Hi, everyone, I originally posted this on Substack, intending to unify the content with Patreon, but, well, that didn’t quite pan out due to both issues on the platform and a level of executive dysfunction which kinda stems from this story. I’m putting it here and making today a twofer, along with something new.
Pre-2020, I had a very clear direction in mind – use the money I was making from my bookstore job to fund my self-published RPG content. Well, that was a success, and I went and told myself, “Okay, I don’t hate this job, and I could certainly use the extra cash.” I continued with my classes, my writing, and then a part-time job restocking textbooks and packing online orders. The pandemic rolled around what would’ve been my penultimate semester at the university, and like everything else in the world, things kinda.. derailed for me. I took my leave of the bookstore as the football season took off despite a literal plague crossing the globe, and focused instead on my writing and graduation.
2021 was arguably the best year for TBM; my senior classes were all remote and trivial (how many “how to adult” classes does one business major need?). People turned to their online communities to make up for a landscape increasingly unfriendly towards in-person meetups. I was able to dedicate a great deal of time to honing my style, and I felt a sense of purpose.
After a literally unceremonious graduation, I felt optimistic – I didn’t have any distractions in my way to doing what I truly enjoyed, and my next few months’ goals were in sight. Of course, the money wasn’t quite there yet, but I felt like it was a matter of time before everything fell into place.
In early 2022, I took a sub-management position at the bookstore again, hoping to repeat my initial success of funding my next project and working at a job I didn’t mind in the meantime. It didn’t interfere much with my writing, though it cost me the luxury of a designated daily routine, and maybe that’s one of the root causes of my lapse in writing output.
I made it work for the first few months, but in June, I caught covid from my sister. I consider myself incredibly lucky in that I was miserable for all of a week, and the only long-term effect seems to have been a shift in my seasonal allergies. I felt liberated in a lot of ways. I was certainly afraid of what would happen if I caught it, and I couldn’t stomach the thought of long-distance travel.
“It’s not so bad” can go a long way. It took me from Nebraska to Seattle to assist in opening a new bookstore in the chain. I got a chance to revisit the PNW on the company’s dime. Ironically, my supervisor on this project came down with covid himself, and I was left to work on the store opening totally alone. I left quite the impression on the person at the head of the project, carrying on with no formal training or assistance, and this performance landed me a big job offer – the chance to manage a community college bookstore in the area.
I spent a lot of time going back and forth, weighing the pros and cons of the job, but eventually, I turned it down. The move was too far for a much higher cost of living when I made it out there. But, I’d made myself noteworthy to people in the company, and that wouldn’t be the end of it.
Around Thanksgiving, I was asked if I could serve as acting manager at a religious school’s bookstore in a town about a half-hour from home. I took the offer and stepped right into the mess that warranted a need for new management. I couldn’t get a lot of help from a regional manager based out of state, and the store’s staff consisted of 4 student workers and a semi-retiree who had been there for decades. The store had major inventory problems, from not documenting incoming product shipments to its previous manager regularly botching online orders.
In short, I was in deep shit.
I did as much as I could, on minimal training, and tried to stay afloat. My new boss was perpetually busy, and I was lucky when I got a straight answer from them on a day-to-day basis. Evidently, though, I made a good impression, exceeding expectations for the store’s performance in a little over half of the fiscal year by quite a bit.
I was offered the manager’s position on a permanent basis. The regional offered me the support I was craving – formal training, a chance to find an assistant manager to ease the load, and a great salary for the rural Midwest. I accepted, thinking this would be the change that would make the job tenable. Hoo boy, was I wrong. Within a week of accepting the job, the company made the big announcement that they were eliminating assistant managers from the business altogether. Even if my regional was sincere about finding the help I needed, I feel like I’d accepted the job under false pretenses, and I couldn’t leave without outright screwing over the students. Graduation was just around the corner, and if I left then, nobody would order caps and gowns until it was too late.
The training I still needed never came and student workers began to leave as their schedules conflicted with a job they only cared about to pick up spending money between classes. You can count the number of posts I’ve made for TBM Games on one hand. Projects I genuinely love are on indefinite hold, and I’m certainly not thriving in my career. This is not the path I wanted to take, but it’s hard to not blame myself for the voluntary actions that led me down it. I’m exploring other options, but the truth is that I won’t be satisfied with anything short of finding a way to transition into writing and publishing full-time. In the short term, I’m in talks about a job closer to home, with only a marginal decrease in pay (..healthcare options permitting). I’ve saved a decent amount of money, so I could just walk away if all else fails, but that seems like more of a last-ditch effort than I’m ready to take.
So what’s the plan? Well, right now there isn’t one. You might remember the OGL debacle at the beginning of the year. The future of Big Ampersand and its viability for publishing is certainly in question, and with it comes all sorts of uncertainty. For now, though, I think it’s going to have to be sufficient to try and carry on, at least until a clearer path opens up.
As for TBM Games itself, I certainly have ideas, and it’s just a matter of time before one of them percolates into something worth publishing, but for now, the promise that I’ll be back soon will have to be sufficient.
It is a promise, though.
As you can see, I’m trying a bit of a different format I was originally going to start writing on Substack, but recent developments on the platform left me uninterested in continuing on that platform. Instead, I’m hoping to incorporate more short-form blog posts and design journals here as well as the regular 5e content. Since it’s a little experimental, I’d love to hear your feedback – do you want to here more freeform musings like this, or something else between 5e content releases?