by Mitchell Dyer
I’m surprised that I occasionally get Xbox Live messages or emails asking me how I got my job with Official Xbox Magazine. I’m so new to the world of professional writing that I didn’t think I’d actually been making enough of an impact on someone that they’d want to ask me, and not someone with a mastery of the craft, what the score is. To save my lazy arse from writing a bunch of emails, here’s a bit about my first year in the writing biz.
The first piece of work I was ever paid to write came courtesy of Official Xbox Magazine. That first bit of typing-for-cash I did was The Scoreboard #7, a feature for OXMOnline that I took over after famed freelancer and Guitar Hero namesake, Casey Lynch, went to Radar Group. I sent multiple reader reviews to Casey when he kicked off the online-only feature — my Mass Effect review published in #2, and my Turok one was understandably shunned to make room for other readers.
Apparently, it made an impact.
When Casey left, I caught a stray email from Dan Amrich that was also addressed to Paul Curthoys. The entirety of the text was my email address, name, and AIM handle. I have a pretty laid-back job and caught it via my cell phone in a moment of supreme slacking. I was overwhelmed as to why Dan, the first contact I’d ever made in the industry, was emailing another editor my information. Obviously, because Dan knew I was planning to hit the “Games Journalism” field, it immediately struck me as “they’re going to give me a job?!” The feeling quickly faded when I realized I hadn’t done anything to deserve it. I didn’t apply. I didn’t ask Dan for work.
So why the stray email?
Paul hit me back shortly after saying that my receiving of the letter was, as expected, an accident, and that he might have had work for me in the near future as Casey’s Scoreboard replacement. I had never been more excited and confused in my entire life.
I didn’t have any credible experience, yet here was a top-tier Future publication offering me work. Granted, it wasn’t in the magazine; it was on their website, which I’d become intimately familiar with as an OXM fanboy and forum hound. Nevertheless, I was stoked.
I didn’t hear much from Paul after that, but we finally got everything sorted out at the start of the year. After a bit of impatience on my end, things finally got sorted out and I had my first piece published. I still look back on it as one of the better Scoreboard entries I’ve done (“Your bullets are the key. The lock is made of terrorists.”). From there, things snowballed in to a mountainous mass of excellence. Shortly thereafter I was signed on to do features (through Dan) and reviews (Paul again) for OXM, and from there my freelancing career kicked in to high gear.
The experience at OXM nearly landed me a job at one of the Big Three online videogame pubs as a news writer, but it didn’t ever flower. From there, however, I learned a bit about applying for jobs, emailing folks without sounding stupid, and most importantly, that networking really is the key to success in this biz. Dan, who I’d interviewed at the launch of a small blog I used to be more involved with, put me in contact with more than a couple cool cats. On top of meeting other freelancers, particularly the wonderfully helpful Cameron Lewis and Andrew Hayward, I landed a job with GamePro because of Mr. Amrich, as well as became slightly acquainted with Games Radar. Work I’ve done with GamePro turned in to review work with GameSpot, which probably helped my cause when I was approached about a feature for PlayStation: The Official Magazine in late ’08.
Things have gone fantastically smooth for me, and I’m extremely grateful for the incredible luck I’ve had. The people I’ve connected with have been some of the most patient and helpful people I’ve ever come across, and for that, I owe them a huge thanks. Strangely, though, the person one of the most inspirational people involved wasn’t directly involved in any of this.
Todd Zuniga, a big-name 1up freelancer, was working for The Official PlayStation Magazine when I wrote to him for career help in grade school. It was more of a throwaway letter than anything, and I didn’t expect a reply at all. Surely Mr. Zuniga had games to play, words to write and girls to hang out with, but he somehow found a big gap of time to write me a 2000 word diatribe about working in this industry. He told me this, and I paraphrase:
You need these three things to succeed in this industry:
- To write
- To network
- To be incredibly lucky
Being Canadian, I assumed that networking was impossible and writing required me to have the prerequisite entry status of “Word Typing God.” Also, I’m not a very lucky guy — I’ve sprained my neck, broken my nose on multiple occassions and have had the bones around my eye completely shattered. Little did I realize that I was networking, and that I would write plenty in the near future, as well as become ridiculously fortunate.
I hated that part of Todd’s reply. His explanation of his work day sounded amazing, what with writing and playing games taking up every waking hour of his life. But when he told me that I needed to write, network, and basically rely on chance, I was pretty pissed. I thought it was a cop-out answer, but appreciated his email in every other regard.
This information, however, was the most crucial tip I’d ever received, whether I realized it or not. Now, it’s easier than ever to chat with magazine editors, whether it’s on their website, in their forums, or directly via email. Aspiring freelancers really do just need to write, because portfolio building comes out of time and effort.
So thanks to everyone who helped me along the way.
Dan Amrich, Paul Curthoys, Corey Cohen, Francesca Reyes, Ryan McCaffrey of Official Xbox Magazine have done a ton of bending over backwards, and now I’ve got folks like Scott Butterworth of PlayStation: The Official Magazine, Bill Abner from GameShark and Justin Calvert from GameSpot helping me, too. I owe all of you guys, plus freelancer Todd Zuniga, your fair share of drinks.
When I finally figure out how the hell I can get to San Francisco to live and work full time, I’ll do my best to make good on that promise. I’m only a year deep, but give it time.
It’s gonna happen.