…so remember that article draft that missed the mark so badly? The one that drew that gut-punch rejection? Well, you’ve just read it.
That Generational Impact bit above is a version of the intro to what I’d filed to Fanbyte, where I’d first pitched my Genshin Impact article.
And I say “gut punch,” but Fanbyte editor Elise Favis
—who gave me permission to recount this story for you all—was extremely kind and professional in explaining why that version of the piece didn’t work for her.
Throughout the drafting process, I’d struggled with how much of myself to put in the story. Sportswriters have had a Napoleon complex about being Real Journalists since long before I was born (snooty old newspaper types used to call the sports section the “toy department”). I made the jump from indie blogger to full-time professional columnist at a time when the digital/print divide was also a Boomer/Millenial culture war AND the flashpoint in industry-wide debates about the merits of access versus insight, expertise versus emotion, and honoring the work versus honoring the audience.
So it’s no wonder there are two wolves inside me: One who wants to stare directly at its navel and whimper about its feelings, and one who wants to land the pitch, get the story and hit the deadline.
My critique partner and sounding board Aidan Moher
read an early draft, and encouraged me to feed that inner navel-gazer. My experience wasn’t just the inspiration for the piece, it was the entry point for the audience and emotional through-line of the story.
Reporter Wolf growled at this—I need to IMPRESS this editor, I have to do GOOD work
—but I knew Aidan was right. I’d initially waffled between pitching Fanbyte and Waypoint, and
ultimately picked Fanbyte because their recently published freelance features
showed more room for “I played this game and felt these feelings”-type stories.
I expanded the intro to what you read above, and filed the piece.
Fanbyte has an excellent pitch guide
, one that explains exactly what they’re looking for. Elise thought the piece failed on something that’s a bolded, all-caps segment of the guide’s No. 1 bullet point: “Have a clear ARGUMENT
you mean to convince the reader of.”
It was true: After hooking readers with a personal story, I’d gone off and done a bunch of interviews with sources who told me what many gamers (and Fanbyte readers) already knew about how to get good at a new game. I had no thesis, came to no real conclusion, and didn’t mention the personal stuff again until the kicker. In the process, the piece ran much longer than I’d pitched.
I’d been thrilled with the sources I’d found, and the stories they’d told me. I was fascinated by the opportunities and challenges content creators faced entertaining a fandom full of kids, teens, and adults who all thought the game was made specifically for them. I couldn’t imagine the story without their perspectives.
But Elise told me the parts from my perspective were the strongest, and she would have preferred it written as a personal essay. Even then, just cutting out all the interviews wouldn’t have left enough of a story to revise it into something worthwhile. She praised my clean copy, invited me to pitch again—even agreed to entertain a pitch for a different Genshin Impact story! Just not this one.
I felt like my crisis of confidence had sabotaged me. I’d been too scared to put enough of myself out there. Had I relied too much on my ability to Do Work rather than serve the audience?
I tweaked my pitch (including a higher wordcount, hoping I’d find a way to keep everything while revising), and sent it to Waypoint. I started reporting out the potential follow-up story, trying to develop an angle that would succeed in all the ways I’d originally failed.
When Waypoint’s Rob Zacny accepted the pitch for the first story, I found myself back at Square One, squared: Even more delighted at the opportunity to try, and even more terrified to fail.
I revised it with a focus on that personal angle, tying each creator’s story back to my own. I expanded the conclusion, and looped it back to the intro. I had my wife read a draft to make sure she was okay with everything I’d shared, and she choked up while reading it. I was as sure as I could be that I’d threaded the needle.
Rob told me to cut the personal stuff.
Darkness took me. And I strayed out of thought and time. Stars wheeled overhead, and every day was as long as the life age of the Earth. But it was not the end. I felt light in me again. I’d been sent back, until my task was done.