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January 23, 2014

Know Your Goals: Artist-Author or Professional-Author?

Red pencil with text: Artist? Or Professional?

The headline of this post isn’t a trick question. There isn’t only “one right answer.” As writers, we’re allowed to have different goals. Some might dream of money, others of making a difference in readers’ lives, or some a combination of both.

Too often in the discussions about “how to be successful,” the emphasis is on income alone. For many of us, that measure works.

But if our goal is focused more on quality, or readers, or inspiration, or whatever, we might feel left out of the discussions. Or worse, we might feel like failures.

There’s No “One Right Path” to Success

That’s why I loved Anne R. Allen’s post about two publishing paths. She labels the two paths “hobbyist” and “professional.” But for many of us, the label of a “hobbyist” would give the impression of someone who didn’t take their work seriously.

In fact, what Anne is talking about are the two paths for authors who do care about quality. The major difference instead is whether we have a business mindset, so I’m going to refer to the two paths as “artist-author” and “professional-author.”

The honest fact of the matter is that not all of us have a business mindset. I wrote long ago about whether authors who didn’t have business sense were doomed:

“The push to force writers into a business model could make those without business savvy feel there’s no place for them in the industry.  Many creative people don’t have a money-wise bone in their body, and I’d hate to lose their stories from the world.”

At the time of that post, I said writers without business sense were not doomed, and I still believe that. But I wasn’t as clear as I wanted to be about how to approach that situation. Luckily, Anne’s post does a great job of explaining how the two paths work, and more importantly how we get to define our idea of success.

Writing Path #1: Artist-Author

The Artist-Author knows their goals. They don’t measure themselves by income. They write for the joy of writing, and money is, as Anne states, “gravy.”

They don’t need to worry as much about their platform, or sticking to a single genre, or spending money unrelated to their stories—no advertising or fancy websites unless they want to. They don’t need to pressure themselves with deadlines or backlist unless they want.

In short, they can be just as educated about the craft of writing as any other author. This path isn’t a dig about their writing quality. However, because they have goals other than money, they don’t need to do all the stuff that comes with treating their writing as a business.

I say again: There’s nothing wrong with choosing this path, and it’s not a reflection on the quality of their work. Artist-authors can be just as serious—if not more serious than others—about writing quality.

As Anne points out, the only risk for these authors is if they get wrapped up in the goals others have. Artist-authors should not focus on the rejection cycle of queries or the money-suck cycle of expensive publishing services.

(In fact, Anne cautions artist-authors on pursuing traditional publishing. Like she says, it’s not unheard of for traditional publishers to expect releases on a pressure-filled schedule, require authors to build a platform, and offer cut-throat contracts—all issues at odds with a non-business-minded path. Any artist-authors going the route of traditional publishing should look for partners that respect their goals.)

Instead, artist-authors can stick to the simple and the free or low cost options for self-publishing. With the proper partners helping with beta reading, editing, and covers, this route doesn’t have to cost much.

Self-publishing is enough to get their work out into the world, and since they spent next to nothing getting their work out there, they’re not worried about making their investment back. Rather, they’ll measure success in other ways: the reviewer touched by their story, the reader they didn’t have before, the joy they get from the writing itself.

If this artist-author path sounds like you, embrace your goals and check out Anne’s full post. And if it bothers you to see “hobbyist,” just fill in the label “artist-author” whenever you see it. *smile*

Writing Path #2: Professional-Author

The Professional-Author knows their goals. They treat their writing as a business, so they measure themselves against typical business-oriented specifics—namely, income.

Just as much as any business person, they have to keep up with the industry and technology relevant to their job: writing. They need business plans and a brand. They need to invest in their business, with professional assistance and publicity, to maximize their return-on-investment.

Also, just like the artist-author path doesn’t automatically indicate low quality, this path doesn’t automatically indicate high quality. Plenty of professional-authors have decided the way to maximize their income is by releasing lots and lots of crap. (Or in too many cases, deciding plagiarism is the way to go.)

Some professional-authors will pursue traditional or hybrid publishing partners and some will pursue self-publishing. Because they’ve spent time studying the industry, they’ll hopefully know scams to watch out for and contract clauses to avoid. They should have a long-term business strategy for how to balance traditional, self, and hybrid publishing for their goals.

But because of the investment aspect of this path, the risks are higher. They can lose money, potentially a lot of money, by choosing the wrong strategies or partners. They can struggle with finding a balance between writing time and business-activities time. They can lose sight of the writing craft in pursuit of faster releases, even though those shortcuts eat into their bottom line.

(Beverley Kendall’s report on self-published authors backs up this last fact. Almost 40% of authors with 60+ self-published releases(!) make less than $10K because they’re skipping professional editing or book covers in their single-minded focus on release numbers.)

If this professional-author path sounds like you, study the lessons we can learn from others. Weigh the strategies others have tried and come up with a plan that matches your goals.

Lessons Learned: How to Maximize Chances for Success

Beverley Kendall’s report is a gold mine for those on either path. Her results show what works for maximizing income, but many of the tips are also no-cost ways artist-authors can reach more readers:

  • Write a series
  • Make a series-related short story, novella, or the first novel free
  • Include excerpts of other stories, especially at the back of the freebie
  • Price novel-length books in the $2.99-$4.99 sweet spot
  • Build a backlist of quality stories
  • Don’t expect success overnight—think in years

On Beverley’s Facebook page, she shared a few more survey tidbits. This one is very enlightening on what it takes to make more money:

“Of authors who earned over $50,000 in 2013

95.93% have 4 or more books up for sale
93.91 % have been self-publishing for more than 1 (one) year.”

Remember those years I mentioned? Time and backlist, everyone, time and backlist. *smile*

On this post and this post, Beverley illuminates the value of series and freebies:

  • For authors over $50K:
    • 96.93% of their bestselling books were part of a series
    • 68% offered one or more books in the series as a freebie
  • For authors over $500K:
    • 100% of their bestselling books were part of a series
    • 88.24% offered one or more books in the series as a freebie
  • For authors between $0-$10K:
    • 25.60% have not written a series
    • 32.53% offered one or more books in their series free
    • 41.87% do not offer a freebie from their series

However, not every author should offer a freebie. This is where a long-term strategy comes into play. We can lose money and potential readers if we don’t have other stories available, as shown by this post:

“After downloading and reading a free digital book by an author, 88.54% of readers have gone on to purchase other books by that author.”

Only a few of her insights on how to maximize our chances for success apply more to professional-authors willing to invest or write to the market:

  • Use professional-level editing and book covers
    • Beverley notes one reason why those from a traditional publishing background make more money: “22.69% MORE authors who were originally traditionally published had their books edited by someone with a publishing background than authors who had never been published before.”
  • Choose the “right” category/genre (note: this often involves chasing trends(*), so your mileage may vary)
    • * New Adult Romance: 43.48% earned more than $50K
    • Mystery/Thriller: 30.77% earned more than $50K
    • * Erotic Romance: 28.57% earned more than 50K
    • SciFi/Fantasy: 19.15% earned more than $50K
    • Non-fiction: 10.34% earned more than $50K

Finally, after I pestered her for more insights, Beverley did another analysis for what the statistics would be when an author did everything “right.” Of the 121 respondents who:

  • Have been self-publishing for more than 1 year
  • Wrote a series
  • Put one or more of their books free
  • Have 4 or more self-published books available
  • Price their work between $2.99-$7.99
  • Acquire professional editing and book covers

The stats revealed that 81.82% earn over $10K and 57.04% earn more than $50K. Click through to this link to see the full breakdown.

Beverley’s report is invaluable for showing what works. Lumping all self-published authors together (the serious and the non-serious) dilutes the lessons we can learn from those doing it with a plan for success. As Beverley said in her follow-up post:

“So does it matter really if 80% of self-published authors don’t make more than $1000 in a year if you intend to emulate the 20% who are doing it right and making a very comfortable living doing it?”

And now I’m burnt on numbers posts for a while, but I hope this has been educational and enlightening. *reassembles brain*

Personally, while I consider myself on the professional-author path because of my business mindset, I don’t want to be hyper about it. A lot of the artist-author attitude appeals to me, like doing the platform building I want to do and that’s it.

In other words, there is no “one right way” and we shouldn’t let anyone tell us differently. Our first priority is to figure out what we care about, what our goals are. Only then can we judge the right path for us, plan for how to reach our definition of success on that path, and hopefully ignore the divergent opinions of those on other paths. *smile*

What do you think of these two paths? Which path appeals to you more and why? How can we avoid the traps along each path (artist-authors feeling like failures due to others’ measures of success and professional-authors losing focus on the craft)? Do you think artist-authors should pay attention to the lessons they can learn from business-oriented strategies, like from Beverley’s report? What can professional-authors learn from the other path?

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What do you think?

78 Comments on "Know Your Goals: Artist-Author or Professional-Author?"

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Tamara LeBlanc
Tamara LeBlanc

Good morning, Jami!
I’d like to think of myself as professional, with business savvy and a drive to succeed…in truth, I, as you mentioned in this post, don’t have a business bone in my body.
Since I’m not Nora Roberts, or J.K. Rowling, or you, I’d like to at least be more prolific. That’s the goal I’ve made for myself this year. I MUST be more prolific. I just sent in my rewritten, extended novel to my agent and I’m praying she gets me a great deal. But if she does, I need to be on the ball. I need to write!
To me, the artist, being prolific will help me also be more business oriented.
Eye opening post, and thanks for the links!
Have a great weekend,
Tamara

Carradee
Technically, I’m professional-author on a business path that looks more like an artist-author. >_> I have >5 in-progress published series (gulp!) and more started, two of which have an initial release already out. Now, those series have the following breakdown: 1. sci-fi/space opera short stories (which has 1–3 out and is technically okay to leave on hiatus, at the moment) 2. YA sci-fi novelettes (#1 is out, and #2 is written and needs to be submitted to the publisher; #3 [the last] is in progress; and I’ve realized one of my already-written short stories is a far-future prequel, so with permission from the publisher for the novelettes, I’ll be self-publishing that with an excerpt of #1) 3. dark fantasy novelettes that slaughter fairy tales (#1 out, #2 half drafted; series will have at least 6) 4. dark high fantasy for YA/NA (books 1&2 out; book #3 in editing, book #4 in drafting, and there may be a #5 before the prequel gets written; I hope not). This particular series is what’s gotten me popular on Wattpad. 5. dark urban fantasy for YA/NA (books 1&2 out; book #3 started, barely; and it’s the kind of series that readers won’t even fully understand what’s going on until book 4 or 5, and the current sales reflect that…and that it’s pretty disturbing) 6+. shorter stories, many of them tie-ins for series 4&5, featuring side characters. In other words, I’ve set myself up to sell poorly. But I knew that when I started spreading… Read more »
Bev

Great post, Jami!

I think one of the most important things about publishing SP or traditional, is expectations. No one sets themselves up to fail but nothing, especially in publishing, is guaranteed. Too many other factors can determine any author’s success.

So if I want to write non-fiction as opposed to romance, I know it’s going to be more an uphill climb. Or you may decide your work–if you can get it contracted–would be better off with a traditional publisher.

And for me, at least back in 2011, self-publishing was my ONLY option if I wanted to get my book out. I thank God it was every single day. 🙂

Ken Hughes

Excellent breakdown and link collection – a real portal on the subject, with solid tips.

One thing I wish you’d added is what might be the definitive tough-talk analysis of how to live these paths: Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s http://kriswrites.com/2013/08/28/the-business-rusch-a-career-versus-publication/

Rhenna Morgan

There’s one more choice – Libra Author. 🙂 (Balance) I’ve got a definite focus on business, but it’s the artist part that gets me through the drudgery that sometimes comes with this business.

Anne R. Allen

Fantastic post, Jami–and I think you’ve really improved on my idea by calling the first path “Artist-Authors”. I used the word “hobbyist” because Hugh Howey did in his post on the subject. The point is that self-publishing has allowed artist-authors to make money without plunging into a business world they’re not suited for. They may even make a lot of money.

Mostly I think both our posts show that this is a fantastic time to be a writer, because we now have choices that never existed before. We can be artists without turning our lives over to big business conglomerates or having our work changed and diluted by marketing departments.

Thanks for a great post! I’ll link to it from mine.

Jordan McCollum

Man, I love your blog 😉

Words are funny. When I read Artist-Author in the headline, I got the idea of someone who creates more for the sake of creation than for earning potential, but for me, that translates into deep dedication to a high-quality end product. (I think that may be more at Artisan-Author.)

I’m a professional-author in that I am dedicated to quality and have invested in delivering that quality. I’ve got a business plan and an actual business and license and all that. I do make some creative decisions based on the market (like deciding to pursue what began as a stand-alone into a series, although if I didn’t have any ideas, I wouldn’t have gone there).

But like you, I’m still deeply dedicated to the artistry side: I want to fall in love with my projects first. If I fall in love with something that isn’t marketable (which the industry seemed to tell me with my first indie pubbed novel), I write it anyway. I write because I enjoy it. If that ever permanently ceases to be the case, I’m not going to keep churning out books to suit the professional-author’s business plan. I’m obsessive about producing the highest quality book and editing. every. thing. to. death.

Artisan-professional-author? It’s the new hybrid 😉

Jim Traylor

Great article Jami! I have always been a Artist-Author and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The stress of trying to write for a living would take all the fun out of it. I am retired and fortunately, I can afford to write purely for my own creative enjoyment. I find it interesting that many folks refuse to believe I have no interest in fame or fortune. I feel like the couple who does not want children; everyone looks at me as if I’ve stripped the threads on my logic nut.

Serena Yung
Serena Yung


I find it interesting that many folks refuse to believe I have no interest in fame or fortune. I feel like the couple who does not want children; everyone looks at me as if I’ve stripped the threads on my logic nut.

Exactly! Many of my friends believe I’m weird and “under-reaching” by not wanting to be rich and famous and “the next J. K. Rowling.” In fact, it’s kind of annoying to hear people say that I want to be the next J.K. Rowling because it implies that a writer HAS to be famous before they can be seen as serious, legit writers. I aspire to be an “unknown great” or “great unknown” myself, someone with amazing writing skills yet whom nobody has ever heard of! Though I can tell some friends and family members about my stories.

Sharon Hughson

I think I’m a hybrid. I want to make money but my main reason for writing is to tell the stories in my head. Confining myself to novels or short stories gives me a focus for my creativity.
My goals tend to be focused on works completed and ready to publish rather than dollar amounts. I’m trying to build a platform but I feel like I’m treading on fly paper. I keep praying it will be different once I have a published book to talk about.
Thanks for crunching all these numbers for us. It was very enlightening and informative.

Taurean Watkins
I’m really torn about a lot of this. Even though I see what I do as a business, I’m not yet paid for it, and if I hated what I do, it would show in my work, and no one would enjoy it. I think artist author is free from the stigma of “Hobbyist” which I don’t take to. Things that are a hobby to me are things I couldn’t do for a living but I enjoy for my own sake. Cooking is one of those things. There was a time I wanted to be a pro chef with my own restaurant, until I learned how abusive the environment is, I can’t move like Sonic the Hedgehog and be high quality/consistent, all at once. So I had to give up that dream, at least for now. I still watch cooking shows, study cookbooks and learn stuff, and there’s still a part of me that wants to work in culinary, but again like writing the apprenticeship is long and pay too low to get me where I want to be. I have the passion for food and willingness to learn, but that “Hell’s Kitchen” style environment would KILL me, emotionally as much as physically, so for now, I cook for myself and no one else. I still have to work through art and commerce regarding my writing, but at least I don’t have to face some of that “Boot Camp*” antagonism that breaks me rather than being motivating for more hardened… Read more »
Stacey Zink

Jami, I loved this post. Thank you for sharing the statistics. It’s fascinating to see the numbers in black and white and realize how we can impact our own sales. I have a few friends who have self-pubbed and I see a lot of truth to what you are saying based on their experiences. It certainly gives a writer a lot to think about. Thanks again! I always enjoy reading your blog.

Noelle Pierce
Hey Jami! I haven’t commented in a while, but I still love your blog and the posts you…er, post. 😀 I’m glad I saw this one because I’ve been struggling with this issue the last month. I’m definitely more of an artist-author in that I don’t have a drive to put my books out there (this is possibly a product of my HATING the revision process so much I’d rather yank my fingernails off, but I digress). I like learning the craft and plotting my stories, and I don’t limit myself to one subgenre (though there’s always a romance). I currently have novels/novellas in historical romance, paranormal romance, erotic romance, and urban fantasy. None edited enough to put out there, despite several friends who urge me to do so on an almost daily basis. I’m thinking about it, but I’m still deeply rooted in the contemplation stage–I have no intention of actually doing it until the end of the year at the earliest. I enjoy drafting and plotting most, and I do some networking/brand building on the side. I think I sent out a grand total of 20 queries for three stories over the last 5 years. I occasionally enter contests because I’m a feedback whore (which is funny, because I’m not yet willing to put my writing on Amazon, for the ultimate feedback rush LOL). I read articles about the industry and the craft. One day, in the not too distant future, I do want to publish (traditional would… Read more »
Robyn LaRue

Hi, Jami 🙂

I shared this post with one of my CPs who debuted in October and is working on the marketing/business thing now. I’m working hard to build the platform first, and publish (hopefully) late March.

My ideal would be to hit around the $50k mark and turn over the business part of it (and the line edits, etc) to someone else so I could concentrate more on the writing. With luck, I’ll have two novels and a non-fic out this year, and I know I have the capacity to produce four a year if someone else is dealing with some of the business end. While my take on the income would be much less, I’m okay with that. It leaves me time to concentrate on the craft and getting books out there. That’s very worth half my income or more right there.

The truly scary part for me (other than personal appearances) is that I’m on disability right now, so too much income is a bad thing until it’s enough to replace disability all together (in which case I lose medical insurance). It’s a fine line. I’d like to stay artist-author, but I’ll take care of the business part for as long as I have to. 🙂

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[…] their stories. I started writing again, but I didn’t know why I bothered. Then I came across this post by Anne R. Allen. She defined me as a hobbyist writer. But then I read this response by Jami Gold and I liked her […]

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[…] Know Your Goals: Artist-Author or Professional-Author? by Jami Gold. […]

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[…] there’s no “one right way.” We use different methods, take different paths, and have different goals. The same goes for our approach to drafting a […]

Serena Yung
Serena Yung
I’m definitely the artist-writer! Yes, thank you for calling it artist-writer rather than hobbyist-writer, as the latter would make others take us lightly. While I don’t see myself as a failure when I see my friends insisting on finding traditional publishers while I stick to self-publishing , I do sometimes think: OUGHT I pursue traditional publishing after all? Since people generally take traditionally published authors more seriously than self-published authors, and there’s the peer pressure thing where self-doubt settles in because all your friends are pursuing the more ambitious path and you feel bad about yourself for having much humbler aspirations, lol. In fact, I recently had a friend who read my self-published book who said he honestly thinks I should take it to a publisher because he really liked my book. This friend is someone whose judgment I trust and respect as he’s someone who knows a lot about writing (I.e. not a non-writer reader), so that made me very happy and I thought maybe I really SHOULD stop being so modest (and sort of self-effacing XD) about my publishing goals and go for traditional publishing. But after some time, and especially after reading your post here, I think, “Nah.” The problem is that a lot of us have an ingrained belief that self-published books MUST be of lower quality than traditionally published books. Yet, when you look at some real life examples, you can see that some traditionally published books are embarrassingly not that great (and yes, the… Read more »
Serena Yung
Serena Yung
(adding this continuation of my comment because of scrolling problems.on my phone) Ooh, yeah, I agree with how you said I wouldn’t feel as rewarded by earning money from my books than by hearing friends say they loved my story, especially if my friends point out what specific things they loved about it. And yes, even more rewarding would be hearing from a reader that your story really inspired them or made them feel better or soothed. 🙂 That happened when I let a friend read a short story of mine. He immediately liked me even more from what I wrote, because my story shows that I deeply understand a certain experience that he has had in the past, and thus he found my story inspiring. So yay, sometimes your stories can make your friends feel more understood by and close to you. 🙂 Stories can deepen friendships, haha. (I’m still waiting for a friend to write a story that would make ME feel understood and not so alone too. 🙂 Lol.) About the tips for professional writers that can be applied to artist-writers too, I definitely agree with the series and backlisting. In fact, my future series and backlist are some of the things that get me most excited about writing! I can’t wait to finish my series and publish them! I can’t wait to have a good number of books under my belt! Yet I also don’t want to be one of those writers who publish 60+ books… Read more »
Serena Yung
Serena Yung

Sorry, just one more comment. About the problem of trying to be more prolific in writing, I found recently that writing ON MY PHONE dramatically increases my productivity! I can write anywhere, on the go, because it’s on my phone. And after a day of writing, I would copy and paste the story from my notepad app onto my email and send to myself. Then I’d copy and paste from that email onto my original word doc to update it. And finally I can download my updated word doc onto my phone again, so I can continue tapping my story out on my phone the next day. This method made me tremendously more productive and MOTIVATED to write because writing on my phone is so easy and convenient. And it’s a lot less stressful and brain-absorbing than staring at a computer screen for at least one hour. (Maybe because the phone screen is smaller and thus less mentally overwhelming. 😀 ) It does help that I’m a pretty fast typer on the phone, though. But since I’m currently writing a Chinese novel (partly to improve my Chinese and partly to reconnect myself to this language), I’ll have to type Chinese characters instead of English words, which I’m a lot slower at.

So…you can think about writing on your phone sometimes if this method will help you too. 🙂

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Lara Gallin
Lara Gallin

Sooo, just hopping over from your most recent post 🙂

Excellent advice and some really helpful links. I don’t think there’s any doubt that I fall into the Artist-Author category although I’m hoping to be able to compensate my weaknesses with an alternative marketing strategy.

First up, BookCrossing. I think initially the important thing is to get it read and reviewed. Whilst it would be nice if that was via sales, if I waited for that, who knows how long it would be. Getting copies printed and dotting them around the country at BookCrossing zones (as well as one or two wild releases) is going to be even more outlay for me, but I’m thinking of it more as a long term investment rather than hoping for a quick return. I’m going to focus on the groundwork of reads and reviews over income.

I’ve noticed that a lot of successes these days come from things going viral or achieving a cult status. I don’t expect that I’ll be able to pull off something huge, but I do have an idea which might appeal to people of a similar mind to me. I’ve not heard of it being done before so I’m keeping it to myself for now though!

It works for the first book in the series, I haven’t a clue what to do with the follow ups!

Lara Gallin
Lara Gallin

My best friend was very much into BookCrossing a few years ago when she had more time on her hands, and it occurred to me it could work as a useful marketing tool. I did consider signing up to one of those websites who promote freebies, but there’s such a glut of them that I think it would be too easily overlooked.

I do have friends who could dot some around for me, but they all live in the south of England whereas I’m in the Midlands. I’ll need to take care of my immediate region and the north myself Fortunately I like travelling on trains, which are a great place to leave “wild releases”, and am on one of the busiest mainline routes from the north to London. Luckily, the station in London that serves our route is St Pancras, which houses the Eurostar. In theory it shouldn’t be too hard for a copy to hop the English Channel onto mainland Europe 🙂

I have to say it’s something I’m really looking forward to!

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[…] But her survey revealed other surprising insights as well. In particular, her report delved into the six elements that help maximize income for self-published authors: […]

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[…] Beverly Kendall found in her survey a year ago, for authors with an […]

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[…] written before about the differences between artist-authors and professional-authors, but as I mentioned in that post, the choice isn’t exclusive. For all my posts about business […]

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[…] whether you’re an “artist author” or a “professional author” and set your goals […]

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[…] whether you’re an “artist author” or a “professional author” and set your goals […]

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