Transmedia for Fun and Profit

Last week, I wrote a kind of smart-ass guest post for the charming and talented Chuck Wendig about how writing transmedia is wayyyyy more fun than writing... well... pretty much anything else.

And Chuck said, he said:

One thing I’d love to hear you talk about — maybe briefly in the comments and more explicitly in a blog post on your site? — is the subject of payment in regards to writing transmedia. I dig that it’s fun and all — it is! — but I know that payment is still a concern. And I also know that it’s possible to get paid doing awesome transmedia — in some cases not a lot, but enough to justify the effort as a career move rather than a hobbyist’s exploration.

So, where to start –? Some combination of looking for freelance work and doing your own original material? How do you monetize your own work? Or, is your own work really just a try-out for a payday down the line?

As I see it, there are two different questions here. The first one is: How do you build a career doing transmedia? And the second one is: Where does transmedia money come from?

Reader, if you want to a career in transmedia, let me lay it all out for you. You can be a freelancer, an employee, or an entrepreneur. For now, let's take a look at the first two.

How to Freelance

Late nights, sweatpants, liberty: The freelancing life. In transmedia, you can even make a good living -- in my experience, if you can get the work in the first place, it pays pretty well. (Though rates vary wildly.)

Freelancing is an easy way in, because a company doesn't feel like it has to take a big risk and make a permanent commitment to try you out.  And it's great to see how different companies operate from the inside; you can learn best practices and philosophic approaches that improve your work.

So how do you do it? To get freelancing work, you need to have a skill to sell. Writing is a good one, but production work and technical development are even better. You also need to have a portfolio that demonstrates that you have said skill. And then you need to make friends and influence people. 

That's the hard part.

Freelancing in transmedia is much like freelancing in any other field; your career is only as good as your reputation and your contacts. If you're really lucky -- like me! -- you have contacts that will give you a shot when you're just getting started, before you have much of a reputation. 

Otherwise, you're going to have to put some real time and energy into reputation-building. Unfortunately, just doing great work and putting it out there isn't sufficient all on its own. The things that make you higher-profile -- running a loudmouth blog, speaking at conferences, participating in professional associations -- don't actually make you better at the work. And if you're no good at the work, nobody will hire you, no matter how much of a loudmouth you are.

Me, I'd rather be doing the work than hustling any day. But...

Freelancing is Hard

Let me be very straight with you: It's rough out there. The essay Seven Years as a Freelancer, Or, How to Make Vitamin Soup was heartbreakingly resonant with me, because of its accurate portrayal of life as a freelancer. You're never entirely sure where your next project is coming from. Even when you're working, you're never entirely sure when the next check is going to hit your mailbox. I've been paid up front and on time, and I've been paid (sadly, more often) four months and more after the project was over and forgotten.

Indeed, let me be starkly clear. I'm a somewhat prominent transmedia writer and designer. I've got lots of glamorous, high-profile  projects under my belt, and lots of sparkly awards on my resume. I have amicable contacts in TV networks, movie studios, media companies, digital agencies. People routinely tell me they're jealous of my ability to hustle and get work on a fairly steady basis. 

But as of right now, I'm wide open for contracts. Got nothing lined up. 

Sure, something might come through this month, or next month, or the one after. But it might not.

If you're considering dipping into transmedia freelancing, take a hard look at what I've said here and decide if it's something you can deal with. And if you're in the market for a freelancer, call me. Seriously.

Permanent Employment

A growing number of companies are preferring to bring their talent in-house or work exclusively with existing employees; some of my friends in the industry feel the freelance market is drying up. 

On the other hand, a lot of my colleagues who sometimes do transmedia work at their regular job do precious little of it. There are a handful of companies out there who focus on transmedia, alternate reality games, pervasive and social games, and so on. ...But not many, and they're mostly small and not hiring. It's comparatively easier to get a job with a digital agency, a media production company, a film studio, or a TV network, where you may sometimes get to do some transmedia work (though not as often as you'd like).

If your heart and soul are set on doing all transmedia all the time, the bulk of permanent jobs out there are going to frustrate the hell out of you. 

There's a higher barrier to entry for permanent employment; you're going to need to prove that you know what you're talking about in the core industry. But once you have a job, you get a tremendous package of benefits: Getting paid on a predictable schedule, much simpler taxes, health insurance, paid vacation days, and if the worst happens... unemployment checks. Oh, luxury!

This is admittedly not my area of expertise. I bumbled into my job at Mind Candy through a combination of sublime good fortune and dogged determination. Take what I say with a grain of salt.

If I could offer a word of advice to those of you angling for a regular job doing transmedia work, though, I'd say your best bet is to hone your employability in a closely related industry -- marketing, say, or film production. Then demonstrate your interest and skill in transmedia in front of the people who can give a project the go-ahead. Setting yourself up to make a lateral move is probably easier and safer than just trying to get hired as, say, an ad agency's transmedia creative director.

Entrepreneurialism

Have I dispensed enough gloom and doom yet? Are you filled with trepidation, dear reader? Persevere. There is the third way. Rather than tying your fortunes to a company (or network of companies), you take matters into your own hands. You pitch, you crowdfund, you monetize. 

I'll be addressing this in the (forthcoming) second part of this post. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Part two of Transmedia for Fun and Profit (Entreprenurial Edition) is now up!


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