Dungeon Hacks: Postmortem
Welcome to the postmortem for DUNGEON HACKS, and my first blog in approximately 5 months. I apologize for that. The site collected dust, and that's on me. My excuse used to be that I was too busy writing books to write blogs, and while that's still true, blogging is good exercise for writers—as is any form of writing, even doing lines after school. Just think: Bart Simpson could be the greatest writer of all time!
I miss blogging, and hope to do it more frequently as we put the finishing touches on 2015 and gear up for a new year. What better way to start than by evaluating what went right and wrong with DUNGEON HACKS?
Before we dig into the meat of this book breakdown, you should know that DUNGEON HACKS is available now in paperback, electronic, and audio formats. Available now—and since August 10th, in fact. I waited nearly 3 months to share this exciting news on the blog because... Well, life got away from me. I did a Reddit AMA, I spread the good news across social media, I did interviews for gaming press such as Austin Walker at Giantbomb. I just didn't take the time to sit down and blog.
Part of the reason for that is because concrete5 is kind of a pain in the butt to use. If you don't know, concrete5 is a web platform that lets you publish content to your website. And you know what? It's a solid platform. Just not as intuitive as I'd like. I've since switched to WordPress for my other blog, Episodic Content, where I serialize stories about how video games are made and the people who make them. But that's another blog for another day (hopefully one sooner than ~5 months from this one).
The point is, a confluence of other obligations and an aversion to fussing with concrete5 did their best to keep me from sitting down and announcing DUNGEON HACKS on my blog. Ultimately, that onus fell on my shoulders, and I let it slip right off. Sorry about that.
Goals and Writing Style
I am proud of DUNGEON HACKS, as I'm proud of all my books. They're like my children, and even the ones who grow up to become notorious and reviled criminals still hold a piece of my heart.
DUNGEON HACKS is neither notorious nor reviled. Overall, I believe it turned out rather well. I set out to chronicle the formation of seminal roguelikes, the stepping stones on which juggernauts like Diablo and FTL walked to assume their places at or near the top of the RPG mountain.
My goals were twofold. First, to chart the genre linearly, beginning with a look at one of the earliest roguelike games, Beneath Apple Manor, and culminating in one of the most well-known in the text-only (ASCII) style, ADOM. Second, to write a book that readers could approach nonlinearly. Want to know about Rogue? Skip right to chapters 2 and 3. More interested in Moria and its descendant, Angband? Cut in line and proceed directly to chapter 7, or speed right along to 8 if you have a mind.
The result? Easier said than done. Roguelikes are an esoteric genre of game. Some might say nigh unapproachable. Imagine a BEWARE OF DOG sign that cut right to the chase and gobbled you right up instead of giving you time to pause and wonder about what type of dog lurks beyond the chain-link fence and deep within the shadows of the enormous doghouse.
As such, the terminology around roguelike games can be difficult to present to all but the most informed audience. Those already in the know. I think I did a satisfactory job; some critics felt otherwise. Going further, a few posited that I allowed myself to become too entrenched in technical jargon and details. There are some subsections of chapters that read like lists of names: so and so did this, then handed the baton off to this person, who did that, and then this other person stepped up, and...
I tried to avoid such dry details. The one instance I can think of where I listed off several names in rapid-fire sequence was in an early section of chapter 8, which runs down the curators who maintained Angband until a certain point. I spent time on these names and the highlights of their tenures because maintainership is a crucial element of Angband's history. Every few years, the chief maintainer steps down, and the community debates over who should ascend the throne. Therefore, I considered it my job to quickly go over who had done what before landing on the main contributors whom I interviewed for the book. I did this as quickly as possible, but I can understand how some might have found it dull.
Those critics, as well as readers who echoed the sentiment, are certainly entitled to their opinions. What's more, I appreciate those opinions. Any choice I make that interferes with the story can and should come under scrutiny. I take it all under advisement, and will strive to implement it as I continue my journey as a writer.
The omission of the 7DRL diaries from the 2013 game jam became a point of contention for some, who pointed out in my previous book breakdown that DUNGEON HACKS would include the diary. It didn't—but it did. Here's what happened.
In the process of submitting DUNGEON HACKS to CreateSpace, I had to determine how much to charge for the paperback edition of the book. More pages equal a higher asking price. My objective was to price the book around $15 to $20—quite normal for a trade (large) paperback. The problem was that the 7DRL diaries added over 100 pages to the cost of printing, which ate away at my profits. Publishing books has to be profitable, even (especially?) for self-published authors. The more a book costs to print, the less I get from each sale. I'm a full-time writer. Writing pays my bills, puts food on the table, and books on my Kindle/physical bookcases. Publications I decide to do on my own, like DUNGEON HACKS and STAY AWHILE AND LISTEN, must be profitable endeavors.
I had a choice. I could either cut the 7DRL diaries and keep the price where I wanted it, or I could keep the 7DRL diaries and jack the price up another $10. Obviously, I cut the 7DRL diaries from the paperback. And to keep from giving the eBook too great an advantage over the paperback—I wanted them to be as similar in content and length as possible—I removed the diaries from the eBook edition as well; in their place, I put in a teaser, a full diary from one of my participants. All the diaries were spun off into a separate, eBook-only publication, ONE-WEEK DUNGEONS.
And I think that would've been fine. People would have accepted my reasoning had I shared it between the previous book breakdown and the book's publication. But I didn't. Again, that's on me.
To be clear, greed played no part in my decision to spin the 7DRL diaries into a separate book. Remember how I described roguelikes as "esoteric" and "unapproachable?" Yeah. I never entertained fantasies of either book flying off the shelves. Both have performed well at market, though nowhere near the level of STAY AWHILE AND LISTEN: BOOK I.
No, I split the books in order to keep the cost of the printed edition of DUNGEON HACKS attainable for readers and semi-profitable for me. I simply should have been more straightforward in laying out my reasons.
While reviews for DUNGEON HACKS have been mostly positive, even the most glowing feedback mentioned typos and grammatical errors. Too many for my liking.
This, like the other problems that cropped up in the book, was my fault. My editor, Andrew Magrath, is fantastic. He is a professional editor, as well as a professor at several universities. He knows his stuff, and doesn't let my books slide. The errors cropped up because I only gave him time to make one pass through the book.
Rather than send the book back to Andrew for another read (maybe even two, as is our custom), I pushed it through. Doctors make the worst patients, and writers make the worst editors. I should have given Andrew more opportunities to read over the book. Instead, I pushed it through. I rushed it. Not because I got greedy or impatient, but because this year has been harrowing, and I desperately needed to take one plate out of the air so I had room to juggle two more. I won't go into detail; I'll say simply that 2015 has been a difficult year on the personal front.
So, one last time: the typos and grammatical slips that cropped up in DUNGEON HACKS were my fault. Not my editor's. Mine.
Looking over this breakdown, I seem to come off as mostly negative. I don't mean to. I am proud of DUNGEON HACKS. I think it's an excellent book, and am glad I wrote it. However, I feel comfortable admitting that it needed more time in the oven. I can say confidently that I have recognized the mistakes I made in the book's composition, and will work to avoid making them in projects going forward.
American historian Mary Beard said "Action without study is fatal. Study without action is futile." Going forward, I intend to take that quote to heart.
And that brings our DUNGEON HACKS journey to an end. I hope you appreciated this behind-the-scenes peak into the writing process for this book. Feel free to email me (david AT davidlcraddock DOT COM) or leave a comment below if you'd like to discuss DUNGEON HACKS, or if there's an aspect of writing books that you'd like me to focus on in future book breakdowns.
~David L. Craddock