A good sell sheet can be a key part of getting your game picked up by a publisher.
In this piece, I’ll discuss these topics:
- What is a Sell Sheet?
- When do I need a Sell Sheet?
- How do I make a Sell Sheet?
- Examples of Sell Sheets
What is a Sell Sheet?
A sell sheet is a one-page document that is given to a publisher that includes exactly the right amount and kind of information a publisher needs to know whether they should take a closer look at a game, no more, and no less.
A sell sheet should:
- Communicate core data about your game: duration, number of players, etc.
- Include your name and contact information
- Invoke the game’s theme and marketability
- Briefly describe the mechanics
- Highlight special features
When do I need a Sell Sheet?
You have completed the design of your game. Your game mechanics are solid. You’ve done plenty of playtesting, and played the game with strangers. You’ve revised and refined your game to the point where it feels like it is complete, and not so much of a “work-in-progress.” You’re now ready to talk to publishers, make a pitch, and see if they’ll turn your concept into a real product.
There are many ways to come into contact with publishers. Perhaps you’ll be at a game convention where publishers may be present. You might be attending a publisher speed dating event, like the ones at Gencon hosted by James Mathe of Minion Games. Perhaps you’re attending an Unpub event or a Protospiel like the upcoming “Celestispiel” in Fremont California. Or perhaps you plan to connect remotely through online networking, email, or perhaps submitting your game through the mail. The context in which you plan to encounter publishers may influence the content of your sell sheet.
Pro Tip: when transferring your sell sheet electronically, be sure to reduce the file size. For images, you can convert a png to jpeg and/or reduce resolution. For a pdf you can use a filter to reduce file size, or convert to png or jpeg and then reduce resolution. Your digital version can have a much smaller file size than your printed document. One sheet below was reduced from 30 Mb to 120 kb using a quartz filter! Keep your files under 2mb.
How do I Make a Sell Sheet?
The truth is, there are many ways to approach making a sell sheet, and there is no consensus on what elements are truly vital to a good sell sheet. Each game is different, and each publisher is looking for different things. In addition, sell sheets may be given to publishers in different contexts, so more or less information might be needed.
Rather than give you one singular approach to building the perfect sell sheet, instead I’ll encourage you to pull wisdom from a variety of sources, look at some of the examples below, and draw from your own creativity and good judgement.
Jay Cormier and Sen-Foong Lim (designers of Belfort, Tortuga, and others) describe in detail their thoughts on building Sell Sheets on their blog “Inspiration to Publication.” Jay Cormier writes, “Showing a clean looking Sales Sheet to a publisher immediately tells them that you are professional and you know what you’re doing.”
Andrew Federspiel of Knapsack Games also has a blog post on 10 Tips for Writing Sell Sheets for you. He advises, “Make Every Sentence a Selling Point.”
Once you have a sell sheet, get other designers and publishers to take a look and get some feedback. Two of the best places to get feedback on your work are the Card and Board Game Designers’ Guild on Facebook. and the Board Game Designers’ Forum.
Examples of Sell Sheets
The sell sheets below are examples for you to look at and learn from. They were submitted voluntarily by their creators, and were not selected by any kind of criteria. You can see strengths and weaknesses in different approaches while you build your own sell sheets. Some of the documents had their file sizes reduced, so some images may not be high quality. Feel free to post links to your sell sheets in the comments section below.
UPDATE: “Drill, Baby, Drill” was signed my Minion Games after Gencon 2014, and has become “The Manhattan Project: Energy Empire.” Look for this game to be published in 2016!
Game designer by night, and middle school science and pre-engineering teacher by day. He lives in Santa Maria California with his amazing wife and two unrealistically well-behaved children.
Latest posts by Luke Laurie (see all)
- Ten Things I Learned in my First Five Years as a Game Designer – November 10, 2016
- How to Playtest – Part 3, Being a Good Playtester – August 24, 2016
- Why do gamemakers go to GENCON? – August 8, 2016
26 Readers CommentedJoin discussion
This is some good advice. I’m not sure I agree on the method of delivery in regards to his advice on what image file to send. If you intend for the recipient to print it out, or even think the possibility exists for the sell sheet to get printed, it MUST be provided at print resolution. The Acrobat preset “High-Quality Print” does an admirable job of reducing file size while keeping everything at print res. Also if you are sending PDFs of your sell sheet out, take advantage of some of the features; make your links live so the user can send you an email directly or head to a web link to watch a demo. If you’re doing a sell sheet for an RPG I think an important thing will be a list of supplements or plans on where you think your universe can expand. And if you can afford and are at all worried about your design skill, hire a freelance to put it together for you.
Thanks Michael! Yes – definitely keep sheets in .pdf form if the purpose is to allow others to print them, and to allow live links. Another tip is that images can be scaled and reduced prior to putting them into a document in the first place, and then the .pdf file size will be smaller.
Really cool lessons on sell sheets here, and it’s so interesting comparing different peoples’ examples side by side! As the designer as some of the “plainer” looking sell sheets, it feels a little paradoxical that my sheets aren’t flashy, but it’s very important to keep in mind how it’s being delivered and used. For our sell sheets, they are presented or emailed after an in-person pitch to publishers, so I count on them having a feel for the game before they look at the sheet.
One thing I prioritize is the ability for someone to be able to print out my PDF on a black and white printer, so I would personally recommend against a heavy use of color. I also feel that by investing a lot of design in the theme of the sheet, I might be sending the message that we are not open to retheming when a publisher picks it up. And I like to give the publishers we meet the option of writing notes in the margins when something strikes them, hence a lot of unprinted white space.
I am curious to hear what publishers think of them, though. I’ve got a lot more information on my sheet than, well, anyone else, because our games’ unique mechanics are really the thing that stands out about them. I do try to keep it skimmable by strategic bolding of key points, but I wonder if it should be reduced down further. ..
The two sell sheet examples I provided were used for face to face pitches. I would flip through the sell sheets for my games, spending 2-4 minutes on each. I could then do a demo of any games that caught a publisher’s interest.
I’ve found that a picture of the game in action is the most important aspect of my sell sheets (given the way that I use them). I make sure that I can show how the game works by pointing to things on the picture. Each picture is staged with this in mind.
Most of us in the Games Artisans of Canada use the same template for your sell sheets, giving us a more unified, and hopefully professional, look.
Damnit, now I want to play all the games from your samples. Too good of an article I say!
Thanks for the article (and the exposure for my sell sheet). This definitely has me thinking about my layout and style. I appreciate the technical/practical tips (file size, content categories etc.), as much of the advice I have seen is more style based which can be different depending on individual preference. Any specific suggestions for mine (Goblin Toboggan) are welcome!
Thanks so much Pat Marino for allowing us to post your sell sheet. We’re all in a constant learning process in this field. I’m glad you could be a part of it!
Clearly there are many ways to approach making sell sheets and many factors to consider.
I have perhaps the simplest pitch sheet of the lot up there (Pirates), and had success with this route with our first game. I see the sell sheet as an advertising piece for my game.
I really don’t want it to tell you everything, If you’re anything like me, you probably won’t read it all even if I did. I want it to say a few key things and show the components in an attractive fashion to grab interest and receive a phone call/email.
Thanks for these excellent tips and examples. I was using Jay’s and Sen’s example as I made my sell-sheets, but it’s great to see other excellent examples of possible styles. Looking at these definitely encourages me to streamline my sell sheets and clearly highlight the selling points before the upcoming Madison Protospiel.
Hi Luke, Hi All, Good points on the creation of sell sheets. I’ve got a sell sheet I did for a designer, it was used for his entry into the “54 Card Challenge” hosted by Dice Hate Me Games earlier this year. It is a pretty good example of not just content, but general layout principles too. If you want to put it up I’d love to send it to you. Shoot me an email. Thanks!
All of these pictures seem to be final art or at least professional (paid) art. Is this normal before finding a publisher?
Does anyone submit a sell sheet before hiring an artist? (And thus has pictures of their game with the free clip art used in prototyping)
Actually, Nathan, I don’t believe any of these would be considered to be final art, though they may have hired or used a professional artist. Even if a designer does hire an artist to do work for a prototype, it is unlikely that a publisher would use that art. It’s true that these sheets have some decent graphic arts on them, but they’re not final art for publication.
I’m not planning to approach a publisher with my project. Is there any reason for a self-publisher to develop a “sell sheet” for their game?
Not really Eric. You’ve already sold yourself on the game! By the end, you’ll have to make way more marketing pieces than just this sheet – as the publisher. You’ll be focusing on getting the consumer, distributor and retailers interested in lots of ways.
I do wonder what my What the Food?! game sell sheet would’ve looked like, but I never pitched the game to anyone else, just made it happen.
Interesting. I thought sell sheets were mainly for publishers to sell to distributors and distributors to convince stores to stock games. I guess the 2 types should differ slightly in content focus? I’ve read elsewhere that when pitching your game to a publisher you should tailor it to their needs, their line, and their audiences. In that context is a designer to publisher sales sheet best used in conventions and other public events where publishers are browsing for new designs?
Thanks for a great post. I meant to submit a couple sell sheets but then forgot to email them. With that said, I think you got a great variety of sell sheets. I will be keeping an eye out at Gen Con for these great sounding games. Im no expert, but I do want to share a few things I have learned from my experience interacting with publishers.
1) Design the sell sheet with use in mind.
For example: As Al Leduc mentioned, he usually pitches from the sell sheets first. This requires big pictures that capture game play. However, I never pitch this way. We are both part of the same organization (Game Artisans of Canada). I usually pitch games and use my sell sheets as something to leave with a publisher so they can think more about the game. So things like component details, contact info, number of players, run-time, etc are the most important things I include.
2) Don’t over think the sell sheet.
I have heard of one game from a friend, who got a game signed strictly from the sell sheet alone. However, if you dig deeper, it really was the person handing off the sell sheet that made it happen. Spend some time making a sell sheet useful/professional, but remember its more about relationship then a good looking piece of paper.
3) Think about the publisher you are presenting to.
Think about how your game might fit within a publishers line of games. Ask what kind of game the publisher is looking for. Sure we all want to get our games signed, but they need to be the right fit. Good games find homes. Don’t rush or push. Spend time listening and thinking about the publishers perspective. Maybe even customize your sell sheets to the person. A simple way my co-designer and I did this was making a deck of custom cards. Each card featured a little inside joke for each publisher we were scheduled to pitch to. Then we gave the card as a little compliment to the sell sheet. It was memorable and a very practical way to help a publisher remember your game.
I would add that your sell sheet should look like C.R.A.P. (Contrast, Repitition, Alignment, Proximity). Some basic design principles that will make your sell sheet readable and easy to understand.
More in-depth explanation of C.R.A.P.: https://blog.teamtreehouse.com/how-crap-is-your-site-design
Thanks for this article. A game designer friend of mine suggested I check it out. I am a first time designer and took all of this great advice into account for my sell sheet. I did as you suggested yesterday (my friend advised me to do it also) and posted it on the Card and Board Game Designer FB page.
I did not even get one response! I looked through all of the other posts and they all have responses. Can you explain what might have happened?
I took a look at your sell sheet – and pointed a few other people in your direction to take a look. Hopefully you’ll get some responses!
Great sell sheets…I want to play all of them! Well… except for the eurogame. I only play ameritash
For something like the GenCon speed-dating, would you recommend only bringing Sell Sheets?
For speed dating, you definitely need more than your sell sheet – you need a nice prototype of your game, and business cards. You should have your game all set up at the table you’re assigned to. The publishers rotate.
Pingback: James Mathe – Entrepreneur, Designer, Publisher 24 Aug, 2017
[…] https://www.leagueofgamemakers.com/how-to-build-a-sell-sheet-for-your-game/ […]
I wish there had been some advice on how to make the sell sheets. I have Microsoft Word and Excel and no art. How do I actually make a sell sheet look like that? What program do I have to buy? How do you take pictures like that?
Hi Nathan. My best advice here is, unless you want to spend a bunch on the Adobe suite (Photoshop, InDesign, etc.), your best bet is to use programs like Word or Google Drawings to make your sheet. Then focus more on photos of your game (using a decent smart phone camera) so that you don’t have to worry about creating images. Use resources like https://www.freepik.com, https://www.dafont.com, and others to make the process easier. Hope that helps!