Thursday, July 01, 2004

Tracking the wily intermediate freelancer

posted by Mur

So I entered this year's Origins con with the following stats:

Number of books contributed to: 8 (6 on the shelves, 2 to come this year)
Number of words written: 163,000 words
Number of books currently contributing to: 2
Number of words contracted: 60,000
Number of years in da bidness, 3

I have no idea whether this is good or bad. It just is. Last year I felt I had lots of work, and yet by June of this year I only had two jobs. I sent out emails to developers I knew and companies I'd like to work for. The developers I knew said, "Sorry, not hiring," and the companies just didn't bother to return emails.

Last year at Origins, I had a Clever Plan for meeting people and shmoozing and I felt It Could Not Fail. You see, I got into the bidness because I Knew Somebody. A good friend got me my first job, and put in good words for me, and (hopefully) I've carried it on from there. This dear friend decided he would introduce me around to people he knew at Origins to help me get me more work. Well, the people he introduced me to were so excited to see him and ask what he was up to, they barely spent enough time to shake my hand. One even mocked my only credits being from White Wolf, "Oh, everyone's written for them..."

This year I went in alone. I surveyed the dealer's room on the first day, trying to figure out who to talk to. Well, in my excitement of being at Origins (because, you know, I do go there to play games and shop as well), I did little more than look around. I was intimidated. I'll admit it. I had no idea how to shmooze.

Some industry professionals were holding talks this year, one in how to get into the freelancing bidness, another on how to keep freelanceing once you have some credits. I went to this second talk. These were all names I knew, Ken Hite, Spike Y. Jones, Matt Forbeck, but had never seen in Real Life. When it came time to ask questions, I asked mine about networking. I have my 8 books and my two publishers, and I've never missed a deadline, so how do I get more work? How do I schmooze Origins?

The answers were interesting. The best way, it seems, is to buy people beer at the Big Bar on 2 (the Hyatt bar that everyone hangs out at). Considering I know many more names in the industry than I know faces, I felt this was a dodgy idea, but I wrote it down. Other ideas, such as heading to Vegas to attend the GAMA show, seemed impossible for me at this stage in my life. "Honey, I'm heading to Vegas for a couple of days, you don't mind watching the toddler, do you?"

So I decided to hang out at the bar. I have no problem with that, honestly. After the talk, I managed to talk to Ken Hite and Spike Y. Jones. Ken told me that Steve Jackson games isn't hiring now, which I appreciated because it's better to get the news up front before you start your spiel. Spike was helpful, and I didn't as much schmooze him as just listen to his advice, talking about how the industry isn't terribly good right now. I saw Matt Forbeck later in the show, but never got the chance to talk to him.

The first night, I saw no one but women who put sticky glittery decals on their cleavage, drunken gamers and some of my friends.

The next day I opted to spend some time running around the booths playing Button Men, as exhibitors were open to being challeneged to games in order to collect stamps. While playing a guy at Pandahead, I noticed they were selling d20 books. One of the women offered me a groovy pandahead temp. tattoo, and while I was having my (incredibly long-lasting, as it's still here) tattoo applied, I asked if they hired freelancers. Ta da! They did! She seemed really interested, so I dropped off a card. Huzzah for me, I schmoozed!

I actually spent a lot of my time either gaming or in talks (superhero discussion, game design, etc), and found myself not spending a lot of time in the dealer's room making friends. The forays into the Bar on 2 still proved unfruitful, as I tried to find my "new friends" from Pandahead to buy them beer, but I never saw them. I never saw any of the guys from the panel, and most everyone else was only identifiable by their company shirts. Bar schmoozing was proving unfruitful.

Saturday was my last day in the dealer's room, as I had to head home early Sunday. I realized I had either procrastinated or been too busy, and suddenly I had 20 minutes to schmooze. I ran by Kenzer Co. to complain (politely) about never receiving a rejection letter for a piece I had sent their magazine last fall. They said they moved offices and it was probably lost. They gave me a calender and a card, inviting me to re-submit or just submit something new.

I ran by Eden and met a very nice man who was in the art dept. who promised to pass my card along to the design dept.

I asked at Fantasy Flight, but was referred to their website.

Only four. But I got information about Green Ronin and WotC, and plan on trying them too.

So, once I got home, I got to work doing the follow-up, "Great to meet you at Origins!" (or "sorry I didn't get a chance to meet you at origins" as the case may be) emails. So far:

Pandahead: Sent. No reply.
Eden: Sent. Art guy forwarded on my stuff. Design guy wrote back in a day and said "not hiring, but you can contribute to our Eden Studios Presents." I know little about this but will look into it.
WotC: Sent (today). No reply (obviously).
Fantasy Flight: Not Sent. They want a writing sample and I need time to decide what is the best thing to send them.
Green Ronin: Not Sent. Fantasy Flight is my priority at the moment.
Kenzer: Like Eden, this work will be on spec instead of contract, and I plan on writing another post discussing that...

I look at my list and wonder if I didn't do a good enough job looking around for different places to schmooze. The Bar thing never worked out. I guess this still separates me from the experts. People aren't seeking me out for work right now, so I have to work harder. Sad thing is, I only have two cons left this year, and one is not terribly gaming oriented (dragoncon). So I guess I have to work on the kick ass "hire me" letter.

Which leaves this post unresolved, but that's the life of an intermediate freelancer. You want more jobs, and even if your current developers like you enough to use you again, that's still only so much work. Branching out is necessary, and I'm still not sure if I've got the hang of it. I will update, good or bad, as the information comes.

Next post, discussions on working on spec... this has me thinking...