16 January 2017
When I was 14 years old, I had been designing board games for several years. I didn’t know much about how the game publishing industry worked, so I wrote the following letter to Parker Brothers, Hasbro, Avalon Hill, Wizards of the Coast, and Cadaco:
My parents recently found this letter and the responses while going through old boxes in their attic. This was way back in 1995. I’m sure it involved some level of encouragement from my parents, though I think it’s neat that my Young Jamey followed through on it.
That’s why I’m going to critique him, point by point. Perhaps this can help when you make first contact with publishers, bloggers, and other media creators.
- “Dear Sirs” Oo…this is a bad start. First, it’s kind of sexist. Second, it makes a huge difference to address someone by name. Third, it sets up the entire letter as a generic form letter. Never once does Young Jamey mention a specific game he enjoys from any of these companies–he just printed the same letter, signed it five times, and mailed it out.
- “I was wondering what your policy is on free-lance game design.” Okay, I’ll give Young Jamey a pass on this one, as the entire purpose of the letter is to learn information that wasn’t available elsewhere. In modern times, I would expect myself to first go on the publisher’s website to learn this info.
- “I have created several games” This is fine, but where’s the hook? Young Jamey should have mentioned what those games were, along with a one-line pitch for each.
- “[I] would like to know if you would be interested in producing and marketing them, or even just looking over my designs.” I think this might be the worst part of the letter. This is Young Jamey’s first contact with these companies, and he’s already asking them to do something for him instead of asking what he can do for them. It’s also disrespectful of their time to ask them to divert their attention from running successful game companies to look at his game designs.
- “Please inform me of your decision as soon as posible in letter form.” Other than the spelling error, the tone of this is just a bit too demanding for my liking. These people don’t owe him anything. Also, it’s more of an exploratory letter than a decisive one–what decision is he asking them to make?
Overall, even though Young Jamey doesn’t say it, the letter carries the tone of, “It can’t hurt to ask.” It can hurt to ask. You only get one chance to make a good first impression–do you really want to use that one chance to (a) ask someone to do something for you and (b) demonstrate that you don’t know how to look up basic information? While it isn’t the case here, I also often see the phrase “it can’t hurt to ask” used when someone asks for special treatment.
What critiques would you add? Don’t go easy on Young Jamey–he should have known better. Plus, he’s stuck in 1995, so he can’t respond.
In the gallery below you’ll find the responses from each of these publishers. Even though they’re form letters, it’s awesome that they even took the time to respond.