For those that don’t know, Onyx Path Publishing is holding an open call for new freelancer writers (and they clarified a few things). While I’m not involved in the process, I spent years going through the “slush pile” of unsolicited submissions. I saw just about every mistake it is possible to make in attempting to get hired. Here are a few of them, so you can avoid making the same mistakes if you’re interested in being a freelancer in the RPG industry (although much of this applies to any kind of writing submission).
As a note: I refer to “client” here. Usually, this is the company you are applying for, but sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s the same thing, in the case of very small companies. For clarity, I just went with “client,” and I use female pronouns because I can.
Make sure all examples of your writing are polished. I was surprised to learn how many people asking for writing work would send in badly-written emails. Misspellings, bad use of punctuation, and “text speak” don’t inspire confidence in someone trying to hire you for your ability to clearly and evocatively communicate a world or complex rules, and it just makes your well-polished submission look suspicious.
Don’t talk shit. Don’t talk shit about yourself and say how much you suck, because your client may agree with you. Don’t talk shit about the client’s products and how you’ll make things better, because she might decide she’s just fine without you. Don’t talk shit about other writers, because you might find yourself working with that writer. There is not one situation I can think of where talking shit helped.
Follow the fucking guidelines. You are not special. Processes are in place to help incredibly busy people get through a lot of material. If you break the process, you’re making more work for your potential client, which is a terrible way to start off a business relationship. If you’re good, your creativity will come out in the submission, not in how you submit it.
Don’t name-drop (sometimes). The client doesn’t care if you once knew Neil Gaiman. The client doesn’t care if you’re friends with Stephen King on Facebook. She cares about what you can do for her, and that’s it.
There’s an exception here: references. If you’ve worked with someone in the past that you know your client has worked with, there’s value in mentioning the connection. It gives your client a chance to talk things over with your mutual work connection to assess what you’re like working with as a writer.
It’s a job, not a lark. The client is (likely) treating this as a business. Writing to her to tell her that you thought it would be fun to try to do some writing between your real hobbies isn’t going to help you get any contracts. Even if you’re freelancing now and then as you have availability, treat it like a job.
Learn as much as you can about being freelance. With extremely rare exceptions (which are just about always spelled out), you’re going to be working on a project-to-project basis as a contractor. This is not a full-time job. You will not be relocated. You will not get benefits. You will need to handle your own taxes (although some clients will send you tax information). You are not an employee of the client. While asking questions like these won’t usually tank a freelance gig, it does betray a distinct lack of knowledge, and that can be hard to overcome if you’re wanting to negotiate for a pay increase after a few contracts.
Satisfaction is not guaranteed. None of this will guarantee you work. You will hear stories of people who broke some of these rules and got work. Every situation is different, and everyone brings different things to the table. But if you avoid these mistakes, your odds of getting noticed, and thus getting hired, go up considerably.