I had come to view my creative life as Before Author, and After Author. Before Author I was doing it all wrong; After Author I have generally been doing it right. That was the story I told myself until the other day I remembered that in the middle of doing it all wrong, I did something exactly right. It was a little over ten years ago and I wanted to get paid to write something – anything. A friend at work mentioned that the magazine Dungeon, which publishes adventures for the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons, paid decent money for freelance adventures. I had played D&D for years and had always thought it might be fun to publish an adventure.
First, I got the magazine and read it thoroughly. I saw that each adventure had a formula. I submitted an adventure idea and it was rejected. I was prepared to give up on the dream of adventure writing when my wife pointed to my notebook filled with adventures I had written for my friends. “Why don’t you use one of those?” I selected one that fit the formula, sent it in, and got a letter asking that I write it.
I was thrilled. I immediately set aside my novel and began work on the adventure. I was going to be paid for something I had been doing for fun for years. The adventure was accepted, and when the issue in which it was published arrived in the mail I read it hungrily. I wanted everything I wrote from that day forward to be published.
I submitted another idea to Dungeon and this too was accepted and published. Then I had a new idea, a bold idea, an idea that would break the formula to which role-playing adventures adhered. The editor said, “Write it.” I did, and he rejected it, pointing out that I had broken the formula.
I was done with them. Done with adventure writing. Until one day I met a man who had started his own adventure publishing company. I said to him, “I should write for you.” I did. I wrote a long book-length adventure, an adventure that broke the old formula, and he published it, and then I wrote another and he published that as well. Both adventures won awards, the second being named “Best Role-Playing Adventure of the Year.” That was the last adventure I would ever write.
So to recap: I wrote in a genre I enjoyed and understood; I studied my market and tailored my own writing to it until I was ready to break with convention, at which point I found a like-minded soul who was more of a friend than a publisher. I never doubted myself because I knew that I knew what a good adventure was and I knew that I could write one. I had success. To this day there are forums discussing the adventures I wrote and people who still play those adventures.
But it didn’t count. It was D&D. It was just a game played by nerds. Only the novels counted and no one wanted to publish them and so I was not a success and I didn’t know how to have success. It was all mysterious to me. I would lie in bed, my award-winning adventures on the bookshelf above me, asking, “How do I get published? How do I get published?”
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