I’ve gotten a number of questions about freelancing and writing for D&D Insider. In this issue of the Mailbag, I’ll deal with queries and submissions. I’ll also touch on huge sums of money you can make and the glamorous lifestyle you can lead through successful freelancing. Or maybe I’ll just talk a little about money.
This is going to sound so obvious, but from what I’ve seen, it bears emphasis. Be sure to follow the submission guidelines when submitting to anyone, especially D&D Insider. As an editor for Dragon and Dungeon, I received a ton of queries and had only so much time to sift through them. I could ignore outright those that failed to follow the submission guidelines. My dirty little secret is that I didn’t always do this–sometimes an idea was too good to pass up–but I could have in every case without repercussions.
Following the guidelines shows you pay attention, and it shows you’re what I call “coachable.” You indicate that you place enough importance on your time and the editor’s that you present what is asked of you. Further, you demonstrate you can follow and take direction. These elements are important in any freelance writer.
When I was still employed at Wizards, the D&D Insider editorial team, I’m sad to say, was barely big enough to handle the flow of queries and submissions. Now that I’m gone, it’s entirely possible that the filter for such material is down to one person: Chris Youngs. He has a lot of other duties besides looking for new content. It’s likely that other companies you might submit ideas and work to have resources that are more limited.
When you do pitch ideas, rely on those that bud from your exposure to the game. Mechanical elements can stem directly from your home game or good story concepts. Be concise in your descriptions while proving you’re the one to execute the idea. You have to show that you know what you want to do in as few words as possible. Your pitch has to do more than reveal your notice of a mechanical hole in the game. It has to promise entertainment, as well. Mechanics are too dry without a story connection.
It was always easier for me to work out story elements and let rules elements spring from that narrative. My colleagues seemed to work from that angle, too. For example, Mike Mearls reinforced in me the idea that you should see a monster in your head, fighting a hero in a fantasy action movie, before you put its stats on paper. The best Dragon and Dungeon articles also grow from that fertile soil. It might go without saying, but good adventure design requires such thinking.
Showing you know the game’s needs is also key. If the maps in your Dungeon adventure can all be built with recent Dungeon Tiles sets, your query is a step ahead. Supporting recently released material is a good idea. On the flip side, supporting older rules with truly fresh ideas can work well. Older classes, for example, will always need some love.
No time can be had to give you a response if your proposal is rejected. I was sorry that was the case when going through proposals was part of my job. It’s a sad truth. The editorial process and limit on resources requires a focus on what is going to be published. If your idea is accepted, you’ll get a go-ahead and, assuming you do what you should, a contract.
Then, there’s the waiting.
It’s frustrating, I know. Even if your article receives a green light, you might be waiting a while. Take comfort in the fact that the editorial plan for Insider is often nailed down months ahead. That said, don’t become too comfortable. Write to the editor you’re working with every so often to make sure things are on track. I promise–unless you actually are pushy, whiny, or annoying–you won’t be perceived as such. I enjoyed working with new authors when I was an editor, and I liked candor.
Such honesty is what you’re going to receive from your editor. And you should always ask questions if you have them. Questions early in the process are infinitely better than problems or misunderstandings later. Whatever you do, though, don’t take personally any brevity in your editor’s responses and instructions. It’s just that old devil of limited time raising its head again.
Respect your own time, thought, and effort, as well. Don’t sell yourself short. You won’t get rich writing for D&D Insider or other gaming entities. It’s likely that Insider and freelancing for Wizards offers the most lucrative outlet for D&D work. (Working for Insider is the likeliest path to working on D&D books, unless you have other gaming credits or prove yourself in another way.) But even if you write for someone else, you shouldn’t give your work away. You can receive “exposure” and a paycheck.
That’s it for now. I’ll talk more about this subject in the future. Leave me comments, and send me email.