Here’s the business plan for my newsletter
My two-year plan to earn a living writing books on the internet.
I have never felt so creatively on fire as I have this past year writing for Substack. This platform has allowed me to explore my craft both as a fiction and nonfiction writer and I am beyond excited about my current project, Oblivion, in which I am writing a utopian novel and a collection of essays imagining a more beautiful future.
I even think this could become a much bigger project than I anticipated. Already my essays and chapters are piling up and I wonder whether the novel will become a series and whether the essays become several volumes. Perhaps I spend the next several years of my life imagining a more beautiful future and wind up with a body of work to rival Honoré de Balzac’s several-volume study of provincial life, La Comédie Humaine.
If I’m really dreaming, maybe I even make a living doing it as an independent journalist and novelist.
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Earning a living from patrons is no easy feat. Seeing Anna Codrea-Rado shutter her newsletter A-Mail because, after five years and 16,000 newsletter subscribers, she still wasn’t earning enough money for the effort, felt like looking at an all too plausible future for my own newsletter, and I thought about that a lot over the summer.
As much as I love the idea of taking this thing full-time, of putting in the work and making it successful, looking at the numbers, I have to acknowledge that might not happen. “The maths doesn’t add up anymore,” Codrea-Rado said in her farewell post. “The number of paying subscribers isn’t high enough to make this one-woman newsletter business sustainable anymore.”
In a private Slack discussion with other Substack writers, we spoke about how A-Mail’s demise rocked us. “It’s a shame to lose an important part of the community like this. I do feel her struggle, though!” John of Animation Obsessive said. “The workload for our newsletter is ridiculous, too, and the numbers still aren’t where they need to be. I wonder a lot about how long we can keep doing it before hitting a wall.”
I wonder that too.
Right now, I have 6,370 free subscribers, 278 paid subscribers, and $19,252.85 in gross revenue. At $50/year, I’ll need 1,400 paid subscribers to make $70k a year, which means, at my current conversion rate (4.4 percent), I’ll need 31,819 free subscribers. As my newsletter is currently growing by 250 free subscribers each month, it will take me 8.5 years to reach full-time income.
That’s a long time to do projects like this plus a day job!
It’s hard to imagine a world where I stop writing for pleasure, and right now I’m more than happy to pursue this as a hobby. I love writing this newsletter in the morning, I love my day job, and I’ve achieved balance between the two. Still, I can also see a future me who wants to spend a little less time at the computer. And for that reason, while I write Oblivion I want to also see if I can make a living doing it.
So I wrote up a business plan that might change my equation, getting my newsletter to full-time status in two years instead of eight.
My balance sheet
Before I could make a plan, I knew I needed to start with where I am right now, so I created a balance sheet for my first year in business. I launched paid subscriptions exactly one year ago (in September of 2021). Here’s what I have earned and spent on my newsletter thus far: