Thursday, December 12, 2019

The long tail, sales, and monster books

I've written a number of books.

There is a trickle of sales after the initial post-publication burst. That trickle can go on seemingly forever. I'm still receiving royalties - and sales - for the PDF version of a book I co-wrote about 15 years ago. Nothing beats the advance-busting first month for GURPS Martial Arts, but it still sells, in PDF and POD (and it's even on sale, in PDF.) I understand this to be the "long tail."

Out of all of my books, the most steady trickle of sales seems to be monster books. Every month I get my SJG royalty statement. My two monster books - DFM1 and DFM3 - sell steadily. They don't often sell a lot - usually low-mid single digits - but I can't find a statement in my archives that has a 0 for either of them. Some months, no one wants to read about Ninja or Gladiators. But someone always wants monsters.

I get this, as a GM. Looking at my book shelf, I have:

AD&D Monster Manual
AD&D Fiend Folio
AD&D Monster Manual II
D&D Monster Manual (3.0, I think)
D&D Monster Manual (5e)
Pathfinder Bestiary I
Pathfinder Bestiary II
Pathfinder Bestiary III
Rolemaster Creatures & Treasures
Rolemaster Creatures & Monsters
D&D Monster Cyclopedia
Munchkin Monster Manual
The Basic Fantasy Field Guide of Creatures Malevolent and Benign
Swords & Wizardry Monsters Book

. . . and those are just the monsters-only or monsters-mainly books that aren't GURPS. I've got at least six GURPS books that are mostly monsters, too, not counting PDFs.

I don't even play most of those systems.

I'd buy more if I had room or saw a cool enough monster book.

So I get this avarice for more monsters. You can always use inspiration even if you can't use direct stats.

I'm therefore always keeping an eye out for an opportunity to write more monsters, especially if I can get a royalty-producing book out of it. They seem to make for the most steady sales over time.

I'm curious if that's true for others - if you write for games, do your monster books provide the most continued profit over time aside from any "core" system books? And everyone else, do you find yourself "needing" more monster books even for systems you don't generally play?


  1. To me this is just weird... cause i never buy Monster books. The two for DF and the one for DFRPG are the only monster books I've ever bought, and I only bought them to support those lines.

    As a GM I figure "I'm making up everything else, monsters are easy=peasy".

    But rules, genre treatments, and Gazetteers? I'm a damn sucker for those.

    1. Wow, that’s interesting. I always thought that was one of the major detractions to GURPS Dungeon Fantasy when there was just one monsters book. Too much work to “come up” with monsters. It’s great to have tons of premade stuff ready to go. I also love other monster books that you can convert to DFRPG. Monster books are, to me, critical. I can’t have enough.

    2. Oh, don't get me wrong, I'm pretty sure your opinion is the second mostly widely held one with "So where's the setting book?" being the most widely voiced request.

      I tend to be an outlier as a GM, I make things up on the fly and do the absolute most bare minimal prep. When it comes to beasties, I've seen so many movies, read so many books, I've got oodles of them bouncing around in my head. The hard part is when someone says "Hey, why don't you write those monsters down?"

      I hate writing.

    3. But back to why I think it's weird...

      In every group I've ever been in the only people who ever bought Monster books were the GMs while the Players all tend to buy other splats, even if the GM owned those books, because chargen is always something Players are invested in doing on their own time (at least the Players I've known personally).

      But on the forums the hew and cry is for settings, then monster books, then other rules, with adventures coming in somewhere down the list...

    4. I think monster books are fun

      As a DM I also like Adventures, but only a subset thereof

    5. I can make up monsters, and I do - I mean, I write monster books. But I also deeply enjoy other people's ideas of what monsters should be. And clearly people like such books since they do steadily sell.

    6. "And clearly people like such books since they do steadily sell."

      Hence my "this is weird". but hey, can't argue with facts. The sales have spoken, now get back to writing DF Monsters 5 or DFRPG Monsters 3...

    7. To me monster books are the RPG product with highest certainty

      I know I will enjoy monster books

      Adventures are incredibly hit or miss, same with new classes or magic systems or whatever, but I have never regretted the purchase of a book of monsters

  2. I don't sell books but I'm a sucker for monster books. I collect them and even though I don't play all the different systems out there I will buy two things I don't use just for inspiration: core rules with interesting/different mechanics and monster books regardless of the system. I've got ALL the D&D stuff of editions I don't play (except 4th), all the Rolemaster stuff, two GURPS books, Earthdawn (these are my favorite monsters of all apart from D&D), everything Savage Worlds, Call of Cthulhu, RuneQuest, and a smattering of small random stuff off DTRPG/RPGNow. When first finding out about your blog and GURPS DF I got really excited at a GURPS take on D&D but then became very disappointed that there was so little in terms of monsters, which is the biggest piece of D&D. Since then there have been two booklets of DFM but I haven't bought them.

    1. There are currently four DFM books, FWIW - I co-wrote 1 and wrote 3, and Sean Punch co-wrote 1 and wrote 2 and 4. There is also the DFRPG Monsters books - one and two - and I have some monsters in an issue of Pyramid. So there are monsters. Not as many as in D&D, but then again, the first DF books were pretty short books since it wasn't clear how they'd do.

  3. Earthdawn is just fabulous, it is my favorite fantasy RPG

    1. I never could appreciate the system, but the way their magic items are all "artifacts" in the D&D sense that have powers you unlock over time is really cool and the monsters are absolutely inspired!

    2. I really like how 'Interactive' it felt, you had a bunch of Talents to choose to use and active defense style things like Avoid Blow that served as out of turn interrupts, so it felt you were really involved in the game. The monsters are all cool to yeah! And my own personal glee at rolling the myriad combos of exploding dice.

    3. Did you play the Savage Worlds version? Earthdawn from FASA/LRG/Redbrick/Flaming Cobra used its own system with a table that showed what combo of dice to roll based on your skill rank but no exploding dice in that game. You could have a d20+d12 or d6+d8 level of skill but still no exploding dice. Read about it at

    4. No, I played the 1e FASA mostly with some 2e LRG mixed in. So like Step 14 = 1d20+1d4. The dice definitely were supposed to explode, as the joke in the Companion was a windling with a dagger could one shot a Dragon if only he rolled lucky enough

  4. As a consumer, I love monsters. I've bought all the DF and DFRPG Monsters books. But then I'm something of a DF collector, so I don't assume that I'm typical. What I do think is missing in the DF sense, is monster cardboard minis. There just aren't suitable ones for all the DF-specific monsters. I would not have minded at all if the DFRPG box set had filled in the white space on those cardboard sheets with a couple more. I've been forced to create my own, and I'm not an artist!

    To Peter's original point on sales, I wonder if the reason in this case is more to do with GURPS generally than specifically DF. What I mean to say is, plenty of GURPS GMs may run non-DF fantasy, or heavily-modified DF, such that the other books are less useful. Whereas DF monsters may be useful even if you're running GURPS After the End, or whatever.

  5. I collect all kinds of monster books, mostly for conversion purposes. My players have seen some of those.


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