There’s been a discussion going on over on LinkedIn regarding breaking into RPG writing. It’s had some excellent posts, some solid — if hackneyed — advice about sticking to it, making connections, etc…but I’ve noticed all of the posters seem to miss a salient point about this niche of writing: the lack of professionalism.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of folks who come at their work from a professional attitude: they work hard, do good product, meet deadlines, etc…I’m talking about the employers here.

The industry is comprised mostly of game fans that go into the biz for the love of making a game, or because they have outsized expectations of what kind of money is in game publishing. Many run a tight margin and have to play fast and loose with their production schedules and also with their paying the talent.

Let’s see if this sounds familiar:

It might not pay, but you’ll get your name out there.

This is perhaps one of the biggest loads of crap that gets slung the way of a new writer or artist. Outside of the arts and academia, this would be considered insultingly unprofessional; real businesses recognize that their emloyees expect remuneration.

Yes, you can get your name in a book. The publisher may even come back to you for more…but they’ll assume you’ll continue to work for free. Often, even when you get an offer of pay, you’ll be lucky to get paid on time thanks to shoddy business practices. I’m currently going through this with a relatively big name publisher…they’re weaseling over $600, but they’re showering money all over for licensed product lines.

Additionally, you will get paid (if you do) a crap wage. Standard is $0.03 a word. I break down the full job, divide the payment by an acceptable hourly rate, then attempt to get the work done in a period of time that breaks out to that hourly. For a $600 job, that came out to roughly 30 hours work, give or take. I did it in 36.

Your employers are not your friend.

I don’t care how cool the line editor is, or how well you got on with the publisher at GenCon — good connections will get you a chance to get in the door (I’ve never pitched for a game company; they’ve all come to me based on other work and reputation) but when it comes to doing the job and getting paid these people are not your friends.

No matter how awesomely awesome your ideas might be, you are producing their material. That means you give them what they want and you don’t blow artistic-spinded nonsense about your process or integrity up their ass. You are a monkey on a keyboard or art table. Shut up and do it.

Whe you’ve completed your task the same goes for getting paid. They owe you money, so go after it professionally: invoice, keep the emails between you and the publisher while they shine you on about your check being on the queue for the (like it was last month, and the month before…) hit up the line developer and the A/P person about once a month.

Hint: Pay on delivery is usually a quick trip to collections nightmares.

The publishers love this. Contract or no, they’ve got your work and their money. I used to demand half up front, half on delivery — it creates trust: I’ve got some of their dough, they’ve got the rest I want…so work already. I made a serious mistake in violating bold type #2 and assuming that working with a guy I liked meant I’d avoid collections issues. Pay on delivery is never acceptable and it always puts you on the hook to get your money.

Even worse is pay on publication — this is just another way of saying “we’re not going to pay you.” Publication can be defined however they want — maybe they only did a .pdf run and don’t consider that “publication.” Maybe they do eventually print on demand runs…but don’t consider that publication, either. There’s a smallish bunch based out of Kansas that are very fond of this one.

I do it for the love of the game.

Totally understandable. The RPG industry is full of amateur writers and artists who kick our material to be part of the scene, and that is okay. If you care more about getting your name out there, more power to you, but for those looking to work it the industry, you have to take it seriously.

Market, Network, and Keep at It.

Once you’ve got your foot in the door, you need to stay active. Keep your CV up to date even with project that are still upcoming. Hit the boards for game publishers and drop some good comments and ideas. You could start your own blog on game matters, but that’s of limited utility.

If you’ve gotten the impression that I don’t view the RPG industry as a place to make a living, you’d be wrong. I know people that have done so, but only for lmited periods of time, and they were usually running a line for a company. Once the company makes a bad step on production schedules or licensure (they get you customers, but dealing with the expense and approval process can kill a game line fast!) you can find yourself back to your old day job.

Because that’s what RPG writing is: it’s part-time work, at best, most of the time. I would suggest that it is best looked at as simply another writing assignment, like cranking out blog posts, ghost work, ir amy number of gigs you can get as an artist.