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Freelancing Is Not For Free

Working the Conventions

by Lloyd Brown
Dec 13,2005


Working the Conventions

The convention season seems like a long way away, but it's not too early to start making plans. Make your hotel reservations, start looking at airline ticket prices, and plan your time off from work. The big conventionsespecially Origins and GenConprovide an opportunity for you to meet RPG publishers face to face. That's an opportunity you rarely find.

Do Your Homework

Just like the research you do before you write something or pitch a proposal, you have work to do before the convention.

Find the name of the person you want to talk to, either from their website or from an e-mail to the company ahead of time. Ask for that person by name at the convention booth. Write notes if you need to, and address your cover letter to that person in particular.

Find out what products each company produces, and which ones interest you. You might dig Goodman Games' Dungeon Crawl Classics but feel that Broncosaurus Rex is not your cup of tea. Clearly you're interested in the DCC line. Ask about that so that Joseph doesn't waste his time telling you about Dinosaur Planet guidelines.

Prepare a Portfolio

Artists use portfolios all the time. Manufacturers themselves use sell sheets to pitch a product to retailers. It only makes sense for you to apply the same technique. It creates a professional image for you, saves the publisher valuable time he could be spending with customers, and gives him a concrete reminder of which of the thousands of people at the convention you were.

Include a cover letter. This single page cover letter should highlight the publishers you have worked with, your gaming experience, your writing experience, and your education. Provide your complete contact information.

Behind the cover, include spec sheets--photocopies of articles and selected samples of larger works. A publisher can tell within a page or so if he's interested. If he wants more at that point, he'll ask. If it looks impressive, include a separate page identifying a full list of your published credits. Include contact information for the people you've worked for if they are willing to provide a reference (you asked that first).

If you're not published, I recommend including a couple of brief writing samples--one with some fluff and one with some crunch. The tricky part here is that publishers don't want to read your unpublished work for liability reasons. You could fix this by "publishing" it through PDF or your website, or including a signed waiver that essentially says you won't sue them if they publish something similar later.

Make sure your contact information is both correct and ubiquitous. Since business cards are cheap, I'd include one of those--in either one of those special pockets made just for them, or paper-clipped on the inside.

The "Bump"

Ideally, find the person in charge of managing the freelance writers and introduce yourself. During vendor hall hours, he will be busy, so ask if he has time or if he would like to arrange to speak to you later. You're not trying to get a contract here; you just want a few minutes of face time. In fact, plan on taking up less than two minutes, but be available for a longer discussion after the vendor hall closes.

Important note: you are not pitching a proposal with this meeting. You are selling yourself. If you wish to submit a proposal, use normal e-mail contacts. The purpose of the face-to-face is to establish a working relationship, not just pitch a single article. You don't want to come across as "spamming" the publishers. It's bad enough to get that stuff in their mailbox; in person it's worse.

Tell the contact what you're handing him and that you don't expect him to review it right now. Let him know that your contact info is in the package. Ideally, have a cell phone number that you can answer at the convention in case the opportunity for an after-hours face-to-face appears.

Lastly, be prepared for many publishers to tell you that they do not have the time for after-hours meetings. They run games, they have other meetings pre-arranged, and for an hour or two, they sleep. Keep your expectations reasonable.

After Hours

If you do manage to get an after-hours meeting at the convention, be prepared. The publisher probably has other things to do and you will not impress him by wasting his time.

Talk to the publishers, but more importantly, listen more than you talk. Everything you hear could be helpful, while your work will speak for you. Thank your contact for his time, and then follow up about a week after GenCon--it takes a couple of days for some publishers to drive home! This follow-up should be an e-mail, not a phone call.

Last Step

In your follow-up e-mail, sum up your meeting, and then tell the publisher what you intend to do. Something like

"Thanks for taking the time to discuss your D20 Future plans. As we discussed, I am writing an outline for a book on the colonies, with one chapter devoted to each colony. I expect to send you a table of contents by this weekend."

If you received an offer, and you intend to accept it, mention what work you have done (you should at least have an outline by then) and thank him for the opportunity.

If you received numerous offers and have to decline one or more, congratulations. You have the disagreeable but enviable task of telling a publisher that you appreciate his time, but you have already promised work for somebody else.

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