I was wondering how impressive it is to employers to show that I run my own gaming news site and focus on that rather than trying to get a bunch of freelance writing gigs. I’ve been wanting to get a job with an outlet like IGN for years but it seems like I’m not showing off the right stuff, even though I’ve been writing about gaming news, reviews, and even producing my own videos for years.asked via email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Both. Both is good. Now that the short answer is out of the way, let’s get to the nuance.
Admittedly, I’ve never been involved in the hiring process at IGN or any other media company. But both is best: this is quickly becoming a running theme here. If I had to pick one as “more important” I’d have to lean on writing for other outlets being more impressive for one main reason: diverse experience.
Beyond the Clout: Why Writing for Others Is Important
Working for yourself is inherently monolithic from an ideas standpoint (less so if you’re also managing a team). It takes a lot to build something yourself but because it’s all about you it lacks some of the dynamics you *can get from writing for other outlets (*can being the operative word; there’s no guarantee that every gig will move the needle).
A lot of people think writing for others is just about clout (i.e shiny bylines at large outlets like IGN, GameSpot, Polygon, etc) but it’s a lot deeper than that. Writing for any outlet shows you can handle feedback/edits, it shows you can collaborate, it gives you experience with different workflows, and it likely makes you more connected with others in the industry.
I spent most of my freelancing working for small sites and I was surprised to see that the news workflow I learned there was almost identical to IGN’s (despite IGN being this top-tier mythical outlet in my mind). So to emphasize another running theme here don’t dismiss small sites.
If You’re Working for Free; Work for Yourself
If you want to volunteer for a site when you’re just starting out or when you’re still in the process of figuring out if this is a hobby or a career, that’s fine. It’s your decision (after all, that’s what I did).
However, as Austin Walker once told me:
Do not do unpaid work, especially not from the sorts of places that tend to offer unpaid work. You are way better off building your own blog and tying your name to it. Treat it like an outlet. People will remember. Fans tell me all the time that they remember when I “was at” Clockwork Worlds — which was just the name of my blog years ago.
You can read more about this at my Should You Work for Free? post but yes, you’re better off working for yourself for free and getting paid from other outlets. Especially because working for yourself doesn’t have to be free (hello Paypal, Ko-fi, Patreon, Twitch, and more!)
Keep Working for Yourself Though
I don’t want my advice to be mistaken for downplaying how cool, impressive, and worthwhile having your own blog or website is. Having your own place is great way to showcase your identity as a writer and content creator and a wonderful way to build a fanbase.
To go back to your original question, if you only could do one I’d pick working for others but luckily you can (and should) do both.
Note: This question was emailed to me. You can ask me questions directly via social media or email questions at email@example.com (I will never share who asked). Email is preferred because it’s easier to keep track of.