I thought that perhaps it’d be time to have a little sit-down and come up with some advice on what to do if you want to become a freelancer or designer. Please bear in mind that this is merely my own personal opinion and observations. I’m by no means an authority on this, as I have only been freelancing as a writer since 2016 and an editor since 2018.
That said, I have had contact with a number of candidates, both good and bad, who saw themselves as potential talent.
So what do you do?
Well, before you start, there are a few things you should do:
LEARN YOUR SYSTEM
You should have a good grasp of the system for which you’re interested in writing, at least for the very first one(s) that you do. Later on, if you’re successful, you’ll get the opportunity to learn games from scratch or even help build ones, but for the first few, it’s best to know what the system is.
But, knowing the system, i.e. being able to play it, isn’t enough for a freelancer. You have to STUDY it and think about some of the choices made in the game, and even just learn the syntax of the game. For example, Paizo (for Pathfinder at least) always refers to saving throws with capitalized names like Fortitude and Reflex, but things like spells and magic items aren’t capitalized, instead, they’re in italics like ring of protection +1. This is the sort of system mastery that your prospective editor will look for. The better you know it, the more likely he is to send work your way, as you’ll require less of his time to fix, so that he can look on the important side of your rules and writing, instead of having to worry about the syntax and formatting.
KNOW THE PUBLISHER
Right, so now you’ve learned the system and you have an idea for a pitch, what’s next? Well, it’s choosing your target. The choice of publisher to contact is up to you, but it depends mostly on 2 things: Which system you’re pitching for, and what the “mood” of the pitch is. Don’t bother sending a Pathfinder pitch for a horror adventure to a publisher who only does 5e joke settings. That’s a waste of their time, and yours.
Find out what the publisher has done before, and see if your idea can fit in with some of theirs. After that, obtain one of their most recent products and see about re-formatting your pitch to match their format. As an example, both d20pfsrd.com Publishing and Fat Goblin Games more or less match the Paizo standard format, BUT their magic items have some changes to them, so it’s always worth noting. They might even have a style guide available on their website that you could download and use.
This one is important, and something many people forget: Don’t go overboard in the beginning. A lot of people will pitch adventures or campaign settings, which mostly is a complete waste of time. No one is going to give your 500-page essay a chance as a campaign setting if you haven’t proven your mettle first.
So start small - make a pitch (generally 2-3 paragraphs of no more than 3-500 words) outlining what it is you’re proposing to make, along with a sample of what you’re going to do. For instance, if you contact a developer and say “Hey, I’d really like to do a book on starfighters” then explain why your book would be cool (“My book on starfighters is going to focus on X-overlooked aspect”), and a sample or two of what you’d put in it. (In our example you’d put in a sample starfighter, one that fits the aspect you’re aiming at - and possibly some rule that you’ve written that fits for it).
GET A CONTRACT
One thing that’s important, and which some publishers overlook, is the fact that they should provide you with a contract, if nothing else, then simply so it’s clearly outlined WHAT they expect from you, when, and how much you’ll be paid.
And don’t expect that you’ll get paid much. It is a sad truth that writers and artists for RPGs are not particularly well-paid, so if that is your main motivator, you’re better off heading off to do a novel. But don’t accept being paid in “exposure” either. A lot will provide a low rate, but increase the rate as you progress with them. Some you’ll find that it doesn’t matter how much the rate increases by, it’s just not worth doing (I personally have a problem with the publishers who leave a project hanging for months, after I’m done with my part, without providing an update - I can’t stand it!), but others you’ll find are good people who you enjoy working with, as they expand your horizon, so you don’t necessarily want the same pay.
At the end of the day what you’re worth is up to you, BUT don’t expect to make it your day job.
There are a number of handy tools:
The first thing I look at is THIS - It's called Writing With Style: An Editor's Advice for RPG Writers - if you do not have it already, get it. If you have it, get a second copy! (I have 1 in pdf and one in print myself). It is that good a book. While a lot of you probably know a lot (if not most) of the information in there already, it's stuff that bears repeating. It saves both you, and me, a lot of work.
Secondly, I use Grammarly - it helps you do your grammar, and it's compatible with both the Chrome Browser and Word. It also works with Google Docs, but it is a bit experimental. Again, it eliminates a lot of small grammar errors (like me and the Oxford comma.... )
Finally, we have the Hemingway App - Which is mostly useful for "fluff" or story writing. It helps eliminate adverbs, passive voice, and generally allows you to construct a simpler sentence. It's worth remembering that these DO have their place on occasion, but as a rule, they should be avoided.
It's also worth noting that the last 2 are entirely free, though Grammarly does tend to send you an email once a week, giving you an "offer" on it. But there's no need to spend money on either of the two. But I would fork out the $5 on the Writer's Guide, as it's definitely a good idea. (On a side note, just to be clear, I have NOTHING to do with the book itself, it's just that good).
So — feel up for it? Drop us a line through the Contact section. :)
Now, get to it, and let’s see your stuff. :)
This was originally posted on the d20Radio blogs in 2018 - but it remains relevant today.