This is an open letter for those that participate in the RPG Superstar contest. Not just for those that have made it into the competition, but to those on the sidelines that entered an item into round one but fell short of the top 36 entries.
The TL:DR version of this article is some advice I heard a lot when I was looking to join up in the military... They's say, "don't be that guy." They's say don't be that lady to the women but we're past excluding those that don't fit into gender binary perceptions so; Don't be that contestant.
What they mean by this is don't do something stupid to eliminate yourself from your opportunities like get drunk and drive, or get arrested for drug use, or fail out because of the physical requirements. For me the end of the road was that my feet are a little too flat for the DOD but that isn't relevant here because the advice is still sound advice for this competition.
Even if you missed the mark this year, your words and reputation can carry forward into future years and if particularly ill advised cost you other opportunities. I'm far from the only publisher that pays attention to and hires off the Superstar design boards.
Here's my pitch for new designers: We're a great place to cut your teeth and develop as a designer, but we pay like good bbq it's low and slow. I basically tell people we're slow to publish, turn a profit and pay and I still get no shortage of takers. Oh and I factor in people's reputation on the boards and professional demeanour nearly as much as I do their design talent regarding who I invite to work with my team.
The truth is there's a lot of talented folks that want to design. It's a publisher's market and we typically cannot afford to bring in designers that are a liability so here's a list of deal breakers for most publishers.
Don't be that Contestant that...
1) Reacts poorly to feedback - We're willing to take on and train writers we see some mojo in. Running a 3PP is a risk, publishers are risk takers. Defending your choices professionally is fine, flaming out or reacting badly to feedback makes us question your maturity and your ability to handle criticism from an editor or a harsh reviewer. There is no bigger red flag than a thin skinned and fragile ego designer.
2) Lives in a puddle - I'm not taking about being shy, I'm talking about being unaware of opinions that differ from your own. I'm talking about living in a puddle and fighting any rival beta fish that enters your tiny puddle. You can always tell who these people are by how they react when they are called out for their behaviour. If your go to defensive move is to talk about how things work in your home game or within the confines of your limited experience then this is you, get out of you puddle and reach out and experience other game styles.
3) Casually offends people - This typically goes hand and hand with living in a puddle. I've seen some tone deaf statements about how 90% of the items this year suck... good luck selling your work to those 550+ people you just offended. There's a difference between snark and being a total a-hole and usually the line is this, would you say that statement after it was revealed you were in the top 32 and you need people to vote for you? If the answer is no, don't be that contestant.
4) Breaks the gag order - While I was happy to compete I'd rather have not done so on the grounds that my competitors DQ'ed themselves by not following the gag order. I'll wear my top 32 tag with pride but it wasn't my desire to get it because the competition hamstrung themselves. It happens every year, resolve yourself next year that if you get the opportunity it will not be you. I'd still hire the person that makes this type of mistake but a lot of publishers are a lot less lose with the concept of NDAs then I am.
5) Bores us - Look at the end of the day you can be a lot of things and succeed but don't be boring. I'll hire someone that took a risk and whiffed a little on execution over someone who did something plain and safe like gloves that give a skill bonus...
6) Forgets the prize is a job - You win, you get a job. Want a job in game design? You have other tools to reach that goal even with Paizo. That also means don't argue with your potential future co-workers in a way that is going to make them not want to work with you which can literally be anyone you're competing with. Don't piss off the possible winner of Superstar Season 12 then have to work with them because you won Superstar season 16 and they got an editing job... It's too small an industry to create enemies.