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Soapbox: About the Industry

See What Sticks

by Sandy Antunes
Jan 06,2006

 

See What Sticks

by Sandy Antunes

"You can't build a reputation on what you are going to do." Henry Ford

Making a living as a freelancer is hard. The pay for writing starts out low. My efforts at teaming up with other freelancers are not bearing fruit. Lecturing gigs pay well but are infrequent. Editors seem to move on in mid-pitch. Payment on (late) publication almost disassociates effort from work. Pitching itself becomes a time-sinking obsession.

Like many others, I've taken a part-time job until my freelancing 'ramps up' to, oh, more than pizza money. "Ramps up" is such a convenient expression. It implies that the path is clear and, in fact, heading upwards, and that it's simply a matter of time before one ascends the lofty heights. But starting a freelance career isn't a clear path, A to B, ramen to steak.

The potential for a living as a freelancer is always there. But to realize that potential takes time and a network. The main difference between the successful freelancer and the skilled wage slave is not drive or work ethic or skill set. It's the network the freelancer builds to summon work.

Summon Gig: (2nd level Freelancer spell)
The Freelancer summons 1d4 job offers, each paying a base equal to his/her casting level in pennies per word. The Freelancer can double the pay rate for each person of higher level in their Network.

The key is networking, but until you have a network you don't know if that network will deliver work, or just help you commiserate about hard times. Peers are nice, patrons are better. A lot of networking is either begging for work, or sharing work hoping for favor in kind.

Of course, when well-paying RPG work is scarce, sharing may not be common. And when the pay is lousy, you can't afford to share out jobs. So some degree of cherry-picking and then just 'sharing' the leavings is expected.

A better plan for peers who network is akin to superhero team-ups-- you do your speciality, I do mine, and we favor each other for items not in our baliwick. A fine strategy-- but, again, not a big help in a poor-paying market. Twice of miserable pay is still miserable pay.

Worse, until you have the network, you don't know if what you're doing is the sort of work you really want to do. After all, writing a short Con scenario is always fun. Writing six of them in six weeks according to an outside spec and with dinner on the table defining success or failure, that's a different lifestyle.

There is the self-publishing route: assume all the risks, keep all the profits. It's a bit more of a lottery. Guaranteed miserable pay as a freelancer beats sinking money into lottery tickets. And RPG publishing tends to be 'print a lot and see what sticks'.

Considering, often, the cost of doing a market survey would be more than simply paying for a small print run, it's not as bad a model as one might guess. "No market survey" is not the same as a lottery, for example. A smart and industry-saavy person has a sense on what is more likely to hit.

In this regard, it's more like poker. Everyone's at the table trying to get a better hand, and hoping their good hand hits at the right time. You may have to lose a bit of money before things go your way. As one GPA member said (paraphrased), you won't know if you have a good game until you print it.

So if a freelancer is like a traveling poker player, trying to get into the good tables and hoping not to lose her shirt, well, that's not necessarily a bad life. And the analogy still supports the fact that the network is key.

It's not about the ideas or the games. Success is about the other players. It's about the dealers you face and whether they let you into the game-- and whether the game is crooked. It's about the other players and how you hold your own. There's a bit of luck and a lot of skill, work and time.

Everyone hopes for a 'runaway success' like M:TG, forgetting that M:TG wasn't Adkison first game. It didn't appear fully formed from Garfield's brow. In many ways, it was first specified out in marketing terms ('little set up, portable, short playing time'). It took a lot of cash to print-- and a decent network to get talented artists willing to work for royalties. And it took networking to get it into stores, into Cons, popular.

Oh heck, the word 'popular' is practically synonymous with 'networking'. Popular is well liked by a specific group of people. Networking is having your talents appreciated by the specific group of people who can sling work your way.

So to be a successful freelancer, you need to be popular. You need to build a network. And you need to deliver. Time, experience, networking, work. Then throw it out and see what sticks.

Here's hoping for a sticky year for us all.

Until next month,
Sandy TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg

What do you think?

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All Soapboxes

  • See What Sticks by Sandy Antunes, 06jan06
  • Simple Gifts for Pre-Gamers by Sandy Antunes, 09dec05
  • Col vs Blog by Sandy Antunes, 04nov05
  • Running a First RPG for Kids by Sandy Antunes, 07oct05
  • Making It Pay by Sandy Antunes, 02sep05
  • The Hazards of Non-Combat Gaming by Sandy Antunes, 05aug05
  • Just-in-Time Pre-order Hell by Sandy Antunes, 01jul05
  • Cassandra's Industry Report by Sandy Antunes, 03jun05
  • Fiction or Non-Fiction by Sandy Antunes, 05may05
  • I am not a Storyteller by Sandy Antunes, 08apr05
  • A Better Job by Sandy Antunes, 01apr05
  • Advice For Working Writers by Sandy Antunes, 04mar05
  • Startup Fever by Sandy Antunes, 04feb05
  • Why Blogging is Lame by Sandy Antunes, 07jan05
  • Being a Pro Writer by Sandy Antunes, 10dec04
  • Viral Marketing Invitational by Sandy Antunes, 05nov04
  • The 24 Hour RPG Challenge by Sandy Antunes, 08oct04
  • A Decade of Distilled Advice by Sandy Antunes, 03sep04
  • Go Ahead, Hit Me! by Sandy Antunes, 06aug04
  • Promoting Yourself by Sandy Antunes, 09jul04
  • 10 Hurdles to Selling Your Game by Sandy Antunes, 11jun04
  • Let's Team Up! by Sandy Antunes, 07may04
  • Beyond Role and Pla(t)y(pus) by Sandy Antunes, 08apr04
  • Slow Improv and the Post-Kilgallon by Sandy Antunes, 05mar04
  • Paradox Redux by Sandy Antunes, 06feb04
  • Mad Scientists and the Kilgallon Paradox by Sandy Antunes, 09jan04
  • It's Not Your World, It's Mine by Sandy Antunes, 05dec03
  • Murphy's Law for Adventure Writers by Sandy Antunes, 07nov03
  • Eigentesting by Sandy Antunes, 09oct03
  • Atomic by Sandy Antunes, 05sep03
  • Is Writing a Commodity? by Sandy Antunes, 06aug03
  • Designing Amidst the Tides of Gaming History by Sandy Antunes, 08jul03
  • Buy This Book by Sandy Antunes, 05jun03
  • Hobbies by Sandy Antunes, 08may03
  • The Websites That Wouldn't Die by Sandy Antunes, 10apr03
  • The Path to Atrocities by Sandy Antunes, 06mar03
  • Cattle Mutilation: The Game Design by Sandy Antunes, 06feb03
  • Gaming With Children by Sandy Antunes, 09jan03
  • How To Be An Industry Poser, Part 1 by Sandy Antunes, 05dec02
  • all i game with, i learned from kids books by Sandy Antunes, 19nov02
  • TCG: The Total Cost of Gaming by Sandy Antunes, 10oct02
  • Game Publishing & The Law by Sandy Antunes, 06sep02
  • Standing on the Shoulders of Giants by Sandy Antunes, 01aug02
  • Buying Time by Sandy Antunes, 04jul02
  • April 10, 2002 13 New FAQs
  • March 1, 2002 Give Me A Closet
  • January 2, 2002 Let's Go Shopping?!?
  • December 13, 2001 Conflict, Ethics, Winning, and Money
  • November 13, 2001 Secret RPGnet Operations Document Leaked!
  • October 16, 2001 Leadership and D&D
  • September 4, 2001 Leading Industry Site Reports Secret: Sex Sells!
  • August 7, 2001 Any, Anyone Can Be an Internet Success-- Why Aren't You?
  • July 3, 2001 Fine Print, Part U
  • June 5, 2001 Fine Print, Part I
  • May 8, 2001 Pushing Limits
  • May 4, 2001 RPGnet State of the Union special feature
  • April 6, 2001 The Other Magic: Niche Hobbies and Other Markets
  • May 9, 2000 Running a Business as an Old Style D&D Party
  • April 14, 2000 First to Market
  • March 20, 2000 Labor Pains
  • February 15, 2000 One Trick Pony
  • January 6, 2000 Creativity is Bad, Hard to Sell, and Great for Business
  • December 14, 1999 Oranges versus Bananas: Entertainment Costs
  • November 2, 1999 Why Editors Lie
  • October 5, 1999 How to publish a quality game, accept criticism gracefully, and lead a happy life: Pick Any Two
  • September 7, 1999 It Takes a Village (to publish an RPG)
  • August 3, 1999 All Gamer Money Isn't Equal
  • July 6, 1999 Tides of Cash Flow
  • June 1, 1999 Ad-itudes
  • May 4, 1999 Who, What, Give me a Guiness
  • April 6, 1999 The GAMA Trade Show '99
  • March 2, 1999 Roleplaying would have saved Millions
  • February 2, 1999 Games That Won't Suck
  • January 5, 1999 Dangerous Games
  • December 1, 1998 Making Gamers the Old Fashioned Way
  • November 3, 1998 The $1K Company
  • October 1, 1998 So You Want to Start Your Own Company...
  • September 1, 1998 Holy Grails and Marching Morons
  • August 4, 1998 Gamers Must Die!
  • July 7, 1998 Profit versus Prophet
  • June 2, 1998 Acquire! Acquire!
  • May 5, 1998 Power
  • April 21, 1998 The GAMA Trade Show Report, Part 2 (eventually)
  • April 7, 1998 Schroedinger Games, or, the GAMA Report
  • March 3, 1998 Culling the Herd
  • February 3, 1998 Horatio Hornblower's RPG Company
  • January 6, 1998 Double Feature (Us and Them/A Clash of Images)
  • December 2, 1997 "How to Scam Games for Free"
  • November 4, 1997 "Women in Gaming?"
  • October 2, 1997 "Fear of a Gaming Planet" (Welcome to the RPG ghetto?)
  • September 2, 1997 "Rush" (fame and adoration in lieu of pay)
  • August 2, 1997 "For the Money" (convention mating rituals)
  • July 2, 1997 "Good Deeds" (the dearth of evil game companies)
  • June 2, 1997 "Dirty Laundry" (copyright and slander on the net)
  • May 2, 1997 "Communications Breakdown" (company and player schisms)
  • April 2, 1997 "The Quick and the Dead" (dying companies versus new ideas)
  • March 2, 1997 "It's All in the Timing" (on hype and late deliveries, and on genres)
  • February 2, 1997 "Insiders and Outsiders" (who's who and who uses the web)
  • January 2, 1997 "Fits and Starts" (web presences, print runs, live roleplaying)
  • December 2, 1996 "Procastination Season is Over" (delays and new products)
  • November 1, 1996 "Best of Times, Worst of Times" (on rumors, survival, and larps)
  • October 1, 1996 "Post-Con fallout and not that many new games"
  • September 1, 1996 "Our launch, news from GenCon, demos, new LARPS"
  • Our reason for existence

    Other columns at RPGnet

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