A huge stumbling block for a lot of young writers is the pitch process. To land a freelance piece, writers have to craft a snappy summary of their work to convince editors that their story is a) important right now, and b) they’re the best person to write it.
“The art of the pitch is really difficult,” said Klepek, speaking as someone who reads a lot of pitches each week. “You can’t get an editor to sign off on a piece without a good pitch, and a good pitch is all the more important if your name isn’t well-known, and an editor is deciding whether to take a chance on you. Spend more time working on your pitches, even if that means having people edit your pitches. It’s that important.”
There’s one common mistake Klepek often sees from newer writers: inflated word count. “The moment I see a writer saying it’ll take 2,000 or 3,000 words to fully write whatever they’re pitching, my eyes roll into the back of my head. You need to be a pretty established writer to pull something like that off, because in most cases, you can do a lot more with a lot less. That many words is just a way for a young writer to get into a lot of trouble, and for an editor who’s taking a risk to realize they may not want to work with that writer next time.”
A good pitch, Klepek said, will be “concise, clear, and specific about its story,” and he wants to be surprised. “Your best bet for trying to get something past us [at Waypoint] is looking beyond the 24-hour news cycle. What are the things that keep cropping up in the discourse, and what’s it say about gaming culture?”
Growth is about more than just the options for writers, it’s also how journalists are covering games and the games industry compared to when Klepek started writing for Gaming Age. “It has a much sharper edge than it ever did, and it’s for the better,” he told me.“And that sharp edge is being pointed in the right direction (most of the time), which definitely wasn’t always the case in the past.
"People are smarter, and there’s a wider group of voices contributing to that shared base of knowledge, criticism, and reporting. Most people used to look exactly like me, and while that’s still mostly true, it’s also changing rapidly. (I wish that audiences were less hostile about it, because I think we keep losing potentially transformative writers who, understandably, do not want to be harassed!) It’s been encouraging. One way to view that change is to be afraid of it and become defensive. Another way to view that is as a challenge to stay interesting, relevant, and introspective.”
As I was chatting with Klepek, news came in that Giant Bomb
—a hugely popular gaming site created after an exodus of writers from Gamespot
in 2007—was losing several key writers (Alex Navarro, Brad Shoemaker, and Vinny Caravella) all of who were with the site since its inception. This news rocked the games community, and offered Klepek, who once worked for Giant Bomb, an opportunity to reflect on the personality-based journalism that defines modern games writing.
“1UP.com accidentally stumbled into the notion of turning previously anonymous games writers into bonafide personalities,” he said. “Bylines mattered, because you aligned your taste and preferences with them. You knew people’s names. Giant Bomb took what 1UP.com stumbled into and turned it into a business model. Giant Bomb wasn’t just a website to a lot of people, it was a family.
"But all things come to an end. Giant Bomb only happened because Jeff Gerstmann was fired from GameSpot. Austin Walker was only hired by Giant Bomb because I decided to leave for Kotaku. A door closes, a door opens. That’s what’s happening here, too. I’m not sure it tells you much about the future of games journalism yet because it matters what happens next.”