Writing for Roleplaying Games: Career-Limiting Moves

A certain portion of authors who write for the role-playing industry (and, I’m sure, many other industries) seem to view their writing as a hobby, not a profession. This can lead to behavior that otherwise seems very odd: not turning in any work. Turning work in months late. Ignoring your developer’s/editor’s directions.

All right, it’s time to point something out. The developer is the guy who hires you. He’s the one who oversees your work. He’s the one who decides whether to publish your work. He’s the one who makes sure you get paid. He’s the one who decides whether to hire you again. Do not anger the developer!

That seems like simple common sense, but it eludes some people. In a normal job there are things you just don’t do if you want to keep your job. For some reason, in the role-playing industry, there are quite a few people who think it’s okay to do these things. This mystifies me. You’d assume that these people write for the role-playing industry because they want to — after all, why else would they do it? The money isn’t good enough; the fame isn’t good enough; and there isn’t enough free product to make it worthwhile.

So if they want to work for the role-playing industry, then why are they trying so hard to get themselves fired? (Actually, a wise man recently suggested to me that part of the problem is writers who see RPG writing as a means to an end. They don’t actually like writing for roleplaying games, and see it as beneath themselves and merely a way to make money on the way to better things. To them I say, if you really want to be professional writers, then start here: write professionally. If you get a reputation as an unreliable jerk, it won’t help you get a better job.)

Ways to Keep Your RPG-Industry Freelance Job

Turn Your Work In On Time

  • If you will be unavoidably late, then inform your developer of this as soon as you’re aware of it and give him an estimate of when you’ll be done.
  • Don’t tell your developer that you can’t turn in your work because your computer died, or some other such story. I have it on good authority that they hear this so often that they don’t believe it any more. Besides, most pieces of writing can fit on a floppy disk, so why don’t you have a backup? (If you don’t have a floppy drive for some reason, arrange to periodically email files to a friend you trust, or, if he agrees, your developer.) If your computer dies, worst case you lose a few days while you borrow someone else’s computer, find a library that’ll let you work there, or lease or buy a new computer.
  • Don’t give other ridiculous excuses as to why you’re going to be late. He’s heard them all before, and a little honesty will be greatly appreciated (more than you know).
  • If you really have to bail on a project, tell the developer as soon as you know. Then he’ll have the time to find another author. That way, maybe he’ll be happy to hire you back when your personal tragedy is over.

Do Your Job

  • Pay attention to your redlines. Little angers a developer more than having to rewrite your work himself (he doesn’t have the time for it) because you wouldn’t listen to him. The last thing he wants is to have to put your name on something he had to write over the long weekend on which he was supposed to go visit his girlfriend.
  • Do your best to work with your co-author. Try to work out differences yourself before you go to the developer. If necessary, do tell your developer; he can decide what to do (or not to do). He can also figure out how to minimize the impact of the disagreement on the manuscript, and be sure not to pair you with that author on future projects.
  • Keep in contact with your developer. Ask questions when you need to. But don’t expect him to jump every time you call; he has a busy and hectic job.

Be A Professional

  • Use the spell-checker that comes with every word-processing package these days, and then go through and look for the mistakes a spell-checker won’t catch. For goodness’ sake! Nothing looks less professional than a writer who turns in material with lots of misspelled words.
  • Don’t try to become a professional writer unless you have a basic understanding of grammar. If it’s been a long time since you took an English class, brush up. Buy a book.
  • Don’t abuse the customer. It’s fine to have heated discussions with other roleplayers. But no RPG company is going to thank you for driving their customers away by swearing at them and calling them names.

Turn In A Complete Manuscript

When you turn in your “first draft,” turn in a completed manuscript, not that mess of ideas and cruft that writing teachers call a “rough draft.” Just because it’s your first draft is no reason not to spell-check, complete the sections, and do several edits. Why?

  • It means less work for you when rewrite time comes around, and you probably won’t have a lot of time to do the rewrite in.
  • It means less work for your developer when he does redlines, which he’ll appreciate!
  • If the author of a later book has to work with your rough draft when writing their material (multiple books are written at the same time, so this does happen) he’ll actually be able to make sense of it.
  • If the production schedule gets crunched and your developer has to axe the rewrite phase and do it all himself (yes, it does happen), it’s a hell of a lot less work for him, which makes him much happier with you.
  • If you do a good enough first draft, there’s a slim chance you might not have to do a rewrite (it has been known to happen). Which saves you a whole lot of time and effort, all for the same size paycheck.
  • The cleaner your manuscript, the sooner your developer can return the redlines to you, which (again) means more time and less effort for you.

I know; they seem like such simple entreaties. Yet you’d be amazed how many people can’t be bothered to follow even a few of them. Follow these simple suggestions and your developer will love you; I can’t even begin to imagine why more people don’t do it.

(P.S.: Want to see a developer really happy with you? Turn in a high-quality first draft, be ready and willing to re-write anything they want re-written, and… here’s the kicker… turn it in early. The caveat to this, of course, is that if you turn in a draft early and it sucks, he won’t thank you for not taking the extra time to polish it up. So you might want to wait until you’ve done a couple of contracts with the company and have a good feel for whether you’ve done what they want before you try this.)

Posted in Gaming, Writing

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