Mr. Savy Gamer himself, LewieP, suggested we “new wave” of games journos do some posts about how we reckon the next wave should be looking to get into the game. So here’s my advice, in seven chronological steps. Enjoy! And as Lewie says, this is the internet, it’s interactive, so feel free to kickstart a Q&A in the comments.
1. Ask yourself why you want to be a games journalist.
If your answer is anything other than “because I love forming and communicating ideas about videogames and the surrounding industry and culture,” get out now. A love of games isn’t enough. Heck, a love of writing isn’t enough. If your passion doesn’t absolutely centre on that very specific combination of form and content, you’re fucked, because there are piles of exceptional writers who are able to bring this to the table.
2. Become good.
This means studying writing across a range of genres, playing shitloads of games, buying all the systems you can afford, practicing, failing, practicing, failing a little less hard, practicing, learning how to spell ‘practising’, eventually showing your work to some people, not being offended when they explain that it’s shit, practising, practising…
3. Publish a bunch of work.
There are a few ways to go about this. Starting a blog might be an idea, but for goodness’ sake don’t try to do reviews or news, you’re not an entire team of full-time staff writers with adequate industry contacts. Pick up on interesting topics related to gaming and scrawl some ideas down. Communicate your thoughts effectively and efficiently. Keep posting on a regular basis.
The other way is to join a voluntary site. If you’re going to do this, you want to be very selective. Work out who’s going to be best for what you need. I can tell you right now that an experienced editor is going to be best for what you need. Don’t be tempted by the amateurish sites who do plenty of traffic but only because they abuse N4G. These places will not advance your career at all, but your work will contribute to the smug grin on the webmasters’ faces.
4. Show your work to the people who matter.
Not even necessarily with the view to having it professionally published. I’d recommend, hugely, emailing Jim Rossignol at Rock, Paper, Shotgun and asking if he’d be interested in linking to your work in his Sunday Papers roundup. This is literally how I became a games journalist (admittedly it was Kieron doing the roundup at the time). I wrote something I was proud of, I emailed it, RPS linked it, and a few days later I was working on my first professional piece for Gamasutra. A while after that a couple more editors had got in touch with me, it having been recommended that they read my work. Word spreads quickly. Be outstanding, and show people you’re outstanding, and you’ll do well.
Pitch as much as you feasibly can. Come up with a list of ideas, work out which publications might be interested, and pitch (to one publication at once, importantly: it’s bad form to pitch the same thing at multiple places just in case some of them don’t want it). Know that you almost certainly won’t get the work. Keep pitching. If you’re good enough, you eventually will. Freelance budgets are incredibly small at the moment. You need to demonstrate that your work is worth buying more than anyone else’s. Except that most of the time it probably won’t be. This is still the case for people who do this professionally. In this game, you need a thick skin.
(Also, pitch features. Always. Features are relatively easy for a freelancer to produce, especially with the help of an editor to provide contacts etc. They’re also relatively big for in-house work, so are often farmed out. Reviews and previews are also often farmed out, but to writers who are already trusted by that publication, so you need to get “in there” before you start asking for these. Never pitch op-ed pieces. No one cares what you think. Yet.)
6. Remember to keep being good.
Once you’ve got that gig, you need to demonstrate that you’re amazing and that the editor is silly for having never worked with you before. This means writing an awesome article, but it also means some (apparently) less obvious stuff. Stuff like sticking to the word count. Stuff like including every page element you’re asked for (you’re submitting this without a headline? Really?). Stuff like being on time. No, fuck that, being early. Stuff like offering to be around all day in case any last-minute changes need making – and not complaining or acting hurt if the editor asks you for a complete re-write. At this level, this is what being good enough is about. If you fail at any of these things on your first go, once again, you might as well call it a day.
7. Keep it up
From here, it’s pretty much just about sticking with it, making sure your quality bar keeps creeping upwards, not downwards. Eventually I’d advise trying to get retainer deals with one or two major publications – it’s a right hassle to try to juggle a whole bunch of different mags and websites all at once.
Frankly, I wouldn’t want to be starting out in freelance right now. I came into this game right at the end of the stage where people were really eager to take on new writers. Now, most publications have their established set of writers, and their budgets are as tight as a disgusting metaphor. The work simply isn’t there quite so much any more.
You’d better be fucking incredible.