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Soapbox: About the Industry

Being a Pro Writer

by Sandy Antunes
Dec 10,2004


Being a Pro Writer

by Sandy Antunes

It's time for my take on being a professional writer. Why is it time? I'll tell you at the end.

Now, I've only part-timed, with a best year of maybe $6k. After I get my PhD this year, I plan to be full-time with game writing, teaching, and science writing (so that's maybe a 2/3rd writer).

That said... write. Just, write.

1) Take every call for freelancers that either a) pays well or b) looks like fun.

That means everything from Monster one-page compendiums to Pyramid contests through sourcebooks. Many works = good practice, good resume, industry contacts, and pizza money.

2) Cultivate relationships that worked well.

"Worked well" means they like your stuff and you didn't have to hassle over getting a check, and that they fast-track you for future work. If it was hard to actually get paid, put them lower on your list. If you had to redo your work a lot for them, lower on your list. If each new book requires you pitch from square 1 ('send us 3 writing samples, plus a full chapter of the suggested work, and expect 4 weeks before a reply'), lower on your list. Bonus: if they let you know of upcoming projects before doing open calls or general announcements, they're a keeper!

3) Pitching steals time from writing.

So try to find recurrent work. Comics, monthly columns, interconnected sourcebook, adventure series, all are good ways to get steady work (steady paychecks) with minimum effort in a) pitching and b) initial research.

4) Write short pieces whenever you're inspired, even if you don't have a market.

Toss the short bits to magazines as 'fire and forget' submissions... if they sell, you're paid, if not, send elsewhere or file until they become timely. That D&D Druid article in 1989 may have been unpublishable, but would have been lucrative at the launch of D20! Save outlines of longer works, etc, for when you get an 'in' with a publisher and can try for a longer pitch-- that way, you aren't starting at square one.

Writing constantly can keep you fresh and inspired, even when paying work is in a lull.

5) Collaborate.

If you find you share an idea with someone, write it as a collaboration. Don't feel you always have to go it alone-- team ups not only make for stronger work, but give you networking contacts that can lead to future jobs. "Hey, I liked working with her before..."

6) Find a PDF publisher who likes your stuff, and toss the stuff you wrote in advice #4 but weren't able to sell.

Selling 40 copies of a PDF that is already written is 'free money'.

7) Diversify.

Do fiction, rules, game design, essays, adventures, comics, scripts. Get anything published where there's a niche. Heck, you might find a niche you like better than what you're doing. Plus it gives you a wider body of work to fall back on when trying to get more work-- it's easier to get work if you can state you've been published in that type of work previously.

(This is where the 'only wrote for magazines' is a _strength_-- it means you have a body of work! Magazine writing is a great career-enhancer, even if the pay isn't enough to support you solo!)

8) Make them pay.

Don't keep a live journal or blog-- that's giving away your work for free, with marginal return. If it's good enough to blog, _someone_ somewhere might buy it. Plus, you can easily become obsessed with writing about yourself, sucking down your productivity. If you really have something free to say, stick with a monthly column in something online so that other people will handle promotion and marketing of _your_ stuff for you.

9) Be nice, be polite.

Pay attention to what you write in emails and forums. _You_ are what you're selling, so make people think it'll be good to work _with_ you.

10) Know your productivity.

I can produce 4 pages/day of final draft as a part-timer _after_ research, so accepting a 72-page sourcebook with a 1-month deadline is a bad idea for me... but a 3-month deadline is easy. A comic script takes me 3 days to complete (start to finish), so 2 comics/month is easy. Know your limits and don't push them-- any good editor would rather you be honest and slow, than promise early and deliver late.

11) Set a weekly (or daily) money goal.

If you want to make $26k/year, that's $500 per week, $100/day-- at 3 cents/word, about 5 pages/day. So if you don't have 5 pages/day of assigned work on any given day, spend that day pitching and scoring more work. If you _do_ have enough work for the upcoming week or month, you have the luxury of only going after pitches that are a) lucrative or b) really intr

12) Don't self-publish.

You'll be risking your cash and taking up the time you could be using hustling up work or actually writing, all for a gamble. If your stuff is _that_ good, that you think you should risk it, it's good enough that you should be able to convince another publisher to handle it for you.

13) Know a bit about contracts.

And know which issues you want to fight for versus what you don't care about (your stance on 'work-for-hire' or on 'late fees' may differ from mine, for example). Make sure you get a contract you're happy with, and remember, there is no 'standard contract'. Don't spend too much on contracts, though... compromise and 'good enough' is fine, especially for shorter works.

14) If you have a writing assignment due, don't waste time writing 14-item advice essays for mailing lists.

... unless you know you have a monthly web column due, where you can re-run the material for a wider audience.

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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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