Thursday, February 29, 2024

Why I Don't Pay the Contributing Writers for My Retro Gaming Books


I’ve been asked by various people online why I don’t pay the contributing writers for my books, my NES and SNES Omnibus volumes in particular. It’s a fair question and one I’m always happy to answer. Since it seems to be an ongoing concern with certain people, and in fact some keyboard warriors have been downright hostile about it, I’ve provided a longer explanation here.

For those who aren’t in the writing business, you may not know that there are two kinds of writer’s markets: paying and non-paying. It’s always been this way, and you can find writer’s guidelines for both online and in magazines and books. During the ’90s and early 2000s, when I was still learning my craft, I gladly wrote for several non-paying markets, including Classic Gamer Magazine, Scary Monsters Magazine, and a couple of other publications. I did this to support the magazines, to get my name out there, and to help hone my writing skills. To get good, writers must write. A lot. It’s hard work, but it can be a lot of fun when you are writing about your favorite hobbies.

In recent times, I’ve written for free for a handful of projects, including my memory of meeting Walter Day for the first time for Todd Friedman’s Walter Day's Gaming Superstars: Volume Two. Todd, a good friend of mine, told me up front that it was a voluntary project, and I happily wrote the story for free—it was fun recalling the time of how I met Walter at the Classic Gaming Expo in Las Vegas and putting it down on paper. For Rob Strangman’s Memoirs of a Virtual Caveman, I was happy to contribute two nostalgic stories free of charge. Like Todd, Rob is a great dude, and I wanted to help him out and appear in a great book at the same time—win-win! There are other retro gaming books out there—some that have sold more copies than mine—that are non-paying markets for contributing writers as well. My Omnibus books are hardly alone in this regard.

When it came time to solicit contributing writers for my first Omnibus book, The SNES Omnibus: The Super Nintendo and Its Games, Vol. 1 (A–M), I quickly decided it would be a non-paying market, and of course I told the writers upfront. I was looking for authors, YouTubers, programmers, store owners, and others in the industry who wanted to tell nostalgic stories about some of their favorite and most memorable video games for the sheer enjoyment of recalling those great times. They were welcome to include critiques with their stories, but I didn’t need them to actually review the games—I primarily wanted them to help capture the culture of gaming, particularly the SNES during the 1990s (though more recent memories regarding the console were certainly welcome).

Of course, there were pragmatic reasons for making my Omnibus books a non-paying market. With 79 contributing writers on The SNES Omnibus Vol. 1 alone, most of whom wrote multiple stories, it would have been cost-prohibitive to make it a paying market. As a full-time freelance writer at the time, this made the most sense to me. During the writing of the Omnibus books, it took a ton of time away from my primary and more profitable job of being a journalist for various magazines and newspapers, including AntiqueWeek and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. In short, each book was a passion project. The books have sold very well, thankfully, but all things considered, I made the correct business decision.

Regarding the contributing writers who have done the yeoman’s work of telling all these stories, they have done an amazing job, and I’m incredibly grateful. And virtually all of them I’ve spoken with have been thrilled with how the books have turned out. For one YouTuber in particular, he called it a “dream come true” to have his writing appear in a hardcover book that was for sale at Barnes & Noble and other brick-and-mortar stores. Another writer and friend of mine, Blair Farrell, said it was his first published work in print. Farrell has gone on to write books of his own, including Avengers in Video Games: A Guide to Solo Adventures and Mighty Marvel Team-Ups, with Creator Interviews.

Without these Insider Insights in my Omnibus books, they wouldn’t be nearly as interesting or entertaining. Reviews and synopses are fine, but stories are more fun to read. Countless noteworthy gamers, content creators, and industry insiders contributed amazing anecdotes to the Omnibus tetralogy, including such popular figures as Kelsey Lewin, John Riggs, Chris Bores, 8-bit Eric, John Hancock, Tim Lapetino, Blake Harris, Tyler Esposito, Shawn Long, Rob McCallum, Adam F. Goldberg, Kurt Kalata, Brittney Brombacher, Benjamin Reeves, Steve Woita, Greg Sewart, Patrick Hickey Jr., and too many others to mention. I’m forever grateful for these amazingly talented people—too many to mention them all!

You may have a problem with me not paying my writers, but they certainly don’t—they were happy to be involved and help me out! I’m friends with most of my contributing writers, which makes me incredibly happy. Some of the coolest, most interesting, and most enjoyable people to hang out with I’ve met through my interest in retro gaming. Rather than disrespecting these contributing writers as I’ve been accused, I’ve shown a great deal of respect and repaid them in kind by sharing links to their books and YouTube channels, writing about them on my website with my Writer Spotlights, and more. In fact, I’ve collaborated for free with some of them on their projects. In short, it’s a win-win for everyone! Occasionally, I might make misstep, such as not recognizing someone at a convention or being too distracted or busy to chat—apologies all around! It can be stressful and overwhelming to set up at a show and deal with a bunch of customers, but this is no excuse—I’ll try to do better!

When it came time to write The 100 Greatest Console Video Games: 1988–1998, I put the word out on social media and via email that I was looking for people to write essays for many of the games. While I wrote all the essays for the first book in the series, The 100 Greatest Console Video Games: 1977–1987, I wanted help for 1988-1998 from other writers in order to get a diversity of opinions and perspectives, to save time and my sanity (I was juggling an insane amount of stuff in my personal and professional life), and to write about games that are incredible but that I’m not super passionate about, such as several of the RPGs that made the cut. I decided to stick with my format of the book not being a paying market since it had worked so well with the Omnibus volumes.

Some writers I asked to participate in the second 100 Greatest book declined because the essays are much longer than those for the Omnibus books. In fact, one writer who had contributed to the Omnibus books told me the proposed longer essays for the 100 Greatest book sounded too much like work—perfectly understandable. Conversely, other writers happily hopped onboard and were super stoked to write full essays about some of their favorite games. In my solicitation correspondence, I said I would send a free signed book to every contributing writer free of charge, but some of them supported the Kickstarter anyway—I was beyond moved by such a gesture. I’ve got an amazing support network of friends, colleagues, and fellow writers—just incredible. Regarding free books in general, my publisher sent out a bunch of review copies to many of my contributing writers—over half of them—since the vast majority have outlets to promote the books. As such, most of the writers ended up getting a free book anyway.

If you still aren’t convinced that writers sometimes write for free and do so gladly, or you can’t imagine why they would do such a thing, here are some general reasons that apply across the industry:

Exposure and Recognition: Having one's name appear in print can be a significant draw, offering writers a form of recognition that extends beyond monetary compensation. For emerging writers, this exposure can be invaluable, serving as a portfolio piece that opens doors to future opportunities.

Passion for the Subject: Many contributors are motivated by a genuine love for the subject and a desire to share their insights and experiences with a like-minded audience. This passion can make the act of writing its own reward.

Community and Collaboration: Projects like these often foster a sense of community among contributors, who can form valuable professional networks and friendships. The collaborative nature of contributing to a collective work can be fulfilling in itself. I’ve seen this first-hand the numerous retro gaming cons I attend each year.

Professional Development: Contributing to such projects can also serve as professional development, allowing writers to hone their craft, experiment with new writing styles, and receive feedback from peers and editors.

Building a Portfolio: For writers starting out, contributions to published works can be a powerful addition to their portfolio, demonstrating their ability to write professionally and meet publication standards.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for your indulgence!

And, as always, thanks for reading!

~Brett Weiss


Ace said...

This is a really long winded way to say "because paying people for their work and experience is expensive". In an industry long known for exploiting passionate workers, these books are part of the problem. It's disappointing that you shrug off paying writers as "saving your time and sanity", and chose not to invest the earnings from your early projects into the later works.

Anonymous said...

Well said. I see it as no different than we nurses teaching CPR or being a youth camp nurse. You form relationships and increase your knowledge and exposure. Kudos to you!

Anonymous said...

TL;DR “Here is a boring recitation of name drops. Love, Brett”

Anonymous said...

'Exposure and Recognition'... or you know, write it yourself if you can't afford to pay people.