Writing For RPGs (Part 3)

Image courtesy of anankkml, FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Image courtesy of anankkml, FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

So far in this series on Writing For RPGs, I’ve talked about becoming familiar with an RPG and developing ideas (Part 1), and two common forms of submitting work, along with hints on how to introduce your writing to game administrators (Part 2).

Today, I want to share with you about a third type of work that may be possible, if difficult to get: commissioned work.

Commissioned Work – (Some) Expenses Paid

Commissioned work is solicited work involving some form of reimbursement.

Depending on whether there are established practices for handling remuneration in the game that you’re writing for, payment could take the form of:

  • Rewards/recognition for your character.
  • The standard in-game currency (no real world value).
  • Currency that has some real-world value assigned to it but is not tradable/exchangeable for real-world currency.
  • A paid Paypal invoice (or other standard, freelance billing system).

I’ve had some of the above and depending on your interest in writing for RPGs, if it’s at a hobby level, the first three are perfectly acceptable forms of payment. Consider it more like bartering, an exchange of your services for something of equal value, but no real money changes hands.

The last option is what any writer wishing in writing for RPGs as more than a hobby should be looking as the ultimate goal. While I wouldn’t call myself a budding writer, I’m definitely “branching out” into new territory as a budding freelancer.

Freelance writing could probably be a series of its own and without getting into the ups and downs (and outright hiccups and complete failures) of my journey, I did want to talk a little about my first project which will hopefully help others venturing out on a limb.

First, a little about the project:

The client wished to update their website and take an extremely large body of work and make it more SEO-friendly, more audience-friendly (easier to find/browse) and format it in a Markdown (MD) style.

The goal was to increase exposure to the game, more page views, longer visits by traffic, and a better user-experience.

That established, let’s dive in with 5 tips to improve your first time out.

1. Trust Yourself and Your Writing

This is a lesson I’ve had to learn over and over. There’s a big difference between a false bravado (bluffing) and truly knowing what you’re bringing to a project, your own abilities and limitations, and whether you can complete a project (on time!) to the satisfaction of your potential client.
Working as a freelancer, you absolutely must have confidence in yourself. If you begin doubting your skills, it’ll alter how you approach your client in your interactions (the lack of confidence will bleed through) and you’ll begin second-guessing yourself. Professionals are confident.

2. Be Generous in Your Time Estimates

Don’t make promises that you can’t deliver on if you’re not sure, whether it’s a time frame for completion or billable hours for the project. To be fair, I knew this going in and between the client and I, we discussed a range of acceptable hours for the project to take and the timeframe was left open as a number of factors, and individuals, were participating in the commissioned work. We also discussed the basis for payment once it was established that we could work together.
One thing that I’m pleased with in this part of the process was that I correctly estimated how much time would be required for the SEO portion of the project I was commissioned for.

However, I did not factor in all of the background work required for this project, critical work for its success like:

  • Researching the competitive market, and looking at how user-friendly the websites are belonging to the client’s competition.
  • Manually importing the work from the client’s website for my writing program (which amounted to hours of cutting and pasting).
  • Organizing the large body of work into a layout that would be more user-friendly and give a better reading experience.

To keep myself on task, I didn’t bill for any of the three points above which are all work that was required to do the SEO and formatting of the content itself. Essentially, I ran out of time. Rewriting the body of content, while initially discussed, proved to be far outside the scope of the project.

3. Be Honest With Your Client

This means being responsible to notify them of setbacks, delays or concerns you have with the project. It also means being upfront and letting them know if you feel that you cannot complete a project, whether it be to other outstanding commitments, lack of interest/time, or if you feel that you aren’t the best person for the job.

The last can be tough to do. I’ve had to turn down work because I didn’t feel that I could complete it at the level of quality that they’re looking for. Knowing your limits and being honest about your skill set is a humbling experience but I think in the long run, your client will respect you more for your admission rather than attempting to bite off more than you can chew and wasting their time and yours.

Note: Being honest doesn’t mean being insecure, doubting yourself (see point #1) or lowering your standard of professionalism. Your client is your employer, not your mentor, guidance counselor, or shrink. Take it somewhere else!

4. Do Find Someone That Believes In You

Just because it’s not your client doesn’t mean that you don’t still need an ear to bounce ideas off on, to share the highs and lows of the experience, and seek advice from. Find someone to fill this role, and if they’re a sherpa on the mountain, so much the better. Learn from the wisdom they’ve acquired on their journey.

For me, although I didn’t have a mentor, I did have a friend who had an extensive familiarity with the game and could relate to the challenges and opportunities presented within the project. That helped when I didn’t have to explain the nitty-gritty of what the game environment was like or what I was trying to accomplish. They are also trustworthy so I didn’t ever have pause to question whether any ‘low points’ would make it back to the client. For you, it might be someone completely unassociated with the RPG, perhaps a parent, a friend, or a partner. Whoever you find, make sure it’s someone that’s got your back and knows how cool you really are!

5. Accept Delays Graciously

Recognize that not everyone moves at your pace. Whether you’re the tortoise or the hare or somewhere in between, it can be frustrating when the project doesn’t move at the pace you’re most comfortable with. That’s okay.  It’s too easy to fall into the trap where your first (or fifteenth) project is the center of your world, your top priority, and therefore it must be everyone else’s too. Guess what, it’s not!

Just like the watched pot that never boils, checking your inbox thirty times a day won’t make that email from your client appear any faster. Maybe they only check it once a day, or once a week, or they’re having technology difficulties, or they’re just that busy.

Setbacks happen. Delays are inevitable. They’re out of your control. What you can control is your contribution to the project, prompt responses to inquiries, and a professional attitude at all times. You can practice being gracious at all times (something I’m still working on learning) and remaining upbeat, positive and a pleasant person to interact with. Don’t be the person who’s not hired again because they’re “difficult”; don’t be high maintenance.

In Summary

Remember to try to find ideas that are golden, experiment with different types of work that you can submit, and seek out commissioned work when possible. Be the person who is a joy to work with, who is polished, professional, gracious, confident, honest and accurate about their role in a project and their ability and what they have to offer and you’ll be much more likely to have future opportunities with writing for RPGs.

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