Discover more from Write More with Simon K Jones
You don't need my advice
In which I don't talk about growth strategies
Back in 2021 I started this newsletter with 100 subscribers, all email addresses that I’d brought over from my previous Mailchimp newsletter. That list had accumulated over about 10 years and I doubt many of those people were active readers, so I may as well have been starting at zero.
Which made everything really easy.
No stakes. No stress. No concerns about what people would think, or how they’d react.
Also no strategy to speak of, no insights, no sense of where it was going to go.
I would never have believed that, by the latter months of 2023, this newsletter would have grown to a point where my writing is being read by intelligences far greater than my own; that while I carry on quietly writing my words, I am observed and studied by you, and those subscriber numbers swarm and multiply like creatures in a drop of water.1
What is this new feeling?
OH, I know. It’s imposter syndrome. An imposter on my own newsletter.
It’s just more people now
(trying to not turn this into a lame humblebrag, as that’s definitely not the intention)
In 2023 there are more than 100 people reading this newsletter. In fact, we’re closing in on 3,000 subscribers. This is wonderful, obviously, but it’s not without consequences. For example, this button becomes vastly more intimidating:
In the last six months I’ve become acutely aware of what that innocent phrase ‘Send to everyone now’ really means. There are a lot of different humans on the other end of this thing (including you, presumably! Hello!), and the bigger that number becomes the more likely it is that we’ll have differences of opinion.
Which is fine. The debates I’ve had down in the comments are the best thing to come out of writing this newsletter. But there are always those monkey-brain thoughts in the back of my mind, when my mouse hovers over that green ‘send’ button: what if I offend someone accidentally? What if someone hates what I write? What if I include a massive, embarrassing error? What if I write I Am A Fish over and over again without realising?
That we’re talking subscriber numbers is important, too. It’s not an ephemeral social media stat such as ‘likes’ or ‘followers’. It’s not Wattpad’s vague notion of what it means to ‘read’ something. This newsletter isn’t me borrowing a social platform’s userbase: you’ve all chosen to subscribe, which creates a more meaningful relationship - and also raises that bar of expectation.
Who am I to offer advice?
There’s two aspects to this newsletter. Fridays is for fiction, and Mondays is for the non-fiction, writing tips stuff.
Weirdly, I’m less worried about the fiction, because that is inherently a matter of taste and opinion. Stories will work for some people and not for others, and that’s entirely fine. I’ve always expected some people to not like my fiction.
I keep coming back to a Note thatshared a while back:
He’s right, and it has stuck in my brain ever since. The fear is that by writing this newsletter, and sharing my experiences and offering writing ‘advice’, I might be accidentally delaying someone from just sitting down and writing.
I don’t want to be a ‘guru’. I don’t want to present myself as having all the answers. And Matt’s Note made me re-evaluate everything. I was suddenly paranoid that I’d tipped over into facile self-help nothingness. That I’d become part of the problem rather than the solution.
This is, of course, compounded by that growing subscriber list. When I had 100 probably-not-even-there subscribers, it didn’t really matter what I wrote. Now it feels like it does matter, because I don’t want to lead anyone down the wrong path.
In short: am I wasting everyone’s time? What qualifies me to blather on about all this stuff as if I know what I’m talking about? Who the hell do I think I am?
Remember Matt’s words (as should I): You know enough. Now just do it.
The dark side beckons
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I’ve seen a lot of people grumbling about the explosion of this kind of thing in the newsletter space for the last month. The concern is that the newsletter business is turning into some kind of icky pyramid scheme, with writers convincing other writers to pay to be writers, who then convince other writers to sign up; an unhealthy ouroboros loop.
That’s not what I’ve seen. I’m fortunate to have an inbox filled with great material from a wide range of fiction and non-fiction writers. But whenever I see the complaints, there’s only room for one thought in my mind:
Are they talking about me?
I hope this is just a manifestation of the writer-narcissist side of my personality. Then again, I’ve written articles about how I’ve tried growing this newsletter. I mean, you could argue that this very edition today is one of them. I’ve made videos and written pieces that do well for SEO, regularly bringing in new readers.2
To take an example, I started my Substack for Beginners video series after attending an excellent Zoom interview betweenand . During their interview, several attendees in the chat were off asking all kinds of basic support questions, and I thought I could help out and fill a potential gap in the official support docs. Plus I like making videos and hadn’t done so for ages.
It turned out to be a good move: the first video in the series caused an unprecedented subscriber spike and brought in several new paid subscribers. This had never really happened before for me.
Here’s the thing: when you’re just trundling along, pootling about and doing the stuff you enjoy doing, everything is simple. But as soon as something unexpectedly outperforms everything else, you have to decide what that means.
After that first video went micro-viral (in a very cosy, contained, newslettery, Substacky sort of way), I thought: wow, I should make more of that sort of thing. I should pause those other plans I had and just make more beginner videos! It’s converting subscribers so much better than my other stuff!
My brain stopped thinking about fiction and non-fiction and instead started thinking in terms of content.
The temptation is real. I’ve written something like 250,000 words on this newsletter over a couple of years, so I have a lot of data to draw upon. I have a sense of what ‘does well’. I could shift focus to that high conversion content and reduce everything else.
That would suck, though, right? For me and (eventually) for you.
What’s the point of today’s newsletter, I hear you ask? Other than me vocalising this silent scream that’s been rattling around my head for a couple of months?
It’s me asking you for a favour, basically. There are two things I want to do with this newsletter:
Write the kind of fiction that I’d want to read. Like Tales from the Triverse.
Help people write more.
If you see me drifting away from those two things, please drop me a gentle note in the comments or via email and push me back on track. I can do the same for you, if you like.
I wasn’t intending to write that today, but there it is. Felt good to put those thoughts into words.
Last week I completely forgot to share the last of my Inktober attempts, so here they are:
So much fun, and highly recommended! Though I’m looking forward to getting back to some digital art now that October is done.
Sorry, couldn’t resist. Thanks for indulging me.
That I’ve hyperlinked articles within the paragraph feels somewhat cynical.