Ask GR Anything: How do I get a job as a games journalist?

Ask GR Anything is a weekly Q%26A column that answers questions submitted by readers (as well as questions we're particularly curious about ourselves). Got a burning question about games or the industry? Ask us in the comments below and you may just get it answered!

As a game reviewer, I've been asked "How do I get your job?" so many times over the years that I have lost count. I understand – it's an awesome gig, right? Playin' games! Spoutin' opinions! Snappin' screens! Crackin' wise! Beats workin'!

Above: You may even think every day is like this! (Warning: every day is not like this)

Naturally, if it's a fun job, it's not an easy job to get. For a lot of new writers, I think just getting noticed is the hardest part – like, you have the drive and the desire and the passion, but how do you actually, you know, GET anywhere? There are thousands of people who want to do what you want to do, so it may seem impossible to get anybody's attention in that giant crowd. And… it kind of is.

So let's start small, with the most important things to keep in mind as you chase this dream:

Accept that your chances are slim

Like I said, thousands of people. Thousands. It's great to have a goal, but you also need to be realistic about how much opportunity you can create for yourself versus how much timing, luck, and happenstance may play in your big break.

Above: For the privilege of penning this column, Dan had to survive a grueling trial by combat against 27 deadly freelance writers. And that's how we treat the people we like

It's not as easy as it looks

It's tough to simultaneously encourage the people who are sincere in their desire to write game reviews for a living and discourage them by crushing them with the realities of low pay, brutal deadlines, and technological mishaps – but here I am, doing just that. The first thing you must accept is that this job is work, not play, and there are a lot of responsibilities that come with it, from respecting deadlines to simply being able to back up what you say in your articles. It's not just playing games with your feet propped up on your desk.

Be a good writer

This sounds so simple, but "don't suck" is a big part of it. The core thing to understand: They are hiring you as a writer who understands games, NOT as a gamer who sometimes puts sentences together. Before you even make contact with someone who might publish your work, make sure you have your writing mechanics down: spelling, grammar, the ability to self-edit. These will be evident in your writing samples, and your articles will do more to get you work than any cheeky cover letter or fancy font choice on a resume.

Be a good-enough gamer

This is the mindblower for a lot of people. You don't actually have to have an astronomical KDR or have earned every Trophy or Achievement in every game you play. It's way more important that you understand what you play when you're playing it, and then can explain it back to others in a way that they understand. Articulating opinions informed by experience is what you actually do; the game part is just the experience.

Above: This image was seriously one of the first things our stock-photo service returned when we typed in "video game journalist." Ha ha!

Ask if they are looking for freelance writers

How can you get a job if no job exists? You politely contact the media outlet you want to write for and ask if they need anybody right now. This does not mean writing an email to every member of the staff. Write to one person, preferably the editor in charge of the content you would like to help write (reviews, news, features, etc). If the single person you write is not the correct person, they will forward it to the correct person. If you write to everybody, nobody will do anything.

Don't assume they'll come looking for you

"Hey, so, Twitter/Facebook/blogosphere, I just wanted to tell you that I am available for game review work, so contact me." How deluded are you? Do you really think Stephen Totilo or Jim Sterling or Charlie Barratt are scouring the web to find unknown writers who are not motivated enough to reach out to them? Spoiler: They're not.

Put your best foot forward

You haven't written professionally before? That's OK. Just make sure that what you send them as your sample articles are your best work. If the publication you're contacting uses a template that includes certain information in a certain order, follow that template.

Don't take it personally if you don't hear back

A lot of editors are super-busy – not "I need to get all purple gear by doing this raid again" busy, but actually, legitimately, "I have two publisher visits and four articles due in 48 hours and I haven't had lunch all week" busy. Your interest may be sincere and you may even have the right skills and voice for their outlet, but they may not have the time to get back to you. What's more, they may not have the budget to hire you right now. Just check back later and follow up politely.

Apply for an internship

I have lost count of the number of interns I worked with who went on to be hired full-time by the publication after graduation. It's basically on-the-job training, when you think about it. The tricks here are that you often need to be in college and you always need to be local. So this is a really good thing to do, but not necessarily practical for everybody.

Above: Like many GR staffers, Charlie Barratt started as an intern. Now he gets to wear shirts to work

These are some of the core building blocks; the rest is rejection, embarrassment, frustration, and heavy drinking. Well, actually, there's a lot more to it than this (such as crying, begging, and holding grudges), but hey, that’s why I wrote a book about all this stuff. Critical Path: How to Review Videogames for a Living is my insanely detailed answer to "how do I get your job," with actionable advice on every stage of your potential writing career. I spent eight years writing the damned thing to give you the most complete response possible, so I would ask that you buy it for 10 bucks and get the 78,000 word answer if you're really, really serious about this. There's so much more to cover that I think that's one of the reasons why you rarely get an answer to such a simple, straightforward question.

Submit your own questions in the comments (or Tweet them to @sciencegroen) and we may tackle them in a future Ask GR Anything.