Secret of My Success, Part Two

Last week we covered Be Brilliant (impossible), Be Prolific (difficult) and Be Furious (nuanced). Today we’re going to talk about the easy one. The one I was always able to do. And the one that’s stood me in the best stead, and given how much I’ve fucked up the other three, the one that’s kept me in work and made me a success.

And the one that people screw up every damn day. And the moment they do, you lose interest, and you don’t want to work with them now or ever again, because who cares how brilliant they are. It’s the one that matters more than anything else. The shining light that sets you light years beyond your competition.

It’s Be Professional.

What does that mean? It means show some respect to the craft, the business and the people around you. It means show up, have a good attitude and do the work you’re asked to do. Show up, do the work. Do the work. It sounds crazy, but it’s the heart of it all.

It means when you submit stuff, follow your writer’s guidelines and your brief TO THE LETTER. It means hit your word count EVERY TIME. It means hit your deadline EVERY TIME. And if you ever can’t do any of these things because of a problem in your life, you let them know as soon as possible and do everything you can so that your problem does not become their problem.

It means taking your redlines and not complaining. It means accepting, every time, that the editor is always right (and on your side). It means making sure you don’t get so Furious it hurts your work flow. It means being part of a work flow, in a way that keeps the system flowing, and not gumming up the works. The easier you make everyone else’s job, the better, because their job is just as important as yours. That means knowing what their jobs involve so you can help out and appreciate them. If you don’t know, find out.

If you’re being hired, it means knowing what rates you’ll accept and what you won’t (again, if you don’t know, find out) and talking the turkey of money and contracts right from the start. If you’re hiring, you’ll want to do the same. Being vague or talking about hopes and dreams just slows things down. Cut to the chase and get down to business. Nobody is helped by beating around the bush. Be clear and be constantly communicating.

I’m going to be in the position to offer people work soon so here’s some tips of the kind of things I like to see too, that marks you as a professional – even if you’ve never worked professionally before.

  • Be already doing the job you want to do. If you want to write RPGs, start writing them. Or reviewing them or writing up your campaign world or your play-throughs or your rules options. If you want to do it for money, do it for free first. I don’t mean for other people, but for yourself. It helps also if you’re doing stuff for the game you are passionate about. I got my work with Buffy partly because I showed up when called but partly because I was already winning hearts by reviewing every product they put out.
  • Have a web portal. I need to see what you’re writing/have written. I’d like to peruse it. Having a web portal lets you collect your links in one place. It becomes your virtual resume. Of course, your web portal should also include your resume. Don’t have any professional work? List your unprofessional work that we talked about above. Websites are free to get it and come with widgets to make them pretty. Get one. Don’t wait until you have something to put on it, I know, that’s an easy mistake to make. Just one thing is enough. And if it has a blog option OH LOOK YOU CAN WRITE A BLOG, which gives you the first thing.
  • When asked to submit, send a cover letter with a link to your web portal, a copy or link to your resume, and a sample. Now, I’ve been terrible vague and I know that sucks and it’s rare in the RPG industry but some companies are going to be like that. We want to see if you can write. A sample should be at least 200 words, no more than a 1000 words, and it should be polished, and it should be prose, but other than that, if we don’t specify, we don’t care. So don’t ask. Just give it some context in the cover letter – but don’t apologise. Try not to draw attention to what you lack, we’ll find those anyway. You’re worried it’ll look false but focusing on your strengths shows us you want to do the job.
  • Finally, don’t bug people once you’ve done all this. As I said above, part of being professional is respecting other people’s job and making sure you don’t make that job harder. Nobody owes you time and consideration of your vast and powerful writing skills; anyone looking at such skills and evaluating their quality and suitability is doing you a favour. So make sure you try to cut down on their work by providing what they asked for and then going away. You can absolutely ask questions but if they haven’t specified any requirements in an area you can assume they have no preferences in that area. If they haven’t told you anything about said evaluation, assume they haven’t decided anything yet. If they haven’t explained the project, they probably can’t. If they’re asking for general keenness, they’ll understand if you later find out the project is about how much your mom sucks that you decide to back out. Nobody is going to hold it against you if you change your mind or things change when information changes, we assume that will happen.

Or at least, the professional folk won’t hold it against you. Because of course professionalism cuts both ways. As a freelancer, you should be looking at which companies are the most professional: which ones respect you the most, which ones support you doing your job, give you the information you need readily so you can do what needs to be done as easily as possible, and respect the work you do. Find those companies and work for them because they’ll respect the same qualities in you, and those will be the best relationships you’ll have. But don’t work with non-professionals, even on your favourite project. It’s not only that it will suck, but it can reflect poorly on you also: you’re worth more than that, and you should know that. A professional knows his own worth as well as everyone else’s.

Keep writing and keep showing up.

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