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Lobo_Luna's In Depth Questions 9-12


9. You told us a bit about how your RPG author career got started in question one. Could you tell us how you've managed to grow that over the years?

What a great question! It has been a combination of hard work, taking chances and networking.

Hard Work

To grow your writing career, no matter who you are working for, you need to produce quality work and to meet your deadlines. If you accept a 21,000 word contract due in three weeks, you darned well better meet that demand. If you cannot do it, do not accept the contract. It is as simple as that. Do not bite off more than you can chew.

I have met every deadline I have been given. It is not an easy thing but it is one way to prove that you are someone worth contracting and trusting with important assignments. Once your editor trusts you and knows how you work, they will be happy to vouch for you.

The way I started working for Catalyst Labs was my editor, Sean Everette, turned to the green haired man he was talking to and introduced me to him as "This is Jennifer Brozek. She is one of my best freelancers. She has an interest in writing for Shadowrun." The green haired man turned out to be one of the lead editors for Shadowrun. He shook my hand, handed me a business card and told me to email him after the convention was over.

It was just that easy. My editor believed in me and vouched for me to another editor and the ball was rolling. My hard work paid off.

Taking Chances

The next thing I did was to take every chance and opportunity I came across – Every RPG contest that I qualified for, pitched RPG ideas into editor slush piles and for those people I already knew in the industry, I asked them for pointers and for work.

Taking chances comes with a high rate of rejection. All authors should expect rejections and be hardened to it. Editors reject your work because it is not what they are looking for or need. It is not to tell you that you are a bad person. It means you did not qualify. However, if this disqualification and rejection came from poor technical writing skills, you need to improve those skills immediately.

The hardest thing to do is to go to a friend and ask for work. But freelancing is all about going out and getting the work before you do it. Most people who work in the RPG industry are freelancers. It is not a rich industry to work in. I do it because I love it. Not because I want to get rich. (Well, I do want to be rich but I'm smart enough to know that it won't be through my RPG writing.)

The next hardest thing to do is to pitch product ideas to the editors you want to work for. I was in a panel at a convention about "How to write for White Wolf" at Gen Con one year. After the convention, I emailed Eddy my product idea. I know I went in to the slush pile. But, a few weeks later, I got an email back from him approving my idea. I had followed the pitch guidelines to the letter and it got the Editor's attention in a good way.

If you have an idea, you must submit it. The worst they can do is say, "No." If you do not submit it, you are telling yourself "No." for the editor and that is not fair to either of you.

Networking

The first time I thought about networking, it gave me hives. As it turns out, I'm good at networking. Really, all it is, is talking with people in the industry at events that are designed for the industry. Gaming conventions are perfect for this. There are some obvious tools of the trade that you should have with you but mostly, it is getting some face time with other people, letting them know your availability and giving them a way to contact you or getting a way to contact them.

Business cards are invaluable for this. It is how I ended up writing for Rogue Games on Colonial Gothic. I had a conversation with Richard at Gen Con and let him know my interest in writing for him. I also put out my previous credits and gave him my business card. Then, and here is the important part, after the convention I contacted him. I reminded him of our conversation and reiterated my interest in writing for him and his products.

Editors frequently meet dozens, if not hundreds, of authors (or wanna-be authors) at conventions. It is hard to keep all of that in mind. Authors also meet dozens of people in the industry. When you take a business card, take the time to flip it over and make a note of what you talked about and why you are contacting them after the convention.





10. In that same line of questioning, how do you manage your "Pays the Bills" work? Can you tell us a bit about where you go to find the work, how you cultivate the relationships, and how you manage to integrate these assignments with your other work?

Where I get freelance tech writing/editing work.
This is a combination of hunting for work, talking to people you know and networking. It isn't all that different than hustling for RPG work. You just need to be prepared to look and act like the professional you are.

Freelancing gigs can be found with temp agencies (who specialize in technical writers) – though these are more like 3-6 month desk jobs that require you at the office 3-5 days a week. Not bad if you can get them. They can be found on Craigslist, or like websites, and can be job specific (edit a 1000 page manuscript or write a user guide for product X) or ongoing (provide daily, weekly, monthly copy for a website). Then there are freelancing gigs that are like gold – ongoing, regular job specific contracts with a big company who will give a 1-3 gigs a month as long as you keep producing quality work for them in a timely manner.

Job hunting is an active thing. You can't sit back and wait for people to come to you. You have to both look for the job and to advertise. Jobs can be closer to home than you know. I picked up one freelance contract from someone I game with because he discovered I'm a professional and he had a need.

Getting contacts and keeping them.
Like RPG work, you get turned down a lot because there isn't a demand for your skills – right now. Thus, for every rejection I get, I thank the person for taking the time to respond to me and ask them to keep my resume on file for future reference – politeness counts! So does professionalism. Then, I check back with them once a quarter so that my name is in the back of their minds.

The best way to keep a contact and to keep them contacting you with new freelancing gigs is to do quality work in a timely manner. Do not miss a deadline! This is paramount. If you are going to miss a deadline, let them know at least a week in advance and give them the date you will have it done. ("I'm sorry, I will not have Gig A done by the 25th due to being in the hospital with emergency surgery. However, I am out now and will have it done by the 31st.") Never, ever leave a client randomly hanging. And overabundance of information is better than not enough.

This is important: Do not take a contract that is beyond your ability to meet it – skill-wise or time-wise. Be honest, polite and firm. ("I'm sorry. I am unfamiliar with raw HTML code. While I am sure I could learn the skill, I do not believe that I could learn it and get this job done by the 15th.") Then, always give them an option to show you are flexible. ("However, if the due date could be extended to the 30th, I believe I could complete this job in the HTML style code that you desire.")

Finally, always have your professional quality business cards with you. You never know who you will run into at the coffee shop. I've met some of the most interesting people in random places and ended up with a contact or a contract or both, just because of a casual conversation and an exchange of business cards.

Managing "pays the bills" work along with the rest.
I take all my contracts based on what I have due when. And, really, the "pays the bills" work comes first. It's rather like eating broccoli before getting dessert. It's a fact and that's how you have to treat it. Now, if I have a huge RPG/fiction contract due in a short amount of time, I let my pays-the-bills editor know that things may not be done in an as speedy a time as he is used to. Most of the time, this is fine. He tells me upfront if something needs to have been done "yesterday" or not when he gives me a gig.

I usually manage my schedule two weeks out. What is due this week. What is due next week. This includes ALL of my writing – technical, fiction, RPG. I have it on a list in front of me so that I can switch between projects if my brain gets tired of one type of thought process. If things stack up, and they do sometimes, I allot hours per day per project.

Yes, this does mean that, sometimes, I'm still working at 10 and 11 o'clock at night. But, really, I think it is worth it.





11. In the time that I have known you, I have come to know one of the things you believe in most is meeting deadlines. I touched on this a bit in #10, but I wonder if you could share a bit about how you organize your writing life for the present as well as plan for the future?

The reason I harp on deadlines is because you have made a professional commitment to a client. In most cases, you have signed paperwork agreeing to that commitment date. Commitment dates are not pulled out of the air. Your clients are businessmen and women. They expect you to get your work done in the time allotted because they have other business goals to meet – like the shipping of a product. A freelancer makes a business miss a ship date of a product because the user guide is not done is a freelancer who will not get work from them again and will not receive a recommendation.

Long Term Planning
Working multiple contracts and scheduling out travel to conventions, I already know that certain times of the year will be busier than others. The RPG companies I work for usually can give me a basic heads up for when some projects will be coming in and will be due. For example, I have two contracts with Rogue Games on Colonial Gothic. One contract is due February 15th. One contract is due September 15th. Obviously, in the immediate, I am much more interested in finishing the one due in February. I won't start thinking about the second contract until April or May and only that early if my schedule is free and I want to get a contract done early to make sure I don't have contracts stacking up.

In some cases, I have publication dates for products before I have the due dates for the work. For example, I have an upcoming product with White Wolf SAS that is supposed to be out in September 2009. Thus, I suspect it will be due in August. Now I have two products I know that I will need to write in August plus I have at least one convention to go to. So, based on what I have going on. I will let my pays-the-bills editor know that my time is limited during that month.

Short Term Planning
As I mentioned, I usually keep my short term schedule to two weeks out. What is due this week and what is due next week. The only exception to this is when I have a large word count project due months out (Example: 64,000 word count project due in 8 weeks) and I need to make sure that I produce a certain amount of words on that product every week. If I need to, I can easily produce 1000 words a day on a single project while working on other work at the same time. I don't like to but I can.

When I do have multiple things stacking up, I keep a running "To Do" list for each week and I make sure that I get that work done. Even if it means late hours. Even if it means turning down social engagements. I try very hard to manage my jobs so I do have time to play and to rest. But, when you freelance, there are sacrifices from time to time. I like to say that freelancing gives me the ability to choose which 60-70 hours of the week I work.

Consistent Work Ethic
Finally, when it comes to organizing my writing life, a consistent schedule is key. Freelancing is a job like any other. You get up, you go to work –even if your office is only just down the hallway – and you work for a certain number of hours a day. The only difference is that your most immediate boss is you and you need to be a tough, disciplined boss to yourself.

You set your schedule. You meet your own deadlines. You succeed or fail on your own merit. You need to have the work ethic to sit down and write everyday – write on your fiction, your RPG contract, your pays-the-bills jobs or your novel. It is a job. You need to treat it like such. Otherwise, you will fail.

Personally, I'm allergic to failing. I have a career goal and I'm going to meet it.





12. We have a mixed group of writers in this community. For those of us that are just getting our feet wet and have an eye on a professional career in writing, what advice can you share with us?

Here are my top ten tips. They are not any particular order.

1. Write (in some fashion) everyday. This does not mean pen to paper or fingers to keyboard everyday but it does mean write stories in your head. Think about what projects you have going on. Rethink how to write a current story arc. Figure out where you are going next. And, yes, do write. I would say you should be writing, physically, more than 60% of the time but thinking about your writing is all part of it.

2. Elements of Style is your friend. One of the smallest and most comprehensive technical writing books out there. If you have a question about the technical aspect of writing, this book probably has the answer for it.

3. Submit your stories. If you write and you want to be published, you must submit your writing to calls for submissions. You must be willing and able to accept both rejection and acceptance. You must put yourself (and your ego) out there. If you do not, you are telling the editor "No." for them. That's not fair to anyone.

4. Everyone needs an editor. The editor is not the enemy. The editor's job is to make you, the author, look that much better. The relationship between an editor and an author is not always comfortable but it is to the author's benefit. The editor is the person who needs to pick out the mistakes and gives you a chance to fix them before a reviewer shreds your work to pieces.

5. Rejections are not all bad. Rejections happen to everyone. Every author out there has been rejected. I mean EVERY AUTHOR without exception. An author who has not been rejected is an author who has not submitted his work around. Rejections prove that you are part of the industry. They prove people have looked at your work. The more personal the rejection, the better it is. Some have helpful hints. Some state that they liked what they read but it wasn't what they wanted. Rejections help you in the future.

6. Read your contracts and make sure you get paid whether or not the story is published. As a professional author, I cannot stress this enough. The publishing industry is a fickle thing. Be careful of contracts that only pay you after publication. Contracts that pay after acceptance are much better for you. I have lost out because my accepted story was never actually published. Thus, I was never actually paid for the work that I did.

7. Have professional author business cards on hand at all times. Professional business cards are the handiest networking tool you can have. Make sure your email address is something like "ABlastname@yahoo.com" rather than "Fun4UandU@yahoo.com" – be professional. Have your name, your email address, your phone number and something like "Author" or "Freelance Author" or "Freelance Author & Technical Writer" on it. That way, when people look at it a week later, they know why they have the business card.

8. Don't be afraid to strike up conversations with others in the industry. If you are at an event like a convention or a writer's meeting, don't be afraid to say "Hello." These sorts of events are for people who don't know each other to meet up and possibly make a professional connection. Find out about them and what they do. Find out if they are looking for anything in particular. Offer your talents if it seems applicable.

9. Be professional at all times. This means a lot of things. Do be polite. Do have good hygiene. Do be aware of who people are talking to. Do be aware of body language. Don't interrupt someone's sit-down meal. Do chat if it is a cocktail party. Don't get drunk at a business social.

If you are dealing with someone in email or IM, use correct grammar, capitalization and punctuation. If you are speaking to someone on the phone, don't interrupt and do answer the questions asked. Common courtesy and common sense.

10. Believe in yourself. If you don't believe in yourself and your talent, no one else will either. The publishing industry is a heartbreaking business. It is full of pitfalls and traps. It is dangerous to the mind, heart and ego. You must believe in yourself or you will fail before you begin.


Finally, thank you to xjenavivex for inviting me to be her first interviewee for the "In Depth Questions for Working Author" series. I've had a blast. I hope everyone else has, too.