Editor’s note: This post was originally published October 4, 2015. I have republished it since it is still a question I get a lot despite not having been a freelancer for nearly a year. /Praise the Sun.
I’m often asked how I became a freelance writer, specifically for some of the video game outlets I work with. I thought I would use this space a reference for anyone curious about what I did to break in, stay in, and not only find a niche, but put a choke hold on it and not let go.
It began with a desire to write regularly. I chose to start my own website about video games to do that. I meant it to a blog but it turned into a, “Hey, I can make this a thing!” project. As the site grew, I needed help so I enlisted volunteer writers. I wanted it to be the next IGN, just like a lot of new hobby site owners. That didn’t work out the way I planned, and a baby came along after almost two years running the site. When I decided it was time to give it up, I went on to volunteer myself for a couple of different hobby sites. You might wonder why I call them hobby sites. If you aren’t getting paid, it’s a hobby.
In 2013, I was going back to school to finish a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication and Media Studies at Arizona State University. But right before Fall semester began, I was on vacation in Lake Tahoe with my family. The image attached to this post is of my son as I watched him playing in the sand looking out at the lake. It’s significant because it was at that moment I decided what to do with the rest of my life. I was listening to an episode of IGN’s Podcast Beyond, and Greg Miller and Colin Moriarty answered a reader question about how they got into the industry. Spoilers: they went to school and worked hard just like anyone else. That’s when I decided, if they could do it, I could too.
I worked a full-time job I had been trying to escape for years. I went to ASU full-time online. I had two beautiful baby boys come along during the time I set my goal and realized it, sort of. I started freelancing in 2014. My first paid gig was for Kill Screen, a story I am proud of the work that went into it and to see it published, but didn’t get paid much for it.
I pitched work to outlets and landed some work here and there before I got a big break. In the Summer of 2014, I visited San Francisco and made a friend at IGN, getting a tour of their office. A word was put in for me and I became a news freelancer for IGN, with my first story published right after PAX Prime 2014. Since then, I’ve made the most of my opportunities. I graduated with my degree within two years. I do news almost daily and I have had features and previews published for IGN. I also latched on to Red Bull eSports where I get to cover my biggest video game passion, Street Fighter. In time, I got to the point where I was getting enough work and actually not getting work that I could have and I was ready to go full-time freelance, something I never thought I would do.
Here’s where I will mention the three things that I feel were most important in my journey.
- Just do it – If you’re going to do this thing, go out and do it. Pitch work. If you feel you’re worth getting paid, get paid. You don’t have to write for free because almost everyone else did. Outlets out there are paying and if you sit around thinking you aren’t good enough or don’t put yourself out there, you’ll never know if someone will pay you to write for them.
- Make friends – I don’t mean make friends for the sole purpose of getting you the hook ups. Make contacts. It’s easy. Everyone is on Twitter. Befriend people because you never know when someone is willing to do a favor for you.
- Find your niche – I kept hearing this when I started and I had no clue what this meant. I knew I loved fighting games, but how do I take advantage of that? I got lucky and found out about Red Bull eSports needing someone who knew Street Fighter and the competitive scene. I’ve been in that scene since the early 90s with Street Fighter 2. I took that niche and ran with it. I’m still running with it.
Every day I wake up, I tell myself how lucky I am and how grateful I am I get to do this. Few people get the opportunities I get but I wouldn’t have gotten this far without the help of other freelancers. There are days where we feel like we’re impostors and not really good at what we do. We have to fight through those days or seek help when we need it. I did that. I almost quit early on because I couldn’t handle the pressure an editor was putting on me. I asked for help from a freelancer friend and I’m glad I did. It was my last ditch effort and it worked out well for me.
2015 has been an amazing year for me. I got a chance to travel for the first time, going to Evo 2015 in Las Vegas, the biggest fighting game tournament in the world. That’s something I’ve wanted to do for years. As a result of the work I put in there, I got invited to Japan for Tokyo Game Show 2015 to cover the Street Fighter tournament held there. It was an experience I’ll never forget. This is the result of hard work and perseverance.
I like to give back to new freelancers or people who are looking into getting into this thing by sharing my experiences or offering advice. I’m always available for questions so please feel free to contact me. The best way is by Twitter. Follow me @Bizarro_Mike.
Thank you for supporting me and the work I do.