Case Study: How I Get Paid $100 a Week to Write Rants About Video Games

By Rachel Presser

It just fell into my lap. Seriously, that’s how it happened. But let me be clear: Getting this gig was no accident. And I’ll tell you why. But first, here’s the story.

One night I’m just…Internetting…and suddenly I get a message with the following proposal:

I am currently publishing 3 articles per week and am looking for someone who would be able to write a fourth on a weekly basis. I’m really impressed by the diversity of your experience and I think that your writing style matches with the direction I am trying to take the site.

As far as content is concerned, it was kind of a happy accident initially, but the direction we’ve taken has become focused on essays about games and gameplay, as well as the developer end-of-things and game design. Based on your resume on here I think that your actual true-to-life experiences as a game designer would provide some very interesting perspectives.

Typically, writers on my site will have the freedom to write about any topic they’d like, but, I can also assign topics if necessary. My goal though is for the writers to be able to express whatever views they want, there is no topic too inflammatory and cursing is always acceptable since my target audience is 25-35 and I market accordingly.

The editor didn’t want samples. No long-winded pitches, just some topics I like to write about. A columnist gig one can only dream of just fell in my lap: get paid to rant and swear about video games to people in my age group with very little direction!

And the editor is one of the best I’ve ever worked with: I get to pretty much write about whatever I want, have flexible deadlines to accommodate the game dev life and my constant travel, and it’s stable.

You may be thinking, “There’s a catch. The pay must be garbage since that’s a dream gig. Video game publications always want to pay in (barf) exposure.” Nope!

I replied: (abridged for brevity)

Hi Ken,

That’d be great! If you can pay 10 CPW or higher based on my credentials, that’s definitely doable.

My Gamasutra bylines are predominantly about the business end of indie games (primarily funding and marketing) and lifestyle aspects, my main area of expertise in game design lies in the narrative and character design aspects. Diversity and inclusion in games, the evolution of storytelling through games, serious and socially-conscious games, and the inevitable marriage of indie developers and content marketing are also topics I’ve presented on and written about for other channels.

I took a look at what’s currently up on your blog and got an idea since these pieces are about games that came out very recently– everyone’s talking about Dream Daddy right now, it’s literally been blowing up Twitter the past week. Definitely a search term you’ll want to grab onto while it’s hot.

Let me know what you think!

Kind Regards,

Rachel

So, I am paid by the word count and typically get $90-150 per article based on length but sometimes with extra for complexity, such as if I have to interview other game developers and do a ton of research. Because I write mainly about game design stuff I’m super passionate and knowledgeable about, I can knock out that piece relatively quickly compared to content I’ve done of comparable length where the pay was decent but the topic was meh.

(Whereas come on, I not only got paid to write about Dream Daddy, but because I have a published by-line article about the game that merited a thorough play-through? I GET TO WRITE THE GAME OFF MY TAXES.)

But if you’re a seasoned writer not shocked by the pay, well, I know you’re definitely thinking, “How the hell did someone get a by-lined column without literally doing anything to get it? No pitch, no application, not even a sample?”

I Make the Work Come to Me, Because Looking for Work Sucks

There’s a magic word I frequently use in the freelancing classes that I teach and one-on-one coaching: positioning.

That’s how I got that gig. Positioning.

What is positioning? It’s what sets you apart from the competition while making you more well-known. And in many cases, even generating you some extra income ranging from “This pays for a pizza every now and then” to “I got paid to hawk my own products and services!” to “I’m making enough passive income to fire some clients.”

Positioning is branding yourself better. For instance, you don’t want one of those free websites that’s a total mouthful to say to someone like yourname.wix.com or .blogspot.com. The same goes for business cards: giving someone a cheap business card that uses a stock design with the name of the printing company on the back gives them the impression that you’re a hobbyist and not a professional.

Is that a selfie on your website, LinkedIn, by-lines, and other places? A professional photo will not only get you more replies, but also more serious responses to your requests for higher pay.

But most of all, positioning yourself as an expert in your field comes from street cred. What other people think of you, and evidence of that. People don’t listen to you because you’re an expert: you’re an expert because people listen to you.

Because a sad truth is that you can be the most fantastic writer there ever was, but if your positioning is nonexistent and your online presence sucks, you’re going to have an awfully hard time finding work. Especially since you’ll have to put so much extra effort into looking for work.

I hate looking for work.

I mean, REALLY really loathe it. As in I facepalm every time I see some guide to freelancing that says “You need to devote X percent of your day to looking for work!” And I just say, “Why? Why, when there are many ways to make the work come to you?”

My eyes glaze over at super long pitch instructions. I mean, I chose this one because it looked fun and it took less than 30 seconds to pitch. So I save the “looking for work” time and mental energy only for the stuff that I think is really worth it. Because why the hell would I look when dream columns and well-paying clients come to me?

You Need a Decked-Out and SEO-Friendly Online Presence

If you just reverse Google Image searched my picture, you might’ve seen my site sonictoad.com. It’s spiffy-looking but could use some love in terms of my disjointed pile of rants that dubs itself a blog, and making it more crawlable in search engines.

As beautiful as my toad graphics are, let it be a lesson: a website itself is not enough.

You also probably had the same reaction looking at my LinkedIn. Some people swear by it; I don’t because most of the messages I get are from dudes trying to sell me crap and/or sleep with me, so I don’t like hanging out there.

Moreover, a website is the bare minimum, sweetheart. So is a LinkedIn profile. Everyone has them today. Even if you’ve got a site far spiffier than mine with a custom theme and a fantastic portfolio? Once again, that’s not enough.

How did this editor find me, amidst other clients that use the writing platforms I work on and ones that don’t? Pretty branding is just one part of positioning. My online presence and accomplishments are also a major component of my positioning.

My blog posts, and the fact that I made it the front page with them several times, over at Gamasutra cemented me as an expert in the gaming industry along with my being a long-time instructor with Playcrafting. These places have my core audiences and the latter isn’t directly related to writing: but by showing I’ve been entrusted to teach, it gives clients the impression I can write in an educational tone.

People use Amazon as a search engine. So I wrote Kindle books. I had the first-mover advantage of being the only person to write about game developer taxes. While it took longer than I thought to earn back what I spent putting this book together? What I earned in consulting fees, writing work, speaking gigs, and overall positioning resulted in a rate of return of at least 3,000%.

The same weekend I started this dream games column, I also released my first Udemy course all about content strategy for game developers. The next day, I got approached by an incubator program who wanted to fly me out and pay for room and board plus an honorarium to have me teach their game developers in residence.

I pay special attention to the keywords that these people use. I put them in my profile over at WriterAccess, because clients constantly crawl the writer database looking up variations of the profession represented (i.e. game developer, indie developer, interactive entertainment professional) as well as the specific topics.

Short and sweet is good for pitches and cover letters. Long form is better for decking the bejesus out of a profile, blog post, or other things that potential clients use to find you. Like Gamasutra posts that are least 2 years old which are still sending people to my site as well as my digital products which earn me money in my sleep *all while* they position me as an expert.

In conclusion, take your branding seriously and branch out onto other sites and contribute something. By being part of the Gamasutra and Playcrafting communities as well as having the backing of many rising and prominent indie developers with my array of digital media like e-books and e-courses, that’s how I got these awesome gigs to fall in my lap without making any additional effort.

Because looking for work sucks, and wasn’t Bill Gates the one who said, “Hire the lazy guy to do the job because he’ll find an easier way to get it done”?

 

 


Rachel Presser is the proprietress of Sonic Toad Media and Consulting, a one-woman digital media conglomerate that covers game development, business and content strategy consulting, writing for hire, and freelancer coaching. Rachel co-ran Himalaya Studios as CFO and Executive Producer for the better part of a decade before moving her focus to Sonic Toad. She is a frequent speaker on the games industry convention circuit, guest lecturer for MBA and game design programs, and Playcrafting’s resident business instructor. When Rachel’s not hustling or making games, she can be found at punk and hardcore shows, posadist vaporwave parties, and trawling the marshes of the southeast Bronx being surrounded by amphibians.

Your Comments:

  1. Olive says:

    It seems unique program for the writers. Minimum even raised out of your God gifted talent is a treat. It encourage the writers hidden under financial and responsibilities pressures. It helps to polish their skills. Thanks for such a constructive platform.

  2. Jake Peck says:

    A job that comes to you instead pawning and pandering to egos in the hopes they throw you a bone?
    I’ve been blogging at RottenReelzReviews.blogspot.com for five years, did reviews of film for opinions.com for three years and been freelance writing for more than 8.

    Yet I have not seen a job offer of the like. So (excuse my vulgarity) fuck it. I’ll set up my own net to drawn in the same.

    A fascinating read.

  3. Conny Manero says:

    For a while I wrote for Constant Content, I didn’t make a fortune, but every now and then I sold an article and made some money. After two short weeks, I started receiving private invitations to take part in projects. In July, I made $700. Nothing to sneeze it in my case.
    Just as suddenly, I started getting complaints that my work contained grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes. I panicked and before submitting anything sent it to my friend who is an editor at The New York Times. He made some corrections and I published my work with peace of mind. To my surprise, the article was rejected due to too many mistakes.
    “I’ll write something for you,” my New York Times friend said. When I submitted his work it too was rejected due to too many grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes. I don’t know anymore what to think of this. Freelance writing seems to be a nasty business.

    • Rachel P. says:

      Hey Conny,
      Author of the post here. Constant Content isn’t what it used to be. I used it more when they still had usage licenses, so I make a little passive income with the pieces that got grandfathered in but have stuff that’s been sitting there forever for full rights sale. I also used it occasionally to dump pieces other clients didn’t want but the prices CC’s client base responds to are atrocious. Devalues writing overall. And that 33% cut they take nets you virtually nothing, unlike the 30% Writer Access takes where you get WAY more from the staff and platform.

      Don’t take the editors at CC personally. I had so much stuff get sent back, it was ludicrous.

      There’s definitely better writing sites, and the methods I outlined to get amazing private clients! I automate my looking for work with Jacob’s newsletter and FlexJobs, but instead of CC I’d rather work on free articles for Gamasutra and LinkedIn Pulse where I own the copyright and they effectively send clients to my website and Clarity page.

  4. Danae says:

    This post was a breath is fresh air. Most blog posts, like you said, make my eyes glaze over. It’s nice to read from a real live down to earth person, as apposed to someone who sounds like a robot.

  5. Teri says:

    This was so “fresh” and “genius” I went over to Udemy and signed up for your course.
    Thank you for such an excellent blog post!

  6. Reuben Brooks says:

    Sounds simply delicious..a new way to express one’s self and feel free doing it.

  7. Enzo says:

    There are many good ideas here. I wish I came about this post earlier 🙂

  8. Sandy O. says:

    Hello.

    Yesterday I read How to Make a Living as a Content Writer and now, here I am, reading the references you mentioned during said book. I’ve been a content writer for many years but am now thinking of trying freelance (freedddooommm!!!) Your book really gave me a different perspective from what I’ve been reading on the subject, thank you! I was wondering if there are any European content sites you can recommend? Or sites that accept non US-based writers? I’m having a bit of a hard time with that and would really appreciate it.

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