July 7, 2009
Dedicated followers of the site may have noticed my name popping up around the web. For everyone else: I’ve been making posts for other sites. Particularly Bitmob (a pro-am site for games journalists) and 1up. I started roughly two weeks ago, and I’ve already earned featured posts on both sites; the same posts that have been published here over the last few weeks.
My next move is to begin freelancing. If I can land a job I probably will not be able to repost those articles here; but I’ll be sure links are provided for anyone interested.
If you go through the archieve to see my modest beginings I think you’ll see how valuable running this blog has been. My writing has improved significantly, my motivation has increased, my confidence is up, and I’m more creative in general. I love this site, and I love you for reading it. Thanks readers, you’ve helped keep me going.
July 3, 2009
What does a freelancer do? How does someone become a freelancer? Those are the questions I should have asked when I started researching this post. Instead I assumed it was as easy as pitching an idea to some site and then waiting for the internet checks to roll in. After a few responses from major blogs came in I realized I had found a very deep topic to discuss.
The logical place to start is to ask “How does someone go from blogging on a site like Bitmob for free to getting paid actual liquor money?” Sam Kennedy of 1UP gave me the following advice:
There’s a fair amount of competition, but to be honest, most of the pitches come to us from people we know. A lot of writers have been “discovered” just from their blogs on 1UP. We do get a lot of submissions, so it’s best to stand out from the rest of the pack — and getting to know us via [1UP.com] is a good way to do so.
I also asked Robert Ashley how he broke into the field.
I spammed everyone at the Ziff Davis gaming group with my resume and samples. One person read them, said they’d give me a freelancing shot, [so] I started pitching stories. … Unfortunately, so many things have changed in the six years I’ve been doing this that I have no idea how people break into freelancing these days.
He has a point. There isn’t a lot of precedent for this reduced pulp world. In the days of yore an aspiring journalist might submit a story without speaking to anyone, and if the publication happened to have space that needed filling that aspiring journalist became a freelancer. Today space is no longer a commodity. Websites have as little or as much of it as they need to cover the popular topics of the day. Still, if you can say something in a way no one else can work is out there.
There doesn’t even seem to be a standard pricing model. The National Writers Union believes $.70 a word is about average for online articles. On the other hand, listeners of various gaming podcasts may have heard the notion that writers should be willing to work for free in order to build a reputation. That is exactly what’s happening on sites like Bitmob and 1up’s user blog section. There are also a plethora of smaller sites that will give you assignments, deadlines, and all of the responsibility of freelancing with none of the pay.
Budgets are tight at every publication in the videogame business right now, but we’re doing our best to pay our writers for their hard work. … We don’t pay by the word and are flexible in that respect. After all, some stories require a lot more research, so we want to make sure what we pay is appropriate to the amount of work. – Sam Kennedy
Times are hard, but don’t work for free. Any work you do for free should be on your own projects. – Robert Ashley
One of the largest hurdles to someone just getting into freelancing is finding outlets to work with. Thankfully coverage of video games is no longer a niche product. You see stories about video games everywhere including your local paper, international magazines, entertainment and tech websites, radio shows, and of course the game blogs. Every outlet in each of those categories needs writers. Some will work with freelancers, some won’t. If Joystiq isn’t commissioning work (and as of this writing they are not) maybe Entertainment Weekly will pay for your work. There are a lot of potential opportunities out there if you put the effort into finding them. Some will say the demise of print has left fewer openings, and freelance journalists are an endangered species. But we’ve been here before.
I am not sure that a young man beginning in journalism in 1938 would find opportunity in as great a mood of welcome as one who began about the turn of the century. About 1925 and after, advertising, which once fed the printed word alone, began to divide with the spoken word, the radio. The number of periodicals and newspapers began to contract. The little town of West Chester, when I started there in 1892, had three daily papers; by the 1920s it had but one. Philadelphia, when I spent a while on a paper there in 1900, had five important morning papers, four evening ones; by 1938 the numbers were two and two, respectively. In every city similar contraction took place. Mark Sullivan, 1938.
71 years later and people are still finding ways to profit from writing what they know.
So let’s say we’ve done our time in community blogs. We’re getting respectable traffic on our own steam. People respond to what we have to say. We’re on good terms with people we’ve located that are in a position to pay us for our pieces. How should we ask for work?
I’ve never written an entire story before pitching it. I’ve heard of editors asking for stories on spec, meaning that they want to see the completed thing before they offer to pay for it. Pitching is different things to different people. For editors that know me, a pitch can be a couple of sentences explaining the idea on a very basic level. They trust me. When I pitched a story to a mainstream magazine, I treated the pitch like a story unto itself, with little snippets of quote material, strong organization, etc. – Robert Ashley
We’re open to seeing completed articles, but for the most part everything we use gets pitched to us first. That way we have a hand in helping shape the story. – Sam Kennedy
[Pitches are a] process we handle in-house, with our existing staff writers (some of whom are freelance, and some of whom are full-time employees). And, in that respect, we are far more flexible. – Chris Grant, Joystiq
Since it seems like everyone has a different approach, it may be best to open with an idea for a story and a few samples of what you intend to write. If the company wants the story on spec, and that’s something you’re willing to do, you can write it up. Otherwise be open to criticism and suggestions.
Alright, so what type of work can we expect to do?
We have quite a few freelancers that contribute content to the site. We have a full team of news writers that contribute daily news content, we have a pool of writers that regularly write reviews, previews, features, and blogs, and we often seek freelance help for strategy guides and video content. – Sam Kennedy
Using experience, contacts and knowledge of the industry I helped to turn a bunch of programmers who knew how to create a game, but not how to form a development team, manage it and sell their concept; into a burgeoning dev house. If I thought of myself exclusively as a video game journalist then it is likely that I would never have had the discussion with the head of the company which lead to my joining their team as a consultant; a job from which I gained as much experience as I imparted. – Aaron McKenna
The general take away here is to consider writing as one aspect of your skill set. Keep your people skills polished, maybe learn how to work with Sony Vegas or Adobe Premiere. You want to have as broad a focus as possible while still being able to work intelligently on specific tasks.
Is all this effort and multitasking really worth it?
It taught me how to work for myself, how to get things done without someone looming over me. I haven’t had a “real job” since 2003, and I don’t plan on getting one anytime soon. -Robert Ashley