I grew my newsletter by 1,200 subscribers in one summer
I started my newsletter in February of 2021 with the intention that I would spend the summer building up my newsletter subscribers so that I could publish my gothic novel for them in the fall.
As I tried to figure out the best way to publish my novel, I studied traditional publishing methods and non-traditional publishing methods—that’s when I realized my secret pipe dream of becoming a full-time novelist might actually be possible if I serialized my novels via Substack.
Substack is a platform that allows writers to send free newsletters to their readers—and also to send paid newsletters to paying readers—and many newsletter writers make a full-time living doing it. Theoretically, I thought, I could do the same with fiction. I could come out with a new chapter of my novel every week, charge subscribers an annual, average subscription fee of $100, and earn $100,000/year from only 1,000 subscribers.
These thoughts were solidified when I entered my serial book idea into a pitch competition for female creators. I won, but what the competition really did was help me refine my goal and make a plan for how to get there. As I researched the market and put together pitch decks, I was forced to treat my books like a business and create a strategy around how they could be financially successful.
I even had to create a projection plan (which can be found in the “goals” tab of my book plan spreadsheet here) complete with how I would reach $100,000/year over the next one, two, or three years. This really forced me to think it through—could I reach 1,000 paying subscribers in three years? Could I do it in two? I did some research on what I would have to do to make that a reality.
According to Bailey Richardson, head of community at Substack, writers on Substack typically see conversion rates of 5-10 percent when they decide to go paid. If email open rates are 30-50 percent, writers can expect to see a 5 percent conversion rate. If email open rates are greater than 50 percent, writers can expect to see a 10 percent conversion rate.
My open rates hover around 30 percent—which means I can expect to convert about 5 percent of my free subscribers into paid ones. To reach 1,000 paying subscribers then, I’ll need to have at least 20,000 free subscribers. I put this number into my projection plan and worked backward from there. I could reach 20,000 free subscribers, I realized, if I added 654 new subscribers to my list every month for the next three years.
And if I did that, maybe I could achieve my dream of becoming a full-time novelist after all.