Freelance Gaming Journalism, Rejection, and You

There is a myriad of advice, straight from the mouths of real editors, about what to do and not do when pitching your ideas and articles to gaming websites (You can read it here).  But even if you’ve managed to follow all of it to a T, and you still find yourself without a stamp of approval, there is hope yet! Here is how to make sense of being turned down.

You Did All the Right Stuff and STILL Got Rejected

Sometimes, you can pitch a fantastic idea–doing everything right while avoiding every mistake–and still get rejected. Don’t get discouraged. Six panelists at PAX East 2012, all with a tall list of editing and publishing credentials, addressed an audience about dealing with their rejection emails. They made sure to remind the crowd that good writers and good ideas get rejected all the time, for a number of various reasons, many of which are out of your hands. Even if you’ve controlled for all the factors in which you’ve got a say, there are unforeseen variables happening beneath the surface. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Sorry, Wiggles. Your piece on the kitty gamer demographic didn't get the go.

  • There’s extreme competition. First of all, you’re up against ugly odds. The numbers are overwhelming and it’s easy for your good ideas to slip through the cracks in a mass of other good ideas.
  • The publication has different needs at this time. Different topics are granted greater value at some points versus others. Timing plays a factor in everything, from game releases, breaking news taking precedent, seasonal topics, and the mood of the industry. When an idea doesn’t pan out, put it on the back burner and bring it up in half a year, or whenever the timing is right.
  • There was already something like your idea in the pipeline. The editors mentioned that it’s not uncommon for someone to pitch an idea that isn’t published yet, but that they’ve got in the works. There would be no way for you to know this, but it still means you get a rejection letter. It’s no one’s fault.

Finally, remember that it’s okay to do rejection follow-up. It is acceptable to reply to a rejection asking politely why you were turned down. Most editors make it a point to write back with a brief explanation. Do not expect a detailed back and forth dialogue breaking down finer points–they’re not getting paid to critique your work, so it’s kind of rude to demand too much of their time on this. Do thank them for their opinion and take criticism well. If you fling some defensive spew back at them, they’ll wonder how you would take it if you were actually getting paid to write for them and they had to cut and edit some of your writing. The message you’re sending? “Not well.” Behave professionally.

OK. You’re Still Not a Freelance Game Writer – Now What?

How does one persevere in the face of rejection? Some tips:

  • Don’t take it personally. Rejection is part of the game, and it doesn’t necessarily mean your stuff is bad. Or, if you’ve gotten feedback, try spending your energy improving instead of sulking. Remind yourself that getting a rejection is NOT the end of the world. If it makes you feel better, one of the editors mentioned that they know most the people reading your stuff and that roughly 50% of them are dicks. Keep trucking and eventually your stuff will get seen by the half that aren’t dicks.
  • Keep Pitching.  The most sure-fire way to fail at something is to stop trying.  The only way you’ve got a chance at success is to keep submitting ideas, keep growing, and keep working at improving what you do.
  • Write for free. You could start a personal blog, or submit content to smaller gaming sites (like, for example, this one). You’ll get a feel for the editorial process, the climate, and it’ll keep your skills sharp–not to mention you’ll have stuff to show off in your portfolio.

Other Random Advice

  • Don’t pitch too far over your head. Maybe your writing is top notch, and your idea is awesome. Except that you get commissioned to write it and you realize you barely know shit about the details. You’re gonna get burned out VERY fast if you make a habit of this. That being said, it is a good idea to write things that challenge you a little, so you can keep your knowledge and experience growing.
  • Don’t assume the editor is a man. Two of the five editors on the panel were women. One of them is named AJ. Don’t write your application or pitch your idea addressed to a man unless you’re absolutely sure he is indeed a man. It’s vaguely insulting if you get it wrong.
  • Don’t force yourself to sound funny. It’s important that your tone be natural. One tip given was to read your pitch out loud to friends. If you find yourself pausing at the parts where you think they should laugh, instead of reading all the way through, then you’re trying too hard to be funny, or you’re not being yourself.
  • Figure out the right editor to pitch to. Some publications have different editors for different topics. Look through their staff page and make sure you’ve picked the right one to send your pitches to based on what you’re writing about.
  • If you’re not a white male, your chances are better. Sorry, fellas. It just so happens that most aspiring game writers are straight, male, and white, just like most the people who make video games. It creates a vaguely exclusionary or intimidating atmosphere to people who don’t fit that mold. So if you’ve got a perspective from an alternate gender/lifestyle/race, it adds some diversity to the industry that is sorely needed

    Pretty much.

  • Sell the story first, then prove you can write about it. When you’re pitching an idea, the first thing an editor is looking for is whether or not the story is great. Get an awesome topic, focus on making it clear and intriguing. After you’ve done that, then you just have to show them that you’re capable of writing about the content, both with your mad writing skillz and experience in that field. PRO-TIP don’t actually use the word ‘skillz’ when describing yourself.
  • You don’t REALLY need a degree. If you’re already a capable writer, then there’s not much point in getting a journalism or literary degree just to be able to say to an editor that you have one. However, if writing is not your forte, getting a college degree or taking some sort of class does indeed help. Also, if this whole gaming-related livelihood doesn’t pan out for you, having a degree in something makes for a decent plan B.

Before the audience knew it,  our hour with the editors was up, and our heads were swimming with useful information. I’m sure everyone in that room was determined to go out and make use of it. Except instead we promptly partied it away with the rest of PAX East, or it leaked out of our heads while we were playing non-stop Magic the Gathering tournaments.

Truth be told, I’m not entirely positive I attended this panel, it’s kind of a blur. Sure enough though I found this entire article penned in my handwriting written out on dozens of Starbucks napkins.  All I really know for sure is that I woke up in Boston around 4PM  that Sunday and found myself wearing a con badge, in a hotel room full of board games I’ve never played, 14 sets of 10 d10 dice,  5 box sets of miniature mouslings, 23 empty cans of energy drinks, and all my money was missing.

PAX East is awesome. I highly recommend it.

Special thanks to the panelists of How Not to Succeed as a Freelance Game Journalist: Susan Arendt, Justin McElroy, Kyle Orland, AJ Glasser, Rob Rath, and Andrew Hayward.

<shamelessplug> While I’ve got your attention, don’t hesitate to write-in to my advice column!

Ask Pink Hair Girl for geek advice!</shamelessplug>

Pink Hair Girl

After her DNA was spliced with that of a jelly fish, Olivia became known to all as Pink Hair Girl. She also gives advice to geeks all around the world.

One Comment:

  1. Pingback: Why You’ve Failed at Becoming a Freelance Games Writer | g33kWatch

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