Calm Down, Beyonce

Pricing ebooks for indie authors is always a hot topic in the Writing Community on Twitter. Some authors believe that lower prices are the way to go–especially if you’re not an established writer–and others feel that artists should be compensated appropriately for their work. The term “appropriately” is what I’m going to write about today.

When I think of my writing career, I think of Beyonce.

No, I don’t think I’m the “Beyonce of the Writing World.” No, I don’t think I’m as talented as her. My singing and dance moves leave a lot to be desired. Nor am I as stylish or cool. Not by a mile. But I think about how Beyonce was not always Beyonce.

When I’m unsure of my trajectory in my writing career, I often fantasize about the time when Beyonce was just some kid in high school telling other kids that she was going to be a superstar one day. Not that I know for a fact she told them that, I just imagine she had the foresight. I mean, she’s Beyonce. I assume she can see the future because she can do everything else.

For a long time, I’m sure she was singing for free at one place or another. Getting paid minor amounts to show off her skills. Even when her father (I think) formed Destiny’s Child, they weren’t playing arenas for a long time. No one gave a crap about Beyonce for many years of her career. She was just another girl with a dream and talent–but no one saw how plausible that dream was or how much talent she had early on.

Beyonce had to pay her dues like everyone else.

Some artists start out traveling a country in a van, playing for peanuts in bars or other small venues, barely scraping by for a really long time before they hit it big. Most never even make it past this stage in their journey. I’ve even heard stories of bands and artists paying people to come watch them perform to help boost their clout in the town they’re playing in that night. They have to struggle at first, find their niche, garner the respect and admiration of their fans, and work like a dog in order to achieve their dreams.

So, when it came to pricing my ebooks early on in my career, I went low. Most of my ebooks were sold for $2.99. I felt this was a fair rate to both myself and the readers. I also enrolled all of my books in Kindle Unlimited so that readers with a very limited budget could still access my stories. I felt that the more hands I could get my books into (or, I guess, the more devices I could get my stories in), the more I could connect with potential readers. The more I connected, the more I had a chance of establishing myself as a reliable storyteller.

Because I knew that no one had a reason yet to believe it.

I knew that I had to prove myself – pay my dues. I couldn’t charge Beyonce prices without having Beyonce clout. Is it fair that I put my heart and soul (and a lot of time and energy) into writing a book and people might not pay $10 for it? Well…that’s not for me to decide. But, if you think about all of the starving artists who have to eat Ramen until they make enough money to dine on lobster, it gives you perspective.

So, before you’re Beyonce charging $500 for front row seats at your arena concert, you’re some kid in high school trying to convince everyone that you’ll be the world’s biggest superstar one day.

Fair, not fair, feelings have to be ignored in this matter. When you’re an artist/creative, you have to prove your worth. Not every singer deserves Beyonce money because not all of them are worth Beyonce money.

To be fair, a lot of factors go into pricing a book–especially for an indie author. Traditionally published authors don’t have much say in the matter. Indie authors have to consider the time it took to write, what their expectations are, how much the publishing platform will take from the sale price, the production cost of hard copies of the books, and so forth. On Amazon for example, an author is also made aware that to participate in some royalty programs, they must sell their book at or above a certain price point. Whether an indie goes high or low on their price, it’s usually not an arbitrary or flippant decision.

Of course, I do not intend to shame any new indie author for pricing their debut book really high. I certainly don’t shame new indie authors for pricing their debut books really low. We all have the right to price our books as we see fit. My intention is to give perspective to writers who feel that this is even a discussion. You can price your books high and struggle with convincing people to buy them, or you can price your books low and struggle with not making much money while you build your reader base. The struggle you choose is up to you. Just keep perspective about what each price point means – and stop shaming each other.

Tremendous Love & Thanks

Chase

Why Should I care?

Stories are either character-driven or plot-driven. If you ask people in the writing and reading communities on Twitter which is the best, you’ll be inundated with responses. This is one of the book/story subjects that people get very passionate about. Some people hate character-driven stories because sometimes they feel like “nothing happens.” Other people hate plot-driven stories because they “didn’t care about any of the characters enough to commit.”

In my opinion, plot-driven stories can be boring if one event follows another event and another event, so on and so forth until a reader is lost in so many happenings that they can’t remember what is going on. With character-driven stories, I feel that people can become bored with learning about a character and start to wonder when something will happen that they care about. Both types of stories can become cumbersome for readers.

Neither way of thinking is wrong, though.

Whether you are writing a story that is driven by the characters or the plot, only one thing matters. You have to make it clear to the reader why they should care. You don’t have to beat the reader over the head with the reason, but it needs to be clear what the stakes are in your story and make it resonate emotionally with your readers.

A plot-driven story about a rag-tag group of misfits saving the world makes it pretty clear to the reader why they should want the characters to achieve their goal. It’s to save all of humanity–so why shouldn’t a reader care? However, you also want to build a world that the reader feels is worth saving. If the world (Earth or somewhere imaginary) you have your characters living in feels like a place that deserves to be destroyed, your plot-driven story won’t resonate with your readers. They won’t be able to commit to the story or cheer the characters on.

A character-driven story about someone coming-of-age in high school can resonate with many readers if you give them a reason to have a strong emotional connection to your character. Make your main character someone they can relate to or someone they feel like they have known in real life. Character-driven stories demand that the writer fully fleshes out their main characters so that readers feel that they know them inside and out. Conversely, you can create a character your reader hates, but you have to make the reader love to hate them.

Many authors opt to write stories that are both plot- and character-driven. You don’t have to commit to one way of thinking. But you do have to commit to making the reader care.

Eliciting an emotional reaction from a reader can be even more difficult than plotting out a story or developing a character.

A writer can plot out dozens of events from Point A to Point Z in a story. They can write up backstories, likes and dislikes, characteristics, and more for their character(s). But without letting those events unfurl in a way that draws the reader in, and without making a character seem like a real person, the reader just can’t commit.

One of my favorite books of all time is THE STAND by Stephen King. This is a perfect example of a book that is both plot and character driven. A plague decimates the world’s population and dozens (if not hundreds) of characters band together on two sides–good and evil–to either save or destroy the world.

Besides the fact that I feel that the book was expertly written, King presented a plot and laid out events that drew the reader into his world and made them root for the survival of one side or the other. Out of all of his dozens (if not hundreds) of characters, none of them felt underdeveloped. I felt as if I knew each character he introduced and found myself loving, liking, disliking, and hating them. I was invested in the survival or death of each character. I was enthralled from the first page to the last.

So…how do you make a reader care about your character? How do you make them care about the plot?

With characters, you have to figure out what makes the character “tick.” What makes them relatable? What can you write about the character that will make a reader feel like they know them? What will make a reader love them or hate them? What about their motivation will ring true to a reader? What makes them different from other characters readers have seen in a million other books? What makes them special?

With plot, what are the stakes? What will happen if this event leads to this event, then to that event…what is there to win or lose? What are you going to deliver in the final act that the reader will be dying to find out about? How can you connect the events you have planned in the way that will have the most impact? Build, build, build, until the reader can barely breathe from the anticipation–make the climax of your novel the great exhale for your reader.

Whether you choose plot- or character-driven stories (or both), there is a lot of work to be done. Your biggest job as an author is to elicit an emotional response from your reader, to make them connect to the story in some way that they won’t forget. If there’s anything worse than a story readers hate, it’s one they just don’t care about.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase

Just Say "Thank You"

One thing that any creative has talked about at length with other creatives–or other sympathetic people–is critiques. Great, good, okay, bad, terrible–criticism can run the gamut. Sometimes people really love what we do and sometimes they really hate it. Most often it falls somewhere between the two extremes. Regardless of where the needle lands after someone has consumed your product and is ready to tell you what they think, a creative has to be ready to handle it.

For me, if someone is extremely positive in their critique, I have a very difficult time knowing what to say. Effusive praise always makes me very bashful suddenly and speechless. Don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly flattered and humbled–that’s what any creative wants to hear about their work–but I’m overwhelmed, too. How does one express how elated and joyful such praise makes them?

I always fall back on: “Thank you! I’m so glad you enjoyed it!”

It’s not that I don’t want to say a million other things or even hug and kiss the person who gave the praise…I just lock up. So, I have a go-to response so that I do not say something stupid or awkward. Maybe there’s something inside of me that always expects bad critiques–low self-esteem buried deep down, possibly?–but that’s an issue I’ll have to work through with my therapist. I know that sometimes I seem aloof or as if I expected the praise when I say: “Thank you! I’m so glad you enjoyed it!”, but that is not my intention. I simply want to indicate that I received the praise, I’m happy, and now I need to go hide in a corner until my cheeks are a normal shade once more.

On the other end of the spectrum, I feel that I’ve always received criticisms fairly well–as long as it is about the work. I don’t handle personal attacks well and will fight you, but critiques of my actual work are always fine. I don’t love it, but getting feedback is necessary to becoming better at whatever craft one performs. As I recently told a friend who gave me very helpful feedback: “I just want to be better.” Feedback about the work, good or bad, helps me step closer towards that goal. Of course, I’ve always had trouble knowing what to say to bad critiques as well.

It’s hard to know what to say to bad critiques so that you let the person know that you hear them, understand where they are coming from, and are not upset. You want them to know that you appreciate the feedback and appreciate that they cared enough to want you to be your best. I also want them to know that I value the time and energy (and often, money) they put into reviewing my work. It’s just difficult at times to convey that without rambling on or seeming insincere or defensive. This is particularly a problem if I’ve specifically asked a person to give me feedback on something that I’ve written. I don’t want to say or do anything that would make them want to stop giving me feedback.

A few months ago, I was talking to my developmental editor about this problem that I have with not knowing what to say. He asked: “Well, what do you say when someone has nice things to say?” I gave him my go-to “thank you” message. He took a second, then said: “Well, why wouldn’t you say ‘thank you’ for any critique?”

We talked at length, but here is basically everything I realized, in a nutshell.

Just say “thank you.”

When you ask someone for critiques of your work, “thank you” is an appropriate response to anything they have to say. If they give you praise, then they are letting you know you are doing well and are on the right track. If they give you critiques of what can be improved, or talk about things they absolutely hated, they are giving you tips that could make you better. Either way, they are helping you become a better writer.

“Thank you” works for criticism as well as it works for praise.

Of course, there’s always a chance that a person will take this the wrong way and think you are being dismissive. However, people have to realize that criticism has to be processed before someone can respond in an appropriate way. The response doesn’t need to be made to the critic, either. The response comes in the form of deciding to ignore the critique, or going back to the drawing board.

Whether I get high praise or bad feedback, I always know that the real truth lies somewhere in the middle. I’m constantly in my head, trying to figure out how I can be better or what I could have done differently. My own worst and best critic…is me. But I always need time to process my thoughts before I can make appropriate adjustments to what I am doing.

A reviewer or critic has had hours, days, or weeks of reading a book. They’ve had time to form helpful thoughts and suggestions or think of the praise that serves the work best. A creative cannot be expected to do the same thing within the space of seconds.

“Thank you” is good enough.

It tells the reviewer/critic that what they’ve had to say has been listened to and the creative will go find out what they need to do to move forward. The time and energy (and money) spent on reviewing the work is much appreciated, but the creative doesn’t have to sit down and tell you what they are going to do with the critique you’ve given them.

Saying “thank you” is a classy and perfectly acceptable response to any critique, good or bad. It shows that the creative is not going to argue or be defensive about the opinions of the reviewer/critic. So…if someone has a problem with that response…that’s really just their problem.

So, just say “thank you” when you get critique–especially if you specifically asked someone for a critique. It’s not awkward, it’s not rude, it’s not defensive or argumentative, it’s just perfect.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase

Dissect This

Advice is everywhere. Are you a new writer? Intermediate? Have you gone professional but still feel that advice is good from time to time? We can all improve, no matter our skill level, right?

Luckily, advice is everywhere in nearly every profession–but especially in the creative arts. If you’re a writer, a photographer, a painter, a sculptor, a director–if you are a creative, you will find a million people telling you what you are doing wrong and what you can be doing better. If you’re lucky, they’ll also be generous with telling you what you are doing right in your process as well.

I love advice. I love advice that aligns with my process and I love advice that is antithetical to what I am doing.

But that sounds like they cancel each other out! You might be saying that to yourself right now.

The truth of the matter is–being told you’re doing things right and being told you’re doing things wrong is important because the truth lies somewhere in the middle. This is because no piece of advice fits all creatives. Advice, like a lot of things, falls on a spectrum. What works for one creative won’t work at all for another.

Advice comes at me from all directions. Sometimes it comes from readers, whose opinions I value since they are who I am writing for and they know what they want. Mostly, advice comes to me from other creatives and the folks at my imprint. Often, I find that the advice of the consumer and the producers of the product is in direct conflict with each other.

So, while advice is helpful, conflicting advice can induce a headache at times.

How do you take advice from dozens of sources and figure out where on the spectrum the truth sits? I’m glad you asked. I have a checklist.

  1. Is your success important to the person giving advice?
  2. Does the person giving you advice usually consume the type of product you produce?
  3. Does the person giving you advice do the same type of creative work you do?
  4. If the person giving you advice is a creative–are they actually succeeding in their own ventures?
  5. Was the advice unsolicited, and if so, what prompted them to give you the advice?
  6. What are the advice giver’s credentials that makes them a good person to be giving advice?

If the person is not rooting for your success, don’t take their advice. if they’ve never consumed the product you produce, don’t take their advice. If they have no experience with the type of work you do, don’t take their advice. If they are unsuccessful in their ventures, don’t take their advice. If you have any indication that a person is trying to sabotage you, don’t take their advice. And if they have absolutely no experience or credentials to be giving advice to others, you shouldn’t take their advice.

But if the opposite is true, maybe consider what they are saying and see if it can work for you and your process. It doesn’t hurt to try new things and tweak your process to make it the best it can be. This can be anything from the actual creative process to design to marketing. There’s no step-by-step for how to be creative and make the resulting product desirable to a consumer. There’s certainly no Get Rich Quick How-To that works. Even J.K. Rowling and Stephen King struggled before they made it. There have been superb books that just don’t catch on and there have been not so great books that millions of people adore. Art is subjective after all, right?

One trap I get caught in often is (sometimes bitterly) thinking: Why is THAT doing so well? It’s not that great.

That’s just an asshole viewpoint that I yank myself away from whenever it rears its ugly head. It’s not my place to tell consumers that they are wrong in enjoying the art that they enjoy. Most consumers enjoy a variety of different types of art. A reader can really enjoy reading both Twilight and The Kite Runner. Liking both doesn’t make a reader wrong. In fact, as I think about it, I love those types of readers. People who enjoy different genres and pick up a book solely because that’s what they’re in the mood for right now are some of the very best people.

Besides, trying to figure out why one thing works and another doesn’t will only cause a creative to go mad. You don’t have to assume that your high fantasy tale won’t be enjoyable to readers if everyone’s reading vampire young adult right now.

Keep writing your high fantasy. Write the best high fantasy you can write. Then figure out where and how to market it. You’ll find your niche in a market saturated with art that is in direct contrast to what you make. Whatever you do, don’t change everything about yourself to fit what is popular now. By the time you catch up to where the pack is now, they’ll have moved on to something else anyway. And then you’ll be in a never-ending cycle of trying to keep up with everyone else.

On this website, I often give advice in a way. I write about my experiences, how I create, and what works for me. I’m not really giving advice, but describing one way that being a creative can be successful. No one is required to read my blog posts and do things the exact same way that I do them. At best, I hope to inspire others to chase their dreams, try things, go against the grain, be unique, and hopefully be successful as a creative. My advice or descriptions of how I do things is definitely not guaranteed to make you successful in your endeavors. I’m still working on my own success, after all.

Ultimately, every creative has to realize that advice is just a suggestion. There are no hard and fast rules for how to create or what the next big thing will be. You can’t predict that. Who knew that Harry Potter would hit so big when it did? Loads of publishers rejected it, after all.

Listen to advice, send it through the checklist, try the things that make sense for you to try. Reject the things that make no sense to you. But most importantly, remember that there is only one you. Only you can make the art the way that you make it.

Advice is great, but a strong sense of self and belief in your art is invaluable.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase