Roleplayer #28, April 1992

Writing for GURPS

Getting Your Foot In The Door

by Steve Jackson

We get a lot of inquiries about writing for the GURPS system, and we welcome them. In fact, we take pride in our willingness to work with first-time writers. (Sure, we prefer to deal with professionals, or at least very experienced am-ateurs . . . but all those professionals had to start someplace.) So, whether you've been writing for years, or you just think you'd like to try, we would like to hear from you.

The first thing to do is to send us a SASE (stamped, self-addressed envelope) and request our writers' guidelines. There's a lot of information there; this article will hit just a few of the high points. And read the guidelines when you get them. When we get a submission that totally ignores the guidelines, we assume the writer (if professional) thinks he's above such things, or (if amateur) has serious compre-hension problems. Either way, we don't have time to fool with them.

On the other hand, when a submission adheres to all the guidelines, we're likely to forgive other flaws, because we can tell the writer wants to give us what we want. That's the key to a professional attitude, and it moves mountains.

What We Want

Right now, we're publishing four main types of GURPS material:

Item Descriptions

Several of our books, like the Space Atlas series and Magic Items, have included reader submissions. When we start work on such a book, we'll invite submissions in Roleplayer. The usual length will be from 100 to 1,000 words; payment is usually in credit and complimentary copies. This is the absolute ground floor . . . but even the smallest submission, if it's good, will give you a leg up on your next proposal.

See Drew Bittner's Magic Items 2 designer's article for his suggestions on making a successful short submission.

Roleplayer Articles

These run from under 1,000 words to an (almost) absolute ceiling of about 8,000. They can relate to any aspect of gaming in general or roleplaying in particular. This is the best way for a new writer to break in with us. In particular, "Primary Sources" articles are a good way to show you can handle literary material for licenses. Rules additions and expansions, and translations from other systems, are a good way to show you can handle rules-writing. (Note that we will not run a translation from another system without the permission of whoever holds its copyright. But most publishers will be happy to grant this permission.)

Short Adventures

We're now publishing GURPS adventures in books of 3 or 4. Thus, each adventure is from 25,000 to 35,000 words long. Rates vary – we sometimes break 3 cents a word for an experienced writer, but newcomers may get only half that. We've been known to contract with first-time writers for these adventures. But if the first draft is bad, we will reject it. Or if the ideas are good but the writing is weak, we can send it to a rewriter – but only if the author agrees to split his fee with that person!

Full-Scale Books

Worldbooks run from 90,000 to 110,000 words; sourcebooks can be even longer. We don't usually contract for a worldbook unless the writer has worked with us (or another game publisher) and showed that he can meet deadlines and do quality work. When we make an exception, it's usually because none of our regular writers has the special expertise required to work on that particular project.

Pay varies, depending on deadlines, the writer's experience, and how many copies we think we can sell!

What We Don't Want

There are also a few really awful sorts of thing which show up on a regular basis. If you don't want to be instantly classified as "Oh, one of those," take heed . . .

Shotgun Submissions

This is our uncomplimentary name for a dozen (or two dozen) little articles, on every imaginable subject, crammed into one envelope. Something like this is difficult and annoying to read and evaluate; it gives the impression that the writer just sent us six months' worth of random thoughts. We don't want your random thoughts. I'd rather have one or two good articles than a whole crate full of assorted gadgets, ideas for disadvantages, individual martial art styles, comments on old editorials, and so on and so on and so on. (Also, we prefer not to run more than one article by the same writer in any given issue, so burying me in multiple submissions would just frustrate me even if they were great.)

Proposals For Licensed Books

We pick our licenses based on customer feedback (and, of course, what we can get). Once we have signed the contract for a license, then we start looking for a writer – usually an experienced one, because licensed books are high-profile, high-prestige projects and we want to do them right. Thus, there's just no point in your writing a letter to offer to do (for instance) the worldbook for Stephen King's The Stand. Your letter will count as one more request that we get that license – nothing more. (What's especially heartbreaking for us is to get the letter saying "I've already written most of the worldbook for The Stand. Please get the rights so we can publish it." Talk about massive wasted effort . . . sigh . . .)

In general, unless you own the rights to a literary work, don't propose to do it for us. Suggestions in the form "Hey, The Stand would be a great background" are always welcome, but please don't take it any farther than that. It's not a good use of your time. When you make it into the tiny, secret inner circle of Master GURPS Writers, we'll tell you which licenses are up for grabs.


What else can we call it? We don't want to get careful GURPS translations of other games' unique concepts, unless they're specifically presented as translations and done with permission. Example: Every week or so, somebody rips off R. Talsorian's "cyberpsychosis" and sends it in for GURPS Cyberpunk. Sorry, guys: That's not "part of the genre." That's a neat gimmick, developed by R. Talsorian for their game. The GURPS Cyberpunk rules do not assume that bionics make you crazy. If you like cyberpsychosis, you're welcome to add it to your own campaign, but don't ask us to publish a ripoff.

Likewise, we don't need any more Spelljammer magic-item furnaces, CoC sanity checks, or (saints forbid) D&D class and level systems with the serial numbers scratched off.


Because we do try to work with new writers, we get a lot of material. Sometimes that slows down our reaction time, especially in the early stages of evaluation. And the established writers always go on top of the correspondence stack. Unfortunately, that's the way the publishing business works . . . but some people take it personally and react very badly. Please do not expect instant responses. Please.

We usually manage a 2-month turnaround on unsolicited proposals for large projects. Roleplayer articles will not be acknowledged unless there's a SASE, and even then it may take several months; we get a couple of articles every day.

If you really don't know if we got your material, a letter of inquiry is always appropriate. Repeated letters – or, worse, repeated phone calls – will only encourage the editors to reject the manuscript in order to get rid of you.

We don't do this because we want to be elitist, or because we enjoy throwing our weight around. We're doing our best to balance our desire to "work with new writers" with the absolutely necessary goal "produce games on time and make the payroll."

The Computer Is Your Friend

We are now very computerized. It lets us do better work, faster, with fewer chances for error. Roleplayer articles are the only things that are ever accepted in hardcopy (that is, a plain typed piece of paper). And even for Roleplayer, we strongly prefer to get the article on disk. Anything else must be submitted in computer format. An ASCII file on MS-DOS disk is best. We can deal with other formats, but it's less convenient.

On longer projects, initial proposals can be in letter form, but the final outline will need to be on disk for inclusion in the contract, and everything else from then on will be in computer format.

We also make heavy use of our BBS for playtesting and correspondence with writers. Modems are cheap, and long-distance rates are low late at night. If you want really quick correspondence with us, log on to the BBS: 512-447-4449.

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