Paid newsletters are an increasingly popular way for authors to keep in touch with their readers. Are they for you? The Alliance of Independent Authors’ Self-Publishing News podcast looks at new options for monetizing social media content such as Twitter super followers and Tumblr posts. News Editor Dan Holloway and News and Podcast Producer Howard Lovy discuss new ways for indie authors to diversify income streams. Also, do Substack’s subscription newsletters offer a real opportunity or a distraction?
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About the Hosts
Dan Holloway is a novelist, poet and spoken word artist. He is the MC of the performance arts show The New Libertines Earlier this year he competed at the National Poetry Slam final at the Royal Albert Hall. His latest collection, The Transparency of Sutures, is available on Kindle.
Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and has spent the last eight years amplifying the voices of independent publishers and authors. He works with authors as a book editor to prepare their work to be published. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Daily Forward, and Longreads. Find Howard at howardlovy.com, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Read the Transcripts: Paid Newsletters
Howard Lovy: Hello and welcome to the July 2021 edition of Self-Publishing News from the Alliance of Independent Authors.
I’m Howard Lovy, in Traverse City, Michigan, and joining me from Oxford University is ALLi news editor, Dan Holloway. Hello, Dan, how are you?
Dan Holloway: Hi, Howard. Very good at the moment, quite hot still. We’ve had a period of long-sustained hot weather, but I guess you’ve had it even more so over there.
Howard Lovy: We’ve had it more so, but I’m up here at the 45th parallel, exactly halfway between the equator and the north pole, and we get fairly mild summers, so far, no complaints.
Speaking of summer, this’ll be our last episode until September. We’re going to take the month of August off. I was planning to go on vacation, maybe take the family to New York City, but the Delta variant might have other plans for me, so it looks like it might be a staycation. And I know you’re always working, so no vacation for you?
Dan Holloway: I’ll be doing lots of running, that’s about it. About the same as usual.
Howard Lovy: All right. Well, let’s start talking about the news. We want to talk about a concept that we’ve been discussing at ALLi for a long time, and that’s called “going wide,” and I’ll use myself as an example.
As you may know, there are three parts to my career, there are the podcasts I host and produce for ALLi, I’m also a book editor, and when I’m not doing those things, I’m a journalist who specializes in Jewish issues, and I’m also working on a Jewish themed memoir.
I use Twitter to heavily promote my Jewish work, but I’ve reached almost a critical mass where I want to launch a newsletter, hopefully a paid one, to promote my work in this area.
So, I signed up for Revue, which is Twitter’s email newsletter platform, and Substack, and I compared the two. Substack seems to be better, offering more features, including embedding podcasts, which is what I want to do. So that’s me, and it’s part of what we are calling in the indie publishing business, “going wide.”
What is “going wide” for indie authors?
Howard Lovy: So, Dan, let’s talk about going wide and some of the options available to indie authors. First, at the 40,000-foot level, what do we mean when we say, “going wide?”
Dan Holloway: Without being too controversial, “going wide” is normally simply used to refer to not just being on Amazon, but also at a more granular level, just doing as many different things as possible and making the most of as many parts of your audience as you can and finding as many different audiences through as many media as possible, as many platforms as possible, as many formats as possible.
Howard Lovy: Right, and that means, especially as indie authors, we don’t just write the book and sit back and watch the money come in. We have to work for it. And that means social media, it could mean an email newsletter, it could mean a blog, it could mean a podcast, or all of the above.
What’s new with paid newsletters for indie authors?
Howard Lovy: Right now, email newsletters seem to be really, really popular. So, maybe we can talk about those a little bit, and what’s new in the email newsletter world.
Dan Holloway: We talked a little bit last time about Substack, and obviously you’ve since dipped your toe in the water.
I’m still undecided whether to sign up for Substack or Medium. I think we had that conversation too, and I’m not a hundred percent sure how something like Substack…we talked about the difference between fiction and non-fiction, and how a lot of newsletters seem to be built for non-fiction authors, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that there aren’t opportunities for fiction authors to do something imaginative with them.
Howard Lovy: Right, yeah. It’s easier for me, writing nonfiction, because there’s always something new in the news to talk about.
Dan Holloway: Yes, and you are a journalist as well, so it’s, sort of, like Reader’s Digest, isn’t it? Is Reader’s Digest even a thing anymore? I’m showing my age possibly.
Howard Lovy: I haven’t seen them in doctor’s offices lately, but I’m not even sure. We’ll have our team of fact checkers check that out.
Dan Holloway: I used to be absolutely addicted to Reader’s Digest when I was six or seven. One of the first non-fiction things that fascinated me was the story of Georgie Markoff. He was a spy who was killed by ricin, in a pellet in the end of an umbrella, on a bridge in London at the very early bit of the eighties, and I remember reading this in Reader’s Digest, and it absolutely fascinated me. It was a proper long form essay, and I think that’s what subscription newsletters give you the chance to do, is these really high-quality, long form, commentaries, and essays.
Howard Lovy: Even though, Reader’s Digest, it’s almost part of the language, if you say the Reader’s Digest version, it means abridged, or the short form.
But newsletters could be anything, it could be a shortened version of something you’ve written that’s out there in the world, and you want people to read it. It could be a standalone product on its own. A little bit of both. The way I picture it is, it’ll link to some of my work, but also feature some original material and hopefully, maybe some people will want to pay for it, and that’s another discussion to have, sort of like a drug dealer, the first one’s free, but when do you start charging?
How can authors use social media to monetize their content?
Dan Holloway: Yeah, and that brings us on to the social media aspect of it, which is the stuff that’s been in the news the last couple of weeks, because there’s this expectation that it’s free, but a lot of social media channels are now starting to offer people ways of monetizing them.
Howard Lovy: Right, which I think is a great trend. Every tweet I write, I think I’m giving this away, and nobody’s paying me a damn thing for this. So, tell me more about what’s new with that.
Dan Holloway: There are a couple of things. Twitter has been tinkering with this idea of super followers for a little while, where you can pay the people you really love following for access to their exclusive content.
The latest people to enter the fray are Tumbler, and I know we were having a conversation before we started where we said we didn’t realize that Tumblr was still a thing. Apparently, it is.
Howard Lovy: They were very popular among younger people, I don’t know, maybe 10 years ago, and I thought they disappeared.
Dan Holloway: Yes, it was the home of alt-lit, which was one of the first big trends in internet literature, and so almost preceded insta-poets as being people who did really well out of finding an audience and then finding ways to make money out of an audience on the internet.
And yes, I thought it had, by and large, disappeared and gone. I thought it had gone the way of LiveJournal, which was to be taken over by a Russian server, which meant that no one wanted to post content there anymore. Clearly not. It’s clearly still going.
Howard Lovy: So, what are they doing to monetize content?
Dan Holloway: They have introduced something that they’re calling, Post Plus, which enables you to charge anything from $3.99 to $9.99 per month, for people to subscribe to special content. So again, it’s this idea, like you were saying, it’s almost freemium, that your main timeline would still be displayed to everyone, but you could put some posts behind a paywall, and then people would have to pay to unlock them.
As writers who are expected to use social media, some of us actually find that we’re better at social media than writing in other formats, and that’s actually our particular niche, and it’s great to have a way to make money from that. I would see it as going wide in a much larger sense of, not all indie authors are indie authors of books.
Howard Lovy: Oh, I see.
Dan Holloway: Some of us are journalists, some people write articles, some people write short stories, some are poets, and some might find their natural home writing really high-quality content for Tumblr. So, this is a way to create, almost, an alternative fan base.
Howard Lovy: So, that’s Tumblr. Are there any other services for monetizing content?
Dan Holloway: Well, it’s not monetizing, but another interesting thing that Twitter have introduced this month is something called Twitter Facets. That’s ‘facets’ like you get on diamonds, and this is a feature that, from the same overall account enables you to write for different audiences. So, it’s the equivalent of writing under different pseudonyms, I guess.
So, you wear many hats in your writing. I wear many hats in my writing. So, I write thrillers, I write non-fiction, I write poetry, I write literary fiction, and the readers of each of those don’t necessarily want to hear about the other stuff. What Twitter Facets does is it enables you to target certain tweets at certain audiences, without the hassle of having to create different accounts for them.
Howard Lovy: That’s interesting.
Dan Holloway: Yeah. I mean, at the moment what we have to do is create a different account for every, some people do it every time they have a new book out, but this is a way of essentially saying, this is one pseudonym, this is another pseudonym, this is another one. Each of our different areas of writing, we can manage them all, not upset our audiences, but do it all from the same account.
Howard Lovy: Yeah, I can totally understand that. I wear different hats. So, on my Twitter feed, I try to be provocative in my tweets about Jewish issues, but then I also tweet about book editing, and I put in writing tips, and then I promote these podcasts, and they are often not the same audience, and I’ll lose followers if I tweet something too controversial from the political side.
So, that’s a good solution for somebody like me who tends to sometimes be a little too provocative and lose some readers.
Dan Holloway: Yeah, I think it sounds really promising. It’s in beta currently, but I hope it’s one of the things that makes it out into the wider.
Is social media worthwhile for indie authors?
Howard Lovy: So, there are still some authors, I think, out there who, maybe a few of them who are still skeptical about social media or going wide in social media.
I notice this when I interview authors for my Inspirational Indie Authors podcast. I check their Twitter to see if they’re there, and often they’re there, but they haven’t updated it in months, and they have three followers. So, obviously it’s not a priority for them.
How can we convince authors that this kind of thing is worth it?
I’m not saying Twitter specifically, but maybe there’s something else. What could we say to authors who are skeptical as to whether they should be spending their time doing this at all?
Dan Holloway: It’s a difficult question, because in a way I see specialism and not spreading yourself too thin as really important. On the other hand, finding the things that you turn out to be really good at, and where your audience hangs out, is also important.
So, I think some of the time, authors think they know where their audiences are, or in particular know where they aren’t, and might be missing out on things. And it’s true of social media. It’s also true, talking of going wide, of overseas markets, for example.
So, one of the things I’ve been talking about this week is the difference between Storytel and Scribd as different platforms for subscription, and the fact that Storytel offers markets in many different countries and many different languages. And I think one of the things that, and I know this is something Orna talks about a lot that we often miss out on, is the opportunity to remember that we can sell to people in languages that aren’t our first language by getting our work translated and then by finding the right platform to sell in each individual market.
So, I think, yes, it’s important to specialize, but it’s also important to realize that we might be missing out on that there are all sorts of people who might want to read our work. So, I tend to be a fan of giving things a try and seeing what happens.
Howard Lovy: Yeah, I recently discovered, I checked my Instagram for the first time in, I don’t know, maybe a year or so, and I discovered that a lot of people who know me from Twitter are trying to connect with me on Instagram, and I have nothing but old family photos on there. So, now I’m wondering, should I be on Instagram? And if I did, what kind of time commitment would that involve? So, that’s sort of what I have to weigh.
Dan Holloway: Yeah, I think that the time commitment is really important, which is why most people tend to focus on one or two things, and obviously if you’re writing new content for a platform, then that’s slightly different from trying to market the same content on different platforms, which is what you can do by trying to find overseas markets sometimes.
Howard Lovy: Okay. Well, any last words on the subject of going wide and email newsletters? Any last bit of advice?
Dan Holloway: I would say, I mean, as I said, I’m a fan of trying it and seeing, but I think if you want to save time on that, find authors who are writing the same stuff as you are and finding what works for them. So, I’ll be keeping an eye on what happens with your Substack.
Howard Lovy: Yeah, and for that I’ve been subscribing to other journalists who have similar audiences and seeing what works for them and what doesn’t.
Dan Holloway: Because things like Substack and Medium are quite new, a lot of people are quite open and transparent about how much they are or aren’t earning out of it. So, you can pick up quite a lot of useful information that way. In a way that sometimes some authors are quite cagey about their earnings, you’ll find quite a lot of transparency on things like this. So, that can be a really helpful way of looking at what’s actually working for people.
Howard Lovy: Yeah, you hear anecdotally people making six figures off their Substack, but I think we’re talking about a very small elite. What about the rest of us slobs who aren’t celebrities, yet?
How does Jeff Bezos’s Space Race affect technology?
Howard Lovy: And speaking of celebrities. Okay, here’s a segue. We talked last time about Jeff Bezos being sent to outer space, or sending himself to outer space on a very, I don’t know if we have a family audience or not, but a very phallic looking rocket ship, and I’m sure some people would have liked Jeff Bezos to have stayed in outer space, but I think both you and I are technology enthusiasts, and I say, even if it’s a billionaire who people have differing opinions on, I say, this brings technology forward. What do you think?
Dan Holloway: I’m not a fan of his spaceship, that’s for sure, but yes, it’s been very interesting. I didn’t realize he was going to fly so quickly, because last month we were just reporting on the sale of the ticket, and then he was off this month.
I grew up with Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, and with the launch of the space shuttle, and I really like space. I see the value in space and space travel from all sorts of perspectives, and I think there’s a lack of ambition, and a lack of dreaming, and a lack of setting sights high.
And I think that going into space is a really good way, even if people don’t want to go into space, of reminding people that, even if you think what he’s doing is really bad thing, reminding people that there are really big challenges that need tackling. It might not be going to space, but I think we can often lose sight of the really big challenges because they seem overwhelming, and sometimes someone taking something like that on is a reminder that big challenges can be as solvable as smaller ones if you start taking them on.
Howard Lovy: Wonderful.
Dan Holloway: That’s a politically non-committal way of talking about it.
Howard Lovy: Well, everybody always says the space race brought other technologies into high gear, everything from, the cliche is, that’s how we got soft drinks, like Tang.
But also, we’re talking about a lot of other subcontractors came up with some really innovative stuff based on their space research.
In this case, we all contributed to sending Jeff Bezos into space because we all bought from Amazon at one time or another. So, what is he going to give back to us? We’ll see.
Dan Holloway: Yeah, that’s a much bigger question.
Howard Lovy: Right, and that’s a story for another day, we’ll say.
Okay, Dan. Well, that’s all we have time for today. Thank you, as always. Have a wonderful August, and I’ll talk to you again in September.
Dan Holloway: Super, speak then.