Development, Fanworks, IRL

The Beginner’s Guide to Writing in Games Journalism

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Everyone starts their foray into writing differently. Some go to college and pursue a degree; others make connections by networking and getting to know the right people. If you’re anything like me, you happen to stumble upon favorable circumstances. A stroke of good fortune can be the start of a series of learning experiences and opportunities that once seemed unfathomable.

A year ago, I would not have considered myself a writer, nor would I have thought that I would ever enter the field of games journalism. Since writing for FemHype, many doors have opened for me. Because I had my work published, I accumulated a portfolio of clips that I was able to send to a local online publication, which landed me a freelance gig where I write weekly. I will begin freelance work for a major publication in the coming weeks as well. Everyone starts somewhere.

Building up experience wasn’t the only circumstance that put me where I am today. Emailing editors and networking led me to be a contributor for The Mary Sue, where I have been able to concentrate on lifting the works of projects or causes that I’m passionate about. The perk of writing for an established publication with a wide audience allowed my work to be seen by multiple outlets, industry professionals, fellow writers, and students.

In the short year that I have been writing online, I have learned so much. Through constructive criticism imparted on me by wonderful editors as well as experiencing rejection, I feel qualified (enough) to offer the advice that I wish I had been given when I first started out. I’d like to stress that I am still a growing writer, but I feel confident that I have learned enough over the past year to share my experiences with you in hopes that you’ll become more comfortable putting your work out there and to start pitching.

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1. You Will Be Rejected

I want to tell you this now so that I can get it out of the way. Your work will be rejected. In the competitive field of writing, there will always be someone who is more experienced and who will have a stronger set of skills. I have pitched pieces that were rejected by multiple publications. Applications for internships and freelance positions were sent only to receive radio silence or a gently worded email informing me that another qualified candidate was chosen. I made it past two interviews for an internship at a major publication before being told there was no space for me (I’ll try again in the summer!), and had my pitches unanswered by another popular games site.

It happens! However, it’s imperative that you not take rejection personally. You have to dissociate yourself from your work in terms of criticism and critique. What an editor might say about your piece does not correlate with your character or your personality. It’s hard to separate the two; trust me, I still have trouble with it. But it’s important to take rejection as a learning experience.

Look over your work. Were your pitches too vague? Were you trying to pitch content that isn’t relevant, or may not interest the editors? There is always room for improvement, and rejection isn’t the end all. It’s the beginning.

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2. Practice Your Pitching

Do you want to pitch for a publication? Great! Every online publication is different when it comes to accepting pieces. Make sure you do your research before sending email inquires. Explore the website and take time to familiarize yourself with the layout and the content before submitting a pitch. It’s incredibly important to read over pitch guidelines. What is the publication looking for in particular? What kind of content are they interested in receiving, and what are the qualifications? Editors are busy individuals, and you don’t want your pitch to get lost in their inbox.

When writing a pitch (though every place is different), don’t be vague. If you email the editor to say: “I want to write for you! I have a few ideas …” and begin listing bullet points, I suggest taking a step back. Pitches do not have to be completed works, but they should illustrate your goal and intent. Be short and get to the point quickly. I’d recommend that a pitch be no longer than a few sentences.

To be frank, I am still working on writing pitches. It can be a daunting thing to do, but I promise that a quick Google search of “How to Write a Good Pitch” will yield great results. As you establish a relationship with an editor, if you become a regular contributor, pitches can be as casual and simple as: “Hey, I want to write about X.” It all depends on the publication! Always keep that in mind.

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3. Be Assertive, But Do Not Be Pushy

As I’ve stressed before, publications are different about how they accept pitches. Sometimes it’s good to follow up with an editor after pitching, especially if it’s been about two weeks since you’ve sent your work. Be warned, however, that an editor is not obligated to respond to you. Editors have lots of work to do — between reading and responding to other inquiries, writing their own pieces, and (you guessed it!) editing, they do not have to get back to you if your work was not what they were looking for.

Don’t take it personally! Take your work and pitch it elsewhere. You are not restricted to just one place. If you do follow up with an editor, only do it once. Be polite and assertive, but do not be pushy. Do not feel as though you are entitled to a response.

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4. Take Negative Comments as a Learning Experience

It’s really easy as a writer to resent your earlier work, especially after you’ve improved and grown. I can name all of the pieces that I can’t stand anymore — either due to my embarrassing writing style or my inexperience being all too palpable. A while ago, I wrote a piece published to FemHype called “Can We Stop With The Jiggle Physics, Please?” and boy, was it taken under fire. In retrospect, I understand (some) of the criticism. If I could go back and revisit the piece, I absolutely would. One of the biggest flaws was that I only looked at one specific video game genre, which happened to be fighting games. I didn’t bother to look at other titles, and my writing style was brash and far from academic. Although I made a few good points, the content has and always will be controversial to some, and it needed to be handled with more finesse.

The negative comments (and there will always be less than desirable comments) can be devastating to read, especially since the Internet can be a cruel place. But usually, the comments section can be a great place to foster discussion. Perhaps someone will bring up a point you hadn’t thought about. Take some time to yourself if you choose to read them, and use that experience to better your writing. Take time, and do your research when you write.

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5. Always Take the Shot

Please always try. You never know what could come of sending out your work, or updating your portfolio, or reaching out to people you admire on Twitter. Games journalism is competitive and can be a stressful environment at times, but your work is valid and you will have your work published. Be persistent; always apply for positions and opportunities. Never think that you can’t accomplish something, because you are capable of doing it.

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4 thoughts on “The Beginner’s Guide to Writing in Games Journalism”

  1. In my case, I was struggling with unemployment for a long time, and I had made my blog mostly to voice my opinion (and now I can clearly see a lot of things I didn’t do well enough,) but as soon as I started getting freelance gigs I simply couldn’t keep the blog up anymore.

    Freelancing demands time that I can’t invest into blogging as often as I should, but it gives me an income, and the bills and meds (and even video games too) definitely won’t pay themselves alone =/ I also picked a rather complicated time, with “GG” and all that. But I learnt so much and also met such wonderful people (like Kelly M and FemHype’s authors, for example!).

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  2. Really encouraging! I’m a business major who has never written for any kind of publication, yet for some reason I’m still drawn to the idea. I’m not even a big writer in the first place! It’s nice to see the negatives presented so blunt with acceptance as well. Anyways regardless of what I end up doing good luck chasing your own journey, and thank you for sharing it!

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  3. Try, try, and try again. And hope for great editors. I tried applying for months before I finally had an editor contact me to write for them. Then I had a second within week!

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  4. I am a hobbyist game critic and I have just become a columnist at a major Japanese game website. I resonate with your suggestions – while I am lucky that I succeeded in my first pitch and never been rejected, I can imagine that Western game journalism would be much more competitive than the Japanese one I am working with; and it took weeks for me to hear back from my editor, so you really have to be patient and assertive, and do not be afraid to send out your works.

    One more suggestion I would like to add is to read more articles by other journalists and critics, which would be inspirations for your own writing. I love the works by Tom Bissell and Ian Bogost, and I incorporate their ideas and quote them in my own writing. If you can connect your writings with the ideas of other people, it can add value to your pieces and put your work in context. It is always good to have game critics/journalists interacting with each other 🙂

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