My First Year at Paizo
A year ago today, I started working at Paizo Publishing, first as a contract editor for the various Pathfinder lines before being hired on full-time in March. I thought it’d be neat to celebrate by talking about the process that we in the editing team live day in and out, and our Editor-in-Chief, Wes Schneider, agreed. (You may know Wes from such exalted works as the Shaq Delve.)
Hang on, let me back up. My readership get diverses, so I’m gonna not assume to much here. I’ll assume that you can read English (please please please) and are into RPGs of some stripe. Otherwise, I have no idea how you got to my blog. So I’m going to tell you a good bit of what my life over the last year has been like. I do this because this past year has made me a much better editor than I was before.
Hell, I think of the editor I was over a year ago, and see him as at best “a talented amateur.” (I’m sure I’ll say that about present-day me a year from now, so that that for whatever it’s worth. Always looking down on past-me for poor decisions and weaker skills.)
Anyway, Paizo puts out several lines for the Pathfinder RPG, including:
- The core hardcover line — what we call “the RPG line”
- The Campaign Setting line, where GMs and players get all sorts of content about the core setting, Golarion
- The Player Companion line, which is a slim volume with various options and narrative bits for players
- The ever-popular Adventure Paths, a massive ongoing mini-campaign that spans for six volumes
- The Module line, individual adventures for various levels of characters
- Material for the Pathfinder Society, the organized play wing of Paizo
- The Pathfinder Tales line, the novels
- AND MUCH, MUCH MORE
Those are just the RPG products with loads of words. We do card decks for the modules and Adventure Paths, flip-mats and map packs (which do require the slightest bit of editing, on the back copy), pawns (which are much more work do edit that you’d think), and certainly plenty of editing for the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. Some of those are monthly products, some less so, and they all need editorial lovin’.
So, let’s talk sausage making. Here’s a handy chart that shows the workflow of an average product.
(I used Gliffy to make that chart, and have no idea why it’s erroring out on the approvals box. And I suppose it’s kinda ironic.)
That’s just from the development/editorial perspective. I left out the art processes because I’m not as familiar with them, and I’m not trying to write a 20,000-word handbook. And we change this process up for different products and different needs; for example, our Bestiary and NPC Codex books have the developer copyfitting the text in layout before an editor ever sees it, because the layouts for those sections are so tight that it actually costs us more time to edit before they’re in layout. (The Pathfinder Tales line is also totally different, because science tells us that novels are different from RPGs. We’ll stick to the RPG stuff for this post, since that’s my meat and drink. Literally, since that’s what gives me money and allows me to eat.)
So there, I’ve just vomited up a bunch of “hey we do stuff!” What does that all mean? First of all, count the number of people editing these books: one developer (as the development passes involve at least high-level editing, if not catching other stuff noted) and four editors. If that doesn’t impress you, consider this: The Dresden Files RPG had one real editor for the full text of both books, one editor who was only on for a short time, and me (who was also writing and designing, so I couldn’t edit those sections). So, really, it had like 1.7 editors on it, if I’m being generous. Fate Core System had two editors, but that’s more a function of my leaving the project 75% the way through and needing to be replaced by the awesome Jeremy Keller. Certainly, fan proofreading helped clean those books up, but that’s not the same as genuine editing. Most books get a single editor.
At Paizo, we have one person who has intimate knowledge of the book in the office, and four people who can at different stages walk over to that desk and point out questions and concerns. And the rapid nature of our work means I’m expected to be out of a section in a matter of hours or days (depending on the size of the section and how far along the editing is on it), for the next person to jump right into. It’s in this environment where I’ve been forced to learn a lot, learn quickly, and pull my weight.
So far, seems like I am. Paizo hired me on full-time early this year, after liking my work as an in-house contractor. I work in the editorial pit – four desks surrounding a small open area – with amazing colleagues: Judy Bauer and Christopher Carey, who have been patient getting me up to speed not just with Paizo’s conventions but also with learning how to be an editor in a process rather than the only editor on a book. James Sutter, the senior editor and four pit-mate. Wes Schneider, our EIC and all around standup guy, guides us through the various trials of publishing like some sort of cynical gothy psychopomp. Our developers sometimes pitch in to help with the editing when we get backlogged, such as Logan Bonner and Patrick Renie.
Point is, every day I’m physically surrounded by talented people who show me new and better ways to do my job. Each person has a different set of expertise, some for different bits of the setting canon, some for rules, some for editorial quirks, and so on. And while it’s an exaggeration to say I learn something new every day, I don’t think it is one to say I learn something new every week. But more to the point, doing this day in and day out has felt a bit like mentally going to the gym every day, and all of these manuscripts are punching bags. Multiple simultaneous products are free weights. Publishing timelines are, uh, saunas? I’ve run out of useful gym metaphors.
Anyway, this is an environment where I’ve been forced to become a better editor. I don’t know how long I’ll be here at Paizo or what I’ll do after this – no one can tell the future – but certainly my time here has forged me into being a much stronger editor (gym metaphor pays off!) and a much stronger professional overall. Some people have commented over the last few months something to that effect, and today I’ve told you a bit of how that’s happened.
Crap, I said I would talk about copyfitting. Maybe later this week? Next week? The nebulous future?
 I couldn’t resist.
 When you’re the only editor on a book, the process is very different.
 I’m not sucking up to you, Wes. You know me too well by now to know that.
 Who is also my roommate. Speaking of which, we have a room in our house for rent!
 Shows how long ago I did weight training.