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

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.Paizo's editorial process

(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[2]. James Sutter, the senior editor and four pit-mate. Wes Schneider, our EIC and all around standup guy[3], 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[4] 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[5].

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.

– Ryan

Crap, I said I would talk about copyfitting. Maybe later this week? Next week? The nebulous future?

[1] I couldn’t resist.

[2] When you’re the only editor on a book, the process is very different.

[3] I’m not sucking up to you, Wes. You know me too well by now to know that.

[4] Who is also my roommate. Speaking of which, we have a room in our house for rent!

[5] Shows how long ago I did weight training.


14 Responses to My First Year at Paizo

  1. Gareth Hanrahan says:

    I’m always astounded by Paizo’s (or maybe just ‘Wes’s’) outlines. Other companies I’ve worked with range from a section-by-section or chapter-by-chapter breakdown, but he drills down to individual paragraphs at times.

  2. Joshua Yearsley says:

    Some great perspectives here! Perhaps you could give one or two of your most important lessons learned from Paizo?

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      I couldn’t really narrow it down like that. There are dozens of process things that are now ingrained, like the InDesign/InCopy tips I posted yup back in July. When it comes to bigger scale stuff, it’s even harder to pin down.

      I already knew the importance of, for instance, editing after layout. I’ve known that for years. But occasionally I work for a publisher who doesn’t get that, and I am equally baffled that you don’t edit post-layout.

      I’ve learned that spending an extra couple days longer than anticipated in editing isn’t always worth the time expended on early passes, because in that time another editor with fresher eyes could pick up those issues sooner.

      I’ve learned where a bunch of my strengths and weaknesses lie.

      And I’ve learned — well, re-learned — how to do RPG work while wearing pants. There’s a pants rule at the office.

      – Ryan

    • Joshua Yearsley says:

      I figured it wouldn’t be easy to describe, but I wanted to see if I could pry something out of you anyway, haha. Okay, here’s a more focused question: do the three editors that work on the doc before CE have defined roles? For example, is editor 1 told to work differently than editor 3, or do they share the same scope? I’m sure the editing concerns change as it filters down, but are there any hard distinctions?

      Did I mention somewhere that I don’t edit after layout? Perhaps in my first month or two, but I quickly learned that a lot of hard work can go down the drain by doing so. :)

      I guess the pants thing is endemic in RPG freelancing, or freelancing in general, as my housemates have already found out.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      The pants thing is definitely freelancing in general. In fact, at a certain point last year, I started wearing pants at home during work hours, as a way to get myself focused.

      The E1 is much more systemic and organizational, since we’re in Word. Of course, that differs depending on the project what “organizational” means, but there’s where we focus on catching the worst stuff — including things like gender-fail and massive incorrect assumptions. (Though, the art notes process happens before the editors get the drafts, so sometimes we can’t directly correct systemic problems cemented in art. That’s a whole other topic, and one I’m less confident to speak on right now.) The E2 is like that, as well — essentially, we do what we can before it goes into layout to fix the big problems, anything that makes paragraphs move around, be dramatically resized, or cut and rewritten entirely.

      If we catch something post-layout, we still bring it up, but our solutions are more limited. Post-layout, we’re also looking for copyedit issues like widows and orphans, which we won’t catch until that point.

      – Ryan

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Wait, are you saying that a lot of hard work can do down the drain if you do edit post-layout?

      – Ryan

    • Joshua Yearsley says:

      Nope, quite the opposite. “Did I mention somewhere that I don’t edit after layout? Perhaps in my first month or two [I didn’t], but I quickly learned that a lot of hard work can go down the drain by [not editing post-layout]. :)”

      Silly negatives.

      That one moment of panic after seeing the words “glitches in editing” said about one of my early edits was enough to convince me to do a pass after layout every time.

  3. Ryan Macklin says:

    We’re getting some good conversation on the G+ thread as well:

    – Ryan

  4. Adam Daigle says:

    Happy anniversary! It’s been fun having you here.

    See ya in the morning. :P

  5. Wayne Zombie says:

    With that much work going on in Word docs, do you ever have problems with file corruption, and what do you do about it if a later edit of the file gets corrupted?

    Very curious about that, I’ve seen many occasions of complicated documents getting mangled because of Word bugs.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      We don’t generally have problems with Word (partly due to our process not involving Track Changes, because there’s no back-and-forth with the files), but then if we did, that’s what having a backup system is for.

      We occasionally have corruptions when working in InCopy, and the art team has some magical process for dealing with that.

      – Ryan

    • Wayne Zombie says:

      Good to know, thanks for the reply. I really should study InDesign and get comfortable with it, I’ve had it for a few years but my focus has been on photography and video editing with Photoshop and Premiere.

  6. Lee Graham says:

    I’ll have to go back and look at your InDesign tips as well, as I used to do layout back in the pre-InDesign days.

    When you’re working with the Word documents, do you make use of styles, so that some of the basic layout formatting is taken care of during the import into InDesign?

    I’ve always thought that RPG publishing is one of the areas where use of custom XML schema could simplify other uses of the document later (especially in regards to the SRD, or for database usage).

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      I need to write more InDesign tips. I may start titling them “Dumb things I’ve learned about InDesign because I’m self-taught.”

      We use paragraph styles, no character styles. We have extensive styles in our template, covering running text, sidebar text, stat blocks, tables, etc.

      People have said similar about XML schema, and it would totally work — I think the Dungeon World guys did something like that. Though, once you get to a point where you’re utilizing non-tech savvy people, you have to deal with more time spend doing correction to XML documents. This is a magazine-publishing pace, so things that could slow us down if used non-ideally aren’t in the card.

      As I’m fond of saying whenever someone at work says “In an ideal world…”: “publishing is from the ancient Aramaic for ‘not ideal.'” (It’s not special in that regard, just another place where you’re making constant choices between two or more less ideal things. Not using certain tech is one of them.)

      – Ryan