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Nerd Watching: The Path to Publication

Written by Nicholas - Published on November 10, 2009

Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.

A few weeks back Yax offered some advice for those responding to WotC’s call for submissions. Honestly, what gamer hasn’t thought about publishing their own games or expanding the rules to your favorite system? Maybe, like me and many others, you want to break into the industry full time. It is not easy, but it is certainly possible. Knowledge is your greatest tool to get you through. From personal experience and great advice from many sources, I have a storehouse of wisdom on the subject. These are practices that I try to employ myself and I want to share them with all of my other brothers and sisters at the bottom of the game designer ladder.

They will not come to you

A lot of would-be designers start up blogs and post their work on forums. There is a value to that. You get your name out there and display some of your skills. But if you’re sitting around waiting for professionals to come courting, you’ll be waiting a long time. Your public persona helps you to make contacts, but you need to always be on the offensive. Game companies already have an overload of submissions coming to them. They don’t need to seek you out.

The pitch is everything

People don’t have the time or even desire to read your full product when you submit. You need to be able to pitch it in brief but capture what is actually interesting about your idea. I think a good length for an introductory pitch is 3-5 sentences depending on the nature of the project. If you can’t distill it down that much then you don’t understand your own idea enough.

Also be very careful about spelling and grammar in your pitch. This is an area I struggle with myself, but frequently see much worse than what I do! Pick up a copy of The Elements of Style and restart your English education. The person reading your submission is likely going to be the person who works with you and edits it. If he or she finds spelling errors in your 4 sentence pitch, do you think he or she will want to edit your 2,000 word article?

Build up to 1st party

If you want to write for D&D the obvious path is to start submitting to Dragon or Dungeon. That isn’t wrong, but the official magazines can be a tough nut to crack. Unofficial projects can be a great way to practice your skills and build up to the bigger projects. Kobold Quarterly, Goodman Games and even this site all accept submissions and can be an easier way to start writing for respected sources.

Prepare for silence

You are told to prepare for rejection, but often it never comes. Companies often don’t have the time or resources to reject submissions. Frequently you will receive only silence in response and eventually have to assume that your idea was rejected. Don’t sit around waiting, submit more ideas to more venues. Check the rules for simultaneous submissions to see if you can shop your idea around. Just don’t sit around waiting for an answer before you act again. It is slow and discouraging.

Take Risks

The things that have yielded the biggest rewards for me are the same things that had me trembling in fear when I went for them. This job, Expy Games, my friends at Wizards of the Coast and countless other projects are the result of my ignoring the voice that told me I can’t. In fact, if I had listened to my insecurities I never would be pursuing game design as a profession at all. Take a chance, the worst anyone can tell you is no.

Get help

There’s always someone who knows more than you. Most of the time that person is willing to share with you. My experience has been that most people are genuinely happy to help you, as long as you respect their time and ask politely. If you’re looking for more extensive guidance, I can strongly recommend Yax and Johnn Four’s Gamer Lifestyle Project. Yax has been an immense help to me professionally and is wise in areas most would-be designers never consider that they need.

Are you a budding designer in need of aid? Do you have your own tips to share? Let us know in the comments.

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Written by Nicholas

Nick DiPetrillo is the original author behind the games Arete and Zombie Murder Mystery available at http://games.dungeonmastering.com

Nick is no longer active with DungeonMastering.com, however he is an accomplished writer and published his first game in 2009.

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Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.



4 Responses to “Nerd Watching: The Path to Publication”
  1. Swordgleam says:

    I second the endorsement of Johnn and Yax’s Gamer Lifestyle. I never would have gotten Martial Flavor done without them, not from lack of skill, but from lack of confidence and direction.

  2. Yax says:

    Thanks Swordgleam.

    And by the way, Nick has come a long way himself in 1 short year. He’s had support from people around and considered all opportunities, and seized most of them.

    Keep it up Nick!

  3. Nicholas says:

    Thanks Yax.

    One thing that I forgot to mention up there is that it takes a long time. You need to have some patience. As Yax mentioned, I’ve been doing this for a bit over a year now. I’ve put hundreds of hours into it and made great strides, but I am still a good ways away from being able to do it full time.

  4. Yax says:

    Yep. It takes time and not every project will work out. For example, Zombie Murder Mystery was great. Dungeon Mastering Video was not so great.

    The important thing is to try and keep moving forward.

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