FEATURED FOOL: Writer Elle Griffin

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Have you ever been told: “You should get a more sensible career"? I’m Timi, and each week we interview a storyteller, artist or creative entrepreneur in Asia who ignored this advice to pursue a creative career. They show us how they paved their own path and dealt with unmitigated failures on their way to building a unique and singular foolish career.

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FEATURED FOOL is where we highlight the things our subscribers say and do. We want to feature as many of you as possible, so introduce yourself in this thread, pepper it with links to your work, or just tell us what’s on your mind.

Meet Elle Griffin. She is a business editor and freelance writer who is embarking on an experiment to publish her first novel as a serial. She explains why she chose this path and what the subscriber math could look like:

After I finished writing my 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 is highly unlikely. 

And yet, there are all these other methods that could disrupt the publishing industry—Patreon, Wattpad, Substack, Twitter's new Super Follow—there are starting to be these platforms where writers can build a following and then monetize it, either by selling their followers a book, or selling their followers a subscription to their book as they are writing it. (Sidenote: Serials are how most classic novels were written—think The Count of Monte Cristo, Great Expectations, Sherlock Holmes—which is why this publishing model particularly appeals to me.)

There's just one problem: no one has done it yet. Thus far, there are very few authors who have built a following on a platform and then published their novels on that platform. The only two worth mentioning started that way, then attracted the attention of a Big Four publisher and went that route. (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 came out with chapters of her novels for her Patreon following until she attracted the attention of Orbit.)

This means the biggest challenge I'm facing right now in my career is an untested market.

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 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 superfans, and then I will publish it to KDP and Wattpad to expand its reach. Then, my hope is to publish my next book the same way and build on that.

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!

But again, 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 2,000 true fans. Just a small devoted following that really love a certain writer and want to follow his or her work. There are several writers I can think of that 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 20,000 newsletter subscribers to get my 2,000 paid fans. Right now, I have 1,800 newsletter subscribers. This means, optimistically, 180 of them will pay to read my novel (that's $900/month), and even less of them will like it. (Books are subjective after all!)

But I haven't published a novel yet, and we don't know if there's a market yet, so this is a great place to start. If you're interested in writing books or reading books (or following my wandering thoughts on both matters), feel free to subscribe to my newsletter The Novelleist at ellegriffin.substack.com. You will be helping me reach my goals as an author, and joining my experiment in serial publishing as you do so. (So thank you very, very much!)

And thank you Timi for having me. I guess I really am a fool after all!

The Interviews:


  • How to promote your debut novel about protest during a mass protest

  • Using LinkedIn like a human: tips from a music composer

  • A serial creative entrepreneur shares 21st-century leadership values

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