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How I Became an Editor

People frequently ask me how to “break into” game editing. This is a natural and reasonable question to ask a nerd-famous game editor. The thing is, you can’t replicate what I did. Below is the story of how I got started, and it’s a winding path.

First, I went to school to be a software developer — specifically a web application developer — and I was pretty good at it. I did some creative writing in high school (and even got an award and a standing ovation at a show for reading my work), but that was just dabbling. In college, I didn’t write much, as I was more obsessed with code.

After some layoffs and bad decisions, I had a tech support job for a local ISP, and worked alongside one of my gaming buddies. This job gave us time to make game materials, and it was here that I wrote my first two published works (which you can find here and here).

While working for the government, I got invited to write a serial story for a monthly webzine, which I did for a year. The stories were crap, though there were occasional gems in it, and I credit those to my friends who edited my work before I sent them off. I got to see all the redlines, and felt shitty because I was a new writers and these people were doing things to my words that I totally missed.

I never fought against the editor marks, but it took a long time to grow a thick skin about them.

Later, I had this idea to make a fiction anthology for Hurricane Katrina relief — some of you know it as the out-of-print Finis: A Book of Endings. With me and 16 other authors, I had to suddenly be an editor. At first, I was shitty at it, because I was too concerned with individual authorial intent to be focused on the book’s overall goal. Two things broke that: (1) talking with my good friend and writer on the project, Jennifer Brozek, and having her tell me to stop being delicate with her stories and actually edit them; (2) breaking up with one of my writers & editors on the project, which was an emotional turmoil that turned into me becoming a more serious editor.

The best way to explain that last part is that I didn’t want a hellish time in my life to be permanently archived by producing a shitty book. So I had to not just step up to my A game, I had to figure out whatever the hell that was in the first place.

Paul Tevis (who I met in a chance meeting when went down to the first Gen Con SoCal, which I almost passed on) was one of my authors on Finis, and he was working on a game that I became a huge fan of, called A Penny For My Thoughts. After a series of IMs and email exchanges about reader & playtest notes, he said:

“Let’s make this official. What are your rates for editing?”

And with that, I became the editor on Penny.

I should say that by this point (which was late 2007), I had been podcasting for several months, and had interviewed a few people, including Fred Hicks of Evil Hat Productions (who also become my layout artist on Finis). While having lunch with him and Paul at Dreamation 2008, Fred asked me if I would like to edit Don’t Lose Your Mind.

For those keeping score, that’s my second paid editing offer. (Though, it would be by publication date the first to be released.)

The story continues, in the form of people telling others to talk with me about editing, and me feeling confident enough to put myself out there when others mentioned jobs. But that’s how this all started, or how I “broke in.”

The Point

When I respond to the “how do you break in” question with “Do interesting and awesome things that people can see, meet new people, make friends, and put yourself in the position for chance meetings,” it might sound flippant or simple. But it’s not.

There is nothing simple about making something awesome. There is nothing simple about forging friendly bonds. The problem is that I can’t say more than that, because the journey is personal.

(How to survive and grow is, of course, a completely different question.)

– Ryan

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2 Responses to How I Became an Editor

  1. Dan H. says:

    Don’t forget the last part. You’ve got to have the goods, or no-one will pay for all of your hard work. Networking will nab you the contacts necessary for growth in a new career, but if you can’t deliver, you won’t be able to build on your early forays.

    In other words, don’t be so damn modest! :P You’re talented and you take the time and energy to spot errors in the minutiae that most people gloss over.

    . . . or so I’m told.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Thanks!

      To be fair, I didn’t have the goods then I do now, and now I work with editors who show me all the places where I still need to level. I don’t say that to be modest, but to say that someone who feels they aren’t “as good as” me or John Adamus or whoever shouldn’t be scared away from trying. It’s a skill, and skills are learned, not purely innate.

      – Ryan