A Guide to Freelancing for Me

For those who want to work for me on making awesome stuff, like upcoming Katanas & Trenchcoats craziness, here are nine super important things to hold in your heart and mind. (I started writing this as part of individual emails, but realized this should be a public post.) In no particular order:

One: Time is a flat circle, but deadlines are still important

My publishing schedule operates with a little slack, but that slack is there for my purposes, not yours. When you use up my slack, you trigger my anxieties. When you trigger my anxieties, it’s harder to deal with your work charitably. When you present work that I read as mediocre, I reject it.

This has taught me to reject outright all work that missed deadlines without sufficient notice. The best work in the world won’t get read or paid for if it comes in days late.

That means you should contact me if you’re going to be late! Giving me at least 24 hours notice will help me plan accordingly, and letting me know the reason helps me know whether this will be a one-time thing or if I should expect you to be late in future assignments.

“But if I get another day, it’ll be better.”

While that might be true, I’ll be the judge of whether that’s needed and fits my time table. :)

Two: This is work-for-hire, so don’t bleed for me

The contract I send you will solidify this, but know that once you submit the work and pay you for it, that work is mine to use. You’re selling me that work, not a copy of that work—so if you use that work elsewhere, you’re using material you don’t own. You’re working on someone else’s project, not one you have creative control or ownership over.

What does that mean? It means if you want to sell me an idea based on something you have wanted to write for yourself for years, don’t! Sell me something you like, but don’t have years of emotional attachment to. I want you to keep that dream for yourself.

Or ask me “Hey, I also want to use this elsewhere,” to which I might say “Cool! Please state it came originally from X book, but otherwise rock on.” Or I might ask for more details, because I have plans for something derived from your work.

Three: Life is impermanent, edits happen, so assume anything could change

Since I own the work and I see the whole of the project, what you turn in may look significantly different from what’s in the final product. If you can’t handle that idea, then don’t work for others—you’ll feel constantly disappointed, because your needs aren’t the same as your publishers’ and their needs have priority because they control the final product.

Four: Plagiarism makes the baby Odin weep

You can’t sell me work you don’t own, and you don’t own what you plagiarize. While Katanas & Trenchcoats is an homage to a lot of ’90s RPG culture, there’s no plagiarism in it. That might seem like a fine line, but it’s not; copying text is bad, and otherwise using IP I can’t own is bad.

Don’t think I don’t wish I could use the Technocracy whole-cloth on my own projects. :) But I can’t. You can’t do that either.

Now, maybe you could pass off something as your own work that isn’t, and I might not notice. And maybe my editor doesn’t notice. But someone in the public does. That screws me hard, in a potentially legal way and certainly one that tarnishes my reputation. If you do that to me, I will let people know who that material came from.

If you aren’t sure if something is homage or plagiarism, ask! Not only could I tell you which way that situation goes, but can also provide alternatives.

Five: Communication is key to me not freaking the fuck out

You might see a theme here: talk with me if there are issues. If you communicate with me early, I’ll respect you more. If you don’t communicate with me and there are problems with the work, see the above note about the anxiety spiral.

I’m gonna quote Fred Hicks here, because he said it really well: “When you’re hitting a problem, especially with scheduling, let me know during the first minutes of the problem rather than the last minutes. We can work together to plan how to navigate the schedule better that way.”

  • Got questions or concerns? Contact me.
  • Gonna be late, or just possibly late? Contact me.
  • Unsure of if you’re in a situation where you should contact me? Err on contacting me.
  • Think that if you push yourself for another day, you can avoid having to give me bad news? Don’t do that. Giving me bad news earlier avoids the anxiety spiral. (I have been that person to others, and burned relationships because of it.)

If email starts becoming a hurdle, I might suggest scheduling a call.

Six: Under/overwriting is like flipping a baby turtle over

Is that hyperbole? At this point, I don’t think it is. I’ve had projects delayed because I had to severely edit down overwriting and contract out for underwriting. And that causes me distress.

It can be hard to pin exactly on the nose for word count. I allow for a +/–10% fluctuation in assignments. I pay per word, so writing under means less money. And I cap payment at the projected word count, so writing more means you’re giving me the extra words for free. Take that as game design, wherein I incentivize specific behavior.

Any work turned in that’s more than 10% over or under is automatically rejected. I use the most current version of Word of Mac to check.

If you turn out to need more words for the specific assignment or can’t finish, communicate that! Expect me to decline overwriting or stop work for underwriting, but better to bring that up beforehand than turn in work I’ll reject for sure. That isn’t a welcomed surprise. :)

Seven: Tell me if you can’t do the job

No cute header this time. Say no to the job if you think you can’t handle the time commitment.

“But then you won’t hire me in the future!”

I always tell folks that I will keep the door open for people who decline in the outset, because I gain respect for those who clearly know their boundaries. In fact, I’m more likely to embrace your fantasticness if you’re honest up front, instead of telling me post-deadline that you can’t do it.

Eight: Over-promising is like asking me out on a skydiving first date

Because it could go awesome, or we could crash.

You might think you sound amazing if, in response to me proposing a reasonable deadline, you put forward “I’ll have that to you in half the time.” I always respond with “I don’t want to hold you to that, but if you commit to this promise, I will judge you based on that. So think twice before you make that sort of promise.”

You might see where I’m going with this. I’ve had freelancers over-promise then blow their own deadlines. If you do this, it shakes my confidence in you meeting my original deadline, because now I have evidence that you don’t have a good sense of time management. And nearly every time this has happened, the freelancer has blown the date I asked for in the first place.

Hey, If you want to look fucking heroic, don’t over-promise; instead, over-deliver. If you can turn in something early, just turn it in early! (And good; early and crap doesn’t score points.) Think of it like surprising me with flowers and good bourbon on a first date—sure, it’s not skydiving, but I didn’t ask for skydiving. :)

(Related: I’m happily married and monogamous so please don’t actually ask me out on a date.)

Nine: “This list scares me”

Being an adult scares the shit out of me. I recently dealt with credit issues, bought more insurance, and met with a banker about some financial planning. In that scale of things, being communicative and aware of a few basic things a publisher needs is easier.

But if this looks intimidating as fuck or sounds like it’s not your cuppa, that’s a sign we shouldn’t work together, at least not right now. Totally cool, especially if you know in the outset rather than after I plan for your involvement and account for your words in the final project.


Other publishers: You’re free to harvest this list for your own purposes. You probably want to use your own words, as I deliberately wrote in my own conversational style, but I give permission to for all to use.


NB: I’ll update this post as needed, whether copyediting (because I wrote this in a hurry while underslept) or adding more detail.


4 Responses to A Guide to Freelancing for Me

  1. James J. Haeck says:

    This is a great list! Good for any kind of RPG freelancer.

  2. T.R. Knight says:

    What an inspired and thorough list for all freelancers. Thanks for sharing it with a personal and heartfelt attitude.

  3. Very awesome advice. I’ve rarely sought out freelancing work, mainly because I like working on my own projects, but the times I have the parameters from companies feel right in line with this list.

    #5 speaks to issues I’ve had in the past in all forms of freelancing. Communication lets me know nothing fell apart. Even if there is a problem, I know it isn’t one that isn’t being addressed.

  4. Lironah says:

    Got it, boss. *salutes*