Professional Geek Girl: Breaking In as a Graphic Designer

Editor’s Note: Welcome to Tiara Lynn Agresta, our industry geek girl for 2013! She’s our third guest columnist, following Jennifer Brozek and Monica Valentinelli. And we’ve switched from writers to graphic design! Enjoy, all you designerds!

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One of the first things I learned when I first dipped my toe in the pool that is the hobby gaming industry is that I am not an RPG designer.

This was news to me. I’ve worked as a designer in ad agencies, the corporate world and as a freelancer since… well, so long that it makes me feel old to reflect. But no, when I do what I do in the world of RPGs, I’m not a designer. Call me a graphic designer, or better yet, a layout artist. You see, RPG designers, they’re the ones who develop the system, the world, the characters, and the stories. They decide when and why and how many d8 you roll. They’re the ones with the vision.

I bring that vision to life on the page.

I’ve been fortunate to work with some great publishers, including Posthuman Studios, White Wolf, Margaret Weis Productions, Catalyst Game Labs. You may have seen my work in the Smallville Role Playing Game and White Wolf’s Mage Noir, and I’m currently doing layout for the epic pirate adventure for Frog God Games, Razor Coast. I’ll be here with you every month of 2013 to talk about the gaming industry as I see it.

The first question most people ask is how I got my start. Or, more specifically, how I got the right people to pay attention to me instead of dropping my card and leave-behind in the circular file after GenCon. (Yeah, that still happens to me…)

I networked. A lot. It started with Twitter, livetweeting GenCon just for fun. I used the right hashtags, apparently said something funny and some influential industry folks followed me. But it didn’t stop there. I listened to what they were saying but I also engaged with them. I “met” the people they knew and engaged with them. Over time, I made friends.

When it comes to networking, learn to read social cues. Don’t be desperate, clingy or annoying. Be a person, and be professional. Don’t be a dick™. Just because it’s gaming doesn’t mean it’s any less than a job.

I was persistent. I didn’t get discouraged because no one gave me a gig right away. This is a tight, often cronyistic industry, like it or not, and breaking in is not easy unless you keep yourself in front of people. Keep them seeing your stuff. Listen, and offer your services to indie designers looking for artists on Twitter and message boards. Go after every gig, even those for smaller publishers (but never, ever work for free; more on that later). Pay your dues. My first gig was doing rote production with zero creative license, hard work for little pay.

But that all leads to the last, most important bit:

I was talented. Your awesome résumé doesn’t matter, and it really doesn’t matter what friends you make if you can’t deliver. That first production gig was brutal, but I rocked it. My files were built correctly, they looked great, I paid attention to detail, I wasn’t afraid to ask questions and got the job done on time. Suddenly I had published titles under my belt.

That earned me the most valuable thing in this industry: word-of-mouth. Many folks I’ve worked with always throw my name into the ring if they hear of a layout opportunity. They don’t do it because we’re friends, but because I’m damn good at my job.

If you’re interested in making connections, reach out to professionals and be prepared to back up your résumé with relevant samples. With the right skills, patience and persistence, there’s no reason you can’t find work in the RPG industry. Just don’t expect to get rich doing it, but we’ll talk about that next month…

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