Whether you’re pitching at Essen or another convention, there’s definitely a process.
Step 1: Know what you have to offer.
Step 2: Get organized.
Step 3: Know who’s coming / figure out who’s going to the convention.
- The previous year’s guide — a bit of Googling will help for future years, but for now, look at 2018’s Spiel Guide as a starting point.
- The Tabletop Together tool — for gamers, it’s a great list of seeing what games will be premiering or available at a convention. For designers, it’s a reminder that if the game will be at Essen, the publisher is likely to be there as well.
For others, exhibitors might be listed on the convention’s website, and of course, a publisher might also mention they’re going on their own site or social media
Step 4: Initial / Qualifying Research
Ooooh, fancy term! Nah. The question at this stage is simple: does this publisher make games that resemble your games? All you need right now is a yes or no — if it’s a yes, add them to your database. If it’s a no, choose to either add them to a separate sheet (to avoid duplicate work in the future) or just move on. Work your way down systematically, and think ‘sniper’, not ‘shotgun’.
If you’re looking at Tabletop Together, you might have enough to go on for this stage. Sort by ‘Publisher’ and look at the games they’re releasing. If all they make are three-hour-long brain burners and all your games are party games, cross them off. No point in wasting anyone’s time. Depending on your source and the convention, you might discover shops, accessory makers, or other businesses that don’t make games. Same thing — this shouldn’t take more than a minute or two per publisher.
Step 5: Detailed Research
So we’ve narrowed it down to publishers that might be a fit. This can easily be a time-consuming, down-the-rabbit-hole sort of thing, so feel free to set a timer for each publisher (say 5 minutes).
Look at their official website, their social media channels, and their Board Game Geek page. I’m usually looking for the following pieces of information:
- Their last 2-3 games
- Are they similar to any of my games? Are they too similar? (If they’re too similar, a publisher might feel a new game might cannibalize sales of their game already on the market.)
- Are they all designed by the same person? (This is a sign a publisher / business exists for that person’s benefit — they’ll be unlikely to look at pitches from outside submissions.)
- Why not their entire line-up? My game’s really similar to something they made in 2001… Directions change, and not every game takes off. It’s not always easy to guess, but between your own experiences seeing it on people’s shelves (or on clearance racks) and Board Game Geek’s listing for the games (how many people say they own it?), you can take a guess.
- Any upcoming games
- There may not be much about them, but whatever you can find can help you learn of potential fits.
- If you use a similar theme or mechanic, that same cannibalization fears will be around.
- The people that work there
- Look for the About or About Us page. Who are they? What are they like? Do they have a mascot? How do they talk about themselves (playfully, professionally, etc.)?
- Figure out who to write your pitch to. Ideally, someone is identified as the person who is tasked with looking at outside submissions. If there isn’t, take your best guess based on titles or their bios. Take a deep breath. Remember most publishers have a pretty small number of staff.
- Information on how to contact them
- Look for a Submissions or Authors page first and foremost — if they’ve taken the time to create a page, it usually outlines a process or thing they want you to follow. I only see these about 10-20% of the time – if it’s not in the header or footer menu, move on. If you see one, make it a point to follow their process carefully. Sometimes an automated system will kick out an e-mail missing the correct word / phrase, and poorly following directions doesn’t make a great first impression.
- Look for a Contact page or an e-mail address. A publisher’s official website may be out of date, incomplete, or vague. They may not be listed by name or title on the website. People working at publishers are incredibly busy, and for most of them, looking at outside submissions is at the bottom of their priority list.
- Think about which of your games would be a fit and why. However you picture your game(s), picture them alongside the company’s recent games. Narrow it down to the top ones or best fits — not everything fits with every publisher, and there’s no need to fit square pegs into round holes.
Step 6: Make the stuff they’ll want to see
- The holy trinity (number of players, age range, and time to play)
- How to play
- Component list
- A bit about the game’s story / setting
- Contact information
- The game’s introduction (who are you, where are you, what are you trying to do)
- The components of the game (no need to show them all — a representative sample is fine)
- A turn or round of the game (what players do)
All of my walkthrough videos have been shot with my smartphone and a simple tripod. Add in a selfie stick that plays with a tripod for some extra height if you need it. Upload to Youtube and choose whether to make it ‘Unlisted’ (can only view with the link), ‘Private’ (only those you invite to view the video can view it – kind of a pain in my opinion), or ‘Public’ (searchable and viewable by anyone online). Personally, I make it ‘Unlisted’, which doesn’t require a Youtube account or an invite to watch. They just need the link.
Step 7: set up a place to make appointments online
Step 8: Pitch points, assemble!
- A standard greeting you’ll personalize
- A brief blurb about where / how to find more info (specifically, that webpage I set up in the last step)
- Brief (2-3 sentence) description(s) of your game(s)
- A call to action, which includes a link to the calendar you set up
Step 9: put it all together and pitch.
Step 10: track appointments and follow up
- Some won’t respond to the e-mail or message
- Some aren’t going to the convention in question
- Some won’t see a fit between your game and theirs
- Some aren’t interested in that theme or mechanic
- Some already have a ton of games to produce
- Some are going a different direction with future games
- Some might have personnel or financial issues
Don’t take it personally. It happens.
Unless their response was literally ‘don’t ever e-mail me again’, there’s always room for a quick follow-up e-mail. Mine goes like ‘Hey [name], thanks for the response. In the interest of pitching you better next time, what’s that future direction look like? [OR] ‘what would excite you to see come across your desk?’. It keeps the conversation going but also invites them to tell you exactly what they’re looking for… which might just be one of your other games.