So you want to become a full-time fantasy hockey writer
I’m often asked how I got into this business. Almost as often, I’m asked if I have any advice on how to make it as a fantasy hockey writer. I’ll give you one word. Passion.
Do you think you have passion for fantasy hockey? Get in line. Lots of passion? Oh, well in that case I’ll move you up to five millionth in line instead of 10 millionth. A ton of passion… to the point where OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) cases look at you and shake their heads? Alright, now you’re in the top one hundred thousand. And this piece is for you.
First, take out a 20-dollar bill. Then drop it in the toilet. Then flush. Now you’ve proven to yourself that you don’t care about money. You just moved into the top twenty thousand.
Think about it. How many fantasy hockey writers do you know, make their living exclusively from this? I can think of two. There may be more, and I’m sure there is, but obviously not many. Scott Cullen of TSN? He is also involved in most other fantasy sports, so I don’t count him. If you include those who write about several fantasy sports, then you can probably bump up the list to a few dozen. But sticking to just fantasy hockey? There’s myself…and technically I’m running a business, which makes the money – the writing that I do makes very little. And there is Chris Nichols, who writes for Sportsnet.ca as well as DobberHockey. And for all I know he has a job on the side. I’ve never asked.
The main thing to understand is that writing and journalism is not the field to go in if you want money. The journalists on TV and on the radio, even the best ones, don't do as well as you think - you would be surprised. And at the entry level, when they first break into the business as a newspaper reporter, they’re probably living check to check. And there is nothing they can do about it either - not with so much free content on the Internet… and so many people who are not only willing to offer the content free, but begging to do it.
For example, if I tried to charge readers for certain areas of the site, 50 sites would spring up offering those same areas for free (I saw that first hand last year when a couple of Frozen Pool tools – we’ve since made free again – were copied elsewhere). But I would need to do that if I were to pay columnists. Or, alternatively, I could get traffic from the four million page views per month that I’m at now…and bump that up to 100 million. Then, the ad revenue would allow me to pay columnists.
Think about it from a business standpoint. If I paid $10 per article to my writers, I would be paying over $20,000 per year. My website is free and 4 million hits per month barely garner $1000 in ad revenue and the website costs run upwards of $20,000 per year. Thank goodness for fantasy guides, which pay the bills for me – and the contributing writers get paid for their work in those. Enough for them to make a living? Maybe if I put out 50 guides per week, then sure.
If you really love the field and you love writing, then that passion is why you do this. Who would you rather bring on board under an Internet business model – a journalism graduate with pristine writing skills who needs work and loves fantasy hockey? Or someone who is a decent writer, but is in several fantasy leagues and churns out fantasy hockey columns on his own blog, writes obsessively long posts in the forum and has been volunteering for years to help out in any way that he can?
While the quality of the work from the first guy is top notch, you would probably get the minimum. Pay him for one column per week, you’ll get one column per week. A good column, with good insight. The second guy, however, will give you a couple of columns, help organize and promote the site, and his insight will often be even better because he’s obsessed with fantasy hockey. You can coach that second guy into better writing habits.
Let’s give that second guy a name. How about “Darryl Dobbs”? Jeff Angus? Ryan Ma?
As long as the quality of the writing is decent, volume and content is important - because they are the best reflections of passion. Do you think that I’m a strong writer? I was terrible. I'm still not great when stacked against a trained and experienced journalist, but I am much better than I was. Jeff and Ryan - same thing. But they made a name for themselves as fantasy hockey writers because of their passion, which is reflected in their volume. Ryan hasn't missed more than three columns in four years. Angus has done hundreds of columns, and forum posts. Bottom line, in this business it is all passion. There is far too much competition for too few jobs. In North America, a million people want to do this.
When I was 24 I was heavily in debt and back in school (for the second time - I couldn't get a job with my Stats degree). I wrote to The Hockey News every year, trying to get something. Anything.
When I was 28 I was still writing to several publications trying desperately to get something in the hockey field. I finally got THN's attention. I wrote for them twice per week - for free - starting in 2002.
Then I took that gig and I used it to promote myself and landed a gig writing for The Fourth Period in 2003. For free. Then I used those two gigs to land a job writing for Pool Expert/FSN. Free. So at this point I was writing four times per week. And did I mention it was to get paid zero dollars?
Do you know what? I never missed a column. Do you think I wasn't busy? I worked full time, complete with 45-minute commute and a girlfriend. Healthy or sick, busy or not. I got it done.
In 2004 I finally got a few bucks when the Forecaster hired me. Because I was still applying. Still pushing. I couldn't live off it, but a few bucks a week for three columns was finally something. So after my full-time job I wrote seven columns per week and was paid (modestly) for three of them. So you tell me, was this for passion or for money?
I will say this much - in my entire career, I have never asked for a single penny from a company I freelance for - THN, Puck Daddy, TFP, PE, Forecaster...nothing. If they gave me money, they offered it to me. And I've never asked for more. Disclosure: I did meet with THN a couple of times to let them know my interest in a full-time job.
After the Lockout
Then the lockout happened. The Hockey News had been forced to lay off some staff during the lockout and had not yet hired a Web Editor. Adam Proteau was posting my articles in the meantime, and he was unable to figure out how to post my Keeper League Rankings. So I launched my own little website and posted the rankings there. Then I started putting up my thoughts – or “Ramblings” as it were. The site started to catch on. I started selling the playoff draft list, which did okay so then I tried my hand at the first Fantasy Guide. So - while working a full time job in 2005 - I wrote for DobberHockey, THN, Pool Expert and the Fourth Period for free, and the Forecaster for modest money. The summer magazines – The Ultimate Pool Guide, the Pool Expert Guide and the Forecaster contributions were all paid gigs as well. On a personal note, I somehow squeezed in a wedding that year.
At the end of 2006 I got a terrible review from my boss. Not surprisingly, he didn't see any energy from me anymore. I cut my shifts short, worked slowly, etc. This was as an inventory planner. So…he didn't give me a raise. Passion – it all went to fantasy hockey, as it had been for over four years, and there was nothing left energy-wise for the day job.
I sat down and figured out that if I could grow my guide sales and write Forecaster columns… plus the summer magazine contributions then maybe I could scrape together $20,000. Maybe more, but at the very least that was what I was looking at. It was worth a shot, and since my wife was making enough money and I recently (finally) got out of debt - I took a chance. It paid off. So I quit my job, age 32, and wrote hockey full time.
After all this - I still write my columns for Puck Daddy for free. And Hockey News pays me a little throughout the season, but every column you see in the summer is done for free. And I don't miss very many - I write for the passion.
I don’t think it’s possible to only write about fantasy hockey and make a living off it. I think there is a tiny possibility of doing it if you write about several sports – but it would take the passion I noted above. Where you cut your sleep down to practically nothing and your day job suffers badly for years before you catch a break with a big fantasy sports company.
You have your best odds making a living off of your own website. I’ve seen dozens of sites start up, look very nice and have solid content. I’ve seen these sites start to taper off after a year or two and then just stop altogether. I’ve also seen them keep running after a few years and are still growing this day. It’s hard to make a new fantasy hockey site work because you probably need to put at least twenty hours per week into it for three or four years and you’ll need a couple of partners doing the same thing.
That won’t succeed without passion. An insane amount of it. You don’t have enough of it if you’re thinking about a paycheck. And you don’t have enough of it if you ever think “Yawn! I’m too tired to write a blog/article tonight, my usual night. I’m running on empty and I just can’t do it tonight.”
Nope. And there are a thousand people willing to write that article for you.
I hope I’ve inspired those who ‘have it’. And I hope I’ve saved those who ‘don’t’ from wasting any time pursuing this. Most people do not have the pleasure of working their 'dream job'. Those who do, worked their butts off to get there. This is no different.