A conversation with Nathan Meunier about freelancing and his new book

Posted by Jason Venter (July 17, 2013)

Nathan Meunierís upcoming book, "Up Up Down Down Left Write" began as a Kickstarter project and soon it will be available for purchase. The prolific freelancer shares all sorts of information that should prove useful to others who are looking to find the same sort of work, so I knew a lot of you would probably like to know more about it. Fortunately, Nathan was gracious enough to meet with me online for a conversation. We discussed the book and even some of his future writing projects. That discussion follows below, with my questions in bold text. Enjoy!

What made you decide to write a book about freelancing?

For starters, I've always wanted to write books, and I'm far more of a non-fiction kind of guy than anything else. I love reading books that teach me how to do new things or instill fresh ideas and inspiration about topics I'm already into.

After I realized just how many e-mails I was fielding from other writers and other folks interested in learning about what I do or asking questions related to freelancing, it seemed only natural to spin that into something more substantive that could help folks.

I really don't mind when folks ping me out of the blue with questions. I try to offer advice and help privately whenever I can, as I really appreciated it when other folks did the same for me back when I was starting out. After writing hundreds of e-mails over a thousand words long in response to peoples' questions, I realized I had enough info on the topic to do something bigger.

You have a fair few credits as a freelancer. Can you run quickly over the highlights?

In all, my work has appeared in just over 35 different print and online publications, primarily in the game industry. I've been fortunate to have my byline in some great mags like Nintendo Power, GamePro, EGM, PC Gamer, Official Xbox Magazine, and more. I also still write regularly for IGN and GameSpot, though I've also written everywhere from Polygon and The Escapist to GamesRadar and GameSpy. I get around.

I also do some writing outside of the game industry too.

That's a lot of outlets. You must have to do a lot of budgeting with your time to keep everyone happy.

I do, but I also shift my workload around a lot from month to month. That and some of the gigs I mentioned are no longer. I write for a handful of gaming sites and mags consistently at the moment, and then do one-offs here and there for others on my list every so often. I'd go crazy trying to juggle 20+ gigs at once.

Even then, I still get bottlenecked from time-to-time. It's sort of inevitable when you're freelancing for a large number of gigs at once.

Do assignments start coming to you at this point, or do you still have to stay busy by chasing down work and making pitches?

A mix of both, really. I've worked with some of my current editors for years, so they'll get in touch with things they want me to write. Other times I have to keep throwing ideas at them until they bite. I'm also always exploring ways to pitch ideas to new places I haven't written for or finding angles to pitch gaming stories to non-gaming publications.

It certainly gets easier to keep work flowing once you've established a good routine with an editor who trusts your ability to deliver solid work.

But with any freelance gig, there are so many other writers in the pool that if you sit quiet for too long, you're going to miss out. It's like a garden. You have to keep watering it or it'll wither.

Approaching editors can be a tricky thing. There are a lot of ways to mess it up. How many hundred pages does your book devote to that?

Yeah, it can be a real fickle process. In the book, there are five full chapters that specifically deal with pitching editors, working with editors, and fine-tuning your pitching skills to score that killer assignment or much coveted gig you're gunning for. It's a really important aspect of freelancing. I can't stress that enough.

And other chapters also build on that too.

How about coping with rejection and no responses? Part of the same chapters?

Equally important. That gets a good bit of ink throughout the book in different areas. I also spent a lot of time covering ways to troubleshoot different aspects of the freelance life that can be really challenging.

Which brings us to actually getting paid. Sometimes people are late paying...

Absolutely. Or not at all.

It's another big topic that's woven throughout the book.

Freelancers are limited in how they can respond to either or both of those things, and how they perhaps should respond. You go into all of that, I take it?

To an extent, yes. But there is wiggle room to try to negotiate better rates, troubleshoot instances where the money isn't flowing quickly enough, and deal with deadbeat clients that either won't pay or lag far behind what's deemed acceptable.

From setting pay rates and figuring out what your time is worth as you work up the ladder to dealing with these kinds of problems, the book certainly delves into the deep end of the money pool and its many issues and perks. It also breaks down the value of time versus money and how the best paying gigs may not always be the most valuable to an individual writer.

I think it's worth noting that while the detailed info spread throughout the book pertains to very serious things, I take a fun approach to the way I write about it to make it more digestible. It's a pretty easy read, and there are a lot of wacky humor and nerdy references woven throughout.

Something else potential freelancers might not think a lot about is networking, at events and on social media. You cover that too, right?

Absolutely. Networking is HUGE. Building and maintaining a good reputation, making contacts with other writers and editors in the industry, attending trade shows to meet folks in person...it's all really key stuff. You can do a lot of it remotely, but it's a very crucial component of building up your freelance business - whether you're gunning to do this full-time or just on the side.

Some freelancers might not think about this, but attitude is also important. You have to be ready to be edited. Some people struggle with that. Any advice there?

That's definitely a challenge that blindsides writers in general, whether you're new to freelancing or start working with a new editor who operates differently from what you're used to.

Having a good attitude and cool head about you is absolutely necessary when having your work edited. I believe that even the best writers need to constantly work to improve, to unlearn bad habits, to keep out of lazy writing ruts, and to keep their prose punchy and fresh. It's a challenge to be sure.

Some editors take a gentle approach to editing, while others will pull out the woodchipper and hurl your piece into it. What comes out the other side usually is a much better, tighter, more cohesive piece. But you might not always agree.

It does help to keep the ego in check and trust that your editor knows his or her audience better than you do. Adjusting to different editorial styles can be tricky too.

When it comes to this business, everyone's experiences will differ. When you put this book together, did you turn to others to broaden your perspective, or is it mostly limited to what you experienced yourself?

A lot of the book is drawn from my own experiences, but a large portion is also culled from bits of wisdom and advice I've picked up from chatting with colleagues and editors over the years too. My freelance comrade and book editor Andrew Hayward was also really instrumental in helping me find the gaps and flesh out the weak spot. For example, Andrew has a guest chapter that particularly covers press junkets and review events. While I've been to several conventions and plenty of preview events, Andrew has had some different experiences and it was great to be able to draw on his insight to help fill out the book.

He also gave me great feedback throughout the editing process that really helped me improve the book.

It certainly helps that he's also a prolific freelancer in the industry. In some instances, it was just really helpful to bounce ideas and things off him to see if they jived with his own experiences.

I think we had a lot of fun polishing the work and improving on early drafts. I'm looking forward to working with him more on a few future book projects I have in the works too.

So this book is not the end, just the current attraction. Speaking of which, how much should I set aside for a copy and where should I buy it?

The print edition of UUDDLW costs $14.99 (plus shipping) and will be available through Amazon. The Kindle version will sell for $8.99. Both should be available on Aug 5th, and while the purchase page isn't live yet, folks can stay tuned to www.freelancegamejournoguide.com and/or @gamejournoguide on Twitter to receive info once the book is out.

I'm also running a fun experiment on Facebook.

Anyone that joins our "virtual book launch" event page will receive a PDF of the first three chapters for free, so they can get a taste of the action. The link for that is: https://www.facebook.com/events/1395171310697852/ and I also encourage folks to help spread the word on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

As for what comes next...

I'm already a third of the way through writing the next book in what will be a series of related books that focus on game journalism in different ways. It won't all be freelance focused, though each book will add more to the broader discussion of what folks can do to constantly improve their work and get a leg up on the freelance world in this industry.

The next book, called "Interview Fu: The Game Journo Guide to Conducting Killer Interviews" will be an ebook only launch that I expect will be available before the winter.

You do find time somewhere in the middle of all of that to get some sleep, right?

Haha! I'm never content to be idle.

As part of the Kickstarter, I pledged to write another book that will be available for free to all backers. It will eventually be available for the public, too. That's a somewhat different project that I'm still locking down specific details for.

But it will be more of a reported work, where I draw on interviews, quotes, and insights from other writers, freelancers, and editors in the industry.

Well, thanks for taking the time to talk with me about your upcoming book. Are there any parting thoughts before we call it a wrap?

I do want to give a shout-out to Dan Amrich. He put out a great book on how to review games for a living called "Critical Path." It's a great resources and a fun read. I started writing UUDDLW before Dan's book came out, but I took care to not cover too much of the same ground. I think they're both great resources that complement one another nicely.

He was gracious enough to give a kind and rather humorous blurb for the inside cover of UUDDLW.

But for folks who say "Why do I need both books?" UUDDLW focuses very heavily on the freelance perspective and the nitty-gritty ins and outs of that side of things, while Dan's has a different and still super valuable focus.

Jason Venter is a freelance blogger who spends most of his time writing about games and technology. In his free time, he likes to watch movies and old TV shows and enjoys writing about them too.

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