A huge congratulations to all the medal winners last night. Having felt the euphoria of a medal win last year, the feeling is priceless and hard-earned. In my category, I was happy for anyone to win it as the folks I know are genuinely nice people, and I’m a massive fan of the Scandinavian assault on the hobby. Fria Ligan deserve that gold.
Thank you so much to all the folks that voted for The Midderlands Expanded, and for MonkeyBlood Design & Publishing as fan favourite. #iamnotworthy
So, ever wondered what it’s like to be an ENnie nominee? Ever cared? If you are a supporter of small publishers and don’t vote, here’s why you should. With any luck, this doesn’t make me sound like a total dick.
Small publishers need as much support as they can get. Small publishing is hard, and without others supporting them (even in awards they think don’t matter and aren’t worth voting on), they can’t continue to keep creating at a mid-high level. An award is so much more than selling a few more books, it’s confidence.
Previously… ENnies 2018
That was a ride.
This was my first time ever submitting an entry to the ENnies. A lot of voices in my social media feeds were saying that they weren’t important, and that it was just a popularity contest. That answer is partly true, but it’s also a very important part of small publishing — popularity. All small publishers rely on popularity to sell products and build their creative endeavours. Without popularity, it’s hard to keep it going.
For those that don’t know how the ENnies work, you first submit your products to a panel of judges. Of the hundreds of products they receive, they pick which ones are eligible for each category. Only 5 or so make it into each category. This is a nomination. To get nominated is a huge deal for a small publisher. It means that The Midderlands was chosen to be one of five products for Best Cartography out of every single products submitted. That is significant, as it is almost peer-reviewed, and is not based on popularity.
The next step is that the nominees have a couple of weeks or so to drum up as much support for the public voting that takes place. This is the popularity bit.
I can summarise the ENnie Award selection as:
- Nomination based on Quality, followed by
- Medal based on Popularity
I was up against a Paizo product and a Green Ronin product and assumed that they had it in the bag as their fan base was always going to be stronger than mine, and I was content with my nomination. However, a lot of things went in my favour that year:
- I was the only Old School product in my category.
- There was a large push by the OSR personalities to vote for Old School products.
- I was gaining additional votes from outside my fanbase based on my old school allegiances.
I won Gold that year.
There was talk of vote-rigging/ballot-stuffing from a few quarters and the reality of the situation is that if that was even possible, then fans of any publishers had equal opportunity to do it. For what it’s worth I don’t condone that at all, it’s not in the spirit of the awards and would always want to feel that I won that gold fair and square.
The feeling of being awarded a gold award as I stood in my kitchen at 2am in the morning whilst watching the livestream on YouTube was hard to describe, but I’ll try. It was confidence-building, euphoric, unbelievable, amazing, staggering, humbling, heart-pounding, encouraging, emotional, joyful…
That’s what fan voting and popularity does.
I’d left the full-time day job a six months or so by that point, as I was trying to make full-time self-publishing and freelancing of cartography, art, layout and design my life. That award was the lift I needed, the confidence boost I wanted, the self-belief I longed for.
Sales increased slightly, the word got around, some freelance work originated from my new label as 2018 Gold ENnie-winning Cartographer. I felt positive and optimistic, but more importantly I felt confident.
The build up to this year contrasted to the anticipation and unknown ground of 2018. I had a gold medal under my belt already and this felt like a little bit of pressure.
The nomination felt great. Here it was again, the judging panel had recognised my product for its cartography again. I looked at the other nominees in my category and thought all those folks are great and deserve to win this. I started weighing up my chances…
- A New Map of Hot Springs Island, Swordfish Islands. Cartographer: Jason Thompson
- Forbidden Lands – Retro Open-World Survival Fantasy RPG, Free League Publishing. Cartographers: Tobias Tranell and Nils Gulliksson
- Lamp’s Light Sanitarium: A Horror Campaign for 5e, Saturday Morning Scenarios. Cartographer: Toby Lancaster
- Silent Titans, Swordfish Islands. Cartographer: Dirk Detweiler Leichty
- The Midderlands Expanded, MonkeyBlood Design & Publishing. Cartographer: Glynn Seal
I think at that point, the self-doubt started to seep in. I didn’t have the monopoly on the category like the previous year, and there was no-one in that list that I didn’t feel deserved to be there. This was all going to be about fan votes and popularity – as it always is.
My problem is that I am the worst person in the world at self-promotion. I don’t like the lime-light, I prefer to let my work to do the talking. I’m not a great fan of doing video blogs or even audio podcasts, and I really struggle with time to actively push things on social media. I can blame that almost entirely on the damage to my psyche from my previous career, but that’s another story.
There was a big OSR ENnie video chat scheduled by the great Ben at Questing Beast, to which I was cordially invited, but the timing was tricky to hop on, and avoidance behaviours started to surface, so I never made it to help push my product.
I tend to feel that every man and his dog is pushing social media looking for votes at that time of year, and as well as being something I don’t like to do, I am sure it turns folks away from participating in the awards. It’s some of those folks that would support small publishers like myself too. That’s a shame. It’s a shame because I think that people don’t see the real world of being a small publisher and the huge differences it makes in terms of confidence and future output.
Award = Confidence < Exposure < Extra Revenue.
So, small publishers have a real hard time to make ground in the second stage of the ENnies without the public votes. As mentioned previously, the effects are more than selling some extra books to keep the lights on. It’s about so much more. Every vote is a droplet into a bucket of confidence that small publishers need.
So today, I’m feeling reflective on the last few weeks, and can summarise my feeling as follows:
- I’m actually really, really pleased to have got a nomination. They are encouraging and important.
- I’m a bit disappointed that I didn’t make a medal this year. I guess that’s normal, as my medal last year raised the bar for myself and the only possible results are the same or less. I blame my awesome competition obviously. Congratulations, my fellow creators 😊.
- I need to stop holding myself (or my brand) back from the social media spotlight. I need to have more presence and grow the fanbase. I’m not sure how to do that though, and I’m not at the stage to start employing people. I’m not sure if there is anything that I am doing/not doing that is affecting my reach… Who knows? Feel free to let me know if you know something I don’t. As Matt Finch once said, “You need an American to do your marketing!” Haha.
So, I plan to dust myself off and get cracking on more products, in the hope of getting more nominations in the coming years.
Please feel free to share this post. Hopefully it will make someone think about voting for their favourite small publishers and products in the future, even if it’s just to give them a confidence boost. Life isn’t always easy, and we could all use a little help.
Don’t get me wrong, I am blessed in so many ways. This is intended as an insight into a small publisher trying to make it, and how awards have a very real effect.
And to close, thanks so much to the judges, all of you for your support, and well-deserved congratulations to all the winners last night.