Pyramid Writer's Guidelines
June 18, 2010
Pyramid Magazine is a PDF magazine published by Steve Jackson Games in Austin, TX. Its primary focus is tabletop roleplaying games (RPGs), with most articles devoted to either generic (systemless) gaming or GURPS. Pyramid started in 1993, as an old-fashioned paper magazine that ran bimonthly for five years (and 30 issues). In 1998, we began publishing entirely on the Internet, as a weekly periodical offering articles in HTML format. During this era, it was the first electronic publication to first be nominated for – and then win – an Origins Award for Best Professional Game Periodical. Ten years (and over 500 issues!) later, Pyramid reinvented itself yet again, this time as a monthly PDF publication that combines the visual pizazz of a paper publication with the immediacy and versatility of an Internet periodical. Pyramid is available for purchase exclusively through e23; the magazine's URL is http://www.sjgames.com/pyramid/.
Each issue of Pyramid centers on a specific theme related to adventure gaming. We might devote an issue to tools and tricks for wizards, or space opera, or how to combine horror with espionage. While some articles are written by SJ Games staffers, most of it comes from freelancers. Pyramid provides an excellent opportunity to get some exposure in the game business, and to establish a professional relationship with Steve Jackson Games.
We get many queries and submissions, more than we could ever use, so a lot of perfectly good articles get rejected. If this happens to you (and it will . . .), please don't take it personally. If the editor has any comments or suggestions, take them to heart. If he suggests that you resubmit the article after making certain changes, do it; editors love perseverance and a willingness to take directions. Now let's get to the important stuff.
What We Want
With the change of focus to themed issues, the process for submitting articles to Pyramid is a little different than it's been in the past. We'll cover the hows of submitting later on. But for now, let's look at the whats.
What kind of articles do we publish? Well, a quick look at random issues from Pyramid's past (including back issues of the paper magazine) will answer that question. In fact, if you don't have at least a passing familiarity with our magazine, you have no business trying to sell us an article. No, you don't have to be a devoted reader with a complete run of slipcovered back issues and a hard drive full of downloaded files, but you should know what kind of magazine we are.
Pyramid's two biggest draws are generic, systemless RPG articles and GURPS articles . . . not necessarily in that order. (Many well-written GURPS articles should be immediately decipherable to those without knowledge of that game, while systemless articles should contain information or ideas that are useful to many RPGs . . . including GURPS!) Everyone involved with Pyramid loves all kinds of games, and we may occasionally dip our toes into other systems or even game types (such as a boardgame scenario or ready-to-play mini-game). However, such articles are usually the exception and are much likelier to be rejected.
Our "want list," in no particular order, is something like this:
Something that Surprises Us
This is our favorite. Come up with something that isn't on this list, something that makes us want to stop working and play games. If we knew exactly what we wanted, we wouldn't need freelancers.
Pyramid publishes a number of features. Read previously accepted articles of these types to get an idea of what each feature is like.
Supporting Cast: This feature details non-player characters, with game stats and background. We get a lot of Supporting Cast articles. To improve your chances, make sure your NPC is different and interesting. Stats and background for a generic police officer probably aren't that interesting; an FBI agent who's working undercover to bring the mob down while double-crossing both to the Yakuza is a lot more likely to catch our eyes.
By the same token, avoid making characters too weird or interesting. Resist the urge to make the double-crossing police officer a psychic, for example, without a very good reason. (As a general rule, more than one plot twist in a character is usually too much to be believed.)
- Terra Incognita: Articles of this type describe an unusual place, whether it's a fantasy temple, a modern horror hotel, or the mysterious moon of a planet deep in space. They are typically generic (and without game statistics), although they are generally tied to a certain genre (fantasy, horror, science fiction, etc.). The article details its history, geography, and features. Again, make sure it's interesting; a standard hotel isn't likely to spark our interest. Now if it travels in time . . .
If your Terra Incognita requires a map, you will need to be able to provide a print-worthy map. See Checklist: Before You Submit Your Article, below, for more information.
- Warehouse 23: This feature details strange objects from any campaign type and genre. An ancient goblet that allows the user to communicate with people he's killed, a sentient car that wants to tour the world, or a computer that contains all the world's information as of 1977 . . . all are equally weird for Warehouse 23. Again, they are often generic, although GURPS stats are welcome if they provide gameable details; in addition, if they are tied to a game world, they can contain rules for use in that campaign. The history, effects, and consequences of the artifact are described in the article. Yet again, make sure the object is interesting and unique. Armor that magically stops all damage is commonplace; armor that transfers all damage to the wearer a week in the future is special – especially if the background story is compelling!
- Appendix Z: This is a catch-all category of articles, usually 1,000 words or less, that contain new rules, game aids, or other short information. They can be generic ("Complications While Gathering Information") or game specific ("50 Random Radio Broadcasts for Car Wars/Autoduel"). These articles are ideal for us to fill small holes in our issues, and good for writers who have an idea that's difficult to compose a larger article around.
Supporting Cast, Terra Incognita, and Warehouse 23 submissions should have adventure seeds – mini-adventure ideas that give the reader some ideas how the person, place, or thing can be used in a game. Appendix Z submissions sometimes have adventure seeds, but they aren't required (especially if it's self-evident what to do with the article).
We are always looking for good adventures. A perfect Pyramid adventure can apply to various campaigns, settings, or – ideally – genres. (For example, a high-fantasy magical adventure where the heroes need to storm a wizard's castle might include a sidebar about scaling it down to a low- or no-magic setting.) Although we do publish adventures intended as one-shots, we prefer scenarios designed for existing campaigns.
A basic adventure without game stats is usually in the 2,000-3,000-word range, but it is possible for them to be larger. The inclusion of game-specific information will generally add another 1,000-2,000 words. We might consider an even longer adventure, but it will require something truly special; a 10,000-word adventure will take up almost half an issue, so it needs to be truly sharp!
Pyramid loves to publish complete stand-alone campaign settings. These can be either twists on pre-existing campaign settings (such as a Renaissance Reign of Steel world) or wholly original premises (say, a campaign where those who visit the moon return with super-powers). Settings created in this way should contain everything required to be able to play it, or at least provide enough information for GMs to flesh it out. This includes a history; description of major factions, groups, or people; possibilities for PC concepts; and adventure seeds. These articles can either include game stats or not. Written correctly, these are usually 4,000-6,000 words.
Roleplaying articles based on real-world information are among the most popular in Pyramid. Especially desired are those pieces that clear up genre or historical misconceptions or illuminate corners of a game world. (Bonus points are awarded if the piece provides ideas for how to make popular-but-unrealistic misconceptions "work"!)
Articles about real-world information should always have a links to gaming, although you can give those links in the article. For example, a submission about assembly lines wouldn't be accepted; an article illustrating how a gadgeteer would mass-produce his gizmo, using assembly lines, has a much better shot.
All articles focusing on real-world information should contain ideas about how to use that information in a campaign, whether in the form of discussions, asides, or adventure seeds. For example, a piece about what is required to earn a M.S. or Ph.D. would do well to mention that doctoral-level studies can form the plot hook of an adventure, that academic infighting can hinder acquisition of a Ph.D. (or lead to favors), or that a PC professor at a university may be expected to review M.S. or Ph.D. candidates, and as such may be exposed to cutting-edge research or study . . . which can be bad news in a Horror campaign. These game-specific ideas are what elevates real-world pieces above Wikipedia articles.
Some ideas for (as yet) unwritten articles that might be interesting:
- Food preservation through the ages
- What goes on behind the scenes at a nightclub (or church, or casino, or Congress, or . . .)
- The history of the Pony Express
- A description of various criminal schemes (Ponzi, protection money, insurance fraud, etc.)
A couple of real-world article types have been given more "formal" designations.
The Gameable . . .
This generic article type – technically an Omniscient Eye piece but open to all – is designed to give insight into what it would be like to "really" be a member of a common gaming character type or profession, so that players can roleplay that position with more authority. For example, "The Gameable Archaeologist" describes how real-world archaeologists do what they do, where the popular media gets it wrong, etc. Obviously, nearly any common gaming profession can be covered here: thief, reporter, astronaut, etc. The same caveats about dispelling misconceptions and making them "work" apply here. These pieces are often 3,000-5,000 words.
This article type is similar to "The Gameable . . ." but focuses more on game mechanics than real-world information: What character packages, skills, advantages, etc. are required to make representative members of a group? ("Adventurous Occupations: Computer Expert" would be a good example, giving examples on how to be a Security Expert, a "Hacker," or even a "Decker.") Such articles should include GURPS statistics.
What We Don't Want
- Articles that aren't game-related. While our readers are often fans of science fiction, fantasy, anime, and comics, Pyramid doesn't cover those things.
- We can't publish articles that give game stats for characters we don't own or have license to use; this means there's no point in sending us GURPS stats for Spider-Man or James Bond, or adventures that include them. In fact, even if Steve Jackson Games does have a license to use characters, we may not be able to do Pyramid articles about them.
- We don't accept submissions of fiction or poetry.
- We're very picky about articles of any kind that exceed 5,000 words. Frankly, most articles that long are overwritten. There are exceptions, though, and if you've written something Big and Brilliant, we do want to see it. (If you do submit something this big, you may want to include a suggestion as to how it can be logically split into two or more articles.)
The process for submitting articles to Pyramid has changed radically since this document was last updated, so read this carefully!
All issues of Pyramid magazine are now "themed" – that is, they are all built around the same genre, plot idea, or character type. To see what themes are coming up, see our Wish List at http://www.sjgames.com/pyramid/wishlist.html.
In other words, we cannot accept a random article that does not conform to a theme that we have planned!
Step Zero: Check the Wish List
Yes, we're mentioning the wish list again. It's that important.
The wish list may already mention specific articles that we're looking for; if nothing else, it will hopefully offer you inspiration and ideas.
Step One: Send a Query Letter (Optional)
Once you have an idea, send a query letter to firstname.lastname@example.org. Use a subject line like this:
[PYRAMID QUERY]: Animal Geniuses
(Yes, the phrase "[PYRAMID QUERY]:" should appear at the beginning. It will greatly speed up a response.)
The first thing the query letter should mention is which forthcoming issue of Pyramid it's intended for:
This query is for an article intended for the "Mutant Animals" issue of Pyramid.
Then describe (briefly) what your article is to be about. You also should mention any maps or illustrations (including image dimensions and file sizes, if known) in your query letter; we have an extremely limited art budget. A good query letter gives a brief idea of the article (including any relevant subsections), what system it will be for, and how long it will be:
I would like to write an article entitled "Animal Geniuses," which describes how to play animals of elevated intelligence. I would describe three "lenses": one cinematic (the "animals in tiny labcoats" approach), one realistic (how would a cat or dog with a genius IQ act?), and one in-between. This will be an article primarily of general information, but with GURPS templates and rules. It looks like it would be approximately 5,000 words long (1,200 words for each "lens" and 1,400 words for the GURPS material).
Finally, if you'd like, include a brief history of your published work, other information about your writing, or expertise in the area written about; this helps us get to know you if we don't already.
Step Two: Wait (If You Sent a Query Letter)
Because the new Pyramid will be all theme issues, query letters and submissions can (and will) be processed much more quickly. The Wish List shows the themes in the order we intend them to appear, so if you're submitting a query for an issue that's three slots down the list, you know that you're likely to get a response within a month (or less!).
If you don't receive a response within a month, please feel free to send a follow-up nudge, again to email@example.com. Make sure that "[PYRAMID QUERY]:" and the article's title is in the subject line, to help us find it.
Step Three: Submit the Article
If you receive an affirmative response to your query, send in the final article as soon as possible (while still making it good, of course!). A favorable response does not mean we're reserving a slot for you; too many people fail to submit proposed articles to allow that. But we try not to tell too many people that we're interested in their query.
See below for an important "Checklist" of items to include with your submission, and then send your final article to firstname.lastname@example.org with "[PYRAMID SUBMISSION]:" and the article's title on the subject line.
Steps One and Two ("Send a Query Letter" and "Wait"), above, were optional, because it's possible to skip right to the "Submit an Article" stage. This might be useful if your concept is hard to describe; if it's very short, like an "Appendix Z" submission; or if the material was already written for some reason (say, you converted your campaign notes into an interesting article). For obvious reasons, sending articles directly will be a bit faster than sending a query letter and then sending an article, but it might result in you writing an article that we would have rejected at the query-letter stage. On the other hand, if you send a finished article and we accept it, it's accepted. It's your decision and your risk.
Step Four: Wait
We will evaluate your article and respond as soon as possible (especially if the issue you're writing for is coming up soon!).
Again, if you don't receive a response within a month, please feel free to send a follow-up nudge to email@example.com with [PYRAMID SUBMISSION]: and the article's title on the subject line.
Step Five: Bask in the Glory of a Successful Submission, or Try Again
There are a few possible outcomes to a Pyramid submission:
- Rejection. With the query-letter system, we hope to minimize the number of rejected articles, but the fact remains that many fine articles will be rejected. The Editor will generally say if he doesn't believe a piece can be reworked for the Pyramid audience. Please don't take it personally. Of course, articles with problems will also be rejected; if the Editor offers commentary or criticism, please take it to heart and try again! (Please see Step Zero, above.)
- Rejection, with Requests for Change. Many articles are almost good enough for publication. If you receive commentary, please make the changes requested! About half of all articles that the Editor would accept with revisions are never resubmitted. We hate that! Take the advice to heart, revise as best you can, and resubmit. If you have questions, please feel free to ask the Editor. If the Editor asks you for a revision, he'll tell you when he needs it.
- Acceptance! If we accept your article, congratulations! As long as you've provided all the information requested below, the article will be published. You'll get a check. And next time you submit something, the Editor will remember your name! All articles accepted by Pyramid are subject to whatever editing or rewriting is deemed necessary without consulting the author.
Checklist: Before You Submit Your Article
Submissions must be sent by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, and must include the following elements. If your submission doesn't conform to this checklist, we're likely to either bounce it back to you with a request to fix it, or simply reject it. Please, follow directions . . . it makes our lives so much easier.
A proper subject line. Use a subject line like this:
[PYRAMID SUBMISSION]: Animal Geniuses
(Again, the phrase "[PYRAMID SUBMISSION]:" should appear at the beginning. It will greatly speed up a response.)
A cover letter. The "cover letter" preceding your article should include the following:
- Which issue you're writing for. The first line of the cover letter should mention which forthcoming theme issue of Pyramid it's intended for: This article is intended for the "Mutant Animals" issue of Pyramid.
- A brief description. Describe (in one or two paragraphs) what your article is like, and what part of our audience it's written for. (This can be a copy/paste from the query letter, unless your article has drifted in focus or audience since you proposed it.)
- A bit about you (optional). If you like, you can also include a brief history of your published work, other information about your writing, or expertise in the area written about; this helps us get to know you, but it's optional. (This can be a copy/paste from the query letter, if you included it there.)
- Your contact information. We need your full legal name, your phone number, your e-mail address, and your physical (snail mail) address. If you have a Social Security Number, we need that, too. We can't pay you without it! If you are not a citizen of the United States, we'll send you a form to allow us to pay you, if your article is accepted.
- An article! The article should be spell-checked and proofread before we ever see it. Failure to do so seriously harms your chances of a sale. The article should have a title; under the title should be your name as you want it to appear in the magazine (many writers forget this part! Don't!). The article should be written either using this Microsoft Word template (if it's a generic article) or this GURPS style guide (if it's a GURPS article); both are linked via the "Writing for Steve Jackson Games" site. (This is a big change from previous versions of Pyramid!) The article should be written in American English; do not use British/Canadian spellings of words like armor and authorize.
- Footnotes and References. If your article is a factual essay (an article on the history of WWI firearms, for instance), you should end with a reading list, preferably a mix of in-print books and web links that the reader might enjoy. Suggested reading lists are also appropriate for some other kinds of articles; if you think one is appropriate, include it! When referring to fictional works, keep in mind that novels often have different titles in other countries, even English-speaking ones. If you are aware of these alternates, include them.
- Any attachments required. If your adventure needs maps, diagrams, or photographs of any kind, you must provide them. At this time, we are generally unable to redraw these illustrations; if your graphics are unsuitable for publication and your article requires them, we'll probably be forced to reject the article. Unfortunately, Pyramid doesn't have a huge art budget, so we can't pay much for any such pieces (although we do pay!); you should mention any maps or illustrations in your query letter, and we will let you know how much we are likely to offer at that point. If your attachments are 5MB or less total, feel free to send them with your article. If they are larger than that, then mention them in your query letter (where we should tell you what to do with them when we respond) or keep them in reserve until we ask for them. All graphics should be 300dpi and sized accordingly. Keep in mind that, unlike text, our ability to edit graphics is limited, and an otherwise-brilliant article that hinges on a lousy-looking map will probably be rejected. (Also, you must have permission to use all images or maps you send us! Don't assume that a useful diagram you found on the Internet is "free for the taking"; it almost certainly isn't.)
What We Pay
Pyramid pays 4 cents a word, shortly after the article appears in final form in our PDF (we do the word count ourselves based on the final, edited article).
Contributors will get a copy of the issue containing their article.
What Rights We Purchase
Pyramid buys all rights to any original article we publish. We have the exclusive unrestricted right, in perpetuity, to use all or part of any such article in other forms, including but not limited to reprints, special compilations, hardcopy, promotional materials, and Internet postings.
Alternate arrangements to these rights may be made in special cases; ask us.
Reasonable permission is granted in advance to authors who wish to include Pyramid articles in a writing portfolio. We would prefer not to have to define "reasonable"; in general, if you think you're skirting (or over) the line, you probably are.
Some Tips for Writers
If you're brilliant, feel free to deviate from these points if you think it makes for a better article . . . but it's always better to break a rule knowingly than to do so from ignorance.
- Style: Although Pyramid can be a bit looser in style than, say, your average GURPS book, we still prefer to be professional. Unless your writing style is very confident and sharp, it's generally best to remain detached yet interesting; don't feel the need to include slang, pop culture allusions, or other "kewl" lingo in your piece. You can use first person language if appropriate ("In my modern horror campaign, I had the vampire prince take control of the newspapers in order to sway the city council . . ."), but often it is better to rewrite such pieces into the third person ("For example, in a modern horror campaign, a vampire prince may take control of the newspapers in order to sway the city council . . .")
- Generally Avoid Absolutes: Pyramid has, arguably, the most diverse readership of any gaming magazine. We have those who love heavy number-crunching articles, those who love story ideas, those who love campaign settings, those who love one particular genre or game, those who hate one particular genre, and so on. So we often edit out blanket statements – especially those that are unfounded or likely untrue. For example, a statement like "No one likes to have their characters die . . ." is probably better written "Many players don't like having their characters die . . ." Even better is making sure you indicate your intended audience early in the article: "For those who hate having their characters die . . ."
- Avoid Overly Broad Articles: Articles with too wide a scope are almost always too meandering to be satisfying. Once upon a time, "How to Be a Better GM" was perhaps the most common article title we received . . . and with few exceptions, those were rejected. Why? Because even 5,000 words isn't enough to do justice to such a huge concept. Try to focus big concepts into something more manageable; articles like "How to Use Audio to Be a More Atmospheric GM" or "How to Avoid Plot Holes as a GM" are more likely to cover their topics effectively.
Length Vs. Audience: Pyramid can only print a limited number of words per issue, yet we have a wide and varied audience. We are constantly trying to balance between articles that are of interest to a wide group, while also having pieces that will appeal greatly to a smaller audience. We need to be aware of how big an article is, versus how much of our audience will be able to use it. A long article will need to appeal to a larger audience, or be of greater interest to a smaller audience.
For example, we'll almost always have room for good 2,000-word articles, even about an obscure concept. If that article is 3,000-4,000 words, we need to look at it a bit more closely, particularly if it's for a setting without many fans. One 5,000-word article will take up a good chunk of a monthly issue; it will either need to appeal to a large number of people, or be the best darn article about an obscure element we've ever seen.
What does all this mean? Well, a longer article about a little-used concept may be rejected, with advice to either shorten it or make it more general-purpose. (On the other hand, if a long article for a less-popular property is brilliant, we may well accept it anyway.)
Crossover games are especially tricky; if you want to write an article about crossing over GURPS Goblins with Bunnies and Burrows, then it will generally be of interest only to those who are fans of both sourcebooks . . . which will obviously be a smaller group than fans of either game individually. Again, such articles will need to be short and focused, appeal to a broader audience, or be brilliant.
Read all the guidelines. Steve Jackson Games has a lot of authors' guidelines; read the SJ Games style guide. Yes, it can take a while to read all those pages, but it takes longer to write an article that will be rejected because you didn't follow the rules.
Of particular note are the rules against libel. Pyramid tries to avoid any mention of real living people, including celebrities, political figures, and anyone else. Articles that contain such references will probably be rejected, with instructions to rewrite without mentioning real people. Articles mentioning real companies and organizations must also avoid libel; it's bad to, say, describe how the real company GloboMediCo is, in fact, controlled by undead monsters. Try to avoid the headache altogether; don't say "GloboMediCo," say "a large pharmaceutical company."
- Don't plagiarize. Although this is covered elsewhere, it bears mentioning again. Plagiarizing is the taking of anyone else's work and passing it off as your own. This is especially important with "real world" articles; if you find a website detailing a list of 100 medieval plants, it is not acceptable to simply reiterate that list in your own article . . . especially if your article has a title like "100 Medieval Plants." In the event you plagiarize, we will (of course) reject your article, and we will never work with you again.
- Tie articles to gaming. It's amazing how many authors forget . . . especially with historical or factual articles. For example, you might submit an article about the history of communication innovations in the last millennium. It might be entirely accurate and well-written, but you may forget to include any context for how it can be used in a roleplaying game. Without that tie, the article might well seem like one that could be found in Time, Discover, or National Geographic. One easy solution: Include adventure seeds!
It must be fun. Consider this the canonical rule of Pyramid submissions. All aspects of gaming are, ultimately, hobbies – which are supposed to be fun. And as a gaming magazine, Pyramid strives to make sure its articles are fun.
Of course, "fun" is entirely subjective, and difficult to describe. We know what isn't fun: Overly academic or formal writing, needlessly complex or pointless rules, and topics so esoteric that only a select few would care . . . these are all examples of "un-fun" mistakes that writers make. If we doze off while reading your article, its chances of acceptance aren't very good.
GURPS books are generally great examples of writing that is factual and well-researched while still fun.
Make it as flawless as you can. Perfection is probably impossible, but dumb mistakes are avoidable. Spell-check; proofread; go over it. Have a friend read it. Pyramid publishes hundreds of thousands of words a year . . . everything you can do to make sure your article requires as little editing as possible increases its chances of acceptance.
If you discover your article has a significant mistake after submitting it, feel free to resubmit it. (Include a note in the cover letter that it's a resubmission.) Of course, issuing too many corrections in this way shows us that you may not know how to make it right the first time . . .
We've said it before, but every Pyramid submission should make it plain to us that you've read these guidelines and are willing to follow them. You should also show a familiarity with our "house style" and other details described in the general Steve Jackson Games Authors' Guidelines. These guidelines are a supplement to those; treat both as gospel. Exception: don't bother with a Game Evaluation Waiver. Those are for manuscripts that you hope to sell to SJ Games for publication as a game product, not for magazine articles.
Where to Get the Document You're Already Reading
Our guidelines change occasionally as the magazine matures; you should be working from the most current version of these guidelines. If you're reading a hardcopy that you feel might be out of date, you can always find the most current version at http://www.sjgames.com/pyramid/writing.html