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!
Any job can grow tiresome and dull over an extended period of time, no matter how fun it may seem to other folks looking in from the outside. The world of game journalism can be a magical land full of shiny opportunities and realized dreams. But sometimes it sucks. Even if you’re writing about video games (or some other totally rad hobby) for a living, there are times when you will want to fling your computer out the window in frustration or crawl into a volcano and immolate yourself. Trust me, you don’t want to do either.
I’m going to avoid any baseball analogies and skip right to the nerdy stuff: pitching editors is a lot like scoring a headshot while you’re being peppered with semi-automatic gunfire and missile explosions. If you want the kill (uh, I mean, gig), you have to get your pitch just right and target it to the soft squishy meat exposed through the tiny crack in their editorial wall of armor. If you’re a little off to either side, you’ll miss the shot and get smoked by the competition. Cold-pitching new editors isn’t easy, but here are some general Dos and Don’ts to follow.
Welcome to the dark side of the force. No, I’m not your father, I don’t have a cool red light saber, and I’m wheezing from a distinct lack of exercise – thank you for your concern. But I do have some force knowledge to drop. Being a freelance game journalist, or whatever random bizarre combinations of words you prefer to describe yourself with in this field, is some damn hard work. You sometimes have to kick puppies, dip your appendages in molten lava, and drink battery acid. Or even worse: play 30 straight hours of “Magical Baby Friends in Yum Yum Land 3” until your eyes bleed out of their sockets. Sorry to harsh your mellow, but freelancing in this industry isn’t all flowers and cupcakes. Here are some of the decidedly not awesome things about this line of work.
There is something magical about being able to work all day without the tediousness of having to put clothes on. You save on a lot on laundry being a freelancer, that’s for sure. Rolling out of bed, flicking the computer on, making a pot of coffee, and diving into a busy day of word ninjitsu – in your underwear no less – is both convenient and gratifying. Of course, there are plenty of other reasons why freelancing is the way to go, if you want to making a living writing about video games.
Alright. It’s time to explore the other side of the fence. This is not a black and white world where pious hoity-toity angels in glowing robes engage in epic battle with cloven-hoofed demons from the underworld who crap fireballs day in and day out. There are times when it makes a lot of sense to get your work out there even if you’re not getting paid for it yet – at least when you’re starting out. Doing a little freebie writing for a smaller gaming site can build clips, gain important contacts, and lead to paying work at bigger outlets down the road. But keep in mind: awesome paying freelance opportunities rarely fall out of the sky unless you’ve been launching barrages of cannon fire to the heavens.
Don’t. Even if you’re just getting started out in the freelance world, your time and energy are worth something. The prospect of having your work published, particularly if you’ve yet to sip from those glistening waters, can do crazy things to a new writer. It’s tempting to jump at any opportunity to have your work picked up by a publication – even a small one – regardless of whether you’re getting paid for it or not. Seeing your byline on a published article for the first time is exciting stuff. Period. The problem is the vast majority of websites in the video game world that actually take the time to publicly cast out nets to attract freelancers don’t want to pay you for your work. They’re looking to take advantage of your fine ability to churn out words in an intelligent and thoughtful manner by corrupting you and bending you to their own dark aims. Don’t let them.
It’s like clockwork. Meeting new people and engaging in the usual exchange of friendly chit-chat is always a bit of an awkward experience at first, because it’s only a matter of time before they ask me about what I do for a living. Should I be embarrassed? No. I have a legitimate job just like anyone else. But it’s a gig some people would all but kill for. My response to the inevitable question almost always elicits some kind of animated reaction – ranging from enthusiasm to quasi-disbelief. “Me? I get paid to play video games.”