The best advice I ever got on writing was from an acting teacher my freshman year. I asked her about playwriting. "I don't know anything about writing," she said, "but I know that a Broadway play costs $50." (Okay, I just dated myself). "You have to write a story worth $50 to the average working person."That always struck me as an excellent test of quality. Can I tell a story that is worth the audience's cold hard cash? That's a standard that is visceral. It's real. It cuts through all of the literary, English major crap and gets right down to nitty-gritty. The most important critical question I have for any reader is, "did you get your money's worth?"
That question has become top of the list in this digital day and age. What is a story worth? Is it $2.99? $9.99? $13.99? Will amateur authors flood the market with such low-priced material that professionals can no longer make a living? Is it better to sell ten books at $2.99 or three at $9.99? If you do sell a lot of books at a low-price, should you then raise the price?
And there is the question of the value of a publisher's stamp. When Harper Collins publishes a book, they are saying, "Out of the thousands of books we've screened, this one is worth your time and money." What is that recommendation worth? As publishers put out more books on the e-market, do they de-value the worth of their stamp?In talking about traditional verses e-publishing, the questions of value centered around hard costs like paper, printing, art, etc. Now, of course, we're learning that e-packaging – metadata, formatting, meeting platform requirements – come at a cost. But the real question is harder to answer. What is the story itself worth? Storytellers are unique to our species. We are not human without them, but how much are we willing to pay them?
I don't have the answers. Do you?
R.S. Mellette is an experienced screenwriter, actor, director, and novelist. You can find him at the Dances With Films festival blog, and on Twitter, or read him in the Spring Fevers and The Fall: Tales of the Apocalypse anthologies.