Figuring out when to charge and when to give away
I’ll be interested to watch your experiment. Elle’s article has nudged another writer this way, I believe, and I’ve suggested to him that I’m reluctant (read: unable, unwilling) to pay for every Substack writer I enjoy reading. I worry that there’s a zero sum game we’re playing as we “all” try to go paid. I think we’ll see a real test of how elastic budgets are for content.
I have been struggling with paid subscriptions as well. I've been offering my newsletter and writing for free since joining this year (still very much a newbie), but I also believe that artists should be paid for their work and there is a precedent to set (by staying free you will only attract people who wish to continue getting your work for free), but, like you had said, asking for people to pay for each short story or episode I launch feels like too big of an ask. Thank you for sharing your journey with this experiment. I follow Elle as well and your insights are so helpful! I feel like we are all walking an unpaved path and every bit of cut back brush is helpful.
Good luck! I hope to hear more about your experiments.
Love this. Feeling it all. More and more I think Wattpad is a UGC mine. I prefer Substack as well. Also love giving away free writing, while debating a more structured approach with payments.
I’m also already wishing there was a “Substack unlimited” option or a token system because I want to read so many different Substack off and on.
Elle seems to have tickled all of our writerly brains. I think you're asking the right questions, and there's no easy answer, other than to experiment and see where it leads you. You're a year further ahead of the game than I am, as I just launched my paid option, which I discussed in a post yesterday.
One encouragement I will make, is that your writing has tremendous worth, beyond getting paid for it. While it's nice to be paid for putting in the work, we have to be careful to attach its worth to how much money we can make from it. If you never reach the level of being able to support yourself full time with writing, it doesn't change the fact that you're showing up, putting in the effort, and risking putting something out into the world to see how it's received, paid or otherwise.
Good luck with the experiment, and thanks for being transparent with your journey!
I'm still doing early access for paid subscribers, plus ebooks of new releases and my back catalog, and I also do exclusive art reveals. My paid subscriber number is pretty low, so can't say that it's working, but I think I will continue with the early access model, as it is a good compromise that lets everyone read my fiction for free while giving a perk to paid subscribers and also not devaluing the book when I launch my Kickstarter.
I did a lot more non-fiction posts earlier in the year, which were a lot of work and took away from my writing time. And I foolishly started a weekly comics column that I haven't been able to keep up. Going forward, I think I will switch to one post per month, one comics post per month, and a discussion thread.
Thank you for this! I had the thought of making occasional posts paid, including some stories and serial chapters (say, one in five or so). This would allow most readers to read most of the story, while giving something extra to paying subscribers. One could also leave posts free for a week and then paywall them. In this way, faithful and motivated readers would get the content for free; new readers could see for a while what they'll get if they pay. And if they like chapters 37 to 41 and want to read the whole story, they'd have to pay. Seems like a good compromise between reader and writer interests?
I haven’t enabled the monetisation on my substack yet but I think about that occasionally. Similar thought process. My readership is smaller and I always say myself “I should go paid when I reach X readers, I am not ready yet” etc. Good luck with your experiment, it’s always interesting to see how other writers do things differently and see them growing.
I've also been considering going paid, and trying to have more community features, so I appreciated this. At the very least I'll probably add a 'just if you feel like supporting me' option soon as my part in normalizing the idea of paying writers.
I just started with sub stack so I will watch how you get on and learn
Very excited for you Simon, I think you have a lot to offer your readers!
I see writers asking for a “tip” option frequently, but I don’t believe most readers want it or would use it. If you tipped most of the stories you read each month just one dollar, that would add up fast. And giving pennies per story won’t add up to much. If you want pennies per story, you might as well write on Medium. 🤣
"Tipping" came up on the Substack Writers Unite Discord recently and I asked if anyone had ever gotten a "tip" for writing using Ko-fi or Buy Me A Coffee. The answer was one "no" and silence from everyone else. People are conditioned to tip musicians and wait staff, but not writers. I don't think it is a sustainable model. At least not yet.
One thing I have learned is, offering more newsletters is not what people want. I think many people subscribe to more newsletters than they can read. I do (I just unsubscribed to four because I rarely read them.) Personally, I don't want more newsletters per week. One is enough! 😂 Quality over quantity is the best strategy, I think.
I think the "community" aspect is the brightest possibility for fiction writers. I haven't really explored that.
The subscription model works well for some, but it is difficult for most of us "not well-known" writers. And especially for fiction (entertainment.) One Substack newsletter versus millions of songs or thousands of movies/tv shows is a tough sell. People will only take on so many subscriptions. Although, it is not a bad deal, really. People used to buy magazines every week for a few bucks. That added up to more than what you pay for a Substack subscription. Maybe writers should band together and put out Substack "magazines." Of course, then the money issue gets messy.
I have settled on a "patronage" option. Nothing else I tried worked and my paid readers all said they just wanted to support my writing. But I haven't gotten a new paid sub for almost a year, so patronage is not really working for me either. But my writing/newsletter is pretty unconventional. That could be a primary factor, in my case. So I will just write what I want, enjoy the comments, and know that some people enjoy my writing (10 people, enough to pay for it.) That is enough for me at the moment.
But I am keeping my eye on the "community" aspects like threads.
I certainly don't know what works. I brought out my illustrated novel in July with an email list of about a hundred people, many of which I only knew tangentially. As of today, I'm still just plodding along. Most of what I've read about this sort of publishing suggests you should make your best material free, and then charge for perks. I bought into that concept when I began. Trouble was, I didn't have time for extra credit assignments. Writing, editing and drawing the main content were taking up all of my available time, and I began to feel like I was undervaluing my work again; the same emotion I’ve felt each time I’ve published on some obscure lit mag that only pays ego-tokens. I put up a paywall on Chapter 10 or so and my fledgling readership plummeted. I panicked and went free again and continued to do so until Chapter 19. Then I started charging. My revelation was basically this: I have a really good book that I’ve spent years on. My dream, from the beginning, was to find people, or even one person, who find value in it. The readers who are truly engaged by my book won’t begrudge me the five-buck admission fee. The ones who are just browsing have 19 free chapters to look at. (I’ve lately been thinking of making it just the first ten.) Numbers are nice, but maybe that’s not the main thing after all. The main thing is to find “quality readers,” if I can make up such a term. I’m happy to have found a handful of engaged readers who are communicating with me about the book. Even if I fail to grow the site, I consider this much a victory.