Daily Illuminator

June 13, 2005: Big Books, Clockwork, Feh

When we announced the release of the GURPS Fourth Edition, one of the things we said was that we'd be releasing a 240-page hardcover every month, like clockwork. I actually said that. "Like clockwork."

Heh. If I could bottle that optimism and sell it, I'd have the DEA on my trail in nothing flat.

The super-sized books have . . . not gone well. In retrospect, the problems are clear. Hindsight is 20-20. We thought that if we had the resources to do more than two dozen 128-page books a year, we could do a dozen that were twice that big. But it didn't work out that way.

In the first place, any individual writer or editor is more likely to run into a personal problem during a project that takes twice as long. We can, of course, deploy more than one writer or editor in parallel, but this has its own hazards. (Some of the stalled books were originally team projects. When two or three writers turn in good chapters and one writer doesn't . . . we're almost as stalled as if we had nothing at all. Multiplying the participants multiplies failure points.)

Each book, just because it has twice as many words and illustrations, has roughly twice as many places where it can get delayed even when the author has no problems. So for that reason alone it's roughly twice as likely to get stuck at some point during the process.

Yet there are fewer books in progress at any given time . . . giving us fewer options to move one book up to replace another.More things getting stalled or going wrong means more calls for the "firemen" . . . and we don't have many of those, and the ones we have really should be doing other things. (I haven't been in the office all week, because I've been home trying to unstick a GURPS book.)

We don't intend to compromise quality. And that means . . . books are taking too long. Staff enjoy their work less when EVERY project seems to be a Project from Hell. Comments, from sympathetic to cluelessly helpful to pointlessly sarcastic, appear on the forums. And cash flow curls up and dies.

We're making progress. We're learning how to change our routines to allow for bigger books. We're learning what can reasonably be expected of our various writers and editors under the new system. And almost all of the dozens of books that were underway last year are still progressing. Since we now know that most of you don't want a big new book every single month (on the average it seems you'd prefer one that size every couple of months at most), we see that there's enough in the pipeline to keep you happy for a long time.

If we can just get some of them finished.
-- Steve Jackson

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