How to write for Kill Screen… or anyone, for that matter

Let the Wookie pitchThe wholly excellent Kill Screen magazine finally threw up a “Write for Us” page today outlining how to submit pitches for their upcoming third issue (Which is known as “Issue #2” because, see, the first issue was “Issue #0” and OMG WHY ARE WE COUNTING MAGAZINES LIKE COMPUTER PROGRAMMERS?)

This is notable for a few reasons. The first is that the page confirms “as of Issue #1, we are able to pay writers for content,” which is actually a change from the status quo of Issue #0. This is a pretty good sign that the magazine’s boutique publishing model (i.e. selling a few thousand high-quality issues at $20 or so a pop) seems to be working out OK, at least in the short-term. From what I’ve heard, the freelancing rates aren’t spectacular, but they’re comparable to the depressed rates for freelance work across the industry. The deal looks even more attractive when you consider that Kill Screen’s publishing rights are non-exclusive (so you can try to sell the same story elsewhere, as well).

The second reason it’s notable is the really fantastic ideas the “Write for Us” page provides for freelancers. They’re meant to apply specifically to Kill Screen, but most of these tips could be applied to pitching any outlet out there. Here are my two favorites:

– Think hard about why you’re uniquely positioned to tell this story. Are you an oceanographer who can talk about how games connect to deep sea exploration? An inmate with a story to share? Shoot us a line.

– But remember: If you write about a game everyone’s already played, please bring a fresh angle. We know about the Little Sisters in BioShock. We know about the thing you can do with the hookers in Grand Theft Auto.

Whenever I get asked about how to break into this business, I always end up gravitating to something along the lines of these two tips. There will almost always be at least a billion other people out there who are willing and able to write that review of Splinter Cell: Conviction, to write about that new trailer to Gears of War 3, to snarkily comment on how Activision is suddenly the devil. Unless you can prove that you are head and shoulders better than almost all of them, your chances of breaking in with just those kinds of articles are mostly dependent on luck and timing.

But a unique feature pitch immediately sets you apart and above those throngs of me-too wannabe reviewers/news writers/editorialists in an editor’s eyes. Of course there’s no simple formula for coming up with a unique pitch, but the above tips provide two good places to start –your unique experiences and your unique knowledge. Looking over my own writing history, my “unique experience” pitches usually stem from time spent with my family, while my “unique knowledge” pitches often come from my ability to manipulate statistics. For you, it’s probably something else. Maybe you’re the world’s foremost expert on Jazz Jackrabbit. Maybe you lost your virginity playing a game of Super Mario Bros. Maybe it’s something much better than those two awful examples.

The point is, figuring out what makes your perspective unique is key to finding out what makes you most valuable as a writer, and the key to getting your pitches noticed.

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