great" is useless, but one or two reviews which discuss specific parts of your product which the customer liked will give other customers an idea of what's inside and wether or not it's worth time and money.
Once you have uploaded a product, check your Account page for the "Send Complimentary Copy" link under "My Content". Use this to send complimentary copies to people and ask for reviews on the product.
Step 11 - Maintenance
It's likely that you'll need to make edits or improvements to your product after releasing it. The larger your product is, the more likely you'll find errors. Once you have an updated version of your product, go to your Account page and click the "Upload/Update Files" link under "My Content". Select the product you want to update from the dropdown, and it will take you to a form to upload updated files. Try not to do this too often, or your customers might get annoyed with frequent insignificant updates.
If you need to update your product's description or any of the other things you set on the "Enter New Community Created Title" form, look for the "Edit Title" link under "My Content".
When considering updates to your products, consider how people consume tabletop roleplaying games. RPG products don't work like software. People expect the initial release to be complete, functional, and stable, and they expect to be able to use that product for several years without significant changes. Errata to correct errors or to explain confusion is expected, but it should be infrequent. You can't reasonably expect your customers to sit around on the DM's Guild site watching the "Updated Products" page, and there's no automated notification when a product is updated, so you need to make sure that whatever you've uploaded is complete and stable.
Watch for responses on the Reviews and the Discussion portions of your product page. If people have questions or comments, respond politely and thoroughly. But keep in mind that not every review or comment needs a response. As nice as it is to see positive responses to your product, you don't need to thank every person who comment. My general rule is that if they ask a question, it needs an answer. If they offer criticism, acknowledge it and explain your thoughts behind whatever they're criticizing. If they point out mistakes, correct it and let them know that it will be fixed in the next update to the product.
Step 12 - Collecting Royalties
If you set a non-free price for your product and you're fortunate enough to sell copies, you'll accumulate credit with OneBookshelf. You can use that credit to buy stuff on their websites, including DMsGuild.com, DriveThruRPG.com, etc., or you can be paid real-world money.
If you want to be paid, go to your account page and click "Get Paid" under "My Money". There is a $2 transaction fee every time you transfer money out of your account, and you need to transfer to a PayPal account. There is also a 60 day holding period after any product sale before the funds can be transferred out, so don't expect to post a product and start cashing out the next day.