Gen Con: How to Start an RPG Career — Freelancing 101
I’ve probably given the “How to Break into the RPG Industry” talk fifty times at conventions over the years, and the amazing thing is that the talk keeps changing because the field is always evolving. This Gen Con seminar was, frankly, one of the most honest and practical versions of these sorts of panels I’ve participated in, probably because of the range of experience of the panelists.
Adam Daigle, Brandon Hodge, Ben McFarland, and yours truly, have published as freelancers with 0one Games, Atlas Games, Chaosium, Goodman Games, ICE, Open Design, Paizo Publishing, Rite Publishing, TSR, Inc., Wizards of the Coast, and others. They explained how they got their first break, and how that turned into the next assignment, and Adam Daigle also provided a super-helpful 60-second rant about how to do it. Some of that is included in the list after the jump.
Here’s five things you need to know to start your own freelancing career, writing for KQ, Open Design, or elsewhere.
1) The First Rung is the Hardest: The hardest assignment to get might be the very first one. Today, you might consider starting a blog, submitting a pitch to a small PDF publisher, writing a magazine article, or writing for a contest or organized play. Panelists disagreed on whether it is a good idea to spend a lot of time on publisher forums fishing for an assignment — it depends on the publisher you are courting.
2) Know your Target: Choose a publisher and system you like and you most enjoy. Your work will reflect your passion for that game and setting; writing for systems you dislike is usually not worth it and makes it harder to break in. Before you pitch anything or respond to an open call, learn everything about that setting/periodical/ruleset. Hone your title and first few paragraphs of every pitch and email; first impressions count.
3) Every Publisher Does It Differently: All publishers want reliable, talented, creative freelancers who deliver on time. How they find those freelancers and move them into the inner circle of regulars for that company varies a lot. KQ uses an open slush policy; Paizo depends on the RPG Superstar contest and PFS scenario writing. Wizards doesn’t often draw from its organized play program for freelancers, and never has, even in the TSR days.
Read the publisher’s guidelines for how to submit and what they want. Kobold Quarterly has submission guidelines available.
4) Make Yourself Visible: Getting an assignment means building trust and getting a publisher to take a risk on someone new, introducing yourself (politely and swiftly) at a convention, taking part in board discussions and playtests, or becoming a patron on a project with an open call for designers (like, ahem, Open Design’s Midgard project and Dark Roads & Golden Hells). Publish something yourself in PDF, or better yet give it away for free to a small publisher to build a list of prior credits. Use those credits to solicit work slightly higher up the ladder of RPG projects.
5) On Time, To Spec: If you are fortunate enough to get an acceptance note on a pitch, deliver your work on time and at the desired length and style. If you aren’t sure, ask the publisher what they meant or what they prefer. Don’t change the length or approach without asking.
6) Communicate, Communicate, Communicate: If your project is going poorly (or even if it is going well), communicate with the editor or freelance liaison as you are approaching the deadline. Most publishers are happy to hear relevant information about how the work is going before the deadline arrives (such as “Hey, I’m on track!” or “OMG, my spouse is hospitalized and I’m behind on my work”). After the deadline passes and you haven’t held up your end, publishers are much less forgiving. In fact, missing your first deadline with a new publisher generally means you won’t be asked to work for them again.
Important Exception: An accepted magazine query can miss the deadline for an issue without as much of a black mark on your record. There’s always next issue, after all. However, if the article in question was a major feature article meant to match an issue’s theme, confirm the query if you miss the close-of-issue-submissions deadline.
That list is a great start for approaching any creative industry, since these basics apply to artists and writers in other fields as well. KQ is looking forward to seeing new names in the query pile for the Fall and Winter issue!
Got questions about freelancing with KQ or anywhere else? Ask in the Comments!