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, Frankenstein. 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 still the author’s best bet for attracting readers and earning a living. But even that outcome is highly unlikely—and there could be a better way.
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. 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.
There’s just one problem: it hasn’t been done in the modern era—yet. Thus far, there are very few authors who have built a following on a platform and then published novels serially on that platform. The only two worth mentioning started that way, then attracted the attention of a Big Four publisher and went that route instead. (Andy Weir who originally published The Martian as a serial on his blog before attracting the attention of Random House, and N.K. Jemisin who published chapters of her novels for her Patreon followers until she attracted the attention of Orbit.)
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 (what I am making right now as an editor). 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 August 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 August of 2021, when I will debut my novel as a paid serial that will run through May of 2022. I will attempt to grow my audience for the book as it is coming out by using Substack threads and a Discord server (think: how fan fiction gets an audience) to develop a community. I will also offer higher pricing tiers for those interested in being mentioned in my acknowledgements section, writing my foreword, or eloping with me to the French countryside to write novels together. 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 (another pricing tier).
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.