Alrighty, so you’re gunning for the freelance life as a game journalist. You’ve got a clip full of hot, armor piercing idea bullets locked and loaded. You’ve ripped off your stuffy day job tie and turned it into a sweet headband like Rambo. It’s time to kick some goddamn word ass. “Point me at some writing work, and I’ll totally NUKE that shit,” you say. Awesome enthusiasm. I like that. But you’ve got a little more legwork to do first, before it’s go-time. Sniff the air. Smell that? It’s the musky scent of paying work. Grab your word-powered flamethrower. Let’s go!
Scaring up paying gigs, and decent paying ones at that, takes serious effort. Every so often you’ll find an outlet that puts out an open call for freelancers, like the blast of a battle horn summoning warriors to the hunt. This is a rare thing, particularly among the bigger sites. When it does happen, you can bet your cup of stale morning coffee that a swarm of rabid writer folks will come running out of the virtual woods en-masse, frothing at the mouth with resumes and clips in-hand. They might also be howling and carrying swords. Watch out for that.
Your chances of standing out among the many applicants that queue up for such opportunities when they arise are depressingly slim. Not to say that you shouldn’t give it a shot, but these fields are usually picked clean of their golden fruit long before you get there. You don’t have to wait for these rare opportunities to pop-up before contacting editors about work. Most outlets use freelancers, and there’s always a need for hot story ideas and solid writer who can execute them. You just have to put your detective hat on to figure out where to fire your explosive-tipped idea arrows.
Plan of Attack
The best way to break into a new publication is with a well thought out feature pitch. If you can get your foot in the door with a feature or two and show your editor you can deliver the goods, you’re likely to score more assignments and gain enough traction to branch out to reviews and other work. Since many editors already have a solid stable of freelancers available to tackle review and preview work, you have a much better chance of getting their attention pitching something else. However, figuring out where to send your pitches and what editors to approach at a given outlet isn’t always an intuitive process.
Tracking down the right editorial contacts for a publication can be half of the challenge. In rare instances, outlets will post their writer’s guidelines online and publish an e-mail address for submissions. If that’s the case for the publication you’re trying to break into, then you’re in luck. Unfortunately, 90 percent of the time you’ll have to do some “creative digging” to find out which editor to pitch to. What does this mean? Read the hell out of the publication to see who’s writing what. For magazines, scope out the masthead – that funny little block in every issue filled with the names of staff, contributors, and other junk. Websites are a little trickier. See if they have a staff page that lists the names and contacts of various editors and writers for the site.
Usually it’s best to aim lower on the totem pole. Shoot for the Managing Editor or Features Editor rather than the Editor in Chief whenever possible. You can always try someone else if you don’t get a response, but it’s better to start with someone who’s more likely to get back to you. That’s often not the person at the top of the list.
Once you have honed in on a target, you must crack the code of how to actually reach them. Google is your friend here. Hunt for personal blogs, LinkedIn profiles, Twitter feeds, and other sites where your target editor may have posted a way of contacting them. Don’t be a psycho stalker. Be a meticulous “researcher.” Can’t find what you’re looking for? You can always hit up a writer comrade to see if they’d be willing to trade contacts or share intelligence (another reason why networking with other freelancers is important in this business). When you’ve got the goods on the editor you seek, hit them with a pitch.
The Social Stream
It’s often bandied about that getting steady freelance gigs boils down to who you know. That’s very true, but I’d add it’s also about who you pay attention to. Many editors and freelancers in the game journalism realm use social network sites to share ideas, promote their outlets, and communicate with other editorial folks. If you’re paying attention at the right moment, you’ll uncover nuggets of raw gold that can lead to solid work opportunities.
Twitter is an important resource for freelancers gunning for work. Following editors’ Twitter feeds give you a little window – albeit an often peculiar one – into their personalities and interest. Perhaps you’ll find common ground to connect on down the road. It can give you clues to topics that might be worth pitching to a particular editor, allowing you to tailor your ideas to hit their sweet spot. Hell, you can even strike up a conversation with editors then and there.
One thing I’ve noticed is it’s also a place where editors sometimes drop impromptu calls for freelancers or list freelance gig opportunities alongside contact info. Even if you miss the original post, you’ll often catch these possible gig leads from re-tweets by fellow writers. While it’s not a sure-fire thing, Twitter is one of many tools at your disposal for sniffing out work and making contacts.
Want to read more Shop Talk? Why not scope out the archive for past installments!
Dig this article? Why not BUY THE BOOK!
My new book Up Up Down Down Left WRITE – The Freelance Guide To Video Game Journalism is out NOW in print and on Kindle! The book is packed with over 256 pages of insider advice, expert insights, and pro tips to help you break into freelance game journalism, successfully pitch editors, deal with the challenges of the freelance life, and much more! Also, If you want to stay up-to-date on the latest developments, promotions, and other upcoming book releases, follow @gamejournoguide and consider signing my mailing list for important updates!
You can also follow @nmeunier on Twitter for regular blasts of freelance advice. Spread the good word via Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking sites below if you feel so inclined. Thanks!