The Guild Counsel: Adam Trzonkowski on guild leading and Kickstarter success

The Guild Counsel
Adam "Ferrel" Trzonkowski is on a roll of late. He's a successful veteran guild leader, an accomplished author, and most recently, a Kickstarter success story. He's used his experiences in guild and raid management to pen two advice manuals: The Guild Leader's Companion and The Raider's Companion, the second of which was successfully funded through a Kickstarter campaign. And just a few weeks ago, he wrapped up his second Kickstarter fundraising drive for his new project, The Guild Leader's Companion 2nd Edition.

Massively had a chance to speak with Adam and pick his brain about leadership, writing, and Kickstarter. Whether you're looking for advice on handling guild drama, seeking a little help getting started with your own writing project, or looking for his secret to Kickstarter success, you'll find the answer after the cut!

Massively: The first question you probably hear a lot is, why make a second edition of the Guild Leader's Companion, and what will be different compared to the first?

Adam Trzonkowski: The great motivation for creating a second edition of The Guild Leader's Companion was the work I did for The Raider's Companion. The two books are night and day by comparison. When I wrote and then produced The Raider's Companion, I had a far better understanding of what it meant to be an author, editor, and publisher. That book also started to bring a lot of sales for the 1st edition of The Guild Leader's Companion. I wanted to be sure that both books had the same level of professional polish.

That is where the 2nd edition of The Guild Leader's Companion started. It was going to be a simple refresh of the book's layout, cover, and internal design. In working through the book, I started to realize that I could do so much more with the opportunity. I brought in my artist, Amanda Martin, and my editor, Ellie Bard, to help me create something almost entirely new. By the time we were finished, the 2nd edition contained 30% more content and of the original content almost 40% had been rewritten. I didn't want to muddy the market with two books on guild leadership, so I continued to call it a second edition, but to be fair, it is basically a completely new book.

Do you feel your guild leader philosophy has evolved at all between the first and second editions? Do you have a different philosophy now when it comes to any of the topics covered in the first Guild Leader's Companion?

Absolutely, and that is one of the reasons such a large portion of the book was rewritten. When I wrote the original edition of The Guild Leader's Companion, I'd had only one experience in MMORPG leadership: competitive, server-first raiding. In all honesty, that is a very myopic view of the world. It represents a small minority of the entire experience. Since then I've had the chance to lead a casual raid guild, a PvP organization, and various other organizations. This has changed the tone of The Guild Leader's Companion and has generalized it so that is will be useful to any type of MMORPG organization, not just "guilds." My team and I actually went to great lengths to "generalize" the terminology in the book so it would fit guilds, kinships, corporations, clans, and real world businesses (a request by some managers within my company).

What do you feel is the one area that guild leaders neglect the most?

I think leaders, in general, focus too much on goals on the horizon. They have the capacity to set a goal (a necessity) and make some general plans to get there. The next step is addressing the symptoms of the problems that are holding the organization back from reaching those goals. Human resources are what are neglected most. MMORPG players forget that behind the avatar and monitor is a living, breathing person with goals, dreams, and hopes. For over a year now, I've made the primary goal of my organization human resources. Without a doubt we are now more successful than we have ever been in the last 10 years -- even more so than when we were competing game-wide in EverQuest II.

Games have changed a lot over the past decade. Do you think guilds have too?

Without a doubt guilds have changed in the extreme. Historically speaking, I think guilds held all of the control. They controlled access to content and gear. Content was traditionally a resource that must be competed for. With the rise of instance encounters, guilds have become less prevalent. If a player is upset with her guild, there are 1,000 others that will take her. Server transfers are easy, and there are a lot of game options. Guilds must compete for players, not the other way around. That is again why I focus so heavily on human resources. If I keep my people interested and happy, they play better and we succeed. More importantly, everyone has more fun!

Is it a labor of love, or have you turned a profit on your publishing efforts?

Writing and publishing is certainly a labor of love! It is not, however, a hobby at this point. It isn't my full time job, but Epic Slant Press is actually turning a profit, which is impressive for a small press. I've been told "this isn't how the publishing industry works" a few times but it seems to work for me. We'll be publishing our third title soon, a fourth is in the works, we visit two shows a year, and we might be signing another artist in the future. We're currently in growth mode, but I can't see quitting my day job any time soon.

The Guild Counsel  Adam 'Ferrel' Trzonkowski on guild leading and Kickstarter
You hit your goal much faster this time around. What do you feel accounts for your quick success in raising funds for the Guild Leader's Companion 2nd Edition compared to your first project, the Raider's Companion?

Without a doubt our success is linked to the amazing generosity and loyalty of the MMORPG community that supports us. From individuals to podcasts, we've had great word of mouth advertisement. Kind people like Dellmon and Alicious of EQ2Talk, Iniquity guild members like Tanakata & Dresden, and just amazing community members (like you!) on Twitter and blogs have made this possible. I can't thank those people enough, but I certainly aim to try. It also helps that on this last project, we had some super cool rewards!

Kickstarter has been increasingly popular with indie developers of MMOs, but so far it's safe to say that there have been a mixed track record for success. As someone who's used Kickstarter twice now, do you think it will be a viable longterm method of getting funding for MMOs?

No, I absolutely do not, and outside of Storybricks, I don't really support those projects. The idea behind Kickstarter is that you set a goal amount that will allow you to complete your project. If I need $4000 for my book, I should set a goal of $4000. That way everyone that donates knows that if I am funded the project will succeed. Indie developers on average can't do that. Outside of a few anomalies, most developers won't raise enough money to complete their project, nor are they trying to. They are trying to prove to investors that they have enough interest from the market. I truly believe this violates the spirit of what Kickstarter is. When you donate to those games, you may never get anything. You're just voting with your money, and that might be fine to many people. It isn't to me.

I don't even consider a Kickstarter for a book project until I have a completed manuscript and contracted an artist and an editor. Once I set that up, I know, for sure, we'll go to press. I then ensure that anyone who donates will be able to get the main product he is supporting (i.e., the book). That is easy with such a small project. I couldn't even imagine trying to actually fund even a tiny MMORPG project.

What factors do you think make the most difference when it comes to attracting support and generating donations? (Is it a question of setting a reasonable funding bar? Do the rewards make a difference? Or are there other things?)

You need to have a great story of success already when you come to Kickstarter. I am actually a Kickstarter addict, and there are a lot of people like me. We look for projects and support them just because they seem neat or we recognize our own struggles in them. They don't all make it. There has to be a great combination of reasonable funding requests, fairly priced (and unique) rewards, and the willingness to advertise like mad! It also helps if you've been successful once and have a built-in userbase! The people who fund Epic Slant Press Kickstarter projects are the people who are going to buy our books anyway! Kickstarter just lets them get a unique copy sooner with an autograph and their name in it.

You have actually set up Epic Slant Press in order to help assist others in getting their writing projects to fruition. Can you talk about that a bit, and do you have any potential projects on the way?

Yes I did! I want to give anyone who feels like she has something to say the chance to be published. "That isn't how the publishing industry works" is the battle cry of a dying method of doing business. I've learned a whole lot in this process, and I am fortunate enough to have a good day job that allows me to exercise both money and time in the pursuit of my goal. That allows me to share my experience with others at no cost or obligation. There are tons of amazing writers out there today who can't get published, can't get a job in the industry, and very well may write the next great American best-seller. I want to help them as much as I can.
I am in talks with a few authors here and there. I can't really discuss the nature of those projects at this time, but at some point, I certainly will want to!

Do you have continued plans to write more books about guild leadership? Do you plan to branch out into other areas of MMO gaming?

I am about 25% through another manuscript that is MMO-related but not specifically about guild leadership. Now that I have basically done three MMO books, I'm looking to slightly change up and go in a different direction. In a few years, after I've run player organizations for even longer, I might do a third edition to add my additional knowledge. In the meantime, The Guild Leader's Companion 2nd edition is the release for this year. I've got one of my books on the docket for next year and potentially another author's book.

Thank you for taking the time to speak with me. I always appreciate your questions and having the opportunity to address your audience. I will say that we hope to launch The Guild Leader's Companion for Dragon*Con this year, so anyone interested can look out for it soon! For more information and the latest updates, check out the product page.

Thanks to Adam for taking the time to speak with Massively!

Do you have a guild problem that you just can't seem to resolve? Have a guild issue that you'd like to discuss? Every week, Karen Bryan takes on reader questions about guild management right here in The Guild Counsel column. She'll offer advice, give practical tips, and even provide a shoulder to lean on for those who are taking up the challenging task of running a guild.
This article was originally published on Massively.