The recent Twitter conversation among games journalists and the exploitation of unpaid writers is painfully relevant for a volunteer like me. It caused those like us to take a hard look at our own writing and weigh the benefits of "free exposure” on sites like Bitmob.
Joining in on the conversation, games journalist Andrew Groen's own Twitter feed lit up with some hard truths about our plight, sprinkled in with some solid tips and encouragement for the burgeoning writer. But I was surprised to find that many of his tips are naturally ingrained in Bitmob community members.
1. Luck has nothing to do with it
First, Groen acknowledged that success couldn’t always be attributed to luck. Saying so actually diminishes his accomplishments by saying he was just in the right place at the right time. Rather, hard work is the determining factor.
"I think a lot of really good writers do themselves a disservice when they say they broke in through luck," Groen said. "To tell you the truth, I’ve kinda got a chip on my shoulder about it, and I loathe when people suggest luck 'must' play a role."
Writer Kyle Orland added, "It's like rolling a pair of dice. Do it enough times, and you're bound to get a 12," though Groen wasn’t convinced.
"Provided your ideas and pitches are good enough," Groen replied. "My origin story has no big luck beyond the everyday stuff like editors actually having time to read a pitch when I send it."
Taking luck out of the equation is good news for untested writers because effort — something we can all offer — is far more important, Groen said. "Hustle and legwork will get you further in games journalism than skill."
Bitmob's promotion process helps foster consistent, quality writing. When one of my stories catches an editor's eye, I often find myself resting on my laurels, assuming everything I write is gold. But then two stories go by without promotion. Then another. Suddenly I'm stepping up my game, reminded that it isn't about getting lucky…good prose will take you places.
2. Be ready to work, work, work
Secondly, Groen emphasized the kind of hard work that pays off for the writer.
"It's usually in the pitch," he said. "Maybe you should re-evaluate how/who/how often you've been pitching."
And unique, original work is key. "Write something that doesn't fit an established mold,” he said. “If you're trying to do the same work every other volunteer is, then you'll be drowned out for sure. So try something else."
But most importantly, he said that by writing unique investigative work, you can find a dozen publications willing to pay hundreds of dollars. And therein lies the danger of giving your work away for free, he said.
And Bitmob's willingness to publish unknown writers is a great way to hone our talents. Instead of copying proven styles or view points, Bitmob sheds light on and encourages original ideas.
However, Groen does warn against the myth of exposure saying: No one in games journalism will ever "notice" you (“At least not until you've been pro for years").
So, what's a games writer to do?
3. Believe in yourself
"I know that sounds weird, but a lot of people get trapped in the 'I'm not good enough stage' when they are," Groen said. "Just be honest with yourself about your work. Be willing to recognize when it's good, and start pitching."
It's been a rude wake-up call at times, but for me it's a turning point. Games journalism is a meaningful and valuable profession…something no one, not even writers, should devalue. Thankfully, Bitmob is a place to learn all three of Groen’s points. Bitmob has inspired me to keep working at my craft, whether it’s the writing challenges or the strong support of a fantastic community. I believe that without this site, many of us would never find a reason to believe in ourselves. But whatever our future holds, whether it's a paying job or an outlet for our creativity, we know that Bitmob believed in us first.
GamesBeat 2014 — VentureBeat’s sixth annual event on disruption in the video game market — is coming up on Sept 15-16 in San Francisco. Purchase one of the first 50 tickets and save $400!