135 Comments

A good article - but I think you have left out a very important revenue stream -- Kickstarters. I've run a number of them and I've earned around $950,000 from them. Fees are just 5% to Kickstarter and 2.9% (+ $0.30) for CC processing so that kind of direct selling leaves a lot of margin for authors.

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Can I ask how big of an audience contributed to that $950,000? (Was it from 1,000 contributors, 10,000?) And where that audience follows you (is it Twitter, a newsletter, etc.)? Thank you so much.

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The $950,000 was spread over multiple KS's and of course there are duplicate backers (although I should note that about 65% of the backers on my first KS were new readers to me and not existing fans.I can't say off the top of my head how many unique users there are but I could pull some numbers on that. As for audience follows - I have a lot of subscribers to my newsletter but on many occasions the KS don't get announced there (because I only send one or two a year. For instance on my most recent KS there was no newsletter announcement (although I will send a newsletter allowing for "late backing" and that should bring in a good number more orders.

- KS #1 - 861 backers

- KS #2 - 1,750 backers

- KS #3 - 2,075 backers

- KS #4 - 2,553 backers

- KS #5 - 3,120 backers

- KS #6 - 3,574 backers

- KS #7 - 822 - but that wasn't for a book it was for slipcases of an existing title and since that Kickstarter I've sold 3,000 of those slipcases and almost all those orders are singles.

- KS #8 - 3,6,92

- KS #9 - 3,799

- KS #10 - is a "sister KS" where two are closely related and it had 4,1,57, although there is some cross over.

I should also note that for most KS I have "after the KS" late backers. For instance for my most recently fulfilled KS there were 3,799 backers but with "late backers" that number rose to 4,651 when all was said and done.

I do post KS's to Twitter - 13.3K followers so not very much - I have no instagram or Tik Tok following.

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May 13, 2021Liked by Elle Griffin

Yes. My first Kickstarter had 862 backers, my most recent 3,692. I've run 9 of them so far. I usually pick up a few hundred more backers "after the fact" through BakckerKit of Pledgebox - those are systems I use to fulfill the Kickstarters and they have a way for people to pre-order through their software. I don't have a very big audience through social media (such as Twitter (11,900) and Facebook (971)). Those aren't venues I use much. I'm more active on Goodreads (85,387) and my newsletter list is around 20,000. But I email very infrequently (1 - 3 times a year).

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MJS!!!!!!!!!!! Riyria is my favorite fantasy series of all time!!

Thank you so much for taking the time to respond to my little article. You are right, I didn't talk about Kickstarter. The scope of this article is small compared to how large the landscape is for earning revenue as an author. But thank you so much for sharing your stats! I'll have to dive into Kickstarter and other crowdfunding models in a later article.

Now pardon me while I completely freak out that you even read my newsletter. Thank you for being here.... (from a big fan who is a big fan of your female characters.)

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Glad you have enjoyed the stories. The reason I brought up Kickstarter is you talked about "the creator economy" and whether it could work for fiction authors. - And I think it's an important tool in that toolbox. I'll also add that authors (whether traditional or self-published) should do some direct-selling to readers. Not only do you make more money per sale (the "middlemen" can take 50% - 90% off the top), but it leads to more engaged readers because of the personal attention.

You are writing good content - so yeah, I'll continue to read your newsletter. If you enjoy my female characters, you really must pickup the Legends of the First Empire series (if you've not read those books already). They are set in the same world as the Riyria tales but they occur several thousand years before the time of Royce, Hadrian, Arista, and Thrace/Modina). The Legends series has a large ensemble cast and the most prominent characters are women.

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Adding it to my list right now. Thank you! (Fantasy tends to not do great with female characters in my experience, unless you go to YA, so I really appreciate that as a reader!) And you are right, personal attention makes a big difference. I did after all, call my entire family to tell them that you commented on my article and it completely made my day (my dad and sister both read Riyria too so luckily I had people who were just as excited as me.) And now I'll definitely grab Legends of the First Empire.

I definitely plan on doing some direct selling as part of my subscription period, and I plan to write follow-up articles on other alternative book funding methods so I will include the data you provided about Kickstarter (as well as some of the other Patreon and Kindle Unlimited success stories). Thank you so much for sharing your experience with me!

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Oh you should love Legends - while Riyria has some great women in it (Arista, Gwen, Thrace/Modina) it is a bromance so the men have a bit more focus. I went "the other way" with Legends - wasn't intentional I originally planned for an ensemble cast with equal number of men and women - and while I did do that the women were SO MUCH more interesting than the men, they definitely are in the spotlight and the men are taking a bit of a back seat - a decision that not a small number of male readers have chided me for.

You are very welcome for the shared experience sharing - I only recently found substack and plan on doing some of my own soon.

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If you want to know more about Kickstarter then go over and check out Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smiths' blogs. (Best to focus on KKR, but skim read DWS.) They talk about kickstarter a lot and even have a course about how to use kickstarter.

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KKR and DWS have always been a good resource regarding publishing. I've backed a number of their Kickstarters - not so much because I wanted "the book" but because I wanted to support them.

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Apr 16, 2022Liked by Elle Griffin

I adore your books!

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This is a super thoughtful post, and I love your newsletter, but I also feel that some of the metrics are off. The Bookstat citation you used includes all books, not just new ones, right? I mean, I’ll say this- I have a book under contract with the largest indie press and I got that (paid) deal without any real social media following or public presence. I agree that the publishing industry needs to be disrupted…and also that it already is disrupted. I agree that Substack can be a great model, but that it’s also saturated. You have a super successful newsletter , but you also have to advertise continuously to get your voice out there, and not everyone can afford to do that. I personally love my Substacks, and am working on getting a larger readership, but a lot of the prime advertising space is already taken, and what’s left is so pricey!

There’s something left out here, too. Publishing a book with a reputable publisher isn’t necessarily about how much money I’ll make. It also opens doors. To teaching jobs, possibly more book deals, etc. I feel like you’re really writing off an entire, very important, industry. My book will go through rigorous fact checking and legal stuff that won’t happen on Substack. My publisher is one that I truly respect, my fellow authors are people I also respect. The truth is that there are multitudinous ways to get our work out there. You’re choosing this way, but that doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t try and get their books published, or that that’s impossible. It IS possible. And every single person I know buys and reads books, including myself. I also listen to audiobooks, a market not addressed here.

Also, many books are optioned for film and for Netflix etc!

I truly admire what you are doing with this newsletter but I see a lot of negativity towards traditional publishing when there is a lot of good there too. Just like there is on Substack. Your experiment is working for you and that is totally awesome. I hope the momentum continues! And I hope every writer who works their butt off sees the success they deserve, no matter which path they choose to get there.

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This is a fascinating discussion -- thank you! I do believe that serial storytelling could really take off with the right platform.

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author

I agree!

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Feb 13, 2022·edited Feb 13, 2022

Very interesting article, however, I'm not sure why you omitted audiobooks. Most people that I know, have books read to them via Audible or some other service. Do you have the numbers for that? I'm fairly certain that there are many book series written that get more "reads" via audiobooks than paper books.

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author

If you look at the very first chart in this article, you can see the audiobook numbers. While the audiobook category is growing rapidly, the size of the market is still much smaller than print and digital books. Roughly 200 to 300 thousand sales vs. 2 to 3 million!

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Feb 16, 2022Liked by Elle Griffin

Ahh, thank you. Very interesting data and analysis.

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Great article Elle - so in depth

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author

Thank you!

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Good info. Important to know: It has long been this way. Making $ on books has long been difficult. Even name authors have hired PR specialists--because their publishers were so bad at promoting them. I keep my self-published books going because they're my conversation with the world and make my life more connective and interesting. Nonfiction books like mine started losing traction as the WWW became the go-to world library. Self-publishing gurus have long said you should promote your books to people directly and look for grant funding or sponsorship opportunities as well as specialty publishing opportunities. And of course it's all shifted into content marketing and selling information products and now the Patreon and subscription model. But books can be part of the value ecosystem. Thanks again.

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Thank you for this informative article and new perspective on platforms and writing. It saddens me to know that people can't sustain long enough to read a book but your article gave me hope of how people are consuming literature. It has been fun to read all the comments as well. I am new to Substack and writing? I have been the receiver of writing for some many year and it has been a gift. I dabble in writing but more for the hobby not the income.

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Your research, intelligence, personality, and aura are just so impressive! Thanks for all the words, Elle! Really enjoy reading you.

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Thank you so much Fei! That really means a lot!

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I'm a little late to this post, blog, or whatever, but I have been contemplating putting out fiction story on substack. I have a small, but loyal book following with a series I self-published on Amazon, but I'm looking for a new home for a new series. Everything you've described in this post is spot on. I think the delivery of written fiction evolves as time goes on, but who knows where it is going. Serialized Fiction seems to be a neverending fad, but the delivery method is so abstract. Ugh. What am I going to do...

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Great post, glad I found you! I'm thinking of going online as well and you have lots of good tips.

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author

So exciting, good luck!!!

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I just came upon this as I've been thinking of serializing a novel. I wondered if you'd given it a try since this post and how it went? Did you stick with substack?

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Aug 3, 2021Liked by Elle Griffin

A clear analysis of the situation of authors in the US. Thank you. One additional point may be worth mentioning: there is a glut of writers in the US and that is something that did not exist 30 years ago. Moreover, many of this new generation of writers are graduates of MFA programs - or teachers in these programs. "Creative Writing" programs were less frequently on the map until the late 1980s or so. U. Iowa was one of the few in earlier times. Moreover, digitalization has made publishing easier than ever before. Digital mags, e-books have democratized the market to accommodate the crowd. Nevertheless, it does not assure you readers. Not even publication at a small press with a meager PR apparatus will buy you readers. In earlier days, the writing business was tough, but any writer had direct access to editors. That was then. On the other hand: why not be satisfied selling 5000 copies of a book? That means 5000 fellow humans interested in something you may have slogged out over the course of three tough years. By the way: the situation is not (yet) as extreme in Europe. There are still many traditional publishers around - and direct contact is usual. The agent racket has not quite taken off. Best wishes.

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Elle, this is remarkably perceptive, informed, and readable. I have often observed (including to friends who are in Big Publishing) that publishing desperately needs a talent scout model, rather than a platform model. Every time someone reads a hyped "must read" book that turns out to be boring crap, their willingness to read another dies, so sticking with Big Names has its drawbacks (and it isn't good for society, but that's not publishing's concern). And don't get me started on how many zillions of Black authors have been self-publishing for years in the South (I've met them, as a fellow self-published pariah at book fairs. They are still being ignored, despite having so much to offer. I'm considering popping my fiction onto my Substack, hoping to build on my small but enthusiastic following for the existing books. But I'm encouraged that I'm not alone in giving a go. :)

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Yes, I completely agree! And I'm with you. I'd much rather have a small but enthusiastic following for my novel, then try to drum up mass appeal for something that, in all reality, will only be loved by a niche audience. You should totally publish your novel on Substack! And join our Substack community where all the fiction writers congregate: https://discord.gg/8mPbCFJfEh

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Thanks so much, and done.

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Very useful and informative. Definitely seems to that since it is incumbent on writers to build their own audience, publishers are more like late stage venture cap funds jumping on board only after previous rounds of funding have established some proof of concept. Alas, that seed funding now comes either from the author’s own pocket or from a dedicated band of passionate followers.

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YES. That is the perfect way to sum it all up!

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I was on the fence about where to post a work-related memoir that I'd written. I considered serializing it but wasn't sure if/where I could do that. Then I read your article, and it helped me so much, especially the section enumerating why you specifically chose the substack platform. Thank you for taking the time to write this. I ended up going the substack route myself, and have posted a few chapters already.

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Very exciting!

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