Five Things: September 15, 2022

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Marketing Math: Penguin Random House’s 2 Percent Gambit | Me

“This math suggests that plenty of newly published books are, in fact, getting no dedicated marketing spend at all—including the vast majority of digital exclusives—a sobering realization for anyone chasing a Big Five book deal.”

In the latest issue of The Hot Sheet, I simultaneously defend and condemn PRH’s “two percent” marketing spend that had a lot of people scratching their heads during last month’s DOJvPRH trial, by doing the math and putting it in context.

Pundits with services to sell and authors with axes to grind love to compare corporate publishers to independent publishers and self-published authors, but they really are three different business models that only overlap in certain areas. There is no One Ring, but depending on your ultimate goals, the right ring may not be the one conventional wisdom suggests.

Thanks to Jane Friedman for giving this article a home at The Hot Sheet, my favorite industry newsletter, and for letting me share it outside the paywall. Props to the copyeditor, too, who helped turn what could have been a half-assed blog post into one of the tightest things I’ve written in a while. If you don’t subscribe, let this free peek at yet another excellent issue finally push you off the ledge.


Is the Publishing Industry Broken? | Rachel Deahl

“It’s publishing, not coal mining.”

I don’t usually like stories that rely so heavily on anonymous sources like this one does, but publishing is a relatively small industry that’s notoriously full of cowards, and Deahl always does a good job of getting multiple anonymous sources to illustrate the systemic problems in the publishing industry. The answer to the question, as it so often is in publishing, is yes and no.

Publishing isn’t broken, it’s operating as intended, but an increasing number of people are being vocal about the various problems that are pushing the corporate side of the industry to a tipping point. Maybe.

The anonymous publishing executive quoted above is surely a delight to work for, though, and is definitely not part of the problem.


When Passion Leads to Burnout | Jennifer Moss

“The truth is, the younger workforce has it right. And as they increase the demand for more meaningful work (even claiming they’ll take 32% less pay for the trade-off), burnout — specifically purpose-driven burnout — will continue to be a growing concern.”

Having worked in the media business for the majority of my adult life, I’ve only had a couple of jobs that didn’t somehow tap into my own personal interests. Sometimes I’ve considered that a blessing, but eventually, it’s almost always ended up feeling like a curse.

I burned out on poetry after several years working for Poets & Writers and The Academy of American Poets, while also running my own weekly reading series, and writing and performing my own poetry, too.

I’ve taken a couple of pay cuts over the years to be involved in something I was passionate about, a total sucker for the “mission-driven organization,” and often regretted it a year or two later, realizing I’d inadvertently created my own glass ceiling.

I’ve burned out on book publishing several times since my stint running the original Digital Book World more than a decade ago, returning to the B2B magazine world for a break, and more recently, library-adjacent. Every year I wonder if this is the year I’ve finally had enough and move on to another industry that pays more, and about which I care less — but is that even a realistic option anymore?

And now I’m writing about it all in a free newsletter I’ve had to take multiple breaks from over the past year…


Video Game Guide Writers Help Keep the Lights On But Get No Respect | Patrick Klepek

“They are more important to the day-to-day business of running a modern media company than most people understand, even if most of the attention goes towards the latest headline.”

One of the most under-the-radar segments of publishing that the Internet absolutely killed was the game guide. It’s not just that it’s a lot easier to find the help you’re looking for at a specific moment in almost any game by typing a query into Google and clicking through to a comprehensive guide — in text or video format with gameplay, for free! — it’s also that the model for publishing games themselves has significantly evolved, too.

Few games are published anymore that don’t include an important Day One patch you have to download for the game to be playable, which makes publishing high-quality print guides that help you play those games on day one next to impossible. Many games also see subsequent patches and/or expansions that would make most print guides obsolete.

I’d never given much thought to what goes into creating those guides, though — other than knowing they take a lot of time to do well and they’re not all created equal — and Klepek does a good job of putting that process in the spotlight. He also validates something I assumed was rampant, plagiarism, while making me realize some sites I’ve avoided because I’d never heard of them might actually be the good ones doing things the right way, especially for smaller games that get less attention.


“Wake up, Sleeper.”

I finished Citizen Sleeper this week, a random game I serendipitously discovered via Xbox Game Pass, and about an hour before what seemed like the “end,” I’d already decided it was one of the best games I’d played in years. By the time the credits rolled, it had joined my list of favorite immersive media experiences ever.

Like, it’s now on the Big List alongside some of my all-time favorite novels (Fool on the Hill, Matterhorn, The Talisman) and movies (It’s A Wonderful Life, The Matrix, Unbreakable)!

At roughly 10 hours long, its deceptively simple mechanics and gameplay (basically a point-and-click, narrative RPG) support an enthralling cyberpunk story where every decision has weight and consequences, and the setting is as immersive as any 3D first-person shooter. Conversations branch, but you can rarely follow each one. You will fail some missions and succeed in others, and the stakes won’t always be clear until afterwards. You can’t save before big decisions, because there’s only an autosave feature, and you never really know when you’re making a big decision until after you’ve made it.

It’s beautifully written and visualized with an emotional score, and the truly big decision at the “end” legitimately had me paralyzed — freedom (maybe?) vs. the continued unknown (maybe?) — because there were things I’d left undone and wasn’t sure if I’d get the chance to go back to. It’s the kind of game you should go in to as cold as possible to get the most out of the experience (the trailer was enough to hook me), but Game Informer‘s review does a good job of capturing it without spoiling anything.

10/10, highly recommended!

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