We speak to Imogen Mellor about the challenges of starting out in the world of games media.
Have you ever wondered what it takes to break into video game journalism? Perhaps you’ve already started your own site and are wondering what the next steps are? We spoke to Imogen Mellor, the new staff writer at LADBible, about how she got into the industry, the pitfalls of pitching and what it’s like being a staff writer.
Hi Imogen. Now that you’re on to your second staff writer role, what inspired you to join the video games industry?
There were a couple of things that led to me joining the games industry. When I was younger, I was really into playing games but I was also interested in watching people play and talk about them, so I spent a lot of time on YouTube watching video essays. My parents always thought I was going to be a journalist or a lawyer, and when I was at university I joined Red Brick, which was the university paper, as a music journalist because I’m a musician and felt I was qualified to write about it.
Eventually, it occurred to me that I might also be qualified to talk about games, too. I knew just as much as anyone else about games so why not write about it? Then it became this dream job that I would love to do and I started pitching, and those pitches were eventually accepted. I was very excited and I started thinking “Oh, why not try it out?” and ended up where I am. I was very lucky – very much at the right place at the right time.
That’s great. How did you get started in the industry?
In my third year of university, when I had become one of the gaming editors of the paper, I was already thinking about getting into games journalism and started pitching then to the likes of IGN and Eurogamer.
I also started a website called StartMenu.co.uk, which was a collaborative blog that, alongside working at Red Brick and pitching, gave me a solid foundation to build on. I soon landed a staff writer role at PCGamesN and am looking forward to moving on to LADBible.
Were you nervous when you sent in your first pitch?
My first pitch was to IGN and was ultimately rejected, so I pitched the idea to Eurogamer and they picked it up and all of a sudden it was like, “Wow. I’ve got something in an outlet.” It confirmed for me that I can do this, I can write about games.
How do you handle a pitch being rejected?
It doesn’t get any easier. I think part of the experience is the acceptance that failure is part of the process. You start to understand which of your ideas are good, but it’s really difficult when you’re going through the process of people saying “No” and people not responding to you, even though you thought it was a fantastic idea. I think that’s probably the hardest part of starting out in games journalism: the self-critical aspect.
It’s important to follow up a pitch. The most widely known article I ever wrote only came about because I followed it up, so if an editor doesn’t reply, send another email after a few days to a week before moving on.
For those who haven’t attended college or university, what would you recommend?
I think starting a blog where you’re putting your work out there or adding to a collaborative that already exists is really important. Unfortunately, there are sites that can take advantage of people who are new to games journalism by paying very small amounts of money – or sometimes nothing at all – for quite a lot of work. It’s important to realise the worth of your work to you and that means getting paid, particularly if you’re writing for an established group or site.
StartMenu.co.uk is my collaborative site that a lot of people add to and it’s peer reviewed. A lot of people who are new to the games industry write for it and help one another to learn about the industry, good writing practice, and they support each other in their endeavours. It’s a really welcoming environment that lets you establish some connections within the industry and other writers can recommend different ways to pitch, who to pitch to, what your article price list should be and so on.
Going to events and networking, such as at EGX or even local events in gaming bars or cafes, is equally important. Even online events can help. Everyone is one degree of separation away in the games industry and getting to know who works where, what sort of content fits each site and so on is really important.
Degrees aren’t something that people necessarily look for when they’re looking for games journalists – it’s often just about interacting positively with the wider industry that people really want when they’re looking for people, outside of solid writing examples.
Why do you prefer staff writer roles over freelance?
I chose a staff writer role over freelance partly for security. You know what you’re doing day in, day out and there’s way less pitching involved. It can be really difficult to gain traction into regular freelance work. There are freelancers who pitch features constantly, and freelancers who can be counted on to go and do news shifts. You have to work your way up to becoming a freelancer that can do any type of work at any site.
When I started out, I wanted a staff writer job first and decided if it didn’t suit me, then at least I’ve gained experience in all areas of editorial, built up a solid body of work I can share to get new opportunities and bettered my reputation.
There are benefits and drawbacks for each role. Some people think you’ll earn more in a year doing freelance, but you don’t get paid holidays, sick leave or anything like that – every day away from freelance writing is a day you’re not getting paid. With staff writer jobs comes more security, like pensions, sick pay and other employment benefits and, at the end of the day, the taxman comes for us all.
I also really enjoy the office environment – even working remotely – as I can quickly ask my colleagues a question and know they’ll understand the context of whatever I’m writing and I can complete work much faster than I perhaps would as a freelancer. There’s also the obvious connections you can build having your name associated with a company or brand.
That’s not to say that freelancers don’t have those resources or support. I find that they’ve got great communities where they can count on one another, they can count on editors that they work with regularly and often get signposted to opportunities from one another. I think with freelance it’s just a lot more work for possibly a better outcome, whereas a staff writer role feels more comfortable. As a young person, I think a staff writer role was a great way to learn everything I needed to in a shorter amount of time.