Talent Q&A: Writer and Strategist Rachel P.
We are on a mission to get to know our talent better. This week we caught up with 4-star strategist Rachel P., an indie game developer with a passion for amphibians. Rachel is also a 6-star writer with WriterAccess!
Q: Where did your attraction to video games come from and what are some of your favorites?
A: Back in the ‘80s when most households didn’t have computers yet, mine was one of the few that did because my father was very interested in technology and tinkering with stuff. He showed me how to use a computer at a time when children didn’t really use them, and I was hooked. I knew I wanted to be a game developer when I first played the King’s Quest series at 5 and went on to play the other Sierra and LucasArts classics. Adventure games fostered my love of storytelling and using wits instead of reflexes to play a game. My favorites still are King’s Quest 6, Monkey Island 2, Full Throttle, virtually any RPG by Spiderweb, and a whole heap of totally obscure Adventure Game Studio and super old Mac games that are the punk and hardcore demo tapes of old shareware.
Q: How does being a tax and accounting professional tie into your other areas of interest?
A: I wound up going to school for accounting because I thought I couldn’t make a living in video games … only to become a CFO during a game studio’s reorganization when I was in grad school in 2011. I initially studied economics and business administration after I gave programming a shot, but decided I didn’t want to do it for a living. I then switched to accounting because I thought the MBA bubble might burst. My very first day at a Wall Street firm was the day of the Bear Stearns collapse, and I didn’t get my degree until the height of the Great Recession. I said my final goodbyes to the financial industry in 2014.
I still hold an Enrolled Agent license, but no longer practice. I solely maintain it to write about tax law which helps fund my game development and other pursuits in media. After my departure from Big Tax Law, I wrote The Definitive Guide to Taxes for Indie Game Developers which remains the first and only tax law guide just for us. I’ll happily write your tax book, blog post, or Tax Court opinion (or help your tax office out with a solid content strategy!) so I can return to making this really stupid game about clam chowder when I’m done.
I also use my tax law experience to help other creative professionals out of a bind and fight for the public policy issues I care deeply about. Being able to do my own taxes for my various ventures is also pretty sweet.
Q: What has been a favorite content strategy project/product of yours thus far? Why?
A: I particularly enjoy working on keyword maps and research. What I love about content strategy in general is that, much like game development, there’s the intuitive storytelling side and then the side that relies on hard data and mechanical solutions.
Researching keywords and mapping them are two different processes that take a lot of the mystery out of figuring out what people are literally searching for. What you think someone is searching for can actually be totally different from what the actual search term is, along with the total search volume. Things like volume and ranking difficulty are important so you can determine if it’s worth it to use that keyword or if it’s not worth pursuing. Having the data science to back up your intuition helps you make more informed decisions regarding content.
As for other content strategy projects, I am also proud to have created the first online lesson/webinar about content strategy just for game developers. It’s also a great primer in content marketing and strategy even if you’re not in games, as no prior game development experience or marketing knowledge is necessary to learn from it.
Q: What do you think is the hardest lesson for companies investing in content strategy to learn?
A: Similar to doing business and financial consulting, you often have to deliver news that people don’t want to hear. In this case, this news is usually that their ranking isn’t so good or engagement is lacking in their current content (which is why they want a content strategist, obviously). Other times though, the toughest lesson is that the company is creating content that’s easier for them to work with as opposed to what really resonates with their current audience and/or effectively draws in the audience they want.
Content strategy after all is exactly that: understanding what your audience wants. THAT can be a hard lesson when you’ve always done things a certain way or just go with what’s easier as opposed to what will actually be more effective.
It may just be easier to have an in-house writer write about the topics they know well and produce X number of 500-word pieces a day when the audience is actually craving long-form content about different topics. Or, like what keyword research and mapping has shown in my experience, it’s easier to work with a bunch of keywords you think are worth targeting, but then it turns out that almost no one is searching for those terms.
Making changes based on those recommendations, often backed by data science, can be scary. But if you’re going to invest in content strategy, you should want to make those changes.
Q: What are some hurdles you’ve faced with regards to a business’s content approach?
A: That “good” content is focused more on quality and attributes rather than what the audience wants. Writing quality and attributes (e.g. word count, split into several headings or larger paragraphs) are certainly important, but they’re not the only things to think about in approaching content. Delivery is also important! A lot of companies tend to put on what I call the “blog post blinders” in that a blog isn’t the only way you can create and deliver content.
Each company’s content needs are unique because their audience is unique. While no one’s audience is ever monolithic, and you can’t make everyone happy, there are so many evaluation and analytics tools you can use to really see whether your content is working or not. Though being able to look beyond “this is how we’ve always done it” or “this is easier” is definitely a hurdle I’ve faced.
Q: How do you stay updated on the latest news in your focus industries and on content strategy in general?
A: I like reading The Freelancer’s and Cloudpeeps’ newsletters. They’re very helpful, and I learn a lot from them. WriterAccess itself also puts out great content pertaining to the latest updates in the content strategy sphere, and SearchEngineLand is also where I stay up to date on that.
For tax stuff, I’m on the IRS NewsWire and attend live CPE usually once a year. If you’re going to the IRS Tax Forum in San Diego this year, I’m probably the only tax law expert in that room with neon blue hair, so feel free to say hi. But it’s really my tax office clients who keep me on my toes there when I have to research something for them, and I know exactly where to look for authoritative references.
For game dev stuff, I’m a frequent contributor to Gamasutra and pay attention to industry happenings over there and on VentureBeat’s GamesBeat. As Playcrafting’s business instructor, I’m also constantly on top of what’s happening in the indie games world and NYC’s thriving indie developer community through our local events. I also participate in the games industry conference circuit heavily as both a speaker and attendee.
Q: When stepping away from writing and managing content, what do you do to give yourself a break?
A: I’m a crazy toad lady, so I love hanging around amphibians and looking at cute toad videos on YouTube. Petting toads is extremely relaxing. They’re REALLY underrated pets, and you always have in-house debugging. Sadly, I lost my amphibious companion last year. I plan to adopt another toad when I return from my West Coast Ranting Tour this fall.
When I’m not in the marshes of the southeast Bronx being surrounded by mountain toads, I’m usually at local punk and hardcore shows, or at the skate park alone or with friends. I also hang a lot at game jams and developer events, or at home with vaporwave and retrowave cranked up while I do some sewing.
Q: What does your current workspace look like?
A: Today, it’s a tea lounge in lower Manhattan. Tomorrow is probably going to be the local Starbucks since my side of the Bronx is otherwise lacking in coffee shops. I’ve got a standard desktop PC for home surrounded by a ton of Post-Its with ideas for new projects and games. A nice uncluttered Chromebook and iPad for the road because I love being a digital nomad lite.
The other day it was IKEA. Did you know you can get a pretty sweet vegetarian meal for like $6? Watching people excited to furnish a new home—or arguing to no end about it—is also pretty entertaining, and the wifi in the Red Hook location is stable. If you go around 2PM on a Tuesday, you’ll have no trouble getting a table!
4-star strategist and 6-star writer, Rachel P. joined WriterAccess in 2016 and has completed nearly 600 projects between the two roles. As a strategist, she specializes in content plans, keyword research, interviews, and topic research. She is an active tax professional, a business owner, and crowdfunding expert. Rachel has a Masters in Accounting.