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Submission Guidelines: Roleplaying Books

Last Updated: July 19, 2010

Why You Should Read This

We work with a lot of new writers. Many have never sold a game before. Over the years, we've found out that if a would-be writer can't or won't follow these initial guidelines, he's a lot less likely ever to create a publishable manuscript.

So, if your initial submission shows that you read and understood this material, we're a lot more likely to take you seriously right from the start.

That's why you should read this.

What We Want

We want you. The purpose of this page is to solicit proposals from those who wish to write supplements for our games. If you're a writer or aspiring writer who is familiar with our games, and if you think that you can take an idea and turn it into a quality product on deadline, read this page and evaluate our offer. We're not promising you a contract, only that we'll read your proposal. We will give you a fair shake, though, and if your proposal is in the top few percent, we may have something to talk about.

General Guidelines

All game material should be fun to read – it should be an interesting narrative. This is necessary for roleplaying adventures – but even rules material is better if it is well-written. Don't equate "interesting" with "long-winded."

Our games are written in clear, simple English – show off your vocabulary somewhere else. This doesn't necessarily mean simple rules, however. We want to make our games as complex as they need to be – no more, no less. We try to present fully realized settings in our worldbooks, accurate research in our sourcebooks, and logical rules in our rulebooks – and we value internal consistency in all cases.

We take pride in our products, and we want writers who share our pride. We expect the author of a game or supplement to playtest it extensively before we get the final version. If you want to write a supplement for an existing game, be sure you're familiar with that game first!

Our Wish List

We have a wish list of products that we think will strengthen our lines and appeal to our customers. We update that list according to the feedback we get from our fans, and we aggressively recruit writers to submit proposals for those books. The goal of this page is to share our vision with those who would like to write for us.

Most of this list (sometimes, all of this list) consists of roleplaying game supplements. That is because we have specific ideas of what we want for RPG supplements. When we know what we want for another type of game, we sit down and create it ourselves. That doesn't mean we won't look at outside ideas . . . it just means they are "unsolicited proposals" (see the next section). See our Writers' Guidelines for more information. (Also see our list of what we don't want, if what you intend to make an unsolicited proposal.) Please note that right now, we're only looking for submissions to e23 for roleplaying support in PDF form.

The Nature of Proposals

There are two kinds of proposals:

1. Solicited proposals are submitted in response to requests we've made. Our wish list is definitely such a request. Those titles are pre-approved: these are books we want to publish, and we're asking you to consider writing them. There are some differences between publicly solicited proposals and ones we've asked for in private, though. First, we're going to be choosier. We'll probably get many proposals per title, so we may wait until we have several, then pick the best one. Second, we won't guarantee a spot on our publication schedule. Not only will your proposal be in competition with others, but the title you want will be competing for one of a limited number of publication slots. Your proposal may be sheer genius and your writing impeccable, but we haven't the resources to publish everything. Finally, we can't promise that we'll be interested when your proposal arrives. We may have already found an author, and our needs sometimes outpace our web pages.

2. Unsolicited proposals pertain to titles that don't appear on our wish list. We will consider proposals out of the blue, because innovation is an important part of designing fun games, but such proposals won't get as high a priority as solicited ones. We'll only read them as time permits, and they will have to be brilliant to merit acceptance. Just to make our biases clear: established authors who have shown flashes of brilliance in the past will occasionally get a break in this department, as we're more likely to bet on the "sure thing" when we take a gamble. Please do not send unsolicited proposals for items that appear on our "ANTI-wish-list."

The Proposal Process

There are four steps to the proposal process:

STEP 1: Choose a title. Those submitting solicited proposals should go to our wish list and select a title (only one title per proposal, please), then read the capsule description and any attached outline. They should also be familiar with any "required reading" suggested there. Those submitting unsolicited proposals should make sure that their idea doesn't appear on our list of what's currently off-limits.

STEP 2: Read our guidelines. We expect you to read the appropriate guidelines before you send us anything. Then read them again. You should be familiar with our style, formatting, and document coding before you contact us. If you're unwilling or unable to comply, then don't bother sending us a proposal. We can usually tell when someone hasn't read the guidelines, and if we can tell, your odds of writing for us have just become a round multiple of zero. For your convenience, here are links to our current guidelines:

STEP 3: Send us a query letter. Once you know what you want to write and how we want it written, send us a short, informal email and tell us about it. This is not a formal proposal, and should not include detailed outlines, writing samples or anything of the kind. It should be well-written, though; if you can't write a letter, you can't write a book . . . not for us, anyhow. Think of it as a job application for the job of writing a book. Contents must include:

  • The title you're interested in.
  • The reason why you're interested in that title.
  • A concise synopsis (1 or 2 paragraphs) of how you would go about the project, including any alterations that you would make.
  • A list of special skills you have that make you uniquely qualified to write the book (if applicable).
  • A list of books or professional print or online magazine articles you've written (if applicable).
  • Anything else you think we should know about you.

Once you've written your letter and made sure that it includes all the information we need, send it to the Managing Editor.

Remember that editors are busy people. You will get a reply, but it may take some time. Please don't follow up your letter with "nudge notes" – that's annoying and unprofessional. Unless you received a bounce message when your email was sent, you may safely assume that your proposal arrived.

If your query is accepted, then note any advice or requests in the editor's reply and proceed to Step 4. Please realize that this doesn't mean that your entire proposal has been accepted or that you'll be writing for us tomorrow! It just means that your query was good enough to merit further consideration. If your query is rejected, then that's that. We'll briefly indicate why it was unacceptable, but that's not an invitation for debate. No means no. Please don't resubmit a rejected query in the hope that we'll "change our mind"; we won't, and you'll be doing yourself a disservice.

STEP 4: Send us a formal proposal. *If we're interested in your query, then you may have a shot at writing for us. To help us make up our mind, we need some more information. This is the actual proposal, and it's a lot of work. Writing a book is a lot more work, though; we expect anyone who is serious about writing for us to follow these directions. A formal proposal consists of three parts:

1. A covering letter that reiterates your query and indicates that you have received the line editor's comments and addressed his concerns.

2. A project outline that summarizes the contents of the book by chapter, section, and subsection, giving word or page counts. If you've read our guidelines, then you'll know exactly how to do this. In the future, we hope to be able to include a pre-approved outline for each project on our wish list, eliminating this step and streamlining the process. For now, though, the outline is your responsibility.

3. A writing sample, about 5,000 words in length. This should be a section of the proposed book, written exactly as if you were submitting it for publication.

Submit your proposal to the appropriate line editor (you will be given that contact information in the reply to your query). Once more, we ask you to realize that your contact will quite likely be very busy. Also recognize that a formal proposal will take longer to review than a query letter. Again, you will get a reply – we promise you that.

If your proposal is rejected – as most are – don't take it personally. A good writer always has a stack of rejection letters that's taller than he is. "This doesn't meet our current needs" is NOT the same as "this is lousy." Learn from the experience and try again. If your proposal is accepted, then it's time to talk contract. For legal reasons, we're not going to discuss that here. When the time comes, it will be dealt with in private.

Good luck!

* NB: When sending us an unsolicited proposal (i.e., one regarding an original idea) for a work of over 10,000 words, you'll need to include a notarized copy of this Game Evaluation Waiver. This must be sent by regular postal mail. Those outside the USA need not worry about notarization, but the Game Evaluation Waiver is still required. Do not send the waiver with solicited proposals (for items on our wish list) or query letters (for any title, original or otherwise).

A Note on Electronic Submissions

Queries, proposals, and even entire manuscripts must be sent to us via electronic mail. When sending in electronic submissions, please respect the following rules:

  • Send query letters as plain ASCII text (not as fancy text formatted by your mailer!), and send the outlines and writing samples for proposals as plain ASCII text files in a zip archive attached to your letter. Send actual manuscripts in Word format using our WYSIWYG template.
  • Send files as attachments or enclosures. Do not just paste text into the body of a message. Break your document up into separate files for each chapter. (Large tables may require separate files as well.) Name the files using this template: [Project Name] [Chapter] [(Draft)].DOC, as appropriate. For instance, the final draft of the third chapter of GURPS Atlantis would be called Atlantis 3 (Final).DOC We strongly prefer that submissions of multiple files be archived as a .zip file, and suggest it even for single text files; some email software helpfully wraps text attachments, even if they aren't pasted into the message proper.
  • Do not send graphics! (We handle all of our own art and layout, so you gain nothing – and possibly lose a lot – by including these things. We are looking for manuscripts, not pretty pictures.) If we need your help with the art, we'll contact you.

Working with Your Editor

Once we accept your proposal and sign a contract with you, you will be assigned an editor – either an employee of SJ Games or a trusted freelancer. This person's job is to make sure your work is well-written and conforms to our style; that (if it's a supplement) it conforms to the rules of the game it supplements; and that it is interesting, readable, logical, and fun.

The editor is being paid to edit your work, not to rewrite it. If he finds minor problems with grammar and style, he'll fix them and tell you, so you can do better. If he finds severe problems with organization or content, he will return the manuscript, with comments, so you can try again. Only if we conclude that your ideas simply outpace your writing ability will we consider a buyout.

But please don't expect your editor to consult you in advance about every little (or even medium-sized) change. The editor's job is first to deliver a publishable manuscript, and second to help train writers. (But training writers means that the next manuscript will be better, which is why we do it.)

However, you should expect your editor to contact you regularly with comments about your work; to keep you informed about its status; to jog you if you fall behind schedule; and to answer your questions about either game rules or company policy. If you have any problems with your manuscript (or with this company), talk to your editor first.

Warning: A Note on Plagiarism

Unfortunately, some writers steal. More than once we have encountered plagiarism in work submitted to us under contract. The dictionary definition is "to steal and pass off as your own the work of another." If you copy someone else's work without attribution and present it as your own, we will find out eventually, and we will certainly never work with you again. There are also legal implications; a plagiarist can be taken to court both by the publisher he victimizes and by the person he stole from.

Now, re-using material from other SJ Games supplements is not plagiarism . . . if you get your editor's permission. Some re-use is unavoidable, but too much is a bad idea, and the editor has to know about it in order to credit the original creator.

Quotations are not plagiarism if properly attributed.

Steve Jackson Games
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