One day, Arkusmay Ohleday, the CEO of Avian Arbitrary Abode, a prominent publishing house that was the result of a merger between Arbitrary Abode and Avian Assembly, decided he needed to acquire a book and make it a success. But how to do so?
Arkusmay might be the Big Boss of the world's most successful publishing company, with so much spare cash from his business that he didn't even need toilet paper anymore, but that didn't mean he understood anything about business, companies, or, in fact, publishing. He was just a sweet, innocent baby boy with a heart of gold, and the Department of Justice should definitely let him form an oligopoly with Kyman & Keister, another publishing house run by a very rich CEO with honestly no clue how any of this business stuff works (he swears). After all, success in publishing was completely random, so it wasn't like they were going to break antitrust laws, reduce competition, lay off editors, and force authors and agents to accept lower payments while lining their own pockets, no sirree.
Since Arkusmay had no idea how one made a book successful, he decided to acquire it in the traditional way-grabbing a bunch of manuscripts, throwing them in the air, then spinning around until he vomited on one. He grabbed a messy stack of paper called A RANDOM PENGUIN ACQUIRES MY ASS, by Anon Ymous, an up-and-coming author. Could he actually say 'up-and-coming' if all success was earned through nothing but the inherent chaos of the universe? In China, a butterfly flapped its wings, and then a famous white author with a massive advance and marketing budget magically, unpredictably hit the NY Times bestseller list.
Boy, he hoped Anon Ymous was white.
He briefly wondered if he should have considered one of the other accepted methods for acquiring a book: pulling names out of a hat, forcing aspiring authors to battle to the death in the Avian Arbitrary Abode arena, or an earnest consultation with the office goldfish. But the goldfish had already been consulted one too many times to be truly random, he didn't own a hat, and he was quite frankly bored of bloodshed after years of watching his editors' backs break under the unbearable load of too much work and too little pay.
Thought what all that "too much work" was, he hadn't the faintest idea. It wasn't like entire teams of editors, marketers, and publicists put in years of effort to help books they loved break out. No, the only thing that happened in the AAA office that he knew about was a regular session of holding hands, singing "Kumbaya," and slaughtering goats to the Dark Lord Johannes Gutenberg, May His Benevolence Bless These Books.
Arkusmay took the manuscript to an intern. "Put this in the publishing machine," he said.
The intern looked confused. "The publishing machine?"
"You know," Arkusmay said. "The one with the tube you stick a manuscript into, and then it goes through a series of other tubes and emerges as thousands of copies of a bound, edited book that we then throw into the world with no clue what we're doing."
"Sir," the intern said hesitantly, "I don't think-"
"Good," Arkusmay said. "I don't either." That was the safest way to be a CEO - know nothing, do nothing, and lie through his teeth to anyone who questioned his motives or knowledge of his own business. Satisfied, he returned to his office to brainstorm how one might possibly make a book a success.
He could try the traditional goat slaughter, he supposed, but the last time they did that the book ended up being midlist, and just like "midsize publisher," no one even knew what "midlist" meant. No, he needed the rare find: one of the top 4% of profitable titles that drove 60% of AAA profitability because he paid very little for them before they became runaway bestsellers through someone else's efforts.
It was shocking how much power other people had over the publishing success of his books, he reflected bitterly. The agents, the authors, the book subscription boxes, the librarians, the TikTokkers... they all had so much more power than him, the lowly CEO of the world's richest publishing company. They could make a book a bestseller while he, sweet innocent baby boy that he was, was utterly powerless. The injustice!
He wiped his tears with a thousand-dollar bill. Then he went on vacation for a year.
When he returned, he was invited to a meeting involving the last details of how A RANDOM PENGUIN ACQUIRES MY ASS was going to be launched and positioned in the market, whatever that meant. There were a lot of people there with job titles like "Marketing Manager" and "Senior Publicist," and he had no idea who they were or what they did. They were saying a lot of numbers and stuff, so he tuned them out and texted his BFF at Kyman & Keister.
Arkusmay Ohleday: Lol did u see the DOJ wants to file an antitrust lawsuit about our proposed merger
Onjay Arpkay: They have no case. With our money and influence combined we'll control at least 40% of the US book market and be able to quash any competition from the remaining big houses, thus forming an oligopoly, but obviously we would never do that. It wouldn't be polite. We can't promise that in a legally binding way, but we will do the traditional "I pinky swear my intentions are good" on the stand and that should sort everything out.
Arkusmay Ohleday: Great idea bestie, the pinky swear is a foolproof legal defense
Arkusmay Ohleday: We have a book coming out next week. I picked this one myself
Onjay Arpkay: The goldfish technique?
Arkusmay Ohleday: Dizzy puking
Onjay Arpkay: Nice
Onjay Arpkay: How are you going to make this one a bestseller?
Arkusmay Ohleday: Zero idea. I was thinking about a virgin sacrifice
Onjay Arpkay: That trick did well for me with that extremely famous person's memoir that we paid millions of dollars for last year. It became a breakout success, and no one could figure out why, but I'm pretty sure it was the virgin.
Arkusmay Ohleday: This author isn't famous though
Onjay Arpkay: Are they white?
Arkusmay Ohleday: Yeah
Onjay Arpkay: I don't know why I even asked lol
Arkusmay Ohleday: Okay this meeting is way over my head and I have a new superyacht to buy, so I'm gonna bounce
Arkusmay Ohleday: See you at the trial for our earnest pinky swear that we have no motivations other than love of the book industry and a desire to help authors succeed by reducing the number of houses that can buy their books
Satisfied, he left the meeting and went to his favorite yacht salesperson.
"What do you do for work?" the salesperson asked as Arkusmay signed the paperwork.
"You know what?" Arkusmay said, tapping his pen against his chin thoughtfully. "I have no idea."
Two weeks later, there was a big celebration for Anon Ymous and their debut novel, which had premiered to rapturous reviews and a spot on the NY Times bestseller list. Arkusmay had totally forgotten about the virgin sacrifice, but he supposed buying the yacht had been the catalyst for this great success.
He stood before his gathered employees, watching them eat slices of the cheapest supermarket cake his beleaguered assistant could find as he gave a speech designed to empower and delight them.
"Hello, my angels," he said. "That's how I like to think of us, you know - like angel investors in an author's career. Except we don't actually invest in anything," he said with a wink to the Department of Justice's representative hovering at the edge of the room. "Everyone knows this book succeeded on its own merits, without us having any idea how or why, and our theoretical command of the marketplace certainly has nothing to do with it."
In the front row, an editor began to weep. Tears of joy, he was sure.
"I'd like to say a personal thanks," he said. "We couldn't have gotten here without the help of..." He trailed off, enjoying the suspense as a cluster of publicists, marketing experts, editors, and assistants perked up, wondering who he would name. "Johannes Gutenberg!" he declared. "Our Dark Lord and Bringer of Chaos, Long May He Reign Over Space, Time, and Publishing Success."
The cluster of perky people deflated. An assistant joined the crying.
"I would also like to thank myself," he continued, "for lucking into an impeccably timed stream of vomit. Without me, this book wouldn't exist, which is why I'm delighted to announce I have given myself a bonus."
A publicist swayed. "I don't even have enough money to eat," she whispered before fainting.
"Once the merger with Kyman & Keister is complete," Arkusmay said, stepping over the fallen woman, "I look forward to many more years of completely random, unstrategic success." He raised his bottle of champagne, which he had not shared, to the room. "Here's to the fickle nature of reality, the duplicity of men in positions of authority, and a very diligent butterfly in China."
He took a swig and sighed happily. He'd made the right choice when he'd sold a marketing intern to traffickers in exchange for a bottle of good champagne. Time to wrap up this speech and ride his yacht into the sunset.
"Remember," he told his employees, already fantasizing about how many of them he would fire after the merger, "Everything is arbitrary in publishing. Success is arbitrary. Bestsellers are arbitrary. So that is why we are... the Arbitrary Abode!"
Great joke, he told himself as the room wept out their love for him. That one's always a hit.
Later that day, he received a trial subpoena. Unfolding it, he chuckled at the shocking realization that the Department of Justice suspected his nefarious plot had nefarious purposes.
"Wow, so random!"