The Many Hats: A Beginner’s Guide to Self-production

Creating something on your own for the first time is a paradox of impostor-syndrome. On the one hand, you are making a thing, so you are legitimate and amazing for creating something where once, there was nothing. On the other hand, you are making something for the first time, so do you actually feel legitimate? I want to address this because in my journey of making Project ALPACA, I have had to wear many hats. MANY. HATS. It’s like Team Fortress 2 up in here I have so many hats. This can be some intimidating stuff, which in turn to lead to questions of legitimacy. As a self-publisher, producer, bespoke crafts-person, however you define yourself, there will be a lot of hats for you too. Your mileage may vary, but hopefully you can glean some insight if you are also a first time creator. So let’s talk about hat management for first time creators.

To give some context, I am attempting to self-publish my first card time through my now-official small business, Ludology Lab. I was at first interested in video game production (and in fact,the first version of Project ALPACA was the first game I ever coded), but as time went on I realized there were simply too many moving pieces to accomplish the goal I wanted. I would literally need employees and other people to make my dream a reality. So naturally, I decided to make what I thought was a simpler version (I was wrong), and thus, the tabletop ALPACA was born. Having almost completed this process, I can say I have learned a lot. Let’s discuss some of the hats you may have to wear as an intrepid self starter.

BUSINESS HAT. This is the most boring hat to wear, in my opinion. This is the hat you have to wear if you are going to be legitimate in the eyes of the government. You’ve got to get your house in order, and it is a tedious yet necessary process. This hat worries about making sure you aren’t surprised by the realities of having your own business such as taxes, laws, regulations, and other un-fun things that make having your own creation seem like a bad idea. Now if you want to stay at the hobby level and not self-produce/publish, you can probably skip this stuff and simply share your creations with those you care about. This is only really necessary if you want to have a wider release and maybe even make some money along the way.

First of all, you should register an LLC if you are planning on selling something. In my state (I live in the USA), this consisted of $125 to the Secretary of State of South Carolina. I then picked a name and filled out a form (Articles of Organization) and was on my way. The forms are relatively simple, and some places will charge you and they will fill them out for you, but I would save the money and do it yourself. There are like 3 – 4 boxes and then you’re done. I also chose to have a Registered Agent, which is basically a third party service that handles any state or legal mail I may get. It costs money, but I recommend it. It’s just another layer that makes sure you get all the important documents and notices you are supposed to. Your Articles of Organization will ask you for your Registered Agent info if you have one, which again is optional, but I recommend because I tend to be overly cautious.

Then, go get yourself an Employer Identification Number (EIN). This is a way to let the federal government know that you are a business and are willing to pay taxes. [Personal Note: you should pay taxes. They pay for public education and fire safety and such.] An EIN will allow you to get a business account at a bank. It is also useful if you want to start hiring people full time in the future. Getting an EIN is free and simple, you just have to go to the IRS website and it will point you in the right direction. Now that you have an EIN, you can start up your business bank account and become overwhelmed with sadness when you hear about the fees. It sucks, but it keeps your personal finances separate from the business which makes sure you can eat. Some of the best small business advice I have heard: “Don’t make decisions that will make you lose your house.” Basically, take chances, but don’t be so risky that you cannot personally bounce back. Call me a cynic, but there is no art worth starving over. From there, you need to register for your state, county, and local tax or business programs. This gets you the correct licenses to do what your specific thing. I had to register for state and local licenses since I am technically a “retailer” who is trying to sell a card game on the Internet (business classifications are quite broad where I live).

And there it is. It’s not exciting. In fact, it’s quite the boring hat. It’s mostly forms and checking boxes. However, it’s infrastructure you will want it if the government rains down on you. Plus, it makes you legally “official,” so you get that going. To recap: if you want to be an official purveyor of original goods you’ll need to:

  1. Create an LLC [it’s fine to be the only member, called sole member]
  2. Get a registered agent [optional]
  3. Get an Employer Identification Number [EIN]
  4. Start a business bank account
  5. Register for State/County/Local taxes or business associations

This is not an exhaustive list, but it’s a great place to start if you feel like you don’t know where to begin with your process becoming tangible.

DESIGNER HAT. This is the best hat to wear in my opinion. This is the hat you wear when you are actively creating your things. This is probably the hat that got you started because it was something that you enjoyed doing or creating. I don’t have a lot of general insight on this hat because it’s different for every person. However, I have talked to all sorts of people that have helped me on my creative journey. I have been cataloging their experiences and stories. Without this information I would surely not be where I am today.

If you have not already, legitimize yourself. Not in a business sense, but on a personal reassurance sense. If you are doing the thing, you are that thing. Let me be more specific. I have never made a game before. Now I have. It’s not 100% polished or even 100% complete to my standards, but it’s real enough that I have played it with people and I currently have a copy in my bag. It exists. Now here’s the magic: that alone makes me a game designer. This was probably the biggest breakthrough I had, advice given to me by a fabulous web comic designer (thank you, Brian). Re-framing yourself as a creator can do wonders for your personal legitimacy. So to use myself an example (feel free to insert your own goals), start talking about yourself as a [game designer] and be confident that everything you do is the attitude of a [game designer], because you have [designed a game]. The steps you have made are surprisingly much more than everyone else who has thought about how they will [design a game] one day. So good for you!

However, one day you will wake up and hate what you are doing. Not in a bitter loathing sense, it just won’t be as fun and going to work on your project will start to seem, well, like work. This can be a harrowing experience that can throw your legitimacy into question YET AGAIN. For me it was “Would a real game designer feel like this was boring? Wouldn’t a real game designer enjoy this part of the work? Would a real…” and so forth. This is not a great line of questioning, sometimes referred to as impostor syndrome. Impostor syndrome means that you feel like an impostor surrounded by others who are more legitimate or worthy than you. Most people feel it because life is a cosmic absurdity, so don’t worry too much. This is why I’m telling you now that getting annoyed at your creation is a very real and normal thing. The analogy that most people seem to give when dealing with a project that won’t quite ever end is childbirth. It’s not that you hate your baby, you’re just ready for it to be over so it can grow up and be a real thing. So you don’t have to be 100% on everyday to work on your creation. I didn’t start making games to measure component sizes, but it’s a part of the process. Just remind yourself why you are doing it in the first place.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to wear multiple designer hats. You may surprise yourself with what you accomplish if your willing to try the hat on. I am a person who historically, in real life, looks terrible in hats. But this also means I will never know if there is an amazing hat for me out there. So try it with the metaphorical hats. Chances are your skills of incredible creation will translate into something else. Before I became a teacher I was a sound engineer. I went to school for it and everything and still have some equipment hidden around the house. When the time came to try my hand at video (which I was DREADING), I soon discovered that editing video is basically just like editing audio except with pictures. REVELATIONS. The thing I have been dreading for about six months now was actually one of the more enjoyable parts of my current project. I’m not even saying it’s wonderful, but for me it was definitely better than expected, and MOST definitely good enough. And that’s the secret of creative intersection: it only has to be good enough. Not good enough for you, just good enough where you are able to finish it and it’s not horrible. Even if it’s not your favorite type of designer hat, you will now have the ability to do that new thing in a pinch, or even at least know what you want from someone else who does it better than you. Knowing even just the terminology and capabilities of some people can be wonderful when trying to make a vision real. This talking to other people and their hats will be our last big hat of the piece, but a quick recap:

  1. Give yourself legitimacy. If you wear the hat, you are that thing. (Like Kirby, I guess.)
  2. Having varying levels of motivation and inspiration is normal
  3. Try on different creative hats. Expand your skills, or just gain knowledge about something else creative.

SOCIAL HAT. This is a tricky hat to wear, in my opinion. This is the hat you have to wear to capitalize on the people around you. Which inherently, in my humble opinion, feels bad. I am a natural extrovert (I was once described not as a social butterfly, but a social Mothra), but I have a hard time asking people for things or hyping myself up to others. Two people have told me about how to get over this. I asked a writer once about how he made his dreams into a reality. He simply responded “Have a bunch of great people around you.” This was surprisingly insightful and made me reconsider the people I surround myself with, in a good way. The other guy was a random dude in a casino who saw me playing craps once (the one where you roll dice). He noticed that I never rolled the dice, I only played when other people rolled. You have to pay a special bet on yourself to roll, so I never did. This stranger pulled me aside and said something I will never forget: “How do you expect to win if you can’t bet on yourself?” Shook. Me. To the core. And I believe that’s the crux of presenting your ideas around to other people. Social media is not my forte, but it’s necessary. If you want to give your ideas and creations to the public, you have to engage with the public. So two easy rules to start: Believe in yourself and surround yourself with amazing people. Surround yourself with people who support what you are doing. People who think your stuff is cool. People who want to support you. People who you like and who like you. People who will take their only day off during the week to help you achieve your dream. Those people are out there, you just have to find them. It may be a little melodramatic, but if I may quote Doctor Who:

The sky is full of a million million voices saying, “Yes, of course we’ll help.” You’ve touched so many lives, saved so many people…did you think when your time came, you’d really have to do more than just ask? You’ve decided that the universe is better off without you — But the universe doesn’t agree.

  • River Song

You might not think it now, but the world is full of people who think you are worth the time of day. It’s true. Go talk to them! This isn’t an easy task, but again, if you want to bring something to life in the world, you are going to have to go talk to the world. That involves believing the world isn’t so scary and going to eat you alive and spit out your hopes and dreams. And then giving your thing to that world. The short technical list here is to, of course, engage with people through the medium of your choice. Or all the mediums. Regardless, get out there and engage. This is one of my shortcomings that I am still working on, but here I am writing about it for you, who is reading it right now and that’s more than nothing I suppose. So if you want to be social, I won’t tell you how to make great posts or who you should follow or how to be glib, but I will tell you:

  1. Surround yourself with wonderful people, engage with them
  2. Be willing to bet on yourself

These are the hats I have found so far. The business, the creation, and the engaging. They are big hats. With these hats you can probably accomplish anything. I am sure there are smaller hats out there I have missed, or haven’t even tried on yet. But if you’re looking for a place to start, try here. Become legitimate in the eyes of the government, become legitimate in your own eyes, and acknowledge your legitimacy in the eyes of others. In other words:

Be legit.

Be too legit to quit.

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