Advice on breaking into the newspaper puzzle business?
November 5, 2006 8:40 AM   Subscribe

I've invented my own type of unique, newspaper-publishable, word game. I would like to either make weekly editions of it to sell to weekly newspapers...

individually by sending in months' worths of puzzles (or however they are distributed, such as by email/pdf/whatever) or perhaps license the rights to the format to newspaper/calendars/etc publishers thereby being able to create their own.

I've been inclined to perhaps starting out in smaller papers for negligible fees until/if it catches on, but I'm curious as to how it could be prevented from other papers and/or other word-game writer/editors from just duplicating my format (perhaps altering one aspect to make it unique) and creating their own without any royalty action taking place.

Secondarily, would you personally, with given such a task, prefer going the slow-buildup route of establishing a fanbase with negligible fees like I had intended, or querying the syndicators right off the bat instead?

Any links to recommendations or books about breaking into the newspaper puzzle business? I've considered even making up a whole slough of them and sending them off to a coloringbook publisher to (relatively) inexpensively print mass quantities to sell in book form also.

I'm certain it'll start out being a solo effort of just a hobby-level income, but perhaps if I can build it up great enough..
posted by vanoakenfold to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
"I'm curious as to how it could be prevented from other papers and/or other word-game writer/editors from just duplicating my format (perhaps altering one aspect to make it unique) and creating their own without any royalty action taking place."

You probably can't prevent this completely. While individual puzzles may be copyrightable, a concept or type of puzzle is not. If there's some novel process involved in creating the puzzles, you could try to patent it; I'm not a lawyer, but I think this is doubtful.

You probably can't lock out competition, so your best bet is to compete with better products and/or marketing. One thing you can do is build a recognizable trademark for your puzzles; you can register your trademark to prevent potential competitors from using it.

Have you considered publishing your puzzles on the web, instead of trying to break into the newspaper market?
posted by mbrubeck at 8:46 AM on November 5, 2006

I'm not a lawyer, either, but couldn't you patent the type of word puzzle you're doing? I'd look into that before showing it around, if the puzzle format is unique and memorable and something you'd be concerned others might rip off.
posted by MegoSteve at 8:58 AM on November 5, 2006

You could register and copyright a specific name for the type of puzzle in the hopes that the name and puzzle become synonymous like "Sudoku" (though AFAIK Sudoku isn't a copyrighted name/trademark, but you get the idea). Once that's complete, you can try to get your puzzles distributed by newspaper syndicates -- not an easy thing to do, but a syndicate would have the distribution and legal power to tackle this in a way that just you as one person could not.
posted by Robot Johnny at 9:28 AM on November 5, 2006

I don't know about the competition piece, but your best bet with breaking into newspapers is to start very small. Your local independent suburban weeklies will be very easy to pitch to and very easy to work with. But that doesn't guarantee they'll like the idea, as a lot of the weeklies stay away from that sort of thing.

The next step would be to go to the smallest daily paper in your area. Find the features editor and give him/her a call or send an e-mail. You should have an idea of the various features pages the paper publishes and where you think the puzzle would fit. (Features usually includes food, lifestyles, arts, entertainment, maybe a few others. These are weekly sections.)

While you may think the best place would be on, say, the comics page or thereabouts, you might have trouble with that as many papers have very pre-planned layouts for these pages. If there is a page that changes from week to week in layout, your puzzle will be easier to insert there. At least at the beginning.

Most dailies, even the small ones, are owned by bigger companies. The paper's editors have freedom to use as much original content as they like, but the good thing about it is that if the local editor likes it, s/he can tell the editors at other papers in the chain about it. Then you have a chance at syndication.

(I was a columnist at a local daily for awhile; I came close to a syndication deal, but that was after many months. And even then it fell through. YMMV.)
posted by brina at 10:32 AM on November 5, 2006

A different suggestion - instead of going the newspaper route, how about turning it into a webgame and trying to sell it to some of the popular webgame services like popcap, yahoo games etc? "Casual Gaming" is a booming industry, and actively seeking new ideas and people. I suspect you will find the newspaper industry very staid and closed to new things. If this sounds interesting, start by having a look at the Casual Games Association. Good luck, and I hope to play your game some day soon, I love word games!
posted by Joh at 12:09 PM on November 5, 2006

Response by poster: I've already got a website in the works and once it's really up and running all spiffy, I'll post it on MeFi projects. In the meantime, it's there. I plan to post the basic structure of the puzzle in a printable format, and perhaps post weekly editions consisting of maybe just the clues online where one can print the basic structure in multiple copies and download/print sets and sets of clues (since the structure is always the same, so far).

I think as far as copyright goes, the fact that I have posted it here as a question may suitably be objective chronological proof of concept.

I think that if I fail to latch onto a few local small-town newspapers, I can attempt it on other sets of small-town newspapers in various other areas of Texas and surrounding states -- Lord knows there's plenty of those locales to go around =D
posted by vanoakenfold at 1:34 PM on November 6, 2006

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