Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Ultimate Guide to Professional Storytelling Part 3: The Value of Professional Storytelling

Value Comes in All Forms

Everybody's work has value, but what kind of value it has depends on you. Some of us are just bursting with creativity, looking for a willing audience to teach how to roleplay and share the experience. Some of us are part of a huge community of volunteers that donate their time for the good of the community. Then there are the very few of us that have boldly stepped out to craft a career out of storytelling, exchanging our availability and services for money.

Many Storytellers have done their work for free (or for snacks) for a very long time. There's nothing wrong with this arrangement. Most of these arrangements were and continue to be get-togethers between local friends sitting down at a kitchen or basement table to tell stories for pure entertainment and camaraderie. The game is more of a feature of the interaction than the main focal point (though the Dungeon Master might disagree.)

For the hobby of roleplaying, many conflicts will arise:

whether they are conflicts of schedule (I have to work tonight,)

conflicts of interest (Game of Thrones is on!,)

or personality conflicts between players and/or the DM (that rogue stole my coin purse again!!)

Many sessions will fall by the wayside, but to everyone involved (except the brooding Dungeon Master) knows it was "just a game" anyway.

This is precisely how I started Dungeon Mastering myself, and it was the best place to improve my craft. When I started looking for partons as a professional storyteller, I thought really hard about my value proposition. What would people be willing to trade for a service? To do something for payment there are many adjustments that must me made. These may be different for different storytellers, but here is my current negotiation and some non-tangible benefits of becoming a regular patron:
  • My patrons have control of the game's content (which module,) the start time, and the number of players.
  • Donations are made in advance and are non-refundable. This is because I have done prep work and arranged my schedule to perform for my patron or patrons. It's like buying a ticket for an event. If you can't attend, then you lose the value of that ticket. This is not a hard and fast rule, but it has to do with reasonable consideration on both ends. If there is a real emergency on the patron's side, they would have a credit for a future session. If I had an emergency, I would issue a refund to a non-regular patron, and most of my regular patrons would just take a free session in the near future. In the eight months I've been doing this I've only had to deviate from my schedule once.
  • Players who aren't donors can make a minimum donation that gives them a reserved spot in a publicly listed game.
  • Donors get advanced notice of my publicly posted games. This gives them a chance to be higher priority on a waiting list.
  • For return patrons (and other players) I have a better understanding of their character and them as a player. The more I know a player, the more I can adjust to give them an even more personal experience suited to their play style and interests.
I have found that this all works very well in conjunction with an online community and organized play. Compensation allows me to focus on the experience instead of worrying about my financial situation. It also allows me to be extremely flexible when it comes to scheduling. I do hold down a regular albeit part time position bartending and serving at a local restaurant, but that's during Friday and Saturday nights when most of my current patron base is out with their families and wouldn't be scheduling games to begin with. I think that's the route that most artists of any kind must take unless they have a family that fully supports and provides for them while they pursue their passion.

For my next article I'll be diving a bit deeper into some of the psychology behind putting a value on your own time and energy. I'll talk about how services are much different than products in this industry and strategies on how to approach individual prospective patrons. I'll also give some insight to those that are trying to pursue careers as product writers and designers on how to brand yourself or your team.