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Freelancer Psychology

I've been getting the no-love from WotC, so the enthusiasm to go above and beyond is not there today.

It's strange, but for a company that uses so many freelancers, they don't do a very good job at keeping them. Their reputation in that regard used to puzzle me, but it's gotten pretty clear lately — they've become the classic "bad client", the kind that ad agencies fire. Getting basic answers can take days or weeks, and some messages just sink into the abyss. The small courtesies (the "thanks for the ms" and the "got your files, expect contract shortly" sort of stuff) seem to largely escape them. The whiff of corporatespeak has grown stronger.

The overall vibe I get from them is often "You're lucky we let you work for us" and "We're the in crowd and you're not." Which, even assuming it's true, doesn't make anyone feel the warm fuzzies.

This stands in marked contrast to the professional attitudes at Paizo (who manage a much larger stable of freelancers with a much steadier hand), or among the editors and publishers at Malhavoc, Green Ronin, and small press publishers. Freelancers write their text, edit it, draw the art, lay it out. They are part of the extended staff, and the small companies know what they contribute. The relationships are both professional and friendly. I don't know why large corporations lose this ability to act like human beings, but it's a damned shame. I see it at the day job: people respond better to bad news when it's delivered with a human face.

I digress. A company that wants the best from its creative talent must always remember Psych 101: compliments, two-way communication, and honesty. Positive feedback and respect can save your schedule when you need a favor, a freebie, or a crazy deadline. A history of indifference endears you to no one, even if you are the biggest bully on the block and can throw your weight around. This sense of corporate entitlement springs from the same well (to make a wild analogy) as current US foreign policy. Just because you *can* ignore other people's opinions doesn't mean you *should*. It's especially true when you're the biggest in your field.

Anyway, this is all by way of saying, I had to make one of those tough freelancer choices between projects tonight. WotC used to always win that choice, hands down. Tonight, WotC lost.

Update: I know this violates the whole unwritten freelancer code of never saying a negative word about the publishers. I like to think that WotC is big enough to take mild criticism with some aplomb. We'll see.


( 20 sutras — Your wisdom )
Jul. 21st, 2006 03:24 am (UTC)
"We're the in crowd and you're not."

I know fewer and fewer people in the inside of WotC anymore (at least, people I'm close to or in social contact with; I "know" plenty of people) but even just hearing it from the fringes, I get this distinct impression as well. Is disdain too strong a word for it? (Probably.)
Jul. 22nd, 2006 12:08 am (UTC)
Yeah, it's a bit like disdain. I think it's pretty normal for people who work together to bond and see themselves as united against the "outsiders". It's just strange when the freelancers are counted among the outsiders.

But then again, that was the attitude at TSR as well. Maybe it just seems stronger seen from the other side.
Jul. 21st, 2006 03:24 am (UTC)
Sounds like you want to talk to mouseferatu. I'm sure he'd be happy to invite you to rpg_slaves. Lots of talk like this, as well as constructive discussion on what to do about it.
Jul. 21st, 2006 03:40 am (UTC)
As it turns out, I'm working on a project with mouseferatu at the moment. I'll definitely ask him about it; thanks for the tip!
Jul. 21st, 2006 03:41 am (UTC)
That's what I'm here for! (:
Jul. 21st, 2006 06:56 am (UTC)
I'd try giving Gwen a call. I imagine that if she's been out of touch, it's because she's juggling about 50,000 projects. I'm working with her on some freelancer related stuff, and I know with GenCon coming up her already full plate is overflowing.

If there's anything I can do, don't be afraid to drop me a line at my Wizards address: mike, dot, my last name, at wizards dot com.

Jul. 21st, 2006 06:00 pm (UTC)
I know she's extremely busy, both designing and coordinating freelancers. Sometimes I'm convinced it's just a matter of not enough staff on WotC's side.

I definitely appreciate the offer!
Jul. 28th, 2006 03:16 am (UTC)
(Charles here:) I would say it's definitely "just [or at least mostly] a matter of not enough staff on WotC's side." WotC was understaffed before the December layoffs; I feel quite sorry for the people who were left behind. More is being expected of fewer people, and in that chase-your-tail context, "niceties" like good communications with outside partners are the first thing you let slip from your to-do list.

Sadly, I speak from experience, and like you I'm about to see experience the results: In my new job, I'll be making exactly the sorts of requests from WotC that I used to back-burner all the time when I was there. . . .
Jul. 21st, 2006 03:36 pm (UTC)
There is something rotten in the state of Denmark.
I hope my/Larry's mention of WotC at dinner wasn't the catalyst for this? Though, a post like this has probably been in the makes for a bit.
I hope you didn't get 'the straw'; we need your strong camel back ;)
Jul. 21st, 2006 05:50 pm (UTC)
Nah, nothing so dramatic. There's just been a slow, steady decline.

I'm certainly planning on working very hard for my own projects and other publishers. But I'm starting to think I'll take a break from WotC for a while.
Jul. 21st, 2006 04:53 pm (UTC)
Yes, come write more for us! :D

For many reasons, I cannot and will not comment on the Wizards of the Coast freelancing stuff.

I can comment all day on the Paizo stuff, though. ;D Here's a poorly kept secret: we don't always do a good job dealing with freelancers. Unlike some other companies in the RPG industry, though, WE at least recognize the importance of peoples' names on the covers of books and magazines. So when, say, a Wolfgang Baur emails us with a query, we tend to give him precedence over other writers. Even if those other writers have been waiting for responses for... sixseven months or longer.

Freelancing for us and for Wizards of the Coast are weird deals, you know? We aren't as exclusive in who we let write for us, but we're quicker to dump writers we feel aren't up to snuff. It's harder to get in to writing for Wizards of the Coast, but once you start it's almost impossible to stop getting projects, no matter how badly you blow deadlines or how much of a jerk you are.

Oops! I'll stop rambling now. ^_^
Jul. 21st, 2006 05:57 pm (UTC)
I always feel vaguely odd when my pitches bounce back quickly, because I know I've been pulled to the top of the queue. Which I love! And which, frankly, makes me want to do more work for Paizo. Your Evil Scheme tm is working! :)

See, my problem with WotC is that I don't blow deadlines and I try not to be a jerk, yet I feel treated more like a doormat than a valuable partner. It's a perception issue, which *should* be easy to fix, but I'm not sure WotC understands it has a problem. Plus lately there was a Series of Unfortunate Events that leaves me feeling pretty "meh" about the prospect of doing that again.

Fortunately, I have other markets, in and outside gaming.
Jul. 21st, 2006 08:56 pm (UTC)
Ack! That reminds me: I have a proposal sent in from Owen K.C. Stephens I need to get to. ;D

Hasbro/WotC has this weird desire to not make celebrities of their game designers, whether in-house or freelance (although they sure seem to love certain freelancers of dubious ability). Paizo doesn't share that myopic view of their resources, however. We recognize that the right name can sell magazines. It can also sell books for WotC, if WotC would just recognize that.

I'm pretty sure WotC doesn't understand it has a problem. But I'd better say no more. I don't want to jeopardize my position with them. I might have said too much already. ;)

Good luck to you in your other markets. :)
Jul. 21st, 2006 10:23 pm (UTC)
Indeed! (As an extraordinarily minor freelancer, I do hope that you do well elsewhere. Sometimes a break can be good.)
Jul. 21st, 2006 10:31 pm (UTC)
Varianor: Ever sent any proposals to Dragon? :D
Jul. 22nd, 2006 02:39 am (UTC)
Two. One when I was 14 and one about a year ago. I need to send some more now that I'm wrapping up the writing contracts I landed over the past year. Got any particular ones you are looking for? :)
Jul. 22nd, 2006 05:51 am (UTC)
Channeling the Ninja-brain, I predict: "We're always looking for Class Acts, especially with Variant Class Features per PHB2".

Go ahead, tell me I'm wrong. :)
Jul. 24th, 2006 03:40 pm (UTC)
I'm always in need of Class Act articles. Always. :)
Jul. 22nd, 2006 11:43 am (UTC)

And so he did get back to me. Yesterday, in fact. Three times, since I had questions about the first two messages.

I'm never sure how anyone feels about those of us I consider "mid-level" freelancers. I see myself as sitting on the "C" list of game desginers.

I asume the A list is restricted to people like Gary Gygax and Monte Cook, to name just two, who can sell a book purely by having their name on it. The A list writers have large followings of loyal fans.

Once you get to the B list, you're talking about people who win awards, have at least some fans, get mentioned whenever a new book comes out, and are generally seen as the top non-famous designers. I would never guess who was a B list writer in public, but I presume we can all think of a few.

Then there are common pro rpg writers like me. The C list. A few people have heard of us, and the companies we deal with are happy enough with our work. But we're seen as available workhorses, rather than names worth bandying about.

Now, some folks treat me much better than a C lister needs to be. (Paizo certainly falls in that category, as do the fine folks at GR). And there are some weird things that hapopen once a C list career lasts long enough (having Larry email me to talk about where he flashed my name about on a business trip certainly qualifies), but I think those are exceptions about particularly dedicated people and happy circumstances, rather than a purely business decision to treat us well because we're worth it. If one of us isn't available, another can be found that will work just as well for the company.

I suppose there is a D list, though I would think anyone who does well for a few years would move to the C list pretty quickly.

Of course all that is just my perception, which comes from seeing people once a year at best and getting the rest of my information by email and chat. And I don't know if there are strata within these levels, allowing for C+ to B- types of positions. But I do begin to feel that, baring something unusual happening, I've gotten about as much recognition and respect as I'm going to in this industry. In many cases that's plenty, but if I'm not satisfied with my overall place in the industry I think the only answer at this point is to move one.
Jul. 22nd, 2006 06:50 pm (UTC)
If editors get back to you, you definitely rate. I don't know about the A, B, C rankings: some people think about their designers in those terms, some don't. I know that Gary, Monte, Ed Greenwood, and maybe Dave Arneson are the biggest names on the A list. Not sure if there's anyone else on that list, honestly.

I suspect I'm on some people's B list, just because I've been around and my material has been well-received. But perhaps not. My own personal B list includes robin_d_laws, for instance, and at least twenty more. But I know everyone has their own take on people, depending on their experience and the game line involved. I think you're on the B list for Star Wars for sure.

Oddly, WotC hasn't pushed any of their designers as personalities in a few years (since the Tweet/Williams/Cook days, really), though some of them would probably bring in extra sales if they did.

I think WotC still fears a "cult of personality". It goes back to the Gary Gygax days, when they slapped his name on books someone else wrote, because they knew his name would sell more copies. Of course, at this point, they need every sale, so the policy of not promoting their best freelancers and staff has become self-defeating.
( 20 sutras — Your wisdom )

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