There are times when being a game journalist is a trying experience. We’re regularly assumed to be on the take, sometimes criticized when we’re not, generally disrespected, overworked and underpaid. I’ve been snubbed, slighted, derided and insulted. I’ve been driven to tears, threatened with violence, and told to “get back in the kitchen.” It is still the best goddamn job in the world.
This fact has not gone unnoticed by the legions of people who email me every day asking for a job. They want in on the game journalism party, too, and their enthusiasm is, sadly, matched by their near universal inability to pursue a writing position in a way that’s likely to actually earn them one. Not that emailing the Senior Editor of a gaming website is a bad way to start – in fact, it’s one of the strategies I recommend to people who ask me how to get a job like mine – but more often than not, the people doing the asking are doing so in such ill-advised ways that I have to wonder if they’re suffering from some kind of head trauma.
So here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re one of those folks who’d like to someday get paid for writing about videogames. Following these tips will improve the chances that your email gets taken at least somewhat seriously by the person who reads it, at which point you’re at the mercy of their mood, your talent, and sheer dumb luck.
Mistake #1: “I’ve been a gamer all my life.”
The vast majority of prospective writers choose to introduce themselves by professing their undying love of videogames. So why is it a problem? Because everyone who wants to write about videogames for a living has an undying love for them, so telling me that you love gaming is pretty much the biggest “Duh” on the planet.
Solution: Tell me something I don’t know
I can pretty much assume that you enjoy the pew-pew, so tell me something that I don’t know about you that might make you more intriguing to me. Maybe you were inspired to start writing by a girl you once met on a bus. Maybe you’ve made a hobby of playing every game that starts with the letter F. Maybe you have a pony. Until I actually get to know you, you are nothing more than a name and a few sentences to me – sorry, but that’s just the impersonal nature of electronic communication – so make those sentences count.
Mistake #2: Bad grammar
You’d think this one would be common sense, but sadly, it actually has to be said: When applying for a writing position, it is in your best interests to make sure your email is perfect. No typos, no spelling errors, no grammatical mistakes. It speaks not only to your mastery of the English language, but also to your desire to produce good work. Taking the time to proof your email shows that you give a damn. Also, though you’ll often have to send your email to a general address, such as “[email protected],” in those instances when you can direct it to an actual person, make sure you get their name right. Yes, my last name is somewhat unusual, but it’s only six letters long. If you can’t pay attention long enough to get that right, how am I supposed to trust you to write something longer?
Solution: Proof, proof, and then proof again
The great thing about email is that you can save it as a draft, take a break, then go back and look at it again. Read and re-read your email before you send it, and if you have any doubts at all, ask someone that you trust to give it a look, too. Do not rely on your email application’s spelling and grammar checks, because they’re not going to catch everything. You don’t have to sound like a robot, but you do have to make sure you’re not trying to sell me on a column about “game moments that should of happened.”
Mistake #3: Using profanity
As laid back and awesome a job as game journalism may be, it is still a job, and your application email should reflect that fact. You probably wouldn’t use the word “motherfucking” in an email asking about a position as an accountant or math teacher, so you shouldn’t be using it when asking about becoming a game reviewer, either. Before you protest about a certain fast-talking Englishman, there’s a difference between your product and your personal communication – especially when you’ve yet to form a relationship with the person you’re emailing.
Solution: Be professional
Even if you’ve never actually had this kind of job before, it’s not that hard to act like a professional. Show respect for the person you’re addressing. Remember, you’re not chatting with a pal over IM, you’re inquiring about being hired to do a job. Use complete sentences, say “please” and “thank you” when appropriate, and stay far clear of any humor that may be considered off-color. Once you have a relationship with your editor and get to know them, you can use whatever language is appropriate, but until then, you’re better off keeping it clean.
Mistake #4: Vaporwriting
If you are applying for a job as a writer, the most important thing I need to know about you is whether or not you can actually write. The simplest way for me to figure this out is for me to read something you’ve written. Simple, right? And yet almost no applications cross my desk with any kind of writing sample. One guy was pitching his idea for a comic strip, but didn’t include any art samples. Now, I suppose I could do a Google search to see if I could find something you’ve done, or even just email you back and ask for something, but the plain truth is that I won’t. Why should I? I’ve got dozens and dozens of people begging to write for me, and if you can’t be bothered to show me why you’re better than they are, then you are officially wasting my time.
Solution: Show me, don’t tell me
Don’t feel like you have to have a vast array of experience or published work to provide writing samples. If you have those at the ready, that’s wonderful, but it’s not at all necessary. If you’re applying to be a game reviewer, send me a review, even if the only reason you’ve written it is to attach to your email. If you want to be a news writer, write a news story or two. While it would be ideal for your sample to be games-related, it doesn’t have to be. What matters isn’t how much experience you do or don’t have, what matters is whether or not you can put words together in a meaningful way, and the only way I’m ever going to know that is to see you try.
Mistake #5: What site is this, again?
I once had a guy ask to be hired as a videogame reviewer because, and I swear I’m not making this up, “I see that you guys don’t really do reviews.” Before you ask for a writing opportunity, take a moment to familiarize yourself with the site (or magazine) in question. What features does it offer? What tone does it use? What niche could you fill? It’s entirely possible that I’m just one of a dozen editors to whom you’re sending inquiry emails, and that’s ok – I don’t expect or need you to be a die-hard fan of where I work in order for me to hire you. But I do need to feel like you paid attention to something other than the staff list.
This one is the easiest of all. Take an hour or two and browse the site or magazine to which you’re applying. This isn’t just for my benefit, though: If you don’t enjoy the time you spend there, odds are good you won’t enjoy writing for it, either. Doing your homework is your best way to know who to approach first.
If any of this sounds like I’m discouraging you from trying to get published, believe me, I’m not. One of the things I love most about my job is the freedom I have to give untested writers a shot at the bigs, or even just helpful feedback about how they might improve. There are many different ways you can get published on The Escapist, but perhaps the easiest is to take a look at our editorial calendar and pitch an idea. Who knows? Maybe you’re one of our favorite new writers and we just don’t know it yet.
Susan Arendt got her very first paid job as a game journalist because she was a fan of America’s Next Top Model. True story.