Mailbag 3 – The Pitch

Few people know this, but I came up honest in the roleplaying world. Trained as a graphic artist, admittedly with a minor focus on writing, I never expected to be writing and editing for the Dungeons & Dragons game. I got hooked back into the game when 3e, a marvelous update, appeared. I started talking on forums, writing my own stuff, reviewing products, and entering contests.

Long story short, my reviews got me some editing work for third-party companies. That landed me some writing work. Eventually I landed the big break–Wizards had an open call for freelance editors. I had honed my skills, so I got in on that call. After determined applying to various jobs, I ended up working at Wizards.

I did my share of pitching to Dragon and Dungeon magazines, to Jesse Decker and Chris Youngs (although his name was Thomasson in those days). I remember how nervous I was. You wonder if you did it right or if some blunder will get you blacklisted. The pitch can be nerve racking, but it shouldn’t be. If you follow the guidelines and contributors’ etiquette, you might not receive a contract on the first pitch, but you are headed in a good direction.

One thing that almost got Chris Youngs to forget about me was confusion about adventure work I was doing. I had entered a contest with some adventure ideas, and won. After presenting the ideas to Dungeon, and getting the thumbs up, I decided that I wanted to do full-length treatments. I declined the Dungeon offer and pursued the projects with Monkeygod Enterprises. Chris suspected I had submitted my ideas to Monkeygod simultaneously with my submission to Dungeon, which is a breach of author’s warranty. Turns out that this wasn’t true, and Chris cut me some slack. But few breaches of contributors’ etiquette will land you in the “this writer can’t work for us again, ever” category. I’ve seen it happen.

Enough about me, though.

A lot of people want to see a sample pitch, and like you, I’ve had to do plenty. The online writer’s guidelines for D&D Insider spell out how to do one. I can understand the desire to see one, though. Here are a few detailed examples.

Dungeon–Ecology of the Rakshasa

This feature-length article will contain:

• Appearance of rakshasas in the world
• Involvement of rakshasas in destructive historic evens, such as the fall of Nerath
• Recent rakshasa schemes

• Bestial appearance as a primal mark (related to deva ecology)
• Illusion as a spiritual manifestation
• The cycle of reincarnation

• A long view
• Goodness is a path to oblivion
• Self image as messengers of suffering
• Evil is necessary
• Gods are worthless, coupled with a god complex

• The natural world and its spirits should be dominated through magic.
• Wealth, luxury, and decadence as status
• Scheming as art

Enemies and Allies
• The insidious patron
• The thorough destroyer
• The returned avenger
• The careful manipulator
• Devas and good angels
• Devils and demons

• Three new rakshasas

Word Count: 3,500 words

Dungeon–Temple of the Yellow Skulls

After the events of the “Storm Tower” (Dungeon 166), the characters discover the location of a haunted temple in the Ogrefist Hills. The temple, once the home of demon-worshiping gnolls, now shelters the remaining Yellow Skull bandits and their fearsome leader, the half-orc death mage Kaglosi. She plans on expanding her powers by using the demons trapped in the temple’s gold-plated skulls. This delve-style adventure will contain:

Encounter 1: Camp Among the Ruins
Bloodthirsty bandits block the way with violence. Characters might discover none of the bandits is willing to enter the temple.

Encounter 2: To Eat Only Dust
Descending into the temple, the characters run afoul of the first line of defense. What seems like a simple battle with undead guardians turns into something more. The characters and monsters have to deal with a trap that cascades dust into the room, forcing everyone away from the exit doorway.

Encounter 3: Seat of Power
Characters confront Kaglosi, along with her demons and undead. The mage is in an altered state of mind, allowing for roleplaying to alter the course of the encounter. In battle, Kaglosi calls forth unnatural creatures to aid her. The characters might find their own perceptions altered. If the characters slay Kaglosi, they gain control of three more golden skulls.

Word Count: 5,000 words

Dragon–Channel Divinity: The Traveler

Eberron’s deity of change offers characters numerous options. This short feature will contain:

• A background for those truly devoted to the Traveler.
• A few feats for the Traveler’s worshipers.
• A paragon path allowing a Traveler disciple to become as changeable as his or her deity.
• Hints for using these character elements with changeable deities from other settings.

Word Count: 1,500 words

Now my hope is that you come up with some pitches of your own. My examples aren’t the only way you might go about doing so. But when you do pitch, I hope my samples help. I look forward to seeing your articles in publication.

PS: See my comments below for a little more. I should have said some of that here, but I didn’t.

Mailbag 2 – Freelancing 101

(c) 2010 Chris SimsI’ve gotten a number of questions about freelancing and writing for D&D Insider. In this issue of the Mailbag, I’ll deal with queries and submissions. I’ll also touch on huge sums of money you can make and the glamorous lifestyle you can lead through successful freelancing. Or maybe I’ll just talk a little about money.

This is going to sound so obvious, but from what I’ve seen, it bears emphasis. Be sure to follow the submission guidelines when submitting to anyone, especially D&D Insider. As an editor for Dragon and Dungeon, I received a ton of queries and had only so much time to sift through them. I could ignore outright those that failed to follow the submission guidelines. My dirty little secret is that I didn’t always do this–sometimes an idea was too good to pass up–but I could have in every case without repercussions.

Following the guidelines shows you pay attention, and it shows you’re what I call “coachable.” You indicate that you place enough importance on your time and the editor’s that you present what is asked of you. Further, you demonstrate you can follow and take direction. These elements are important in any freelance writer.

When I was still employed at Wizards, the D&D Insider editorial team, I’m sad to say, was barely big enough to handle the flow of queries and submissions. Now that I’m gone, it’s entirely possible that the filter for such material is down to one person: Chris Youngs. He has a lot of other duties besides looking for new content. It’s likely that other companies you might submit ideas and work to have resources that are more limited.

When you do pitch ideas, rely on those that bud from your exposure to the game. Mechanical elements can stem directly from your home game or good story concepts. Be concise in your descriptions while proving you’re the one to execute the idea. You have to show that you know what you want to do in as few words as possible. Your pitch has to do more than reveal your notice of a mechanical hole in the game. It has to promise entertainment, as well. Mechanics are too dry without a story connection.

It was always easier for me to work out story elements and let rules elements spring from that narrative. My colleagues seemed to work from that angle, too. For example, Mike Mearls reinforced in me the idea that you should see a monster in your head, fighting a hero in a fantasy action movie, before you put its stats on paper. The best Dragon and Dungeon articles also grow from that fertile soil. It might go without saying, but good adventure design requires such thinking.

Showing you know the game’s needs is also key. If the maps in your Dungeon adventure can all be built with recent Dungeon Tiles sets, your query is a step ahead. Supporting recently released material is a good idea. On the flip side, supporting older rules with truly fresh ideas can work well. Older classes, for example, will always need some love.

No time can be had to give you a response if your proposal is rejected.  I was sorry that was the case when going through proposals was part of my job. It’s a sad truth. The editorial process and limit on resources requires a focus on what is going to be published. If your idea is accepted, you’ll get a go-ahead and, assuming you do what you should, a contract.

Then, there’s the waiting.

It’s frustrating, I know. Even if your article receives a green light, you might be waiting a while. Take comfort in the fact that the editorial plan for Insider is often nailed down months ahead. That said, don’t become too comfortable. Write to the editor you’re working with every so often to make sure things are on track. I promise–unless you actually are pushy, whiny, or annoying–you won’t be perceived as such. I enjoyed working with new authors when I was an editor, and I liked candor.

Such honesty is what you’re going to receive from your editor. And you should always ask questions if you have them. Questions early in the process are infinitely better than problems or misunderstandings later. Whatever you do, though, don’t take personally any brevity in your editor’s responses and instructions. It’s just that old devil of limited time raising its head again.

Respect your own time, thought, and effort, as well. Don’t sell yourself short. You won’t get rich writing for D&D Insider or other gaming entities. It’s likely that Insider and freelancing for Wizards offers the most lucrative outlet for D&D work. (Working for Insider is the likeliest path to working on D&D books, unless you have other gaming credits or prove yourself in another way.) But even if you write for someone else, you shouldn’t give your work away. You can receive “exposure” and a paycheck.

That’s it for now. I’ll talk more about this subject in the future. Leave me comments, and send me email.