Elle Griffin knows a lot about the publishing industry. As a fiction writer working on her second novel, she methodically surveyed the landscape and made endless inquiries to publishers. Along the way, she learned some cold truths about writing books. In early 2021, she eschewed the publishing route entirely and created a platform for her writing. In launching her newsletter ‘The Novelleist’, Elle set out to serialize her novel in the way of Charles Dickens – publishing a new chapter every week to her Substack subscribers.
One year later, Elle has once again revamped her approach entirely. She learned what her readers found most valuable in her work and is now letting that steer her strategy to meet her subscriber and revenue goals. Her story is more universal than you may think – each newsletter has something uniquely useful and enjoyable for readers and paradoxically, you as the writer may not recognize that value right away. Once discovered, you then have to figure out what to do with it and how to best deploy it.
Read on to learn more about Elle’s newsletter publishing journey and how it might relate to your own.
Elle, tell us about what you’re doing differently in 2022. How did you get there?
Elle: After striking out with more than 100 literary agents, I determined that mine was a novel better suited to a niche audience of 1,000 than a mass-market audience of 100,000. I turned to the creator economy to see whether I could still earn a living from 1,000 fans. My hypothesis at the time was that I might be able to develop a following for my fiction, and even earn a living from it—but that proved incorrect in the best possible way. In an early survey of the 45 individuals who paid to subscribe to my novel, I found that none subscribed to read my novel, and all subscribed to support my newsletter. That’s when I realized my original hypothesis had been turned on its head: I am not a novelist writing books for my readers. We are a community of writers writing together. And that is so great! The problem with my initial hypothesis was that it expected people to value my art, when what we really value is the art form—and that mimics reality. We are used to getting books at the library for free (like Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code) while paying for knowledge (like Dan Brown’s MasterClass).
I wanted to test it out, so I released my giant spreadsheet of all the best-performing literary agents after some editing and made it available to paying subscribers. This wasn't something I created as content but rather for my own use, but my paid subscribers jumped from 64 to 96 in one week. I was on the right track! It led me to rethink what my newsletter can achieve. Instead of finding fans of my art, I could create a community of artists that support each other.
What is your 2022 Strategy?
Elle: My goal is to write ‘The Novelleist’ full-time by the end of 2023 by reaching 2,000 annual subscribers and earning $100,000 in annual revenue. I currently have 3,723 newsletter subscribers, 96 paying subscribers, and $6,184 in annual revenue, so this is an ambitious goal but I have every reason to think it is feasible.
I’m going to reach this goal by cultivating the salon-style community I’ve started to tap into through content that is transparent about my own efforts towards achieving my goals and with the resources, discussions, and takes that support their goals. I’ll be inviting readers to track my progress so that it might help their journey towards becoming a paid artist.
Get the full scoop on Elle's 2022 strategy, directly from her Substack here.
What are the tactics you'll use to achieve these goals?
Elle: I’ll be changing my approach to the newsletter, offering a schedule of paid content and content that my free subscribers can access. Mondays will alternate between articles for all subscribers and interviews with successful creators for my paying subscribers. Fridays will alternate between literary salon discussions for all subscribers and resources I’ve been using (like the publisher spreadsheet) for paying subscribers.
For my Novelle Collectors, the highest tier subscribers, I wanted to offer something unique and personal.
Print Magazine: Printing a year's end collector’s edition print magazine of The Novelleist mailed to each Novelle Collector. The theme is “earning a living as an artist in the age of the internet” and will feature select works from the year as well as interviews with writers and other supporting content. I’ll do this every year.
One-on-Ones: Novelle Collector tier subscribers will receive an hour-long salon-style session to discuss art and art-form.
Can you relate?
Elle’s journey illustrates something we think is essential for all newsletter writers- can you identify the value that you are providing in your work? Pinpointing what it is you’re authentically creating- in Elle’s case, it is a community of support for writers- can inform your strategy for growth and longevity. For example, you write a newsletter about the local news in your town. What are you providing your readers that would make them want to engage with you in their inbox every morning instead of turning on the local tv news station or opening up the NYT app? Maybe you’re engendering a local pride by highlighting positive stories about your neighbors and celebrating the local restaurants. So maybe you partner with a local restaurant to offer an incentive to paying subscribers. Or perhaps you build into your content schedule a local highlight of a townsperson. You’re trying to go deeper towards that spark that readers felt.
And so, how do you figure out what your readers value? High opens and click rates are helpful but not very nuanced. Elle used a small reader survey and gained very valuable information. This may be a question that you need to take a step back and look at from new angles, survey your readers and ask the people in your life. The surprising thing about identifying something that is authentic to your work is that sometimes you can’t see it without some help.
Interested in brainstorming with other creators about your 2022 strategy? Join the next Community Coffee, a free and open event for our members and friends. Subscribe to our newsletter for details.