Open Door. Insert Foot.
Slush. It's not the prettiest of words. Outside publishing, slush is wet snow packed with rocks and grime. Inside publishing, it becomes rather less appealing.
In editorial slang, an article is slush if the editor didn't specifically request it. Most of what Pyramid pays money for begins as slush - our readers (that's you) are our writers (that's you). When the slush arrives, it gets tossed into the slush pile - Pyramid has a big one.
One of my most important jobs as editor is making that big slush pile into a small slush pile. A week or so ago, I took the first steps on that road and, now that I'm into the journey, I find myself both weary and wonderstruck. Some of the articles come with long cover letters, telling me in heartbreaking detail how much their authors want to be published here, how much they love the games and want to be a part of them. Some of them cop a nasty attitude right from the start - they tell me how Game X sucks the biscuit and how I should kneel and thank the Almighty that they've written the article that provides salvation for it. Some ask for honest critique. Some (I'm not making this up) say things like "you have my permission to suggest changes before publishing this." How generous!
Some just say "Here. Hope you like this" and are followed by a great adventure or article. Some just say "Here. Hope you like this" and are followed by text that mangles the English language with the cruelty of a psychopath struck by a bookmobile as a child and unable to forgive.
Every one of them deserves a response. Many the responses are rejection letters.
Fresh from the journey into the Pyramid slush pile, I've decided to set down a few words to help writers go into the slush without fear, and come out of the slush illustrated, published, and paid for. Please, if you want to write for Pyramid, pay very close attention. None of what follows is fluff. The fluff can be found above. Re-read it if it makes you feel more comfy.
How To Send It
In an ideal universe, the perfect writer sends his submission in one of two formats, neither of which has any special advantages over the other:
Electronic Mail: The email version is plain text, pasted right into the body of the email, which is directed to <email@example.com>. The subject line begins with a big [PYRAMID SUBMISSION] so I can pick it out from the hundreds of emails I get every week without mistaking it for Spam. The cover letter above the submission includes the author's name, telephone number, email address (in the body of the letter), physical mailing address, and Social Security Number (or equivalent). The cover letter describes the submission very briefly - telling me who it's written for and what it's about.
Via Post: The snail-mail version is a sharp printout, with very black ink on very white paper. It's in a clear, readable, functional typeface. It's double-spaced. It comes with a cover letter with all the elements listed above - complete contact info (and SSN!) for the author, and a to-the-point description of what is being offered for sale. The snail-mail version also includes a self-addressed, Stamped Envelope (SASE) or a reply coupon (for overseas submissions).
Naturally, we rarely drift over into the ideal universe. But those writers who help tend the way are simply more likely to be published. Period. If this strikes you as unfair - if you think we should judge a submission solely on content and artistic merit, even if it's mailed to us in crayon or printed in a ridiculous calligraphic font - then please send your submissions elsewhere. Not to sound like a Big Meany or anything, but we get a lot of submissions around here, and time is precious. We don't need you to be a professional. We just need you to show willingness to act like one. We're then very willing to help you go the rest of the way.
Some writers also like to toss in some extras, many of which are very welcome. If you've been published before, include a brief bibliography, to let me know where you've been. That helps me know how to communicate with you. A good "extra" for snail-mail submissions is a quick-response postcard. That's a postcard that's been stamped and self addressed, which says (more or less) "This card means that Pyramid has received my submission and placed it lovingly in the slush pile. It didn't get lost in the mail or stolen by aliens or anything." If your submission includes one of those, it's no trouble at all for me to drop it in the outgoing mail. "No trouble" is a Vital Theme here. Another good one for snail submissions is a floppy disk with an electronic copy of the article on it. But please don't send JUST a disk, with no printout of the article. Those get looked at dead last, and that's a promise. Why? Because when I'm opening envelopes, I might not even be near a computer, or the computer might be busy downloading things or backing up or something. My at-the-computer-time is separate from my paging-through-hardcopy time.
A word or two on less-than-great extras: If your High School English teacher thinks very highly of your writing, and has given you straight A's on all of your creative-writing papers, please (please!) don't send them along. Painting dramatic illustrations on the outside of the envelope is likewise not especially useful (and can frighten our postal carrier - and in Texas everybody has guns . . .) The same goes for burning the edges of the manuscript to make it look "more medieval." Please.
Sending your submission in a professional, readable form (complete with your Social Security Number and all the trimmings) is essential for getting my attention. But once you have it, we move on to the next issue: Is your article any good?
This article isn't meant to replace the existing Writer's Guidelines. Be familiar with them, and treat them as gospel. Rather, this article is meant to provide you with a window into my own little noggin, to find out the specifics of what makes me buy an article (or turn it out into the cold). If you aren't yet familiar with the Guidelines, then click here and give them a look. This editorial will still be here when you're done.
There are a few problems that can tend very quickly to rejection unless the article obviously screams "genius" in every other way. Three of the most common (believe it or not):
- Do NOT begin your article by trashing a game, not one of ours and not one of anyone's. I've read an astonishing number of articles by self-proclaimed Game Messiahs offering Pyramid the opportunity to "fix" a game by publishing their article. This doesn't impress me.
- Do NOT highlight every interesting thing in your article by pointing out how interesting it is. A lot of writers apparently feel the need to do this, sometimes two or three times per paragraph. Bragging to the reader doesn't make your idea any more exciting - let the idea speak for itself.
- Do NOT show how lazy you are by leaving out vital information, and then including a hasty line at the end explaining that you did it "to make this fit more easily into any GM's campaign." While it's a good idea not to encumber an adventure with (for example) the name of every street in a homegrown fantasy city, we won't consider you pushy or presumptuous if you give us a hint about the identity of the villain.
At this point you, fair reader, may be thinking "Geez! I'd never do stupid junk like THAT. If that's what Pyramid is getting, I bet I could write something that would really impress this Ross character."
If so, great! If you're right, then you'll get published and paid. Do it.
But . . . what to write?
What I Want
I want, more than anything, to be surprised. If I knew exactly what I wanted for Pyramid, I wouldn't need freelance submissions at all - I'd just assign everything to writers that I can trust (or writers that I can blackmail - after all, writing for Pyramid won't exactly pay the rent; it's something to do out of love for the hobby and a desire for egoboo).
So, the submissions that will get instant, enthusiastic acceptance are those that show me something that never occurred to me at all - especially if the author's Social Security Number is included. But, there are a few broad rules that I use when planning Pyramid's content. The most important is this: Universal is Best. This doesn't mean that I want nothing but GURPS submissions! By "universal" I mean material that the largest possible number of Pyramid subscribers will enjoy or use. This means that an article on how locks (and lockpicking) really worked from the Bronze Age to the Modern Day (no system-specifics, just real-world descriptions to add a touch of realism and interest to games), will light my eyes up more than an adventure for Slime Lords of the Appalachians, your homegrown RPG about mutant personal-injury attorneys living in the hills of West Virginia.
Pyramid is not a house organ, and that means that this "universal" rule is the core of the Pyramid philosophy as I implement it. It means that while Slime Lords adventures aren't likely to be purchased (even if they're really good Slime Lords adventures), adventures set in the mercantile spacelanes of the far future are likely to be purchased. Such adventures are useful for literally dozens of different games - and that means more Pyramid readers will find them useful, and that means I'll be happy to see them. The other side of this rule is that articles that are less idea and more rules are at a disadvantage - rules-oriented articles are typically useful for one game and one game only. The exceptions - those that contain enough ideas to inspire players of completely different games - are the ones Pyramid is more likely to buy. Frankly, the articles I like best are articles about GMing and playing - about making stories that work and running games that entertain. Those are useful to any adventure-gamer, and that means I want them. A lot.
Of course, the "surprise me" rule and the "universal is best" rules combine to create an even stronger rule: Write a really good, inventive, innovative and surprising adventure that a lot of gamers can use, and I'll not only buy your adventure, I'll probably start specifically asking (sometimes begging) for more work from you.
The third rule is something like "hot games are hot for a reason." If you manage to sell Slime Lords to Wizards of the Coast, and it's suddenly the trendy game of the summer season, then yes, we'll be interested in running Slime Lords material for as long as such material is in demand by our readers. Similarly, material for games that are established classics with large audiences like AD&D, Call of Cthulhu, and GURPS, is always welcome.
If this editorial struck you as entirely obvious, then please, please start writing something for us. But if this stuff were obvious, the slush pile wouldn't be as slushy as it is. Help improve it.
These are rules, not laws. Impress me. The fact is that I will buy an article written in crayon, with poor style and no SASE, about a game nobody's ever heard of, loaded with rules-specific items, if it's brilliant.
Go ahead. Show me what you've got.
-- S. John Ross
Article publication date: August 31, 1998
Copyright © 1998 by Steve Jackson Games. All rights reserved. Pyramid subscribers are permitted to read this article online, or download it and print out a single hardcopy for personal use. Copying this text to any other online system or BBS, or making more than one hardcopy, is strictly prohibited. So please don't. And if you encounter copies of this article elsewhere on the web, please report it to firstname.lastname@example.org.