How to Branch Out from Writing RPGs

A friend of mine who writes roleplaying games (RPGs) asked if I had any advice for someone who wanted to branch out of that and into fiction or comics. Since I get similar questions from others, I thought I’d share my answer here.

I think branching out of gaming work—or at least diversifying into other fields—is a good move for anyone interested in making a living at writing. Sadly, it’s not all that easy. While working in tabletop games gives you lots of skills you can apply to other fields, it doesn’t give you the kind of credits to make editors or publishers in those fields sit up and notice.

Still, there are some things you can do. For novels, approach Games Workshop and Wizards of the Coast and express your interest. Unless you’ve completed a novel (published or not), though, they’re not likely to sign you on straight away. Finishing a novel is a monumental task, and not one everyone can manage, no matter how much they might wish.

However, they might be willing to start you out with some short stories and allow for a chance to build some trust between you. GW often has anthologies in the works, and this is a great place to start. At the same time, you could start writing an original novel and then go shopping it around. Even if you never sell it, having a completed manuscript in hand can help open doors for you.

For comics, it’s very hard to break into DC or Marvel as a writer unless you a) work for them or b) are famous in some other field. Your best bet here is to find a smaller publisher interested in working with new writers, places like IDW or Boom Studios. Even these places are hard to crack, though, as there isn’t always enough work to go around for even the longtime comic pros.

You might also consider writing nonfiction books or web articles. The advances on nonfiction books are often much more than you would get for a novel and can be as little as a third of the length. Writing articles for large websites can also net you five times as much as writing for tabletop games.

It’s also possible to find work as a writer for computer games. There aren’t that many freelance gigs around for such projects, but when you track them down they pay fairly well. Your experience in tabletop games should serve you well here, but you need to be a video game player too in order to be able to make this leap. Check out the IGDA Writers SIG for good ways to get started.

I’ve also made excellent money working on collectible games and toys over the years. These projects are demanding, but the payouts are fantastic because the audiences are so much larger.

As with any type of writing, the key is to stick to it and keep learning as you go. Be polite, patient, and make friends with everyone you can. If you have the talent, the guts, and the desire, you can knock down any door.

If you don’t mind, I’d like to turn this into a blog post. I’d strip our your name and details, of course, but I get questions like this often enough that I think others could benefit from the answers too.