What happened? Writing for Wizards Part 1

As you may have noticed, I did not get the “good ending” in terms of writing for the latest release from Wizards, Candlekeep Mysteries. In fact, things went so sideways that I respectfully requested my name be removed from future printings because what went in as a final draft and what came out in release were so wildly different that I do not want my name associated with the product. So consider this post and the next as a PSA for people aspiring to write for Wizards.

The Stages of Writing for Wizards

The process for writing for Wizards as a work-for-hire freelance writer breaks down neatly into eleven stages. I’ve assembled them here so that others coming into the industry can get a grip on how things work at Wizards and avoid the pitfalls I’ve had.

  1. Accept the offer, signing an NDA and providing payment information.
  2. Receive an instructional packet containing:
    • The D&D Wizards House Style Guide.
    • The 5e Template.
    • An example of a Pitch.
    • Project Instructions.
    • Project Appropriate Lore.
    • An example of a pitch, draft, and extras. 
  3. Write a pitch for what you want to write.
    • Receive feedback on the pitch, which may request modifications, clarifications, or a rewrite.
    • The pitch will either be accepted or a concept will be given to you by the Project Lead if they feel your pitch isn’t in spec with the project.
  4. Drafting Process:
    • You will write a draft, formatted using the Style Guide and Template, and submit it.
    • Your draft will be read, with changes, questions, and clarifications coming from the person assigned to oversee you in this part of the process (it may or may not be the Project Lead). This process will continue until the deadline and final draft submission. 
    • Final draft submission goes in.
  5. Payment, at this stage you will be paid the agreed rate or lump sum from Wizards. 
  6. Editing and Development Process:
    • This is separate from the draft development that happened in Stage 4.
    • This phase may or may not see you engaged by Wizards, and involves playtesting, editing, and modification of the final draft you submitted based on playtest feedback and what your assigned editor(s)/developer(s) think. Wizards has no obligation to consult or engage with you post-payment unless you have a separate contract as a consultant. 
  7. Art creation and selection. This phase may or may not see you engaged by Wizards.
  8. Finalization for release. This phase may or may not see you engaged by Wizards, and involves final layout, last revisions, and prep for publishing. 
  9. Pre-Release Media Blitz. Wizards wants its writers, including work-for-hire freelancers, to talk up the upcoming release, and (with minimal spoilers) talk about their contributions to it. You may be contacted by media outlets, podcasts, and reviewers about your project. 
    • You may or may not have seen a release draft of your project at this point, and you are not paid for any of this.
  10. Release Day. The project is released. You will receive a few copies in the mail at some point before or after this depending on your location. 
    • There may be a post-release Media Blitz as well, however you have more freedom to talk about things in this stage, and as previously, you are not paid for any of this.
  11. Post Release Support. If you have been involved in a significant Project that introduced a new location, setting, or something similar, the onus is on you or the fanbase to develop it further or garner more interest in it via the DM Guild and/or Adventurers League. Wizards has a largely hands off policy post release as they move onto their next projects. 
    • Payment for engaging in this stage comes from the DM Guild, and the effort is now on you to drum up support and interest. 

As a work-for-hire freelance writer, under the then-current contracts offered by Wizards (as I do not know their current ones), Wizards is only obligated to interact with you through Stages 1 to 5, and would like you to participate in Stages 9 to 11. As noted, unless you have a second contract as a consultant, or if Wizards exercises their right to reach out to you, Stages 6, 7, and 8 occur outside of your knowledge and influence.

Rules for Writing for Wizards

Based on my experience, here are some broad rules I suggest future writers use if engaged by Wizards as work-for-hire freelance writers:

  1. Write the minimum needed to meet the requirement of the project. If you have larger ideas, don’t include them in drafts, and don’t write them down until after your contract has been paid. Anything created (i.e.: written down) is their property under the work-for-hire freelance writer contract, and legally, Wizards can demand it from you or litigate you for releasing it otherwise. During the drafting process, they will ask you to expand areas they want expanded. By doing this, you reserve an ability to build on your work without triggering legal issues.
  2. Maps are work, not free extras. If Wizards wants maps, and if you’re comfortable making them, provide them with rudimentary ones. Unless they’re paying you for them, maps are a separate expense that you as a writer shouldn’t put in hours of free labour into. They have money, they can budget for that.
  3. You may or may not get to participate in the editing and development cycle. Wizards reserves the right to engage or not with work-for-hire freelance writers after their work has been submitted and paid for. This means that your work may be radically altered without your knowledge.
  4. “No news is good news” does not apply here. If you do not hear back about your Project, that by no means indicates that things are okay and good to go. If you are in this situation, you can ask for updates, but realize that Wizards has no commitment or obligation to you to respond.
  5. Do not talk to the media about your content until you have a final copy in your hand and have thoroughly read it to see where changes have happened. Then decide if you want to participate in media events or outreach.

In Part 2, I will go into my experience of writing for Wizards and give a broad overview of what the Book of Cylinders started as and how it ended up.