Got my DDI rejection letter yesterday, it was pretty brutal. I’m not a quitter, and I told myself I wouldn’t be disheartened when/if this happened, but as of right now I’m finding it a little hard to stick by those statements. However I can’t say I didn’t see this coming for a number of reasons, I made a laundry list of mistakes during the whole process. I pitched an idea I loved, and I pitched an idea I’d hoped would get accepted. As it turns out, writing about stuff you don’t love isn’t such a great idea – allow me to tell you the story.

My DDI Timeline

I had first sent my pitch on April 6th and finally received word back on May 23 telling me that while both pitches were good, they already had one topic covered and would be appearing in DDI in the near future (Strahd). However, I was told that my other pitch (Treefolk) was a good idea and they’d like to see more of it if I would be comfortable using monster templates (which confused me, and was later cleared up as he meant monster themes) to make new flavors of existing monsters instead of creating new ones. I accepted enthusiastically. I had a thing for making monsters, this couldn’t be that much different!

I was given an article template and told to turn in my final manuscript when it was done, no need for a draft. This immediately set me on edge because after all, this was my first rodeo and I’m supposed to just turn in something immediately publishable!? I thought there was more back and forth between the freelancer and WotC, but the impression that I’m left with is that that situation only applies to more well-known writers. That’s fine though, I’m always up for a challenge.

Fast forward several weeks and a few emails later, I’d received advice from a handful of good friends who’d already freelanced for WotC and so I had some good groundwork to begin building upon. I had one question lingering in my mind though and that was when exactly I needed to have the full article in by. I had shot an email to Chris Perkins about it and he said there was no time frame, to just get it in when it was done. This gave me a huge sigh of relief , which also conversely triggered my uber-procrastination mode switch into its ON position. Cue one month of complete and total procrastination…now!

In my defense, right around this time I was just moving into our first home and things were pretty hectic. There were boxes everywhere and a million things to unpack, paperwork to get in order, and lots of general ‘setting in’ to do – especially for the kids. I was also simultaneously gearing up for Gencon for Obsidian Portal during this time. Getting things in order like panel info/ideas, guests, contests, newsletters, interviews, ENnies prep, making sure our schwag was ready and our things were sent to the right hotel, etc. To say I had more on my plate than normal would be a fair statement.

Jump forward again, we’re pretty settled into our house, Gencon was great and things are mostly back to their regular pace. Gencon did bring new light and urgency to my DDI situation though. While having a few drinks with some of my closer industry friends (Dare I say “closer” as if I have tons of industry friends? I’m not wanking myself off here, I promise. I’m just referring to people I’ve consistently hung out with for the past few years at cons) who were either current WotC or ex-WotC guys who told me “when Chris Perkins says you don’t have a deadline, he has a deadline for you in his head” and more general put your big boy pants on and knock that shit out the second you get back from Gencon pep talk.

So it’s after Gencon now I’m feeling extremely anxious/nervous/pressured and my fear of complete and total failure is at all time highs. I’m not very confident in myself to begin with, but it was time to step up and get this shit done. Unfortunately, every time I sat down to work on my article I became overwhelmed with fear and self loathing. I was writing for Chris Perkins, I was putting myself up on stage for all of the guys at WotC whom I looked up to so much. What if I fuck this up? What if I do something really stupid and careless? What if I totally bomb it? That’s exactly what I did.

Peering Inquisitively At The Tip of a Loaded Crossbow

I rushed the article, I wrote the entire article in one night staying up till the sun came up. I waited for the kids to fall asleep, made myself a pot of coffee and wrote until my fingers ached. I gave it a single editing pass when my brain was firing on less than half its cylinders, and emailed it off.

I’d tarried for too long, it was better to get it done and turned in and to cross my fingers that they can clean up my little bits that need polish right? That’s what editing and developing are for? Surely they’d at least ask for some revisions if it was half decent, it couldn’t really have to be a final final draft right? To all those questions the answer is a firm “no”. I didn’t really know though. I was clueless on 85% of the whole process, but when someone tells you that Chris Perkins has a secret due date tucked away for you in one of the many 5’x5′ squares of his mind it invokes some serious fear, and I failed my saving throw. I’m not saying my friends feared me into doing a poor job, I’m saying that I went about this in the completely wrong way.

Questions and Qualms

Looking back, I’m not sure if this “Chris has a due date for you” applies to new freelancers too, or if it was just the vets I was hearing it from. Unless you have ESP or friends who have done this before wouldn’t you be at a complete and total disadvantage in this situation? I was handed a template and just told to turn in a final draft. I was also told that they like their new writers to come out of the gate strong, but I got little to no guidance from their end. I suppose this is fine though, they are all busy folks in the middle of making a new edition of D&D and still attempting to support a myriad of players, attending and organizing cons, merchandising, and all the other shit they juggle on a daily basis. I appreciate WotC as a company and the people that work for them, I’m not trying to sound like a neckbeard here.

Though in all my interactions with WotC folks though they have always been very affable people. All of them that I’ve interacted with have always been extremely kind and polite, but this rejection email from Chris was pretty brutal and for lack of better words the whole tone was very ‘dickish’. Now I’m not knocking Chris or saying he’s a jerk or anything like that but the tone of the final email sounded very unkind. ‘Discouraging’ is probably the best word for it, though I could just be letting my emotions read his words instead of logic. At the tail end of his response, he told me not to be discouraged or let this stop me from submitting again though it felt very tacked on. Then again his email had two typos in it and felt like maybe it was a little rushed, I’m sure Chris didn’t mean to come off the way he did in the email on purpose. I can’t be mad at that bald genius.

I’d prefer to not go into more details from the email itself because I think that’s unnescessary, I’ve shared it with people close to me who are known for being very blunt with me, and they agreed that the tone was a little scathing. The whole thing really bums me out so I’m going to skip on down to what I’ve learned from all of this and call it a day.

Lessons Learned. Putting Ranks in Knowledge (Freelancing).

So… I made a ton of mistakes throughout this whole process. The biggest one was definitely subjecting myself to writing something that my heart wasn’t in, doing a rushed job, and being too scared to communicate candidly with Chris. I should have just asked him if there really was no deadline, but I was chicken shit. I couldn’t even muster the courage to introduce myself during the ENnies reception at gencon.

I loved 4e and I had a lot of fun running it and blogging about it, but those days are over for me and I shouldnt have kidded myself into pretending I could still write about it professionally. I was doing this, writing this article, because I wanted to be able to say “I was published in DDI” and not because “I wrote this awesome thing about stuff that I love”.

Freelance writing isn’t something I can do LAST MINUTE like I do everything else in my life, I just recently sent in a piece I really did love to Wolfgang for consideration in this winter’s Kobold Quarterly issue and I get the feeling it might not make it because I came in so close to the deadline. All that stuff about freelancing and deadlines is true folks, I just wish in this case I’d actually had a deadline given to me so I could have at least had a target to aim for. Personal preference I’m sure, but it’s worth noting.

This Is The Part Where I Quit, but Not Really

I am the reason my article didn’t get through, I’m aware of that and I’m not blaming anybody but myself. I will say though that the process was a lot more obtuse than I’d imagined it to be coming from WotC’s end. I know they are probably stretched beyond their limits right now so I’m gonna just leave it at that. No hard feelings.

Hearing things like like “article doesn’t tie closely to one of our upcoming themes” confuse me because I didn’t actually know what said themes were since I don’t work at WotC. I wasn’t informed beyond the last call for pitches asking for feywild material . Maybe it’s just a nice way to not tell me just how horrible my writing is, more likely it was just failure to communicate on my behalf.

All this being said I’m not going to be submitting to DDI again in the near future, not out of bitterness but out of respect for them and for myself. I don’t currently play 4e and haven’t in over 6 months, I don’t plan on coming back to it anytime soon either. I’m not going to waste my time or WotC’s, or subject my already sparse gaming group to a game most of them don’t enjoy for the purpose of my own personal freelance writing gains either.

I’m going to stick to my blog, stick to writing D&DNext and system neutral content for my own enjoyment and hopefully more for Kobold Quarterly. I’m going to work harder on my writing abilities and ask more people to scrutinize it, people that matter. Rest assured though that when/if the call goes around for non-4e DDI content, you can bet your ass I’ll be pitching to DDI on that very day. From here on out I’m only writing/pitching about things I love and nothing else. Thanks for reading!


  1. It is very healthy for you to work through these feelings, and I’m sure it is very helpful to other aspiring writers. I’m no sage when it comes to WotC communications, but in the past I’ve had a project with no deadline. Without a dealine, I see myself as owning everything – the schedule, the excitement, the quality, the communications, the ‘sale’. I worked hard to impose my own schedule and stick to it, to sell the piece (in an honest way) with every e-mail about it, and to work very hard on it because I knew it wasn’t a high-demand piece from them. Ultimately, I’m happy with how the piece turned out (The True, from the Dark Sun issue).

    RPG companies don’t usually provide a lot of feedback. Unless they place you in a team, as a freelancer you usually just send stuff in, and they make sure it meets their quality standards. If it needs a bit of polish, they may do it themselves (fixing a monster, for example, or clarifying text as part of normal editorial work). If they sense that it has larger issues but you are on the right track, they’ll send it back to you. The article had sections where I was trying to provide campaign ideas to the DM, and they told me it wasn’t working. It was hard for me to see that at first, but I did finally see it and agree. I revised those sections and it really is an entirely better article for it. (For the curious, the sections weren’t focused on the PCs and were disparate; after my next pass the sections were events revolving around the PCs and were written in order, as the campaign unfolds).

    This is true in Organized Play, by the way. You generally hand in your work, the admins fix it, and it gets played. Some admins try to provide feedback, but in both OP and DDI it pays to just take the file you handed in and the final copy and compare the two and learn from that.

    If an author wants feedback, they need to contact the writing director, ideally with specific questions. Any question can be valid, but because this is a contract it is better to make that question really professional. Saying, “I’m having trouble getting started,” won’t play well. Asking whether one of two approaches works best for the DDI issue is a better way to get at the same approach. It is possible to say something like “I am stalling here and need some creative ideas”, but I suspect it then really means you have to do a great job after that. Looking at the frequent freelances they have, many are just exceptional people. Many have their names on absolutely incredible novels and gaming products. That doesn’t mean we can’t make it (we can), but we have to work very hard to be even close to their level.

    From what you are saying, a lot of what you experienced likely stems, from two factors – you weren’t feeling it and you didn’t give your work enough editorial passes. The first can be overcome, but not on top of the second. I imagine some people can just write perfection, but what I hear from those I know is we all need to outline, re-outine, draft, write, re-write, give it some space, correct, re-write, finalize, and catch final mistakes. Most of my DDI articles have that kind of a process. It means I have to like the work I’m doing a lot to be devoted to it.

    I can’t speak for DDI staff, of course, but my guess is that an expert eye like Perkins’ knows when we wrote something in one night and gave it a quick once-over. The DDI staff has a lot of work to do, and sending something back with a curt response is probably called for in that situation. After all, look how much introspection it has given you!

  2. Jerry —

    I got a rejection notice back for a project the other day, too. I haven’t had time yet in the midst of a few other deadlines to get my own experience written up for this one, but look at the other Freelance Aspirations posts at my blog for some of what’s happened already.

  3. I’ve worked on two pieces for DDI with Chris Perkins and both times I received the “no deadline” response. Both times, I gave myself a six week deadline (both were around 10K words). I straight up asked Perkins after the freelancer seminar at Gencon this year about this issue. He told me that when he says “no deadline” it means the piece is not already slated to be in a particular month/slot on DDI. So basically, I think that means unless your article is closely tied to an upcoming month’s theme, you won’t get a deadline. I read somewhere that you should plan your deadlines around 1500 words per week.

    My understanding is WotC has seriously tightened their quality controls. In real terms that means they are pushing more of the editing and playtesting back onto freelancers instead of doing it in-house. Make sure whatever you turn in is the highest quality work you can do.

    Don’t give up. Keep plugging away. I was the recipient of some harshly worded criticism as well. Try not to take it personally. Look at your work product with a new pair of eyes and address the issues. You are a professional being commissioned to create exactly what the client wants.

    • I don’t plan on giving up, thanks for the encouraging words! However I still think here is some tact missing here. For people who are such wordsmiths you’d assume they could let you know that something wasn’t good enough without coming off so abrasively. It’s certianly jarring and somewhat off-putting, especially to newcomers.

  4. I think it is great that you can see through all of it and accept the downs with the ups. You definitely have the knack for all of this writing business, so don’t give up. Here is my bit of encouragement: “Go Jerry!”

  5. If it makes you feel any better, I’ve been having a similar experience, although I haven’t exactly gotten a full rejection.

    When Chris did the initial approval of one of my submissions last November, I was ecstatic. At the time I knew that my suggested article was not something I normally do: I can stat up monsters until I’m blue in the face, but I’m terrible at lore. But I was happy to get any sort of consideration at that time.

    I wasn’t given a fixed deadline either, but something about the tone of the email made me think “do it soon.” Even then, it took a considerable amount of time to get motivated to actually write it. So I did, submitted it and ultimately got paid for it… but I have no idea where the article is at right now or if it will ever get published. It’s sitting in limbo somewhere as far as I know.

    And, quite frankly, I’m not happy with the article. It’s not my best work, and it took a lot of time after hitting the “send” button for me to realize that. I’ve even been tempted on more than one occasion to contact WotC and tell them “here’s your money back… don’t publish that thing I wrote” just because the article is not what I’m capable of.

    In the end, we do what we do because we enjoy to do it. Sure, having WotC publish something of mine would be a major personal accomplishment, and the money I received was the first payment I’d ever gotten for freelance work… Although I’m still upset that it was a wire transfer. If it was a check I would have never cashed it and instead framed it or encased it in plastic and put it on my desk. What we do isn’t about the money, it’s about the game.

    Don’t let your experiences here deter you from doing that which you love and expressing what you want to say in the manner you want to say it.

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