Saturday, October 20, 2012

Punch the Keys!

I finally finished my Pathfinder adventure, so I thought I'd celebrate by writing another blog. I know, I live a wild life, filled with cocktail parties and beautiful women, right? No, that's my boss, who rolls up on women in bars and tells them he owns a freaking publishing company, but never quite gets around to mentioning what he publishes. Because that would be like admitting you have a social infection. And before you jump on me for making fun of my boss, I'm actually referring to every boss I've ever had in this business. He's a composite figure. (I put that in there because my present boss is actually pretty keen).

Anyway, I was thinking about how I could help you, the aspiring, get into the business or get more work. There isn't some secret, magical formula for getting work from a game company. Well, actually, there is, but I don't have time to teach you Enochian. So instead I'm going to tell you what each and every line developer I've ever had the privilege to talk to has said on this subject. Because when we all get together at Gen Con, it's to complain about two things: a) writers and b) bosses.

Your editor is looking for three things from you, the writer. If you deliver on these things consistently, you will never have to look for work.

On Time: I can't stress this enough. In fact, it's a common theme in all my advice. Deliver on time. Your editor has a schedule. The book must make it to the printers by date certain, because the company has scheduled press time. It must make it to the distributors on time, because that affects payment. Once upon a time, when I worked for LUG/Decipher, we had distribution into the book trade through Simon & Schuster. I can't tell you how valuable this can be. The books, however, had to make it to Barnes & Noble by a specific date, or the book was returned. If it didn't, B&N would take the money they'd set aside for us and spend it on a different book; all they want is books on their shelves. They don't care which books. Then, we'd have to wait for the next quarter, until B&N allocated money for books again.

This is a business. We're trying to make money. It doesn't matter if the editor takes your work and sticks it in a drawer for a year (well, it does, because that affects your payment). All that matters is that you turn it in on time. I don't want to have to worry about when I'll get chapter three.

In English: This is an important one. You wouldn't believe the stuff I've received over the years that bears only a passing resemblance to English. I don't expect you to have memorized Strunk & White (in fact, I wish you wouldn't because there's a lot of bad advice in there). Nor do you have to follow the Chicago Manual of Style. You do, however, have to know the rules of written English. I've gotten stuff where it's obvious the writer didn't know what a paragraph was. I've gotten run-on sentences. I've gotten sentences that just end, in mid-sentence. A lot of people don't know what a comma is, or why it's important. Or that "it's" is the contraction for "it is". Before you can break the rules of grammar, and all good writers do, you have to demonstrate that you know those rules.

When I submitted my first book to Chaosium, which was actually the first thing I'd ever published, I'm told that Lynn Willis, the editor, let out a "whoop!"and ran up and down the halls yelling "it's in English! It's in English!" After years reading manuscripts, I understand his joy. I've spent many a late night turning someone's scribbling into a coherent manuscript. Basically, I've rewritten the entire piece. I shouldn't have to do that.

On Topic: If you're assigned 2,000 words to write about dwarven religious practices, you don't want to turn in 2,000 words about dwarven social practices. Seems like a no-brainer, doesn't it? I remember assigning out a chapter on technology, and getting back a chapter that had exactly four pieces of tech in it; the rest was a discussion of the role of technology and how technology worked. That's not what I asked for. Well, it was, technically, however the writer demonstrated that he had no idea what he was doing. It's like asking for a chapter on magic items and getting a chapter with no magic items. Or asking for a chapter on guns, and getting a bunch of stuff on how gunpowder works. What this particular writer showed me was a) he hadn't read the outline, where I told him to include ray guns and hand-held sensors and communication's gear; and b) that he had no idea what our game line was about.

You should know what an adventure looks like. You should know what should go in a gear chapter. Anyone who's read any game line knows what I'm talking about. When I say "write me an adventure about mites," you should know there should be a few attacks, and a lair, and treasure. You know the format, even if it's for a sci-fi game; you know the elements that go into an adventure. Moreover, you should know how that particular game handles those things. You should familiarize yourself with the product line before you write. If the game likes boxed text that the GM reads to players, then your work should use the same format.

If you do these three things -- be on time, write in grammatically correct English, and write what you were asked -- then you'd be in the top tier of freelance game writers pretty quickly. Your name would be passed around between line editors as a gold-star freelancer (yes, I call other line editors looking for recommendations and new writers). You'd get more work.

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