Got my DDI rejection letter yesterday, it was pretty brutal. I’m not a quitter, and I told myself I wouldn’t be disheartened when/if this happened, but as of right now I’m finding it a little hard to stick by those statements. However I can’t say I didn’t see this coming for a number of reasons, I made a laundry list of mistakes during the whole process. I pitched an idea I loved, and I pitched an idea I’d hoped would get accepted. As it turns out, writing about stuff you don’t love isn’t such a great idea – allow me to tell you the story.
My DDI Timeline
I had first sent my pitch on April 6th and finally received word back on May 23 telling me that while both pitches were good, they already had one topic covered and would be appearing in DDI in the near future (Strahd). However, I was told that my other pitch (Treefolk) was a good idea and they’d like to see more of it if I would be comfortable using monster templates (which confused me, and was later cleared up as he meant monster themes) to make new flavors of existing monsters instead of creating new ones. I accepted enthusiastically. I had a thing for making monsters, this couldn’t be that much different!
I was given an article template and told to turn in my final manuscript when it was done, no need for a draft. This immediately set me on edge because after all, this was my first rodeo and I’m supposed to just turn in something immediately publishable!? I thought there was more back and forth between the freelancer and WotC, but the impression that I’m left with is that that situation only applies to more well-known writers. That’s fine though, I’m always up for a challenge.
Fast forward several weeks and a few emails later, I’d received advice from a handful of good friends who’d already freelanced for WotC and so I had some good groundwork to begin building upon. I had one question lingering in my mind though and that was when exactly I needed to have the full article in by. I had shot an email to Chris Perkins about it and he said there was no time frame, to just get it in when it was done. This gave me a huge sigh of relief , which also conversely triggered my uber-procrastination mode switch into its ON position. Cue one month of complete and total procrastination…now!
In my defense, right around this time I was just moving into our first home and things were pretty hectic. There were boxes everywhere and a million things to unpack, paperwork to get in order, and lots of general ‘setting in’ to do – especially for the kids. I was also simultaneously gearing up for Gencon for Obsidian Portal during this time. Getting things in order like panel info/ideas, guests, contests, newsletters, interviews, ENnies prep, making sure our schwag was ready and our things were sent to the right hotel, etc. To say I had more on my plate than normal would be a fair statement.
Jump forward again, we’re pretty settled into our house, Gencon was great and things are mostly back to their regular pace. Gencon did bring new light and urgency to my DDI situation though. While having a few drinks with some of my closer industry friends (Dare I say “closer” as if I have tons of industry friends? I’m not wanking myself off here, I promise. I’m just referring to people I’ve consistently hung out with for the past few years at cons) who were either current WotC or ex-WotC guys who told me “when Chris Perkins says you don’t have a deadline, he has a deadline for you in his head” and more general put your big boy pants on and knock that shit out the second you get back from Gencon pep talk.
So it’s after Gencon now I’m feeling extremely anxious/nervous/pressured and my fear of complete and total failure is at all time highs. I’m not very confident in myself to begin with, but it was time to step up and get this shit done. Unfortunately, every time I sat down to work on my article I became overwhelmed with fear and self loathing. I was writing for Chris Perkins, I was putting myself up on stage for all of the guys at WotC whom I looked up to so much. What if I fuck this up? What if I do something really stupid and careless? What if I totally bomb it? That’s exactly what I did.
Peering Inquisitively At The Tip of a Loaded Crossbow
I rushed the article, I wrote the entire article in one night staying up till the sun came up. I waited for the kids to fall asleep, made myself a pot of coffee and wrote until my fingers ached. I gave it a single editing pass when my brain was firing on less than half its cylinders, and emailed it off.
I’d tarried for too long, it was better to get it done and turned in and to cross my fingers that they can clean up my little bits that need polish right? That’s what editing and developing are for? Surely they’d at least ask for some revisions if it was half decent, it couldn’t really have to be a final final draft right? To all those questions the answer is a firm “no”. I didn’t really know though. I was clueless on 85% of the whole process, but when someone tells you that Chris Perkins has a secret due date tucked away for you in one of the many 5’x5′ squares of his mind it invokes some serious fear, and I failed my saving throw. I’m not saying my friends feared me into doing a poor job, I’m saying that I went about this in the completely wrong way.
Questions and Qualms
Looking back, I’m not sure if this “Chris has a due date for you” applies to new freelancers too, or if it was just the vets I was hearing it from. Unless you have ESP or friends who have done this before wouldn’t you be at a complete and total disadvantage in this situation? I was handed a template and just told to turn in a final draft. I was also told that they like their new writers to come out of the gate strong, but I got little to no guidance from their end. I suppose this is fine though, they are all busy folks in the middle of making a new edition of D&D and still attempting to support a myriad of players, attending and organizing cons, merchandising, and all the other shit they juggle on a daily basis. I appreciate WotC as a company and the people that work for them, I’m not trying to sound like a neckbeard here.
Though in all my interactions with WotC folks though they have always been very affable people. All of them that I’ve interacted with have always been extremely kind and polite, but this rejection email from Chris was pretty brutal and for lack of better words the whole tone was very ‘dickish’. Now I’m not knocking Chris or saying he’s a jerk or anything like that but the tone of the final email sounded very unkind. ‘Discouraging’ is probably the best word for it, though I could just be letting my emotions read his words instead of logic. At the tail end of his response, he told me not to be discouraged or let this stop me from submitting again though it felt very tacked on. Then again his email had two typos in it and felt like maybe it was a little rushed, I’m sure Chris didn’t mean to come off the way he did in the email on purpose. I can’t be mad at that bald genius.
I’d prefer to not go into more details from the email itself because I think that’s unnescessary, I’ve shared it with people close to me who are known for being very blunt with me, and they agreed that the tone was a little scathing. The whole thing really bums me out so I’m going to skip on down to what I’ve learned from all of this and call it a day.
Lessons Learned. Putting Ranks in Knowledge (Freelancing).
So… I made a ton of mistakes throughout this whole process. The biggest one was definitely subjecting myself to writing something that my heart wasn’t in, doing a rushed job, and being too scared to communicate candidly with Chris. I should have just asked him if there really was no deadline, but I was chicken shit. I couldn’t even muster the courage to introduce myself during the ENnies reception at gencon.
I loved 4e and I had a lot of fun running it and blogging about it, but those days are over for me and I shouldnt have kidded myself into pretending I could still write about it professionally. I was doing this, writing this article, because I wanted to be able to say “I was published in DDI” and not because “I wrote this awesome thing about stuff that I love”.
Freelance writing isn’t something I can do LAST MINUTE like I do everything else in my life, I just recently sent in a piece I really did love to Wolfgang for consideration in this winter’s Kobold Quarterly issue and I get the feeling it might not make it because I came in so close to the deadline. All that stuff about freelancing and deadlines is true folks, I just wish in this case I’d actually had a deadline given to me so I could have at least had a target to aim for. Personal preference I’m sure, but it’s worth noting.
This Is The Part Where I Quit, but Not Really
I am the reason my article didn’t get through, I’m aware of that and I’m not blaming anybody but myself. I will say though that the process was a lot more obtuse than I’d imagined it to be coming from WotC’s end. I know they are probably stretched beyond their limits right now so I’m gonna just leave it at that. No hard feelings.
Hearing things like like “article doesn’t tie closely to one of our upcoming themes” confuse me because I didn’t actually know what said themes were since I don’t work at WotC. I wasn’t informed beyond the last call for pitches asking for feywild material . Maybe it’s just a nice way to not tell me just how horrible my writing is, more likely it was just failure to communicate on my behalf.
All this being said I’m not going to be submitting to DDI again in the near future, not out of bitterness but out of respect for them and for myself. I don’t currently play 4e and haven’t in over 6 months, I don’t plan on coming back to it anytime soon either. I’m not going to waste my time or WotC’s, or subject my already sparse gaming group to a game most of them don’t enjoy for the purpose of my own personal freelance writing gains either.
I’m going to stick to my blog, stick to writing D&DNext and system neutral content for my own enjoyment and hopefully more for Kobold Quarterly. I’m going to work harder on my writing abilities and ask more people to scrutinize it, people that matter. Rest assured though that when/if the call goes around for non-4e DDI content, you can bet your ass I’ll be pitching to DDI on that very day. From here on out I’m only writing/pitching about things I love and nothing else. Thanks for reading!
[box] Update:Chris Perkins himself got around to reading this and took the time to send me a personal follow up email explaining a lot of the questions that I had and telling me that my post here opened his eyes to a few things. To me this is simply more evidence as to how much of an awesome person Chris is. His humane follow up has certainly improved my outlook on the whole situation.[/box]