Diversity Isn’t The Spice Of Life, It’s The Source

by Scott Nichols

One of the more common, and more surprising, reactions I received to my little post on game writers as a “club” was regarding the idea of discovery. A shocking number of aspiring writers commented to me on twitter and via email that it never occurred to them to send out pitch emails to editors. Now, I can understand not knowing how to go about sending pitch emails, I still struggle with that every day, but to not think that it’s necessary? I’d like to address that.

Marco Polo wasn’t an editor for a gaming magazine or website. History buffs, quiet down, I’m trying to make a metaphor here. I love my editors, I really do, but seeking out and discovering new talent isn’t really in their job description. I’m not saying that as a “what’s wrong with games journalism” problem that needs to be solved, either. It’s simply a reality of time management that they can’t be expected to also peruse every blog out there to find the next great freelance writer. Editors are busy people, working long into the night on a fairly regular basis just to carry out their day-to-day tasks. To continue the Marco Polo metaphor, editors are in fact the various indigenous countries and nations. It’s not that they don’t like to travel, most editors are eager to get their hands on new writers that they can rely on. It’s just that obligations to their own publication limit their ability to actively seek writers out. Sure, there is the rare exception where an editor will discover a new writer from a personal blog post, but even in those cases it’s usually a result of the editor seeing a writer they trust linking to the post on twitter, rather than the editor discovering the post first-hand. It’s possible, and has happened, but it happens so infrequently that it’s a hard method to rely on.

Writers, on the other hand, are the explorers, and as freelance it is in our best interest to secure trade routes with as many nations (aka publications) as possible. Pitches are how those working relationships are established. There are tons of reason why pitches are the right way to go about approaching editors, but to me the most important one is simple respect for an editor’s time. Remember, you are providing a service to editors; they are helping you out by giving you work, but you are equally helping them by providing content. The ability to convey a 1000+ word feature article in a concise one-paragraph pitch shows that you respect an editor’s busy schedule, as well as showing you have the writing chops to express your ideas clearly. True, editors won’t always reply to your pitches, but think of it this way: do you always reply to PR emails that you aren’t interested in? No, I can pretty much guarantee that you don’t. Simply as a survival and self-defense mechanism, it doesn’t do anyone any good to take non-replies personally.

Now, I don’t know if this is mere coincidence, but all of the aspiring writers who expressed that pitches were a revelation came from Bitmob. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t really know the site and its internal writer culture very well, so I’ll try and avoid making sweeping generalizations as much as possible. I’m not blaming anyone, but when perusing the Bitmob mission statement I came accross this excerpt:

“Think of Bitmob as a blog network of sorts, so anyone can stop by and check out whatever it is you have to say. So you can see why we want you to register with your real name and email address! It would sure suck if we (or some other organization) were to recognize your awesomeness and wanted to hire you for some freelance or full-time work, only to not be able to get a hold of the real you.” (emphasis added is mine)

This was a view repeated by many, with one aspiring writer telling me after a long conversation on the subject, “I naively assumed I’d have editors knocking on my door for a while there.” When I see something like that, the only suitable response I can think of is to give the writer a hug and whisper “there, there, it’ll be all right.”

Don’t get me wrong, Bitmob is an amazing resource for an aspiring writer. It provides an outlet to get your writing published, which is no small thing. But there’s extra legwork involved to make that mean something if you hope to make writing a career. Find game journalists on twitter and link them to your articles when they contribute to a topic being discussed. Include 3-4 writing samples in your pitch emails to editors, giving them an indication of your abilities. But sitting and waiting for the benevolent editor fairy to come and grant you a job? Remember: you are Marco Polo, and he certainly didn’t become famous for what he did before his ship left the harbor.

To that end, the real point I want to address is that of diversifying. My first big break as a writer came in June 2011 when I was published by GamePro, and I began getting fairly regular assignments from them afterward. Naively, in my head this became dreams of a full-time editor job if I could only prove myself, and I put all of my freelance focus into my work for them. Then, in November, GamePro announced that it would shut down completely. Suddenly I was adrift, and forced to scramble madly for new work. It taught me a valuable lesson, though, that I am grateful to have learned so early in my career. Not that I’m worried now that every outlet is on the verge of closing. If I thought that then I would switch careers entirely. But it wasn’t enough for me to rely on a single publication. My future in freelance will depend on my ability to continue writing as much as possible for as many sites and magazines as possible.

Diversifying doesn’t just apply to writing for a large number of publications, but also topics. I’ve lately had to turn down assignments from editors for reviews and previews because I haven’t diversified enough. For example, having never played any MMO before, I was unable to review The Old Republic when the opportunity arose. I believe that turning the assignment down was the right decision, since my lack of familiarity with the genre would make it difficult to judge how successful the game is in its goals. The editor also seemed to respect me for my honesty, giving me a fairly major assignment shortly afterward. But “no” is never an easy thing to say as a freelance writer, and had I background experience in the genre I would have been able to take on that review as well as the big assignment that followed. The fact of the matter is that I missed out on work, and that is never a good thing. Fulfilling a niche can certainly be a good way to get in the door with a publication, that’s how I did it after all, but I’ve found that the more topics I am versed in the more likely I am to receive work.

I don’t really have a neat and tidy conclusion prepared with which to tie this all together, at least not one that I can write without sounding excessively preachy. I don’t want to turn into “that guy” who is telling people they have to do something a certain way in order to succeed, in large part because there is never a guarantee of success no matter how you go about it. This post is merely my observations and reactions, with my own experience to provide context as to why I see things the way I do. I’ll end by simply reiterating that editors are not Marco Polo, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to play “Marco Polo” with them via email.