One of the panels I was fortunate enough to attend at Geek Girl Con this year was “Writing for Roleplaying Games” led by Amber E. Scott. Ms. Scott is a freelance writer who has written numerous books for Paizo Publishing’s Pathfinder series, as well as a number of articles for Wizards of the Coast’s Dragon Magazine. The panel focused on how to break into publishing roleplaying games as a freelance writer. The following article is paraphrased from the presentation. All quotes below are of Ms. Scott.
Create a Portfolio
Before you start sending out a flurry of proposals, build up a portfolio of your written work online. Having free content on your website gives you something to point to. “I don’t have any published credits but you can see examples of my work here, here, and here.” Editors can see that you know how to write professionally, and evaluate your writing style.
If your interests align with them, take advantage of game systems with open content licensing, which will let you demonstrate that you can follow a particular company’s style guidelines and work within their existing material.
Get Your Foot in the Door
Editors are always looking to expand their pool of freelance writers. Writers move, have family issues, or may change career paths from roleplaying to fiction writing. Because they need to be continuously making new contacts with potential writers, editors are much friendlier and approachable than people often believe. “Editors are invested in helping new writers learn to be better, and learn to be professional, because that’s where the next generation of their freelancers is going to come from.”
It’s a good idea to follow the social media of the companies that you want to be involved with. This allows you to jump on any open calls they make for new writers, and gives you a better feel for what the company looking for. Most companies that produce roleplaying games are not big enough to have a dedicated PR staff handling their social media, so it is often editors and staff writers managing these news streams.
If you have the opportunity to meet an editor at a convention, introduce yourself, let them know about your interest in writing for their company, and ask if it is okay for you to email them after the convention. Just don’t try to give them a full pitch at the convention itself, or pull out a five inch binder with your homemade setting!
It’s also entirely acceptable to look up a company’s contact information through their website and send them a query. Keep it short — let them know you enjoy their products and have an interest in any future writing opportunities they might have. Point them to where they can find samples of your work, and if you have a specific idea for an article, provide a short description and approximate word count.
Make Your Submission Stand Out
Once a query has been accepted and a project has been offered, it’s time to get to work!
Meet your deadlines. This is the most important thing you need to do. An editor can help smooth out rough edges and provide new direction, but they can’t edit something that you haven’t submitted.
Match your publisher’s style. You may receive an official style guide when the editor offers you the project. If so, use it! If not, make sure to look at other work and match your formatting and style choices to the company. Details like italicizing spell names or always capitalizing feats save the editor’s time and helps build confidence that you can write to their needs.
Meet your word count guidelines. Online publications have a lot of flexibility, but if your writing is published in a printed book, then the editors are giving you a word count goal for a reason. They are limited to a particular number of pages, and need to make considerations for artwork and borders. If you blow past your word count limit, then the publisher is going to have to make hard choices about what to cut out. You should try to be within 5% of the word count to keep your editors happy.
Be creative, but follow the rules. Creativity is a requirement for roleplaying game freelance work, but if you are given a project you need to meet its specifications. Making a radical change once the project has started because your interests have changed is sure to give your editor heartburn.
Do Your Research
There are two main categories of writing for roleplaying games: the “fluff” and the “crunch.” Fluff consists of background information, histories, and other details to flesh out characters and setting. Crunch is all about the rules and game mechanics. As crunch is detail heavy, and can have significant impacts on the game, it needs a few extra considerations.
Plan on about 50% of your project time being research. You want to make sure that any new rules content you create is not replicating work already published for the system, and that it is in balance with existing content. It takes time to research existing materials and make sure that your feats and spells stand out as new and interesting without breaking the game.
Include your thought process in your draft. Make use of a word processor’s markup system to leave notes for your editor on the choices that you have made. Editors like to know what your reasoning is for assigning damage to a spell or a level requirement to a feat. If they agree with your line of thought then it is a quick process to double check your work and get it finished. And if there is disagreement, the editor knows why you made the choices you did, and how to redirect your effort on the next revision.
Once you have finished your work – be it fluff, crunch, or both – you have the best part to look forward to. Now you get to see your writing published in a professional finished product.
And then they pay you!
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