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My Name In Lights

Ok so it isn’t really in lights, however starting early November I had my first pitched article for DnD published on the Kobold Quarterly website; the Gray Warrior (Part 1 & Part 2) and last week part 1 of my second article went up (Mountain Priest). As many of you know pitching an article is a tough thing, and there is far more rejection than there is acceptance of articles, this is the story of how these articles came to be on the KQ web site.

Before DnD

The story starts with the release of 4E DnD, it was the first time ever I felt I could contribute to the DnD universe in a direct way beyond my personal game, and maybe some local conventions. In the past I had written some Shadowrun fan content for an Australian gaming magazine, and I managed to win (with 2 others) a contest for having a character write up included in the Spycraft 1E supplement Agency, but I had never really considered doing freelance work for DnD.

Print Dragon was a place, like many others I had dreamed of seeing my name, but through the 20 plus years I was aware of it I never felt “good enough” to contribute, nor did I particularly feel I had anything to contribute. However with the change to 4E, and the promotion of the digital magazines and the requests for contributors I felt I had something I could contribute; in fact my first pitch was published on this blog in October (Powers of Death) and between the Magazines and the Living Forgotten Realms community I felt strongly that I could contribute.

Digital Life

In time, as I listened to sources other than people talking about getting published RPGs I heard a particular bit of advice which amounted to “if you want something to happen, go and do it”. Following that advice led to me creating this blog; I wanted to share my ideas and as I was getting no where through any sort of organised channel I decided to do it myself. An idea strongly reinforced by my experience in the Twitter DnD community, where you can contact people at all levels of the DnD world and get feedback on ideas. (Curiously now my advice for new potential bloggers is to contact an established blog first before going it on your own; there are a lot of blogs so getting readers can be as daunting and discouraging as sending pitches.)

Enter the Kobold

So it was that I muddled along for a while here and kept sending in pitches to DDI, often to be met with stony silence, which was for a long time the policy – no reply means we don’t want it. Then earlier this year the DDI policy changed and replies were promised; turns out that it is entirely possible my ISP ate any replies I got because in this round of pitches it certainly stopped the auto-responses from WotC reaching me. However back then I didn’t know and I had just picked up my first KQ issue via a free promotion (which I talk about more here if you care), and was duly impressed with the magazine. Then the Dark Roads and Golden Hells project was launched and soon after I took out a subscription in KQ.

A Dangerous Request

As part of my subscription I opted in to get news emails from KQ and the first one of those I received had a request for 4E content. I investigated and decided not to write. Then Greg Bilsland commented on twitter about a Ninja article he was working on for Dragon, and I had a surge of disappointment having submitted just such an article in the proceeding round of pitches. Shortly after this came another KQ email asking for 4E content for the website. I went and read up on what was wanted and decided to send my ninja theme in for the website.

For Love Not Money

Getting published for me has always been about contributing back to my hobby, not making money. I think this is why the silent rejection frustrates so much; getting paid is nice don’t get me wrong, but its not the reason I want to publish things through a publisher. Its about sharing with as many people as possible. This is why I chose the KQ web site instead of pitching for the magazine. The response I received however to my pitch was beyond my expectations; KQ were talking if they could fit it in the magazine! It was great news, and some time went by while I waited to here, there were polite enquiry emails sent to see what was happening and I was told that they would publish to the web site only. Still great news.

Its a Waiting Game

Now this is important, in getting these articles published there was a lot of waiting, the people at KQ are busy, and free content is just as time consuming as paid content for them (and the author) and around this time KQ also changed web editor. Being patient, polite and not giving up is important if you want to get published. So it was that soon after it was officially announced that Miranda Horner was the new KQ web editor I contacted her to check on the status of the project, and got back good news.

A Few Red Marks

The next message I received had an edited copy of my draft and the first paragraph looked a lot like this:


Thus was I exposed to the world of professional writing, where editors take your carefully crafted text and make it readable by other human beings. Now I’m not a man without ego; it takes a good amount of it to stand in front of teenagers and try and educate them, it takes a fair bit of it to start posting stuff on blogs and so on. So getting back my beloved document full of “corrections” wasn’t exactly an easy thing for me to swallow at first.

Doing The Job

The thing is though that an editor’s job is to make what your write better, and make no mistake when the ego is disengaged and the work is viewed objectively Miranda made a lot of improvements to each of the articles. From fixing the structure of paragraphs so they said the same thing better, to fixing technical elements so they better reflect current expectations in rules presentation. There was a lot of red text, in fact in an 800 word document every line had some! This was bruising! It took a bit of going “grr” at my computer screen to be able to manage that, but the key was remembering Miranda edits writing for a living; she knows far more about good writing than I will ever likely know, and I was best served by trusting her judgement. Sure I sent back some comments, notably that some spelling issues would persist due to my being an Australian, and some explanation of the purpose of some original rules text, but mostly I just accepted all corrections.

Then it Poured

Soon after Scott accepted my first pitch I found myself with a lot of work, an LFR module, a monster in the Midgard Bestiary for both Pathfinder and 4E, and work on the Dark Roads and Golden Halls project through my participation as a senior patron. In this time the other authors started contributing regularly to this site and the readership went up, and then more things started happening. To say that the end of 2011 is proving to be satisfyingly busy for gaming projects for me would be an understatement. Not a lot of it is work that is getting me any money; but that wasn’t the goal, the goal was to contribute to the community on a larger scale and I’m certainly getting the chance to do that.

Lessons Learnt*

So here are the three main lessons I have learnt from this process:

  • Don’t stop trying.
    • Try different publishers, try different regions, try on different years. All of these things have worked for me to get me the opportunity to be published by someone else.
  • Do it for love not money.
    • There are not a lot of jobs in the hobby game industry, especially the pen and paper part of it. If you want to make money you should keep your day job. However if you are doing what you love people will ultimately pay you to do it. (Just don’t expect a lot in RPG land 6000 words is only $60 for most publishers.)
  • Leave the ego at the door.
    • There is a lot of rejection, silent or otherwise, and then when you do get something published there is the red pen of the editor who will know better than you, and then there is the public. All of those things will batter the ego, and if you are trying to get published rest assured you have ego, so be prepared to shut it down and listen to other professionals when they give advice, and sometimes that is really hard when you have your heart set on something.

Now I’m a long way from a professional author, and frankly you can get that same advice from a professional author if you look on some of their blogs. The real key I think is not to be fixated on one avenue; if you want to get something published for 4E don’t fixate on WotC, if you want to get something published for Pathfinder don’t fixate on Paizo. Both of the big 2 have a lot of people trying to get a gig writing with them, there are a lot of other options that you can try; now personally I have to recommend Kobold Quarterly and Open Design as paths to try, but there are other third party publishers you can try as well. Just remember, if you really want to share your ideas through a publisher then you need to try more than one publisher.

* I used learnt because more than any other edit in that first document that one stuck in my craw. :)

1 comment

  1. Alphastream

    Excellent advice, John! I am very glad to see your talent put to good use. It is true that it can be hard to break in. It can seem an insurmountable task, but a lot of it is due to the peculiarities of scheduling and differences between what an organization needs at a point in time and what the freelancer is providing. Patience and continuing to work on their craft (especially in ways that can become examples of quality work) helps.

    I agree with what you said about it suddenly pouring. It is important not to over commit based on an assumption that there will be rejections or wanting to not turn down work. Good work will continue to come if you do good work, but might not come if you provide sloppy work due to being over committed. As someone that works with authors for an organized play campaign, I know the door is never closed if an author says “not now”. Their name just goes into our list for “next time” and in fact it makes a positive impression on me that they understood their limits.

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