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Getting Started in Freelance Video Game Journalism
An introduction to the world of freelance video game journalism.
By freelance author and writer John Bardinelli
About this Book
This book is designed to do two things: clear up misconceptions about being a freelance game journalist, and prepare you for the journey ahead. If it serves up some mild entertainment as a bathroom replacement for Angry Birds, that’s just an awesome bonus.
The first steps into freelance writing are the most difficult. This book will make those a little easier by helping you build a foundation for your career. You’ll learn how to set up the pillars and decorate them with pretty ribbons, you’ll learn how to build a roof on top of those pillars, but the actual carpentry is up to you. No nagging Navi-style “HEY! Listen!”, just plenty of straight-up advice.
This ebook was written by a freelance journalist who has been in the business for the better part of a decade. Everything you read is the result of personal experience and years of coaching writers as they started their careers. The trial and error has been done, so here’s what works!
Finally, keep in mind we’re not here to discourage anyone, we’re just telling it to you like it is. A few smart decisions at the beginning of your career are worth a thousand at the end.
tl;dr – This is a fast guide to get you started. Ready set GO.
Chapter 1: The Castle of Disillusion
The first step in heading down the freelance path isn’t to pack a bag.
Too often in the game writing business people come along who can only see the pretty mountains at the end of the road, completely ignoring the lava and red turtle shells on the path in-between. That’s a recipe for disaster and disappointment, so instead of trying to jump to the end, put down the cheat codes and start from the beginning.
The real first step to becoming a freelance writer is making sure it’s something you want to do. The lifestyle sounds sweet to most people, but they’re only seeing what’s in the brochure. Freelancing isn’t all late mornings, impromptu Reddit breaks and Skype meetings in your underwear. It’s a never-ending stream of work, worry and discipline, not to mention the fear that if you let up even for just a moment, it’ll all crumble down and leave you with nothing.
The stereotypical freelancer’s day begins with no alarm clock and a morning that starts around 9 a.m. Or 10, whenever you feel like getting up. Whatever, it’s not like it matters. No boss to yell at you, no time clock to punch, not even a daily commute to endure. You’ll get to the work part when you feel like it. Maybe it’s time to watch an episode of Farscape first. You’ll get something done afterwards, you promise.
An actual freelancer’s day is a mess of looming deadlines, cryptic e-mail communications, worries about an article that isn’t going smoothly, and liberal amounts of scraping job boards to hunt for new gigs. There might be a spontaneous Reddit break or three thrown in there, but in the back of your mind you know that tabbing over is just a distraction. You’ve got work to do, and if you don’t do it, nobody else will. You’ll be surprised how unmotivated you can become when there isn’t a pointy-haired boss looming over your shoulder.
What about holidays? Sick leave? Weekends at the beach? Those things are arguably even more difficult to pull off as a freelancer than as a standard 9-to-5 career monkey. Freelancers can’t just pause their work because they have a cold or want to take a road trip. Many freelancers do working vacations, which aren’t really vacations at all, they’re just working with a different piece of scenery outside the window. Santa Claus coming to town doesn’t change anything. The life of a freelancer is a life of constantly pushing work around. If you don’t finish some work, you don’t make money.
Speaking of money, how about those high-paying cushy writing jobs, yeah? All you have to do is apply and you’ll get one, easy peasy. The only problem with that assumption is that it’s wrong. High-paying jobs are tough to come by, and when they do come along, competition is fierce. You can’t land a sweet gig without experience, just like you can’t become a CEO without starting at the bottom. There are no shortcuts in freelance writing, and freelance writing itself isn’t a shortcut.
Freelancing as a Game Journalist
Still with us? Good! Freelance game journalism carries all of the ups and downs of a freelance writing career, but there are a few special considerations when jumping into this particular puddle.
The number one misconception about video game journalists is that we bathe in free games sunup to sundown. Copies of all the latest blockbusters are stacked in the corners of our home offices because, hey, we’re game writers. Gotta have games to write about!
While it’s true that getting free games does happen in game journalism, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Putting the sometimes questionable ethics of the “freebies practice” aside, it’s not like publishers are lining up to hand out games to every writer on the ‘net. More often than not, press copies are only obtained by direct e-mails with publishing companies. Begging, in other words. Even then it’s not like you get to take your free game and run.
Games to a journalist represent one thing: work. Yes, you get to play them, but you’re not paid to play, you’re paid to write. When you end up with a freebie you’re obligated to do something with it, namely playing it through and writing a review. That’s fine when it’s a game you enjoy, but you don’t always get to pick the games you write about. Think a cheesy Wheel of Fortune game will never be on your assignment list? You just wait. You… just… wait!
Turning gaming into a job carries the threat of making you hate games as a whole. Who wants to play a new Mario game when you’ll have to write a review when you’re done? Your brain will stay busy making notes about the gameplay or mentally evaluating the graphics, not giggling each time Mario squeals as he slides down the flagpole. You’re not guaranteed to learn to loathe games, but it’s a possibility. Turning your passion into a career always carries that risk.
Probably the most widespread misconception about being a game journalist is that you spend all day playing games. “Must be nice.” your buddies joke as they head off to bag groceries. Yes, it’s nice, but guess what? Video game journalists don’t spend their day playing games and high-fiving friends over bottles of Mountain Dew. They play, they take notes, they scrutinize, and they write. Gaming is just a small part of the picture, and it’s also a hell of a lot of work. You’re a writer now, not a gamer, which means you have to produce something based on your time spent with a game. Playing it is just a small part of the whole picture.
You’re paid to be a writer, not a gamer. Keep that in mind going forward.
Freelancing isn’t for everyone, but neither is woodworking or politics or stacking jelly packets into pyramids on the restaurant table. Now that you’re equipped with a handful of cold truths, you get to ask yourself the same question as before: do you want to go freelance? If the answer is still “yes”, then welcome to the crazy world of crazy people writing words about crazy games.
tl;dr – Freelance game journalism offers a lot of freedom, but it’s a demanding career that requires a rich supply of dedication and self-discipline.
Chapter 2: Writing First, Gaming Second
Everyone reading this book is a gamer. You might even describe yourself as “passionate” about gaming. (If you do, you should stop, because it’s one of those “no duh” things that make editors shudder.) It’s good that you identify with the world of video games because that’s one of the requirements for being a game journalist. But just one, and quite possibly the smallest one. The meat and potatoes of game journalism is a little thing called “writing”. And if you don’t love writing, you don’t really want to be a game journalist.
Nobody asks an environmental writer if they like trees. It’s kind of a given, right? Instead, they talk about the great writing they’ve done, the stories they broke, the achievements they snagged, etc. It doesn’t matter how fast you can speedrun Cut Man’s stage in Mega Man (2:58, but seriously, it doesn’t matter). At the end of every day, you’re judged on the quality of your writing. Better jobs only come to better writers.
Become a better writer isn’t a complex process, it just takes a tremendous amount of attention, effort and time. Having a good editor check your work and offer suggestions can speed this process up by a factor of months, but you should also analyze your own work and seek ways to improve it. This requires breaking free from your point of view and seeing your paragraphs from the readers’ eyes.
Here’s a quick checklist of things you should run through with each piece of writing you create:
* Does your article make sense to someone who hasn’t played the game?
* Do you convey complete thoughts about the main points of the game?
* Did you include information that’s irrelevant to the game experience?
* Did you use a string of cliche phrases that would make an editor vomit?
* Are there links for someone who might want to know more about the game?
* Did you overuse a particular word or phrase?
* Does the article make any sense? Seriously, does it?
Hopefully it will be obvious which of the above are good things and which are bad. If not, try reading some user-submitted reviews on a large gaming site like IGN. Your resolve will crumble and you will cry for the death of the written word.
For a nice test to help determine how much you like to write, imagine replacing all of your gaming time with writing time. And not just casual writing time, either, actual sweating and editing writing time. Like Stephen King said, anyone who doesn’t think writing is hard work has never written anything worth reading.
Being a video game journalist means you’re a writer. You happen to write about something really cool, but the writing takes priority over the gaming. You’ll need to play plenty of games so you can keep up on the culture and trends, but always remember that the playing doesn’t pay your bills, the writing does.
tl;dr – Be a game journalist because you like writing, not because you like gaming.
Chapter 3: The Volunteering Debate
Volunteer work is a very sticky subject in the freelance video game journalism world. “Why should I work for free?” people say, shaking their heads in disgust. We’ll admit the race to the bottom for writers’ wages is troublesome, but the loudest anti-volunteer voices usually come from freelancers who are just getting into the business. They can’t seem to find a paying job that will take them on, forcing them to swim in a sea of non-paying gigs. To be blunt, that’s exactly how it should be.
For most jobs there’s a brief period of training every new employee must complete. Come in for a week or two, let some old pro show you the ropes, then timidly take the reins yourself until you’re confident enough to go solo. Even if you get stumped, someone else is usually around to set things right.
When you’re a freelancer you start out solo and pretty much stay that way. There’s no one to hold your hand to make sure you get your work done and don’t adverb the hell out of every article you write. There isn’t a formal training period for freelance jobs, which means you have to train on your own.
No, you can’t skip training and no, you can’t get mad if no one will hire you because you think you can skip it.
Nobody’s going to pay you a fair wage so you can figure out how to be a writer. It’s your job to figure that out on your own, fight the good fight, stick it out as a freelancer and prove to everyone that you’ve got the beans to survive. Once you’ve leveled up your skills, then you can run off to fight the big bosses.
Our take on the volunteering debate is that it’s a good thing for beginning writers, but that’s it. When you’re starting out you need training and experience, and these types of gigs are ideal providers of that. Working a volunteer job looks better on your resume than personal writing, and it sets you up for better gigs in the future.
Think about it this way: do you love gaming so much you’d do it for free? Of course! But how about writing? Do you write on your own just for fun? If you don’t, why would you enjoy doing it all day, every day? A paycheck doesn’t make you enjoy something, it just helps you tolerate it. For awhile.
After the Volunteering
The transition from free writing to paid writing will happen quite naturally as your career progresses. You’ll start off with a few volunteer jobs so you can learn the business and get the hang of this whole journalism thing. If you’re active in your job searches you’ll come across openings that offer money in exchange for your finely-honed writing services. You apply, you get rejected a hundred times (that’s normal, don’t worry), and you keep applying. Eventually one of those editors will say “you’re hired!”. Congratulations, you’re getting paid to write.
Your first paying job might not be much, but it sets a new minimum for your career. The next time you go hunting for work, you’ll snub your nose at anything that pays less than what you currently make. Over time your minimum will climb higher and higher, it’s just a matter of patience and persistence.
Your idea of what a “fair” amount of pay is will vary over the course of your career. Sometimes you’ll have a hard time finding work and will accept jobs far below your usual minimum. Because sometimes eating is more important than standards. Freelancing isn’t a straight line to a plateau of success, it’s a constant battle across rocky terrain filled with highs and lows, most of which you can never spot ahead of time.
Just like in any other career, there’s no shortcut to the top. You can’t aim for high paying jobs if you don’t have a foundation of experience, just like you can’t rake in a six figure salary at a company without starting at the bottom and working your way up.
tl;dr – Volunteering = self-training. Do it!
Chapter 4: Accepting the Job Quest
In every RPG ever, you play as a party of characters who accept and complete quests. “Go to the Tower of Death and kill the Tentacle Thing at the top.” “Can do!”, you say, salivating at the prospect of stabbing stuff with your shiny sword and dagger.
After you accept your quest, what’s the first thing you do? It isn’t “go out on the quest and win”, because that would be dumb. You’d get poisoned by some mutated bee, realize you don’t have any antidotes, then limp back to town while those little green bubbles pop over your character’s head.
The first thing you do is prepare for the quest. You shop for items, you upgrade, you talk to the townsfolk, you might even do a little grinding to gain a couple of levels. Tentacle Things aren’t easy, you want to make sure you’re as ready as you can be.
Clever readers such as yourself will see the parallel we’re drawing here. Once you accept the quest of being a freelance game journalist, you have to prepare. If you run out there without any experience, yelling at editors who demand you fix your crappy typo-ridden review, you will be defeated. And there will be much rejoicing when you are.
A lot of first-time writers are convinced this is how you become a freelance game journalist:
* Step 1: Think about being a game journalist
* Step 2: Get a high paying job and buy a mansion
There are about ten steps missing between those two ideas, each representing a few months (or years) of time and effort. Thy might look something like this:
* Step 1: Think about being a freelance game journalist.
* Step 1a: Read a bunch of articles on how to create a resume.
* Step 1b: Read a bunch of articles on how to write a query letter.
* Step 1c: Spend a week or more creating/gathering polished writing clips.
* Step 1d: Create some writing samples you can share with potential employers. Yes, this means you’ll have to write without getting paid.
* Step 1e: Start looking for some easy-to-snag jobs.
* Step 1f: Work some volunteer or low-paying jobs for awhile.
* Step 1g: Get angry because it seems like nobody is hiring.
* Step 1h: Finally score a decent job.
* Step 1i: Revise your resume and clips to show off your leveled-up experience.
* Step 1j: Keep writing and looking for better jobs.
* Step 2: Get a high paying job.
The hard part about those steps is sticking with it long enough to harvest the fruits of your efforts. It’s not instantaneous. Be patient and keep plugging away!
Now, back to our RPG analogy. Once you add the quest to your queue, it’s time to prepare. The first step is similar to talking to the village NPCs: gathering information. This is where you scour the internet for every piece of advice you can get your greedy eyes on. Read about creating resumes, learn what a query letter is, figure out how to make writing samples editors will drool over. It doesn’t matter where you get your advice from, just as long as it’s not one source. Don’t be shy about using that Google search box. Soak it all in.
The next two things are extremely important: making query letters and resumes. We’ll cover them in detail in the next few chapters. For now, think of them as the equipment you’ll carry on your quest. You wouldn’t head up Mt. Death with a wooden sword and shield, so don’t strike out into the freelancing world with the query letter equivalent.
Hunting for jobs is a never-ending quest. Sometimes you’ll feel like that’s all you do for a living. Even when you have steady work it’s a good idea to keep looking for more. You never know when your dream job will appear, and you’d kick yourself if you let that opportunity pass by.
Rejection is also part of the process of being a freelance writer. The first few (dozen) will be a real hit to your ego. The next dozen will sting a little. The next dozen will inspire a shrugged shoulder. You won’t get every job you apply to, and it doesn’t mean you’re a terrible writer who should just go back to picking your nose for a living. Let your skin get a little tougher and press on. Eventually you’ll hook a bigger fish!
tl;dr – Preparing for the freelance quest is boring but useful.
Chapter 5: Query Letters
When you apply to a freelance job, the first thing an editor sees is your query letter. This is your personalized introductory e-mail, everything from “Hello sexy human!” to “Please please hire me, Love Johnny X. Writer”. Query letters are the gateway to your writing samples and your resume, and quite often they’re the only thing an editor will ever read from you. Why? Because a crummy query letter spells instant doom.
Query letters are difficult because they force you to condense your years of experience and your enormous talents into a measly 300 words. Actually, it’s more like 125 words, as a good portion of that space will be spent talking about the employer and how much you love what they do. It’s like trying to convince someone you don’t even know to go out on a date with you. You don’t just talk about how sweet your hair is, you talk about how sweet their hair is, too. And their eyes. And shoes. And you like the same things they do.
Editors receive mountains of applications for each job opening. In a perfect world we would all hold hands and read resumes, samples and query letters in full, turning down job offers with hugs instead of rejection e-mails. It’s not a perfect world, though. It’s a fast-paced internet world where people demand articles on a daily basis. Editors don’t have the time (or the interest) to read through pages of text that are often clumsy, poorly written, and mostly irrelevant. The solution? Let the query letter do the talking.
The tone of a query letter should be tailored to match the publication you’re applying to. Are they sarcastic and witty? You should be, too. Are they sober and serious? What a coincidence, so are you! You two sound perfect for each other. You should totally strike up a long-term (business) relationship.
The query letter’s first job is to get someone’s attention. When you’re still fresh to the business it’s best to keep things straightforward, but later on you’ll be able to dazzle editors with your word skillz, all without breaking that 300 word limit. For now, be brief and to the point. Summarize yourself in one or two punchy sentences that an editor won’t be able to ignore.
After that it’s time to send in the artillery: your biggest accomplishments and your most impressive jobs. Mention that website where you wrote five news articles per day, talk about your fast turnaround time for that hugely important review. Whatever stands out the most and is the most applicable to the job you’re trying to get goes in.
After leaving an editor swooning with your awesomeness, turn up the heat with some words about their publication and how perfectly suited to working there you happen to be. Many query letters skip over this part, but that would be a mistake. Really, your introductory paragraph only serves to describe yourself so you can later remind them that you fit the job description perfectly. Square peg, square hole. Spell that out for the editor and you’ve just upped your chances of landing a job.
At the end of the query, make it easy for the editor to find out more. Lay on the links to samples, your full resume, and whatever else the job ad requests.
To help solidify the query letter concept, read over the sample e-mail query on the next page. The job opening is for a review writing position at a mobile games site. The applicant doesn’t have much experience, but he does a great job with what he’s got.
Sample Query Letter:
Jeff Lemontgomery here, freelance writer and game journalist. I’m responding to your ad seeking a mobile game reviewr to add to your team.
I’ve been working as a game writer since 2013, reviewing games on my personal blog as well as creating the occasional news post for GamingNewsTurtle.com. Mobile games have been my focus, but I also write about mainstream titles on a regular basis. Gotta keep up with the big releases!
GameMobilez has been one of my favorite mobile gaming sites in recent months. I love your articles’ in-your-face style and think it’s a fantastic way to draw readers into reviews. My own writing style is very similar to this, so I think we’ll get along nicely!
I have attached one writing sample as your job ad requested. You can find my resume along with more writing samples on my online portfolio:
Thanks for your time! I look forward to hearing from you!
See? Surprisingly simple. Jeff was confident, concise, to the point, he matched the website’s style and tone, and he did it all in 150 words. Bravo Jeff, bra-vo.
Also, did you catch Jeff’s typo? That made him look pretty bad, didn’t it? Good thing your query letter won’t have any typos.
tl;dr – Query letters might be the only thing a potential employer reads. Talk about the job and make yourself sound like the perfect fit!
Chapter 6: Resumecraft
After you get an editor’s attention with your query letter, it’s time to show them the goods. Uh, so to speak. The second part of your preparation for entering freelance journalismhood is to get a decent resume up and running. This will be the core of your attack, the filter that catches all the great stuff you do and presents it in a concise, easy-to-love format.
Resume length, design and content is a hot topic. Everybody has a different opinion on what should and shouldn’t go in your curriculum vitae, but the truth of the matter is that they’re thinking about it way too much. Keep it simple and you’ll get hired.
Resumes are written for people who don’t know how brilliant you are. You have to show them these great things you’ve done without boring them with irrelevant details. This can be extremely tough to do as a multi-tasking freelance writer, as different accomplishments work better when you’re applying to different jobs. Many freelancers keep several versions of their resume, ready to apply to any job no matter what kind of writing gig it happens to be.
Here’s your first rule for resume writing: keep it short. If you go over one page you’re pushing it. People’s attention span on the internet is worse than in real life, so you have to combat that with eye-catching design and lots of whitespace. No lumpy fonts, strange colors or animated GIFs, just one page of solid information. If you can’t convince someone you’re right for a job with a query letter and a single page resume, you won’t be able to do with with a few more pieces of virtual paper.
Here are the essential pieces of information you’ll need to include on your online writing resume:
* Name and contact info – Name, e-mail address, Skype username if you like. No need to use your address or phone number.
* 2-3 sentence summary of your career – The first paragraph outlines who you are, what you’ve done and what you’re good at.
* Relevant jobs you’ve held – In order of most recent to oldest, spell out each job you’ve had that’s relevant to the position. Working at a grocery store isn’t relevant to a writing job, so leave that out. Put the publication’s name, the date you worked there, and one or two bullet points illustrating your duties and accomplishments.
* Skills/education paragraph at the bottom – This is optional, but if you’ve got a real skill to show off, especially if it’s web- or game development-related, list it.
Note there’s no mention of objectives or references or photos of your cats. That stuff is irrelevant, all that matters are the high points of your career. The rest is just noise.
Your First Resume
The hardest part about getting your first resume up and running is that you won’t have much to say. There’s a nice trick you can do to make sure you have something to put on your resume, however: WRITE SOMETHING!
Just sit down and start typing. A news post, a review, a preview, whatever interests you. Write it, edit it, edit ten more times, then toss it up on a personal blog. There, you have writing experience. It won’t help you land a high-paying job, but it’ll fill space on your resume for those early non- and low-paying gigs. Proving you’re interested in writing by actually writing something is surprisingly effective, especially if it’s good writing!
If you don’t have any related work experience, stretch the definition of “work”. You know those articles you’ve written for your personal blog? That goes on the resume. Be honest about what it is, don’t pretend your Tumblr account is Joystiq. If you can’t rustle up anything that even remotely resembles writing experience, you shouldn’t be applying to jobs now. Start a blog, write some reviews, then come back and try again.
A couple of other things to keep in mind when writing your resume:
* Your resume should contain no mention of how many games you’ve played, what you think about games, or anything of that nature. You’re a writer, this is a writing job.
* There’s absolutely no reason to mention your age. It’s irrelevant and nobody cares.
* Don’t include a picture on your resume. This is not a dating profile.
* Have an online version of your resume ready to be viewed with a single click. Also have a copy PDF copy you can attach to e-mails, when it’s requested.
The next page has a sample resume for you to peruse. Note how straightforward and uncluttered it is. The applicant doesn’t have much experience as a writer, but she displays her accomplishments well and comes across as intelligent and professional. It’s a good start and an excellent way to get her freelance writing career off on the right foot.
tl;dr – Be confident, keep it simple and keep it relevant.
Summary: Freelance writer with a year of experience in the game journalism world. Skilled with wordplay and known for quick turnaround times even when reviewing complex games.
Amanda’s Gamez (Jan 2014 – present)
* Create news articles for a personal blog covering casual, mobile and indie games.
* Post two news articles per day, even on weekends.
The Gamezette (Sep 2013 – Dec 2013)
* Wrote a weekly game review column for the school newspaper.
* HTML editing, WordPress, Markdown
Chapter 7: Writing Samples
The best paradox in freelance writing is you can’t get a job without writing samples, and you can’t get writing samples without a job. Strictly speaking that statement isn’t true, but it’s a pretty dramatic way to start off a chapter, isn’t it?
The solution is easy: write some articles! Hopefully you’ve already been doing this in your spare time, as you really love to write, remember? Pick a game, write a review, edit the review, edit it some more, edit it again, then edit it one more time. Seriously, edit the hell out of it. Read it outloud to make sure it flows, have another pair of eyes look over it for errors you might have missed. Do everything you can to make this piece as top-quality as you can make it. It pays off in the end.
If you’re not confident in your writing abilities, you should seriously consider going after a volunteer journalism gig. Not only is the bar for entry lower than paid gigs, but you’ll have the benefit of an editor looking over your work before publication. Plus, sending published samples to other employers always looks more professional than PDF reviews or news posts on your own blog.
Amass as many samples as you can get on a wide variety of topics. Don’t just stick to game reviews, get some news articles together, write about different game genres, try your hand at an editorial. The more varied your portfolio the better.
Having a website that lists your accomplishments and has links to samples is vital to your success as a freelancer. This can be as simple as an HTML page or as complex as as a full blog. Make sure the information is easy to find, as no one’s going to dig through your site to find out whether or not you’re awful. If they can’t see what they need in the first few seconds, they’ll make that assumption and go about their business elsewhere.
This is important: tailor your samples to the job you’re applying for. If the gig is focused on MMO reviews, send an MMO review. If it’s more of a news posting job, send links to news posts. If you don’t have either of these, make them, especially if you’re really interested in the position.
This brings up another touchy subject in the freelance writing world: special samples. Many times a job ad will give instructions to complete a specific writing task to include with your query letter. Things like “Write a 200 word news posts on the topic of games you can play underwater” are fairly common.
This is a weird request from a job ad because it suggests you work for them before they’ve hired you. “Could you come by and repair my dishwasher so I can evaluate whether or not I want to hire you to repair my dish washer?” Doesn’t make a lot of sense, and most of the time it’s a sign of a lazy editor who doesn’t want to (or can’t) evaluate a writer based on their existing body of work. Why should you be judged on one special sample when you’ve got a whole resume full of experience?
Just like the volunteering debate, special samples might be a good idea when you’re new to the business, but once you’re established, leave them behind. Some writers will even apply to these jobs and leave notes about how it’s against their policy to provide special samples and they hope their work will be judged on its existing merit.
Ultimately, it’s your call, just don’t make it your career to write articles for job applications.
tl;dr – Write more, then collect it all together and show it off!
Chapter 8: Monster (Job) Hunter
After all this work, you’re finally ready to work!
By now you’re probably grumbling about all this dumb preparation stuff you have to do. Resumes and query letters are boring, when do we get to the games? Right now, now we get to the games. Or at least we get to the part where we get to go looking for things that will lead us to games.
The online game journalism world is filled with thousands of publications. The vast majority of them are small blogs dedicated to a few specific topics, but there are mid-sized and even a few large outlets who keep the writing world alive and kicking.
When you’re just starting out, you’ve got to aim for the little guys. It’s disheartening, we know, but it’s how things work. Actually, the reason VGJobs exists is to showcase gigs for freelancers who are just starting out. Dozens of openings appear on the front page each week, ranging from volunteer to paid, hobby blogs to sites like HubPages, Gamezebo and EGM. It’s a good place to start your search. Honestly, it is!
A quirk of the online journalism world is that websites tend to post job openings on their own sites, not necessarily on job boards. This is partly out of sheer convenience, but it also lets publications target people they know will be a good fit for their site. Namely, people that already read it!
This makes your job hunt a little more complex. You can’t just sit on VGJobs or Monster and click “apply” on every game writing job you see. Instead, you’ll need to keep tabs on your favorite gaming sites for that fateful day they put out a call for writers. You should be reading a bunch of news/reviews sites anyway, so this problem takes care of itself.
Blind Google searches sometimes yield great results, just plug in phrases like “hiring game writer” or “game writer wanted”. Most sites don’t specifically ask for “game journalists”, so stick to phrases that include writer/writing. Also keep tabs on generic freelance writing job boards and places like craigslist. Competition from actual game writers on these sites is low, so you might be able to grab a great job without much effort.
When you’ve got some experience you can try approaching sites that aren’t explicitly hiring to see if you can shoehorn your way in. On-spec writing is the practice of sending work to publications that aren’t actively asking for it. This is a very bad idea during the early days of your career, so don’t do it unless you’ve been in the business for two or three years and can produce something marketable and amazing in your sleep.
When you’re first starting out in your freelance writing career, don’t be picky. Apply to every job you can and take every job you’re offered. You need experience more than anything, and accepting random jobs will earn you just that. And who knows? Maybe that so-so job will lead somewhere grand a few months down the road?
You never know when or where a good job will appear, so cast your net wide and often.
tl;dr – Finding a good job doesn’t happen automatically.
Chapter 9: Press Start to Begin
Freelancing is hard work. Online game journalism has its own set of challenges. It’s not an easy field to master, but as any established writer will tell you, it’s an extremely rewarding experience.
Assuming you didn’t secretly skip to the end of the book, you’re now armed with the tools to build a freelance game journalism career. It’s going to take time, we’re not going to fib and tell you that it won’t, but if you’ve got determination you can claw your way in and settle down to work with the rest of us.
Game journalism is difficult, but it’s extremely entertaining and rewarding. Writing reviews is as much an art as it is a science, and even after ten years of doing it you won’t be convinced you’ve mastered it. But you’ll keep trying, because that’s just what you do!
Now that you’ve got a foundation for your freelance writing career, there’s only one thing left to do: get out there and do it. When you think you’re failing, try even harder. When you succeed, use the momentum to spring forward to a whole new level of your career.
tl;dr – Let’s do this!
About the Author
John Bardinelli has been a full-time freelance writer for the past ten years. He started out with a few volunteer gigs where he raved about how cool this fancy new “Nintendo DS” thing looked. He gradually moved into bigger and better writing jobs, eventually snagging managing editor positions and working for sites like Joystiq, Co-Optimus, JayIsGames and more.
In the mid-2000s John created a site called Video Game Journalism Jobs (VGJobs) to help new freelancers get a foothold in the game journalism field. The site has grown tremendously over the years, and he hopes it, along with this ebook, will help give people a successful start in the business.
John still writes for a living and is currently working on creative projects for several different game development studios.
– John Bardinelli
For more advice, tips and jobs, check out the VGJobs website: