Tuesday, January 3, 2017
Persistence & Professionalism
I’d been immersed in roleplaying games – starting with Moldvay’s Basic/Expert Dungeons & Dragons – for about two years when I began submitting game ideas to a publishing company. I’d already been creating my own games, both material for home-grown D&D campaigns and board/card games for my neighborhood gaming friends. I’d also been reading TSR’s venerable Dragon Magazine the entire time. Between the advertisements for game product and companies (some of which sought new material) and the occasional module submission contest, I got the impression designing games and sending them to companies for publication was just another aspect of the adventure gaming hobby. I’d developed two games I thought might find a market: Caravan, a game in which players assembled wagons, carts, and mercenaries to trade goods between fantasy cities; and Nuclear Diplomacy, a card game that rather brutally reflected my anxiety about nuclear war at the time (the mid 1980s). Of course they were nowhere near the level of professionalism I’d later come to expect from writers sending me manuscripts for the Star Wars Adventure Journal, but I was a high school junior with a seemingly boundless, naive enthusiasm for the adventure gaming hobby...and very little experience beyond my own gaming table.
I probably got the company’s name and address from some listing in Dragon Magazine seeking game material submissions; maybe I just sent off query letters to suitable advertisers and pursued the first one that replied...much is lost in the nostalgic fog of fading memory. I sent away for the guidelines and submission documents, prepared my prototype, signed the “Application for Submission Form” with my dad co-signing since I was a minor, and then asked him to drive me down to the post office to mail it. The company rightly rejected Caravan for under-developed mechanics and some core gameplay concepts that didn’t quite work. The neighborhood kids and my brother had fun playing it, but that wasn’t really a very demanding or critical audience. (As I reminisce about it even now my game designer brain starts turning over how I might rework such a concept today....) After a query for more information on why the company rejected Caravan, the general manager sent a one-page letter critiquing my game and offering some advice. I was impressed with this personal touch, since I later avoided sending form rejection letters in my editorial career (as I’ve mentioned in “The Editor As Everyone’s Advocate”).
I persisted despite my rejection and inexperience. I submitted Nuclear Diplomacy, which the company also rightly rejected; the publisher felt it was too close to a more comical nuclear war card game already on the market (and, as Flying Buffalo advertised Nuclear War frequently in Dragon, it probably influenced me on a subconscious level). Nuclear Diplomacy did see a limited exposure beyond the card set I made and played with the neighborhood kids. My high school English teacher that year, Liz Arneth, along with her American Studies history counterpart, J.P. Sutich, allowed me to run the game in class as related to discussions of current events. I cut out photocopied cards, assembled decks, and explained the rules. Most of my fellow students seemed to find it less an enjoyable game and more an exercise demonstrating the futility of nuclear escalation and war. The introduction of the game in class might also have served as a means to bolster my ever-flagging self esteem at the time. I was a nerd with an esoteric hobby...one who had the added distinction of receiving rejection letters from the profession to which I aspired. I didn’t have the necessary professional experience, though I eventually obtained it through persistence to become a writer and game designer.
Reading Stephen King’s On Writing I’m struck by his own persistence in trying to get his early work published and his frank views on “the craft” of writing. Here’s one of the most successful authors of our time experiencing the same sense of rejection I did...and rallying his spirits to persist until he found success. I’m enjoying King’s candid views on writing, not all of which work for me, but they at least expose me to different approaches. During my career I’ve occasionally picked up books about writing. Like any form of advice (including criticism), I’ve found suggestions that worked for me, my style, and my projects...and some that didn’t. My two favorites remain Strunk & White’s Elements of Style (also highly recommended by King) and Damon Knight’s Creating Short Fiction. (I need to re-read them again soon.) Certainly craft and talent affect one’s writing, but persistence and professionalism can help bring that all to publication. Although I’ve fostered an annoying sense of persistence most of my life, my professionalism came from hard experience first as a journalist, then as a game editor, and later as a freelancer. I’d like to think it’s paid off.
Want to share your opinion? Start a civilized discussion? Share a link to this blog entry on Google+ and tag me (+Peter Schweighofer) to comment.