Recently I’ve been working on a sell sheet for my game to send to publishers. Some people call them sale sheets, sales sheets, one sheets, etc. Whatever name you prefer, the idea is the same – one piece of paper that makes a board game publisher want to contact you about your game.
My first few attempts at writing sell sheets were plain and descriptive – the opposite of what sell sheets should be. Through iteration and feedback from friends/professionals, it became clear to me that there was a list of guidelines I should be following when writing this thing. I found some resources on the subject, but I’ve decided to collate some of my findings for others below. Refer to my sell sheet for MERC MAYHEM if you’d like an example.
Now, I’m starting this list with the guiding philosophy that helped me the most…
1. Sell Them Sex, Not How to Play
This is the big one. If you understand this, everything else will fall into place. My friend told me, “Make them think they’re going to get free sex by playing your game.” In other words, the sell sheet should make the publisher bristle with excitement. Promote the most unique and exciting things about your game in a concise way. When I first started writing my sell sheet, I did not embrace this philosophy. Instead, I concisely and accurately broke down the rules of my game so that anyone could understand them. It was more like writing the “Summary” and “Gameplay” entries of a Wikipedia article: useful information, but not sexy. That’s not the way to do it.
The publisher needs to know how to play your game, just don’t write them a book on the subject. Give them just enough information to understand the concept, and then bring out your big guns. Don’t lie, but dress up your game in the best light possible by accentuating its assets. Whet the publisher’s appetite with a peep show.
2. Sell the Idea In 5 Seconds
Publishers get plenty of sell sheet submissions every week. They need to know as fast as possible that your game is sellable, or else they will move on to the next prospect. Your title, picture and tagline (punctuated elevator pitch) set the initial tone, so take time to craft them. Make sure something hooks the publisher fast before they walk away and go make a sandwich.
3. Make Every Sentence a Selling Point
This is a tough one to accomplish literally, but keep this in mind as you write your sell sheet. Review every sentence of your sell sheet to make sure it is selling your game. If not, take it out.
4. Get to the Strongest Word As Fast As Possible and Kill Superfluous Words
The title of this one pretty much sums it up. Find the strongest word in each of your sentences and get to that word in the least number of words possible. For example, in the following sentence, the most interesting word is team: “Each player recruits a unique team of mercenaries to compete in challenging missions.” To promote the wordteam, I can shorten the sentence to the following: “Players recruit a team of mercenaries to compete in challenging missions.” Yes, we lose the explanation that each team is unique, but that’s what I meant before about keeping it sexy instead of descriptive – the publisher doesn’t need to know every single thing about your game. Plus, you might be able to say this point in a different way later on.
Another thing to think about is your word count. I kept mine in the neighborhood of 250 to 300 words. This is by no means a hard and fast rule, but if you keep a quantifiable goal in mind it can help you be tougher on yourself when you edit. I think mine started around 400 words.
5. End Every Sentence with a Strong Word
Don’t let the publisher lose steam from sentence to sentence, so end every sentence with a strong word. For example, you might end a sentence with “enemies” or “winner” instead of “does” or “happens.”
6. Make Sentences Shorter the Further You Go
This was a neat trick my writer friend taught me. How you apply these tips depends on the context of your particular game, but MERC MAYHEM has a lot of action in it so for me this one was applicable. Readers lose energy the more they read, so you can combat this by reducing the number of words as you move from sentence to sentence. This might sound arbitrary, but it makes sense in the context of the sell sheet because the further the publisher reads into your game, the more they know about it; thus, you can use shorter sentences to expand upon game actions they have a base knowledge of while simultaneously keeping their attention span.
7. Utilize Perspective and Pronouns the Publisher Can Relate To
Sell sheets are generally written in third-person perspective, e.g. “The player does this, the player does that.” This is fine at the beginning of your sell sheet, but once the publisher knows what your game is about, you can start slipping him into the player’s seat. To do this, use words the publisher can relate to like “he” and then eventually “you.” This leads me to my next point…
8. Tell a Story
Everyone likes stories. Every sell sheet is an opportunity to tell the story of the publisher epically winning the game. This might mean beating his friends or saving the world. While the sell sheet should be sexy and tell the publisher how to play, don’t be afraid to inject a little narrative into it. It helps him get excited about the gameplay possibilities, which is a reason that games continue to sell after their initial exposure to the public. Plus, at some level, publishers want to bring great games to life.
9. Devote One Section to Why the Game Will Sell
Publishers may not read every word of your gameplay summary the first time they look at it; the thing they look for most upon first read is if the game will sell. I’m not saying that publishers are in it for the money, but the money is a requirement to keep doing what they’re doing, so they need to look for it.The easiest way for a publisher to know if a game will sell is to directly give them the reasons why you think it will sell. They might have more perspective on the subject than you, but you should do your best to show them or give them a start. This section should be just as strong and sexy as the other sections, if not more so. One way to think of this section is like writing a resume for your game – make clear, concise, quantifiable points as to why your game is more marketable than other games. (And why it’s cool! Publishers are gamers too.)
10. Arrange Your Information Neatly
Lastly, make sure the publisher sees all the necessary information immediately – game name, tagline, picture, proposed theme, summary, vitals (age / num. players / time to play), and so on. Publishers need to know if your game can fit into their product line. Experiment with different layouts until you find the best one for your game.
On a more detailed level, don’t just use black ink and a single font size. Use color, font size, and alternative fonts to call attention to important points.
That’s all. I hope you find some of this helpful in writing your sell sheets. Take your time, iterate, and good luck!