Write something. Seriously. Even if you know how and where to submit material and ask for work, it’s both a confidence builder and practical necessity to have some material written. You can show it off as a sample or even submit it.
I started by writing a 300 page epic on time travel that no one wanted to look at. I started a little too big. Five years and 22 publications later, I’ve decided to just develop the book myself.
Create a Website
A website is the modern business card. It tells people who you are. It provides examples of your work. It tells people how to contact you. You need one.
If your only option is a free site, get one without popups, just add banners. I highly recommend coughing up 120$ a year for a site without adds and your own domain name.
If your HTML-Fu isn’t that great, make the site simple and clean. You only NEED a few things on your site.
– Your name and email address (Contact Us)
– Examples of your work (best on a sub-page, gallery for an artist)
– A little about yourself (what do you do – art, layout, editing, writing?)
– Just a splash of art (don’t steal, chase down some free clipart).
Optional site elements include links, galleries, photos, games, a web comic, a message board,
Don’t put music on your main page (Index.html). Don’t put popups on your main page. Check your spelling. Don’t write text that sounds nervous or bragging.
Upgrade the Website
Not every writer, even the successful ones, have websites, or good websites. In the advancing age of technology, it’s simply an advantage to have one. I was fortunate that when my family bought a 386 computer in the late 80’s I squirreled it away into my room and taught myself to use the thing and became a computer junky. It makes it a lot easier and cheaper to have a website. Of course, there isn’t a lick of flash on the site so I have plenty of room to improve.
As an advancing writer, it’s certainly time to create a better site, however basic, or upgrade your old site. It shows potential employers that you care about your image and you are dedicated enough to put together a strong self promotion. It gives consumers of your product somewhere to learn more about the product, ask questions and demand future products.
Writing for a magazine isn’t a big commitment for a publisher so they are willing to take their chances on an unknown. Articles should be 1-4 pages, meaning short is good. They won’t publish your 20 page document. There is usually a long wait before publication and they may hang onto your article for years. It’s a good idea to send many articles on a variety of topics. Print magazines tend to actually pay you, which is handy.
Research your magazine. Buy a copy and see what they actually print. Visit their website and find the all important Submissions document. Submitting material to the right person in the right format is vital. Magazines pay between 1 and 5 cents a word.
Visit the message boards listing open calls and write the publishers and ask for work. Once you get published by a company, they will keep your name on their freelance writers list and you could get job offers from them in the future. Don’t be afraid to ask about more work, but don’t pester them. It can be months before they need another writer. (See my Links for publishers)
It doesn’t work with every company but you can write companies and simply ask for work. The smaller companies will actually consider you. Its a good idea to propose an idea to the company but keep is simple or generic. (You don’t want the company to worry that now, if they publish something similar, you will accuse them of stealing your idea.) Don’t be afraid to send them your resume
A contest is essentially work you do for free. I was first published as a result of a contest by Mongoose Publishing. I ended up getting paid and it was a very positive experience. I would consider entering contests by reputable, large, companies.
Many contests require you to buy something, usually a book, and are little more than scams. That said, the entrance fee for a reputable contest is not a scam – but it’s up to you to determine the difference.
Going straight to publishers is probably more effective. There is no incentive to publish contest winners after the contest. They may not even like your work – it was simply the best of the material presented to them.
Visit the Company’s Website
A company’s website can tell you a lot about the company. If the website is never updated that is a warning sign about the company. Updates show signs of life in the company, even if it’s not a top notch site. Most companies with quiet websites never published the work they asked me to write (and consequently I was not paid) and four, so far, have gone out of business.
I’ve said it elsewhere, read the company submission guidelines. That will help you determine if they accept submissions and how they would like them submitted.
Many d20 companies have message boards. This is a a great place to go talk in an informal capacity. Don’t ruin this experience by asking for work (see Asking for Work below), but use it as a chance to learn about the company. At the very least find out who is in charge of the company. It would also be great to find out who takes submissions and valuable to just chat with a few people and get out of the noob catagory on the message board. Usually 10 messages will do. Of course it depends how serrious you are about the working for this particular company. You probably don’t have time to spend on 75 different company’s boards!
Most of my best conversations have happened on boards. This is because the company creates the board as a place to chat. Employers don’t have to be as careful that what they say could be interpreted as a job offer and there is less worry about ideas being posted that could later be used to sue the company if they publish a similar product.
This only goes so far though. Wizards of the Coast employees, officially, NEVER look at their message boards for the above two reasons. People are always asking for jobs and suggesting product changes on those boards – especially with all the MTG card creation. The boards are great fun though and you can learn a lot off them.
Contracts generally guarantee that the writer gets paid if the publisher has the work published. It also specifies dates, the amount of pay and a disclaimer that the publisher can alter the work and is not required to actually publish it.
Realistically, no one goes after anyone in this business. It’s just not worth the cost of an airplane ticket. A contract helps to make sure everyone is on the same page and it establishes a higher level of professionalism from the publisher.
RPGnow’s E-publisher’s Guide:
Besides advice for the aspiring publisher, this book provides templates for contracts. As a writer/artist/editor/layout artist this gives you the option of requesting or even submitting an alternative contract. Contracts are a necessary headache but knowing them and knowing what alternatives are typically available can help you. The book is well worth the investment of it’s cost.
Writing an Application Letter
This is simple advice. If you want professional letter writing advice, I would hunt it down on the internet. This meandering bit is based only on my own experiences and biased opinions – as is everything else in this document.
As a publisher, I’ve had the chance to see a lot of application letters, and most of them are really bad. You’ve got a really good opportunity to improve your chances by learning how to write a good application letter.
I can break the letters down into 3 categories.
1. Chat-Room Letter: This letter does incomplete or short sentences, Grammar, punctuation and proper letter format are missing. Thanks to Cut & Paste, the links usually work. This kind of application is most common from artists.
2. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die: (I’m going to be a little mean here – be warned.) These letter start by bragging about your name. The publisher does not care what your name is. He wants to know why you are writing. (I’m writing to apply for —-). Your name goes at the bottom of the letter. If you’ve impressed the publisher, he might read it.
These are not bad letters. The applicant has made a serious effort to apply, demonstrate his skill and use format technique. He’s just not a professional yet.
3. The Professional Letter: This fellow starts with my name. He tells me why he is applying. He includes a list of references, with links I can check. He might even have an attachment. He closes with his name and some kind of signature.
I’ve got a good Letter, does that mean I get the job?: No, and what’s more, there is still a good chance the fellow with the bad letter got the job. A publisher might receive 20 letters. He MUST reject 19 of them. A good letter only helps. If you haven’t got the skills (samples, gallery, list of publications) and other people do, it won’t save you. A good letter simply improves your chances.
How does a Publisher Choose?: He looks at all the applications and makes a choice based on his opinion. There is no right or wrong answer and he is never sure he has made the best choice. He might have liked one piece in the artist’s gallery, or known someone the writer has worked for. His opinion changes. What he chose on one day, might be different from another. If he goes back and reviews his choice he might decide to change it. There is no one saying “haha! You made the right choice.”
Applying as Writers: When a writer writes an application letter, it must be better than when an artist does. I’m not hiring an artist to write. A writer’s application with spelling and grammar mistakes has immediately hurt his chances tremendously. Even later letters are important. As a freelance writer, I spellchecked most of my mail to employeers.
My favorite letter had no spelling mistakes, was correctly formatted, contained a writing sample attachment and 3 links to others and a website I could go look at for more information. And he worked for a company I had worked for. It’s not fair, but it’s who you know. As you are in the business longer and longer, you will know more people.
I have deliberately gone out and worked for a variety of companies to help increase my circles. I’ll never know if it helped or not.
Feedback and Rejection Letters: If a publisher sends you a rejection letter, respond and thank him. It is the very BEST way to make friends with that publisher. It’s hard writing those letters. You are disappointing everyone who receives one. Writing them back and thanking them is saying “it’s okay”. You’ve just made yourself must easier to work with. It doesn’t guarantee a job, but it’s one of those things that helps.
Consequently, sending negative feedback about a rejection letter is possibly the worst thing you can do. I’m writing a series of them right now and I feel positively ill thinking about any negative feedback – and I’m a bitter jaded internet user.
Scams and Warnings
Royalty Work: Royalty work is at best suspect. I’ve heard many complaints about royalty work and few happy stories. Of the dozen books I have written for royalty payment none have been published. Everything I have written on pay-per-word has been published. If they can’t afford to pay you, chances are they can’t afford to stay in business. Four companies I wrote for on a royalty basis, went out of business. I’m a little (whole bunch) jaded about royalty work. It does exist and it can be successful but I am wary of it from small companies who only offer royalties. Besides, 5% of 1$… …well you do the math.
Blogging: Blogging, posting on message boards to keep them alive, or writing thousands of short articles, pays so little it’s a waste of time. It’s not going to help your career.
Ghostwriting: Ghostwriting does not help your career at all. You are writing for someone else and you never get credit. You’re just doing it for the money, which is usually far from worth it.
Pay varies. Some may be paid up front and/or when the manuscript is turned in with full payment on publication. More often the writer is paid after the product is published, always, in the case of royalties. Pay may include both royalties and pay-per-word but more often it is one or the other.
Pay Per Word: Respectable pay ranges from 1 to 5 cents per word. Better magazines and publishers will pay 5 cents a word – Dragon, Dungeon, Wotc, Goodman Games etc. Getting 1-2 cents a word isn’t something you could live off of, but at least they are taking you seriously. Generally anything under 1 cent a word should be considered non-paid.
Famous writers can get paid as high as 50 cents a word an possibly more with royalties. But don’t start dreaming about these salaries until you’ve been in the business for ten years and have a few best sellers!
Royalty’s vary. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 25% to 33% seems about right. I don’t like royalties because there is NO incentive for the publisher to actually publish your work. I only like to accept royalty payments with a company I’ve already worked for, perhaps on something small, which they paid me for. My first 8 royalty projects never got published – at least not by the publisher who requested the work.
But I’m Not Making Any Money
Okay, you’re normal. If you were making money, you’d be what we call ‘lucky’. I’m four years in and I’ve earned about 3 months worth of ‘real’ work income from my writing. Subtract the cost of books, Gen-Con and other trips, the website, the computer and computer programs and you’ve got a huge black hole. I work part time as a lifeguard, live at home, go to school and write but I’m publishing books. When a full time position comes up at Wizards or Mongoose, now they reply and I’ve been short listed several times.
If I did get hired, it would mean a greater level of success. I’d switch to writing full time. I’d move. There would be new problems though. There are always problems but the more you overcome the better you are prepared for the new ones. You don’t fight the fact new problems will arrive, but instead meet them with calm preparation.
It’d rather be rich and healthy than poor and sick.
I like this twisted version of the cliché because it says that you can be successful. Life isn’t Hollywood. Success does not imply some penalty for achieving it. Yes there is the underlying opposite message that things can be very bad but I’m a glass-is-half-full kind of guy.
2008 Update: Seven years in and the pay has improved, but not considerably. However, I am focusing on getting my products published. I could be making more money doing other peoples work, rather than making my own and trying to sell it. I’ve made a choice there.
Companies Which Don’t Pay
So, you’ve written something and sent it to a company. Maybe it’s been published, maybe not. So where is that paycheck? It’s been six months, or longer! They aren’t responding to me e-mails!
Unfortunately this isn’t unusual. The company may have gone out of business or they might be in financial trouble or some other “real-world” situation might have them busy. Remember that second job you have to pay the bills – many publishers also have second jobs while they are trying to get their company off the ground.
Keep writing the company. If you are polite, you’ve got a much better chance of getting a reply than if you hassle them, no matter how frustrated you are. Also try to find message boards they use – the message boards where you got work from them or the message board on their website. At the very least you might find other writers in the same situation and possibly get an explanation.
Four companies I worked for went out of business. In each case I was asked to write a book, submitted it, and never heard from them again. Repeated efforts to contact them failed and I watched their website expire. Then I took my book elsewhere. I guess I’m lucky. If they had published any of those books, that would represent a problem. I imagine they might not bother paying me.
Remember freelancing is a small-time business, at least for most of us. Neither side can afford an airplane ticket and the cost of a hotel room, much less the price of a lawyer – so suing each other is not a viable option – no matter what your overzealous best friend says (demands) you should do. The quick exception is if you contest copyright with Wizards or another large company.
Go look at the companies website. If they are still updating their webpage and putting out new product – they are still alive. Chase them. Write them. If you aren’t published ask for the product back, but be polite. Publishing anything, even PDFs, requires a lot of work and always a certain amount of money. Most publishers aren’t interested in keeping a product they aren’t going to published. If you HAVE been published, you’ll have to keep asking for payment.
Looking at Legal Options: Your legal options vary depending on your state, province and country. Lawyers are required to do a certain amount of pro-bono work (work for free). This allows you to contact a lawyer and get some advice for free. If you are lucky enough to be close to the publisher, small claims court might be an option but it would make more sense just to go talk to the publisher instead.
(Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and this document (my WritersResourcePage) is not intended as legal advice.)
Many d20 companies sell their products from their own webpage as well. This includes any products they have licensed out to other companies, so you can see which other companies they are doing business with.
Okay, you’ve published a few things and you’re serious about writing, now what?
I like to say I didn’t know anything until I went to Gen-Con. That’s not true but it sure opened my eyes. Goodman Games was the first company to suggest to me that I come down to Gen-Con for their annual get together. I turned them down thinking it would be a colossal waste of money (1000$ for ticket, room/board plus purchases). The following year, I decided to needed to start meeting publishers and I went.
The most important thing I learned is that most of the “legends” I looked up to were just people, very approachable and friendly. Each of them have their own doubts and worries, even thought from my point of view they were tremendously successful.
There are lots of local conventions you can go to. You might not see the Wizard’s booth and Gary Gygax might not be the guest of honor, but you can meet people there and learn – oh and have fun.
Where to Post Press Releases
Advertising is critical. It’s simple. If you don’t advertise, generally no one hears about your product and you don’t sell any copies. A press release is a free way of advertising on message boards.