How many newsletters did you delete from your inbox this morning? No judgement. We all do it. You subscribe to someone’s newsletter and then…eh.
It’s a vital part of marketing in almost any industry, and it’s a massive sales driver for most authors.
But did you know that there are writers out there who are making an actual living from writing newsletters, separate from any book revenue?
It got even more popular during the pandemic, when a lot of writers felt pressured to hustle and the publishing industry slowed. I’ve heard from a lot of you over the last year or so: what about Substack?
So let’s get into it! What about Substack for authors?
What’s Substack anyway?
Substack is simply an email list platform, but it’s built specifically as a monetized subscription model. It has all the traditional things a decent email platform has – analytics, list management tools. And yes, you can have a free newsletter on Substack. But the model is built to make taking payment easier.
Writers set the price, but most subscriptions run about $5 per month, or $50 per year if you pay at once. But there’s also quite a few niche topics (investment advice, etc.) that command higher subscription costs. It’s not a huge amount of money on its face, but the most successful people on the platform – most of whom aren’t exactly Kardashian-level famous, but more cultural figures, academics, authors and journalists – have thousands of subscribers, so it does add up, even after Substack takes about 10% of the revenue for their fees.
There are other services that do similar things like Ghost (an open-source, nonprofit version that’s very interesting to me), Patreon, Campaignzee (part of MailChimp’s products) and Buy Me a Coffee. But right now, Substack has a lot of momentum with authors.
I polled my team to see if they were Substack subscribers.
Nancy: I have been reading Roxanne Gay’s newsletter for a long time, and I get it on Substack. She’s amazing, and it’s one of my very favorite emails to open. I also subscribe to Book Post, which is a really smart book review account.
Sarah: I’m a longtime subscriber to author/The Toast co-founder Daniel Lavery’s content, and he recently moved from Patreon (another subscription service that isn’t specifically for writers) to Substack. I also get Agents and Books, which is about publishing and working with agents.
Why are writers using it?
The idea here is that monetizing a newsletter is an attractive option for folks who want to produce content that is wholly independent.
For journalists, it’s become a refuge from the corporatized newsrooms with low salaries and overwhelming workloads. A newsperson can do longform reporting in an environment that isn’t worried about appealing to broad audiences or offending advertisers…and they can also write with a strong point of view.
For authors, it’s a place to share work that’s personal, outside your usual genre, bonus scenes you’ve worked on, character sketches. It could even be a place to try out serialized writing. In a team chat about the serialized opportunities presented by Amazon Vella (read our blog post about that here), Nancy pointed out that author Katie Conrad has been using Substack to write a cozy story about a witch and her cat, Saffron and Bear.
Plus, you’ve probably noticed that social media has gotten a whole lot noisier lately. People are tuning out, and passive reach has been declining for years. You have to pay to get people to look at your content, and when you spend the money on an ad, you want to know that ad is going to a place that’s going to contribute to your bottom line. So why not send your ad to a paid product like Substack?
What does it take to do well on Substack?
The biggest challenge for anyone who’s interested in making Substack a true revenue stream is that it requires a huge amount of list building, just like any other email marketing you’d do.
Sure, the reward is more direct here – getting subscribers is going to immediately pay off, you don’t need to wait for them to buy your book! – but if you’re not known to your audience, they’re not going to pay $5 a month to get to know you.
Even if you already have a good email list with engaged readers, stats suggest that about 10% of them will convert to paying subscribers. And Substack doesn’t really help you find new subscribers through the platform unless you are already a top performer.
So my advice to anyone looking to try Substack out is:
Keep offering your free newsletter because it remains one of your best marketing tools; these folks already love you. Consistently messaging the fun you’re having on Substack with your subscribers, but also continuing to provide value to your free subscribers is a great way to convert more and more to your paid model. You can do both on the Substack platform.
Develop a strategy to promote your Substack on social media. This model doesn’t let you step away from social media, friends – in fact, it's one of the best ways to grow your audience. Think of social media as being a customer funnel bringing folks into your subscription.
Make this work your best. When you ask people to pay for your newsletter, it needs to be as good as a newsletter as your book is as a book.
Even though your work needs to be “worth it,” one of the main things people like about paid content like this is that it’s giving them access to something special. Being personal or casual is something many subscribers enjoy and look forward to seeing in their Substack subscriptions.
Make sure you’re publishing regularly. Weekly is ideal, but some writers do a few short pieces a week.
So should I start a Substack?
If you already have a big email list OR if you’re willing to spend the time, effort and money (especially ad spend) towards growing your email list, go for it!
If you’re looking to Substack to be a supplemental income at most, and you’d like to connect with your readers in a new way or with new material, go for it!
There’s really no downside…unless it takes you away from your other writing goal of publishing your books, of course!
It can be a challenge to spread the news about your book, especially once the thrill of the launch is done. It takes a bit of recalibration for authors to figure out how to develop a long term strategy to ensure continued success.
Our friend Mardine Perrins published Expiration Date, her dystopian medical thriller,this winter. Now, she is taking charge of her book’s post-launch marketing strategy by kicking off her very first book blog tour on June 21! If you love to read, or if you just want to find out more about how it’s done, check it out here.
What’s a book blog tour?
A blog tour is a set period of time where authors strategically partner with book bloggers to post about their work. The bloggers write about their real experience with the book, they’re not just using author swipe copy. The author provides a review copy (an ebook is okay!), and any images that they think might help.
The actual content is easy since you’re relying on expert book lovers to create it! So finding book bloggers can be the biggest challenge. You can research reviewers who work in your genre and who love books similar to yours. Spend time building a relationship with these folks. Comment on their posts. Share their work on socials and follow them. Sign up for their newsletter. This takes time, so start this research early.
Alternatively, you can employ a company that will organize your blog tour and connect to the right folks, if it’s not something you have the bandwidth to do.
What will you need for your tour?
You’ll need a few things in place before you begin your book blog tour.
A ready-to-go, formatted, well edited ebook or advance review copy – this can be as simple as a PDF, or you can provide a .mobi or .epub file, if you have one, to make it easier for your reviewers. If you want to have reviewers provide their own flat lay photos for social media and their page, you can also provide a physical copy of your book, if it’s in your budget. It’s good to splurge on a few physical copies for when a blogger is a big name or has a community that’s perfect for reaching your target reader.
It’s also best practice to offer bloggers a giveaway of your book. It helps them grow their own audience, which helps you, too, and offers you the chance to organically grow the profile of your blog tour. Mardine’s blog tour is using Rafflecopter for her giveaway – check it out here.
A clear email with all the info a blogger will need to be part of your blog tour. Include all your links – socials, website, places to buy – as well as information about you. A short bio, author photo and a cover image.
Clear goals: what do you want to ask the blogger to do? Be very clear on your ask, expectations and timetable. You can encourage content like an interview, a review, a guest blog post you provide, or even a link to your lead magnet!
Once your book blog tour is launched, be sure to promote it as the bloggers make their posts. Share links on social media and let your own newsletter readers know about all this great new content about your work happening. You’ll also want to send thank yous via email to everyone who took the time to promote your book – and express the hope that you’ll be able to work together again!
I always try to bring you the best writing and publishing deals out there. One of the reasons I do what I do is because I think publishing a book should be more accessible. I love running workshops and offering trainings for authors, and I always have my eye on that price point – I want to be sure that the lion’s share of my work is something I could have afforded when I was first starting out as a writer.
In that spirit, I wanted to share the latest InfoStack bundle of writing and publishing tools: Write Publish Profit 4.0. You might remember I shared this limited time, $49 flat price deal last year, too, and I really recommended it to both our clients and to my wider audience. It just simply backed up the low price tag with huge value, and I have heard from so many of you over the last year who were excited to be able to grow your author career thanks to what was inside.
And now it’s that time again! Today InfoStack is launching their Write Publish Profit 4.0 bundle, and it offers more than $8k worth of resources for writers in all genres, all for $49. So if you’ve contemplated buying even ONE of these products to further your writer’s life, you’ll already be saving money!
12 month subscription to ProWritingAid, our #1 choice for making all your writing better
12 month subscription to The Novel Factory, a step-by-step software specifically designed to help you write a better novel
12 month subscription to Bublish, a way to reach 800k+ readers with engaging content featuring your book
6 month subscription to StoryPlace Pro, a site where stories are optioned for film, TV and podcasts)
6 month subscription to The Author Success Mastermind Community, a place to stop feeling isolated in your writing career and start connecting with others
3 month subscription to Campfire Blaze, a tool to help you organize your writing
And much more!
Plus, there’s the included books, training and coursework that’s included, like:
A 5-day course on writing a great book proposal
A course on creating attention-getting agent queries
A course on marketing that’s soup-to-nuts: from just starting out to running your author career like the small business it is!
A course that explains how to use crowdfunding to bring your book to life
A course that gives all the secrets on writing marketing copy that sells books
A mindset course that will train your brain for writing success
A course on DIY book formatting
Writing courses for fiction, nonfiction and more
Courses on editing and revision for all genres of writing
And DOZENS more to give you the foundation you need to succeed!
And, of course, you’ll get MYBuild Your Reader Base bundle, a $125 value, that includes my bestselling courses on Instagram for Authors and Goodreads for Authors.
Professional development can be expensive, but this is packed with value! This small investment in your writing career will pay off big time, even if you only use one or two things that are included, so click here to grab yours now.
This is a limited time offer, though – purchase before June 15 to get in on this deal! Click here to get your bundle today!
I love Brené Brown. Like LOVE her. If you aren't familiar with her, google some of her TED talks on shame and vulnerability.
As writers, it feels there is really nothing more vulnerable than putting our words, our creations, out in to the world for others to consume. Sometimes they love it, sometimes they hate it.
Sometimes we are afraid to put our words out there because of shame we may have and certainly because of the fear of being so vulnerable.
I am reading her book Dare to Lead. I want to share a quote from Chapter 2, The Call to Courage.
To set the scene, she was talking about an interview with Admiral Jim Stockdale, a Prisoner of War in Vietnam. This interview is in Jim Collins' book, Good to Great. The question was asked about who didn't survive the POW camps, to which Stockdale replied it was the optimists. Because, “They died of a broken heart.”
Brené Brown continues:
“Stockdale told Collins, ‘This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.'”
At this point, you might be thinking, Alexa has gone off her rocker. She's now comparing authors to POWs!
But here's the deal.
A strategic plan for your book marketing can bring you closer to success.
As I was listening to this on Audible, the stark comparison came to me. So often, we as authors believe, I'm gonna make it! This book is going to be amazing! If I just throw more money here, or do this, or do that, I will sell more books!
Our FAITH in our book gives us the courage to continue… however, if we aren't doing the right things, if we aren't making the most strategic decisions, if we aren't powering forward in a way that puts us in a position to actually have that success, we can wind up completely exhausted, tired of saying, “it's gonna get there!” and our faith begins to dwindle if we don't see the results we were looking for.
We die a slow death of a broken heart from marketing fatigue and throw in the towel.
What if that didn't have to be the case? What if you could start with a better plan from earlier in your process, that wasn't based on guesswork, and actually led to results?
I fully believe that those authors who have a great book, have done the things to make sure they are positioned well and are taking the RIGHT steps to move their marketing forward, WILL get there.
It may take a few years. But following a plan that makes sense, you may achieve this faster than you thought. At a minimum, when you can track results, you won't be heartbroken, but encouraged to continue to see results.
I walk this journey every day with authors. Tweaking what they are doing, creating the strategy that works for them to build their audience, get their books into the hands of more people, and build incremental successes that WILL eventually pay off. (Disclaimer here – if your book is bad, you're going to have to start there first!)
Here's the deal. After launching book after book for new and unknown authors, the likelihood of New York Times Best Seller first foot out the door is rare. But not impossible. But even more important, you can still achieve a significant amount of success without that NYT BS accolade.
How do you know what to include in your book marketing plan?
There are things that we know work already. It starts with: figuring out your goals, your resources and your starting point, and, just like that, you can layout a path to success.
We are going to dig into how to develop your very own custom launch plan – something many indie authors pay thousands for, but that I know you can do yourself! All you need are the right tools! We’ll cover:
The key elements of your marketing plan to address both long- and short-term goals
How to develop a marketing and launch strategy that makes sense for YOUR book and YOUR budget
The ideal timeline for planning a launch
How to take small actions every single day to implement the plan
The best places to invest your time and money in your book
This will be an interactive workshop, but can still be watched after the fact if you aren't able to attend.
It's very important to me that by the time we are done with this training, you actually have some USEABLE information, and a plan for how to make some progress… IMMEDIATELY. I don't know about you, but I'm tired of getting training and then leaving feeling like I'm completely on my own. I don't want that for you.
I have done this work with clients over and over again in the last decade, and I’ve learned that every single book – no matter the genre, no matter when you’re publishing (or when you publishED – yes, this same strategy works for books that are already out there!) – needs a custom road map to success, based on BEST PRACTICES, not just hopes and wishes and FAITH.
I want you to have the foundational knowledge to identify your goals and to build a strategy to get there that works for your book and your LIFE, without all the noise. I want you to take the wheel.
If you’re ready – and I think you are – click here to get registered for the June 8 workshop – and if you can’t listen live, don’t worry – there will be a recording sent your way!
You'll leave this training with a plan of action and simple steps to start working on immediately.
I can’t wait to go on this journey with you to help you create a plan that won't leave you feeling hopeless, but encouraged to continue moving forward!
In April, Amazon announced their new Kindle Vella program. This brand new opportunity is tailor made for indie authors and new voices in publishing. It also seems to be an interesting way to diversify your income as an author, always key to making a writing life work.
It’s open to US-based authors writing in English now, and it will be ready for readers this summer. Is it right for you? Let’s dig into it!
So what is the Kindle Vella?
First of all, let’s talk about what the Kindle Vella is: it’s a way to publish your work as “episodes,” sort of like the old fashioned serialized newspaper Charles Dickens famously wrote. And the benefit is pretty much the same one Dickens saw: being able to get paid for hooking your reader, even if you’re not already an established, bestselling author. All you need to bring to the table is new (never published or presented in another form) content that can be broken down into 600 to 5000 word sections.
If this sounds familiar, it should: we’ve written a few times about the potential of Wattpad, which you may have encountered already (and if you haven’t, ask a young person in your life – it’s a major player in fanfiction and more). But it’s not just the success of Wattpad (and Radish and others) that are spurring this investment from one of the world’s biggest companies. Serialized stories are HUGE outside the US market right now. It’s been a major force in publishing across Asia, so Amazon wanted to get in on the ground floor in the US market.
Should I try to put my work in the Kindle Vella program?
The big question you’re asking: Is this worth it? While we’ll need to see how it performs – it hasn’t launched to readers yet, first they need to populate the platform with stories upon launch – Amazon has gone all in on this. My wager is that, especially now, the answer is probably yes. Why?
It could be a great opportunity for strong earnings. (More on that in a minute.)
It’s a way to reach readers your new book might not be able to do. You’re competing in a much smaller pool than you’d typically get the chance to do.
The readers you will reach are more likely to be young and used to reading episodic writing on other platforms, and may not buy many traditional books, so you have an opportunity to market to a fresh audience with your work.
It also lets readers give you direct feedback as they’re reading, which is a fun twist for anyone who loves to spin a tale.
Show me the money.
About those potential earnings: the royalties are currently at 50% of the value of the “tokens” that each episode costs…but there’s a lot of “BUT” involved with this calculation.
Our initial calculations estimate you can probably earn between 1 to 25 cents per reader per episode. That’s a pretty huge variation, obviously, and there’s a lot of reasons behind that.
The tokens are sold to readers in bundles, and those bundles will vary in cost. The more readers buy, the lower the cost per token – a bulk discount, essentially. And you can expect Amazon to give away some tokens as incentives for other purchases, which means the cost of those particular tokens will be $0.
The length of your work will determine how many tokens it costs a reader to purchase each episode. Longer episodes will require more tokens.
Readers will be able to purchase these tokens in online stores – many of which charge a fee. So that fee will be deducted before the royalty rate is calculated.
Maybe it will be a better deal for writers than Kindle Unlimited. Maybe it won’t. But it is a kind of writing that is targeted to different readers than a typical book, so either way, it’s a good idea to try it.
Before you get back to writing your serial novel…
Right now Amazon is suggesting that you set up 5+ episodes before you make them available, so that readers can dig in and not lose interest waiting around for your next one. It makes sense in terms of managing the business side of your writing – and you can leave more episodes in the app in “draft” status to release down the road.
They also note that this is something that is only available on the website and through the iOS (Apple) Kindle app. If the platform gains traction, you’ll see it on other platforms quickly.
If you’re ready to take the dive, head on over to play around with the Kindle Vella platform on Amazon! We would love to hear about your success for a future blog post!
Book launches used to be crowded, public events, often with lavish budgets to match the lengthy guest list. But the way we look at launch day activities has really changed, thanks to new technology and the real need to lock down during the pandemic. And there’s every indication that these new “slipper-friendly” online book events are sticking around.
But how do those of us who don’t have big publishers and teams of PR flacks behind us make online events work? I’m going to be getting deep into just these topics (and so much more) in June’s Book Launch in a Box, a newly-revised-for-2021, one month course that gives you everything you need to have a great launch for your book, no matter how or when you plan to do it. (Click here to learn more about this great course!) Until then, though, here’s a sneak peek with some thoughts on how to reach your goals through a virtual book launch.
We’re all Zoom-ed out after last year, right? I get it. But online events are far from dead and there are ways to energize them to engage as many people as possible. Here’s some tips.
Energize your cheerleaders.
Add advance readers of your book to a Facebook Group that’s all about supporting the launch. These are your FANS – what a great place to spend time online in the weeks leading up to your launch! While Facebook isn’t for everyone, these private groups are great ways to share information like giveaways happening on GoodReads and elsewhere, offer suggested copy to accompany posting about your book, and share your success! Authors who make themselves present in this group and engage with advance readers reap the benefits when those readers turn into cheerleaders for your book at launch time! The more they feel invested in your success, the more they’ll share your work with their trusted network.
Show up all day during your virtual book launch.
I tell our clients that when you have a real, concrete plan, a virtual book launch shouldn’t take over your life. But on launch day, it’s a good idea to take the day off work, or at least carve out multiple times during the day to connect with your readers on social media. Consider creating a schedule with multiple live mini-events to connect with readers all over the globe, and share that info with your launch group and on social media. Going live on Facebook or Instagram on launch day also creates long-lasting, quality content you can repurpose as you continue to market your book! You can also have a live event on Zoom, if social media isn’t your thing, or you want to host an event with guests.
Be yourself when during your virtual book launch.
Even if you’re camera shy, spending time prepping and then going live is just smart marketing. You don’t need to spend an hour talking about why you want people to buy your book. You can make your live sessions fun! We’ve worked with authors who have…
…gone live at her job as a nurse to talk about her medical thriller, complete with scrubs! What a great setting that grabbed potential readers straight away!
…invited the inspiration behind her book – her young son! – to read the book aloud on Facebook. A totally sweet and engaging session that kept people watching through the end!
…hosted a Zoom call with a nonprofit and other invited experts to talk about the real world issues the book brought up. Tons of great questions from the audience, thanks to the interesting speakers who enhanced the story and brought new perspectives!
…shared craft tutorials and other art inspired by the book’s illustrations on Instagram. This engaged so many people and got replays well beyond launch day!
…had a music-filled Zoom chat with editors and others, answering questions about character inspirations and living a writer’s life. A great spin on the more traditional launch event, but using art from the book and music to bring the viewers in, instead of just the usual Zoom squares.
…taught readers how to mix an “official cocktail” for the book in a sweetly funny, very personal Instagram live. This is probably one of our most memorable launch events because even as things went a bit wrong with the cocktail, the author was so present and charming that she won over dozens of new fans in the moment – all of whom are lining up to read her next book!
You don’t need to reinvent the wheel – a heartfelt toast, a reading, a Q&A session can all succeed if you’re showing up as YOU.
Give your book away to get more sales.
There’s nothing like the thrill of a giveaway. For all of our clients, we do some form of giveaway on launch days. You have a lot of options to do one on Instagram or in partnership with influencers or your launch team. But doing a LIVE giveaway is also an exciting way to put some pep in your live event. You can share your screen during a live event and use Wheel of Names or a similar online tool to pick a winner. It’s a great way to cap any online event, by thanking those who attend with a chance to win!
The through-line to these events is all about being YOU and SHOWING UP for your readers. By choosing a launch activity that is authentic to your book and your story as an author, you’ll be turning your readers into fans.
If you’re ready to supercharge your launch, whether you plan something online or in-person, be sure to join us for our latest session of Book Launch in a Box, a 4 week program that gives you everything you need to launch your book right the first time.
And no, you don’t need to be done with your book to get started.
And yes, you can do this program and re-energize your book sales, even if you have already launched!
Click here to learn more about our next session right here.