On Knowing When You’ve Got a Profitable Idea

So I mentioned yesterday that I had just started playing Crypt of the Necrodancer, and when I was searching YouTube for tips and tricks I found this video by indie game developer Ryan Clark (co-founder of Brace Yourself Games, the studio that produced Necrodancer, Cadence of Hyrule, and more).

It’s a 45-minute talk on how to consistently make profitable indie games, but much of his advice could apply to other creative art forms—so if that’s the question you’re currently asking yourself, set aside some time to watch the whole thing.

The biggest takeaway from the video is probably this pull quote:

If you are not confident in being able to explain why the hits hit and why the others did not, you shouldn’t be confident about your game’s chances either.

Clark then explains, in detail, the three-step process he uses to create a profitable game:

I evaluate the quantity and the quality of the game’s hooks.

I evaluate the viability of the market for similar games.

I consider how I can describe and promote the game.

I didn’t do any of this background work before launching into the draft of that mystery novel I’ve been mentioning lately, and it’s making me wonder whether I should have thought more carefully about THE HOOK and THE MARKET.

My initial instinct is to plow through the draft while I’ve got all of this creative energy and figure the rest out later, but Clark suggests that this how we get competent creative art that doesn’t survive the marketplace. If you put as much time into evaluating and eliminating your creative ideas as you do into putting the best of those ideas into practice, you’ll be more likely to create a hit.

He also recommends running your ideas past your potential audience as soon as possible, so I might as well run this in your direction:

In our eternal and dismal present, 35-year-old failed theater artist Larkin Day finds herself with no choice but to move herself, her crushed dreams, and her unpaid student loans and maxed-out credit cards into her mother’s guest bedroom.

In, like, Iowa.

After her mother insists that Larkin do something besides sit on the couch and scroll social media for celebrities with worse lives than hers, Larkin reluctantly joins a community choir as they prepare for a tri-city performance of Beethoven’s Ninth. When Larkin discovers the choir’s devilishly attractive accompanist dead on the stage door steps, she realizes that her ability to understand and manipulate people’s emotions—a skill honed through her years of stage training—might make her the ideal person to solve this mystery.

(Of course, she won’t be able to do this alone. This story, like so many stories, is really about the friends you make along the way.)

Anyway. That’s all I’ve got for you today, gooooooo enjoy the video and/or let me know what you think about that idea. ❤️

How I’m Spending My Money These Days

So I wanted to tell you a little more about how I’m spending my money these days, because I find myself in the unique position of both “needing more qualified business expenses (unless I want to turn more of my income into taxes)” and “being under budget on personal expenses.”

In other words: for the first time in my life, I’m in a position where I could be—if not should be—spending more.

The business expenses stuff was relatively easy. I doubled the amount of money I pay for guest posts, so feel free to pitch me! (I haven’t started responding to all of the pitches I received over the weekend yet, but I will SOON.)

I also signed up for Writer’s Winter Break 2020, a five-day craft+business intensive hosted by Catapult and William Morris Endeavor. Here’s how they describe it:

Unlike conferences that focus purely on craft or only on the publishing industry, our Writer’s Winter Break will offer emerging and experienced writers alike the opportunity to dive deep into their creative work while developing meaningful relationships to help kickstart a career as a published author. Focus on your manuscript, connect with your peers, find new mentors, receive detailed feedback from leading literary writers, learn how to launch and navigate a writing career, and forge transformative connections with agents and other key players in the industry.

I’ll be absolutely honest, because I always am about these kinds of things, and note that I probably wouldn’t have signed up for a $2,500 intensive (plus travel costs) if I hadn’t been actively looking for ways to grow my career (by spending money on it). I would have wanted to sign up—wanted very badly to sign up, since the experience comes with the opportunity to learn from writers like Meg Wolitzer and pitch yourself to William Morris Endeavor—but I wouldn’t have been able to justify the expense if I hadn’t wanted to justify some more expenses.

I’m going to be meeting with my CPA in a few weeks, which in itself will be another qualified business expense, and we’re going to have a detailed conversation about tax optimization—but that’s another post for another time.

As for the personal expenses… well, here’s a shortlist of what I’ve bought recently (all prices are rounded because I’m running to a meeting in nine minutes and am not going to look them up):

  • $100 on plants and locally-made pots, when my favorite local plant store opened a new branch (PLANT PUN INTENDED)
  • $80 on Swan Lake tickets, because I wanted to be close enough to see the feet (that’s a Ballet Shoes reference, of course)
  • $15 on the art museum’s “art in the dark” event, where they gave us all tiny flashlights and let us wander the museum at night like we were going to do an art heist or something (no art was heisted AFAIK)
  • $100 on the black-tie-optional art museum gala that is in one week and I still need to figure out what to wear (like, am I going to be out of place if I wear a gown because I totally want to wear a gown)
  • $250 on a donation to support music scholarships
  • $15 on a YMCA T-shirt because the YMCA was selling T-shirts
  • $20 on indie rhythm game Crypt of the Necrodancer and $44 on the accompanying dance pad (which I believe is also indie-made)

With the exception of Crypt of the Necrodancer, all of these expenses are community-based, which feels good; I spent about sixty seconds asking myself if it would be better for the world if I just made donations instead of buying all of these tickets, because it felt a little extravagant and potentially selfish to be, like, swanning around town (BALLET PUN INTENDED), and then I remembered that I was on the board of an arts organization and we spend at least half of our meetings discussing how we can sell more tickets.

In other words: they want me to come to the events. That’s why the events are there. ❤️

Okay okay okay I gotta run MEETING TIME

but more on this LATER THIS WEEK

leave me YOUR QUESTIONS

sorry this post is so rushed and potentially CAVALIER

Writing and Money Episode 19: Should You Become an LLC?

In which I list the pros and cons of becoming an LLC, and offer my advice. Remember: I am neither a lawyer nor a CPA, so you might want to consult both of them as well!

I should clarify what I mean by “the IRS counts all your LLC earnings as your income even though you can only take a distribution:” Let’s say you are a freelancer who incorporated as a single-member LLC and you earned $50,000 in freelance earnings. Let’s also say that you took $40,000 of those earnings as a distribution, which means that’s the money that went from your business bank account to your personal bank account and got put towards rent and food and stuff. The other $10K stayed in your business bank account and was either spent on business expenses or saved for future business expenses.

At the end of the year, the IRS will tax you on the entire $50K (minus expenses/deductions/etc. etc. etc.) even though you only paid yourself $40K. That’s what I mean by “it’s all your income,” even though you’re also supposed to keep your business income separate from your personal income.

Writing & Money Episode 16: How to Self-Publish

How do you turn a file saved on your computer into AN ACTUAL BOOK? How do you get that book on Amazon? Or in bookstores? What about libraries?

This episode takes you through the process of publishing your book and getting it out into the world.

You might also want to listen to the episodes Why Self-Publish? and Talking to Dana Kelly about “Your Book, Your Brand.”

Here are two more resources I mention in the podcast:

Also, when I started writing the show notes, I found out that Amazon might be phasing out CreateSpace in favor of offering a new “print-on-demand paperback” service through Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing. (This industry changes so quickly!) The basic information in the podcast should still apply!

Writing & Money Episode 13: Let’s Talk About Taxes

It’s almost Tax Day! But since most of us have already done our 2017 taxes, this episode is all about how freelance taxes will change in 2018.

I mention TaxAct a few times, as well as the articles TaxAct sponsored on The Billfold. If you’re interested in those articles, here they are:

You should also read this article I wrote for The Freelancer, which covers 2018 tax changes as they relate to both sole proprietors and incorporated freelancers: Should Freelancers Incorporate in 2018?