Hello, I’m Elle Griffin
I have a thing for classic literature
That picture is the day I got to hold a first-edition copy of A Christmas Carol, one of my favorite books. I was nearly in tears.
I should introduce myself. My name is Elle and I work as the editor-in-chief of Utah Business and a freelance writer for Forbes, The Muse, The Startup, and other such business publications. I hold degrees in fashion & French, and completed my graduate studies in Mariology—the study of the Virgin Mary (see: marian art project).
A few years ago I fell in love with French literature: Les Miserables, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Phantom of the Opera. And then the associated gothics: Dracula, A Christmas Carol, A Picture of Dorian Gray. Then I ran out. Apparently, there are only so many gothic novels one can find in 18th- and 19th-century writings—and I even read several of the more obscure ones.
But I wasn’t done with the genre yet—I wanted to stay in that dark, beautiful world. I wanted one more gothic novel, written in the French style, with all the mystery of Edmond Dantès and with all the philosophical complexity of Jean-Valjean—but with a strong female protagonist and a lush Americana setting.
So I wrote it myself.
I’m about to make serial novels a thing (again)
After I finished writing my strange little gothic novel, I spent an inordinate amount of time researching this article on the best way to publish it. What I found is that the current model—publishing through a Big Four publishing house—is not the best way to attract readers and earn a living. And in fact, very few authors make that work.
But there are starting to be platforms that could disrupt the publishing industry—like Substack—where writers can build a following and then monetize it, perhaps even by allowing followers to subscribe to their book as they are writing it.
As the going wisdom states: it only takes 1,000 true fans spending $100/year for a creator to earn a salary of $100,000/year. Theoretically then, an author could release a new chapter every week, charge subscribers $8 or $9 a month, and earn $100,000 a year—from only 1,000 readers. This idea deeply appeals to me because some of my favorite novels were written as serials—including my beloved The Count of Monte Cristo—and they were wildly successful.
The Count of Monte Cristo was published as a feuilleton—a portion of the weekly newspaper devoted to fiction. From August 1844 to January 1846 his chapters were published in 18 installments for The Journal des Débats, a newspaper that went out to 9,000 to 10,000 paying subscribers in France—and readers were rapt by it.
It was basically “Game of Thrones.” Readers could not wait to get their hands on the next chapter and that bode very well for the writer who was not only paid by the newspaper in real-time for his work (and by the word), but also grew the popularity of his work over the entirety of the time it was being published. Alexandre Dumas earned about 10,000 francs ($65,743 today) per installment writing feuilletons.
Non-fiction writers are already doing it. As evidenced by this chart by Alexey Guzey, there are plenty of Substack writers who are putting out quality non-fiction content for their followers and monetizing it—earning in the hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, and in some cases millions, just from reader subscriptions!
Could fiction do the same?
This is an experiment in publishing
That’s why I’m going to run an experiment. In the fall of 2021, I’m going to publish my novel as a serial for my newsletter subscribers, releasing one chapter per week until it’s done (42 weeks). My newsletter is free, but I will charge $5/month for those who wish to subscribe to weekly chapters of my novel. Once the book is complete, I will offer a hardcover collector’s edition of the book for those who want a copy, and then I will publish it to KDP and Wattpad to expand its reach. My hope is to publish my next book the same way and build my following as I go.
This is an experiment. I may get 200 subscribers and earn $1,000/month. People may read the first four chapters and not like it and quit reading the next month, cutting that in half. Or maybe I will get 2,000 subscribers and earn $10,000/month. More than likely, my first book will start out looking like the former scenario, and as I start to attract readers who are into the kind of thing I like to write, my second or third book will start to look like the latter scenario. And $10,000/month is a nice living for a writer!
With an untested market
But it’s an untested market. We don’t even know if there is a market for serial novels. There is no guarantee, for instance, that a reader will be interested in paying $5/month to read four chapters of a book each month when they could buy a whole book on Kindle for $1.99. This is why there are plenty of writers writing novels on Patreon earning $200/month (and plenty of Kindle authors earning $200 total).
And yet, it doesn’t seem implausible to me that a writer could have 1,000 true fans. Just a small, devoted following who are loyal to a writer’s work and want to follow them in real-time. Call me an optimist, but there are several writers I can think of who I would love to follow in real-time, instead of waiting two to five years for their next book to come out.
I have a long way to go. According to Substack, 10 percent of a writer’s newsletter list will become paying subscribers. This means I would need 10,000 newsletter subscribers to get my 1,000 paid fans and earn $5,000/month. Right now, I have 2,000 newsletter subscribers. This means, optimistically, 200 of them will pay to read my novel (that’s $1,000/month), and even less of them will like it. (Books are subjective after all!)
But I have a plan
That’s why I’ll be spending the next two years building my audience in three phases. The first phase is now through September of 2021, when I will attempt to grow my newsletter list by guest posting for other newsletters with similar audiences and advertising in other Substack newsletters. I have also invested in a referral program in the hopes of getting my existing readers to refer my newsletter to their friends. (I will share the results of these initiatives in my newsletter!)
Phase two begins in September of 2021 when I will debut my novel as a paid serial that will run through June of 2022. Once the book is done, I will host a wrap party where I can talk about the process and sell signed copies of the hardcover book. My hope is that by the time I debut my second novel in the fall of 2022 (phase three), I will have developed a following for my fiction writing that will only build as I continue to write and publish novels as serials, and, who knows, maybe even earn a living doing it.
Let me introduce you to my book
Obscurity is a piece of lush, atmospheric noir, with a strong female lead and literary tendencies. It reads like a wandering through apothecary shelves, each step revealing a vignette more dark and mercurial than the last.
Set amidst the wild palms of 1790s Louisiana, the widow St. Vincent appears in the wake of her husband’s death the most wealthy plantation owner in the South. But strange occurrences ensue in her wake and the town becomes obsessed with their superstitions about her. As they attempt to unravel the widow’s secrets, we find she knows something of their secrets as well and the philosophical underpinnings of their pasts all surface to haunt them all.
Something of a Southern Gothic, with a mysterious Count of Monte Cristo-esque protagonist and all the atmospheric aplomb of a visit to Sleep No More, Obscurity has been compared to books like Dracula, The Phantom of the Opera, Interview with a Vampire, or The House of the Spirits.
It will debut in the fall of 2021 exclusively for my newsletter subscribers.
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Thanks for reading.