The following guide is specific to Haywire, but was created with the intention of being helpful beyond the confines of our site. Follow or discard its advice as applicable, look through the additional reading, find out what works best for you.
Pitching is the process by which you use words to convince editors to let you write even more words to be published on their site. Since this not only requires emailing strangers, but asking them to evaluate an idea of yours, it can feel quite daunting, but unfortunately there’s no real way around it. Once you’re in regular contact with editors, you might get to bounce ideas back and forth more casually, but even then you’ll probably still be writing formal pitches since you want to get your work on different sites whenever you can, and since even editors you are best buds with might find it convenient to have a written record of the article you agreed on.
There’s a couple of things you want to do before you even begin writing your pitch. First, research the site you are pitching to. Are they even looking for pitches right now? Does yours fit their style? For instance, we don’t really run reviews on Haywire, so you might have to find a home for these elsewhere. Read and follow any guidelines sites have for pitching. Make sure your email will be reaching the right person, and that you get their name right. These are little things, but messing up on them can leave a really bad impression. Research and fact-checking are part of your job, so show that you got these down by showing you know who you’re writing to. The same thing applies to proofreading.
The pitch itself should succinctly introduce both yourself and your idea. The former generally means linking to samples of your earlier writing (no experience is required to write for Haywire, but other sites will expect this). You should obviously be showing off your best work, but if you’ve got room to choose, try to also match these examples to your current pitch: if you’re pitching an interview, people will want to know if you’ve done interviews before. The latter means breaking your entire article down into a brief summary. The shorter and snappier, the better. This is no time for rambling.
One problem we frequently see in pitches is introducing only your general topic, but not the specific argument you want to make about it. For instance, Dark Souls is a topic, but “Dark Souls is reminiscent of the process of editing because you refine many failed attempts into a single, successful attempt” is an argument to make about this topic. Mentioning only your topic is an issue because it shows you haven’t thought this all the way through yet. If you want to write about why a game is interesting, you should be able to give reasons. You don’t have to have your entire article planned out, but you should have an idea of your main points before you pitch.
In general, we also advise new recruits to keep the focus of their pitch narrow – ideally by tying it to a single game – rather than to tackle an overly broad subject. Far-reaching arguments such as “Why all MMOs suck” or “Early Access is dead” tend to also be far-fetched. This isn’t to say that that kind of opinionating has no room in games writing, but it requires incredible amounts of nuance and expertise to do such subjects justice and construct a well-formed argument around them. This is an area in which even veterans frequently slip up, and not something a stranger is likely going to trust you with.
For additional advice on how to pitch, consider reading what Alan Williamson from our friends at Five out of Ten has to say.
Now that we’ve covered some of the things we want, let’s talk about what you want. Just because a site is willing to take your writing doesn’t necessarily mean that you should give it to them. This should be a mutually beneficial relationship, so you should be getting something out of it as well, whether it’s money, guidance, or that dreaded word “exposure.” Just make sure that whatever you’re getting is in proportion with the demands being placed on you. Don’t let somebody drain you completely for the benefit of some perfunctory writing advice. Some of the questions you should be asking yourself before pitching to a site are “Will I get paid for this?” (not here), “Will somebody else make money off of this?” (not here) and “Is this a better deal than just putting it on my blog?”
Now obviously we’d like to think that we are not a terrible place to pitch to: we may not be able to pay our writers outside of anthology sales, but we understand the ramifications of this and try to make up for it by treating you with honesty, dignity and respect. However, you shouldn’t be taking our word for it! If you’re unsure whether to pitch to Haywire, or any other site, one thing you could try is to approach people who have written for us before and asking them if they were satisfied. If they tell you to stay away, you have more reason to listen to them than to us, although we’d take it as a kindness if you let us know – anonymously if necessary – why they were unhappy, so we can fix it.
If you decide that we are not the best home for you pitch, here are some other sites that you could try sending it to.
Arcade Review – The Arcade Review is a quarterly magazine focused on experimental videogames and the digital arts. They publish close looks at specific games as well as essays on wider topics. They take pitches for a few weeks every three months and pay a flat rate of $50 per article.
electro bureau – electro bureau is a digital zine focused on intimate stories about the relationship between games and people by queer or otherwise marginalized voices. They don’t have a dedicated page for submissions, so pitch directly to tony[at]electrobureau[dot]com. This is an unpaid gig.
First Person Scholar – First Person Scholar is an academically-charged games site publishing a variety of features ranging from essays to book reviews and interviews. Academic publishing guidelines always looks quite daunting, but their editors can help you navigate those rules. This is an unpaid gig.
Five out of Ten – Five out of Ten is a bimonthly videogame magazine focusing on longform criticism and essays. Each of their issues features five contributors with two articles each: one pitched in advance and one related to the issue’s theme, which you come up with once your pitch has been accepted. Each contributor receives a fair share of the issues profits. They plan far in advance and only accept pitches for a few days each year, so keep an eye on their blog and Twitter.
Journal of Games Criticism – The open-access Journal of Games Criticism is a biannual journal for game studies and other decidedly academic texts on games. It looks even less approachable than First Person Scholar, but as with them, their editors can help you make sense of their many rules. This is an unpaid gig.
Memory Insufficient – Memory Insufficient is games history magazine. Each issue looks at games through a different lense, like “language and games”, “religion and games”, or “gender and games”. This is an unpaid gig.
Postmortem – Postmortem is a quarterly magazine that explores the creative process and inspirations of artists, which includes, but isn’t limited to game developers. They pay a flat rate of $50 per contribution.
Unwinnable – Unwinnable is both a games site and a weekly games magazine. The former is unpaid, the latter pays a flat rate of $50 per article, and you are pitching to both simultaneously when you submit. Having recently changed their policy, Unwinnable no longer has any restrictions on when to pitch to them.