Newsletter Crew January 4, 2021

Are fiction newsletters a thing? 🐉

Samuel Ludescher @DirtyRonin

tl;dr - Is a sword and sorcery series (episodic, illustrated) following one main character a viable paid newsletter - charging around $2 a month?


What's up guys. I'm sure like many of you, I came across Substack one day and was slightly boggled at how much money I could make a month off less than 500 subscribers. As a budding Indiehacker, it's pretty substantial to me and it looks promising. But, to me a newsletter would never be more than a passion project, just a way for me to satisfy my writer's itch (for now). I want to write on topic that doesn't feel like work.

Apart from product, I'm rather obsessed with swords and sorcery tales. I'm a huge Lord of the Rings nerd. I need to get into more worlds. I always liked the tales of Drizzt (any recommendations would be awesome as well, for reading is a rather new hobby I'm sad to say).

I am world building for my own fantasy novel. Though, I've had this side story as a way to paint the worlds history boiling in my cauldron for a while now, and it would be suitable for a newsletter format. It's an episodic series that doesn't necessarily need to be read in chronological order. Think Conan, minus the racism.

Is this sort of newsletter viable? Should I just go to Medium or somewhere else?

The reason I am considering Substack, or paid newsletters in general, is because like many of you I want a captive audience. I want consistent, loyal readers more than I want a lot of views. That would mean more to me than anything else. I want engagement and feedback. I feel that if I can grow a paid newsletter surrounding my fantasy world, then it will give me confidence as I work on my books. Plus, it couldn't hurt to get paid for it.

What do you guys think? Are paid newsletters worth my time for this venture?

  1. 3

    I'm not your target audience so please take my feedback lightly, I think thats a great idea. I could totally see that working. But you should ask some folks in your target audience. Maybe find some relevant subreddits or facebook groups and ask there.

    And tbh, asking isn't the best signal imo. A stronger signal would be to start and try! How fast can you produce a short story? Maybe you can quickly write 5 emails worth of content where the first 2 emails are free and the remaining 3 are paid.

    1. 1

      Good points here. I haven't checked out any existing subreddits or other communities.

      Since science fiction mags and anthologies have gone online, there have to be other pockets. That's what I was looking for when I stumbled upon newsletters.

      The pricing scheme is what interests me most. How do I make an adequate paywall. I'd like to keep something free, as you're saying. Will have to weigh that out.

      1. 1

        substack makes it easy to set different posts to free or paid

  2. 2

    Late to the party on this one, but the idea hits home for me because I've also wanted to start a newsletter for more of my "fun" writing :) A couple of thoughts:

    Do you have any ideas for promotion? I think that might be the trickiest part for a fiction, fantasy newsletter. Off the top of my head, you could get active in writing (and fiction/fantasy) communities–once you're respected there, when the newsletter launches, offer them the first couple issues for free. I bet you'd do well that way.

    The other thing would be to make sure you're able to keep up with quality content on the schedule that you set for yourself.

    If you launch this, let me know :) I can't wait to check it out.

    1. 2

      Hehe the fun newsletters for fiction and otherwise isn't something I've seen much of at all. Maybe it's an untapped market.

      To me, promotion would be similar to any other marketing grind. I'd put it up on my personal socials and start building out my writing brand under my name. I want to be an author as well as do product, and I want to write fantasy fiction. That's what peaked this idea.

      Getting into existing writing and fantasy communities is at the top of my list. Then, just getting the word out however possible. Maybe put up a few free stories on Medium or elsewhere so people can get a taste of what will be in the newsletter.

      Organic growth is never miraculous. I think I'd have to be just as methodical in my approach to marketing this as any product I work on. But, when people see me they will see the newsletter. That's the hope. Maybe I'll make a personal writer's website that links out to everything, or just make a linktree. SEO, social, and word of mouth can't really be beat right now.

      I'd consider it a wild success to get 200 paid subscribers. And that builds loyalty you can't buy.

      And, for something like this I will frontload the content several months in advance. I've already started on a longer introductory story to the main character Idris, in his youth. It's a feeling out process because I haven't written seriously in quite a while. Once I chop it down to size I can see what I'm working with.

      I appreciate your support, and I'll keep you posted. And, sorry for the wall of text.

      1. 2

        Great ideas. And, yes, 200 paid subscribers would be awesome. I appreciate hearing your thoughts! I think it's a cool idea. I think the main obstacle for a newsletter like this would be getting people to stick around for a while. And it's sort of a paradox, because:

        1. You can't do linear storytelling, for obvious reasons–people need to be able to join at any time. (I guess if they can read the archives, that's a way around it...But still not quite the same)

        2. Linear storytelling is the best way to keep people hooked and engaged for a long period of time.

        Then there's also the perceived value of an email, which is typically pretty low. I think, to keep people around and keep the perceived value up, some illustrations and a pretty format would be smart.

        Once you build a following, I think it's also reasonable to think that people would pay $2 (or much more) a month for longer, fleshed-out stories. So if you did one solid short story about your character Idris, once a month, that may work–or better yet, one short story that takes place in your world, from varying points of view.

        I don't know. It's an awesome idea and I can't wait to see where you take it!

        1. 1

          Yeah wow awesome input thank you :).

          My biggest question right now is if it's possible to set subscribers on their on schedule. So, new readers get told everything from the beginning, or they can check the archives. Still, that's tough if I am doing this for a year and my new stuff is just better than the old, etc.

          You stated it perfectly. To charge, I'd need illustrations. And, $2 a month sounds quite fair to me. I was thinking of trying $2.99 a month, but $1.99 sounds much more attractive. Yet, I might just start it all for free.

          I have other storylines in mind as well besides this particular character, so this is all very possible.

          Approaching it from a non-linear standpoint would be most wise. Onboarding readers to the character(s) could possibly come in the form of a fully linear short story (or series) that I could post for free as I said.

          It's all something that will need to coalesce as the writing takes shape. So far, I find myself in the middle of the intro story that is becoming a little dragged out. But, that's the beauty of editing, to go back and make it seem like you knew what you were doing all along.

          Writing is its own journey, anyway, so if this gets me to write it's still successful. Hope this all made sense. I'll certainly be in touch if it ever comes to fruition.

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            Yeah, that's all great to hear! Sounds like you're headed down the right path.

            And, if you ever want input on anything, just let me know!

            1. 1

              I definitely will no doubt about it.

  3. 2

    Not on the subject per se but I bet a mystery/crime/escape-room theme newsletter where you receive a clue every issue and try to solve it would be really cool.

    1. 1

      A mystery series is actually a great idea.

  4. 2

    this is a great idea~ I'm a game of thrones fan. if I can get that in a newsletter I totally would pay for it.

    1. 1

      Lol super cool. What's so attractive about having it in a newsletter?

      1. 2

        As a fan, if the book hasn't been released, and I am getting parts of the manuscript in a newsletter... it would be pretty cool.

        1. 1

          Oh yeah. That sounds more like pattern access. But I totally understand that as a fellow reader.

  5. 2

    I think it would be something very fun actually for which there would be an audience! That being said, I can imagine the audience being more young (even young adult)

    1. 1

      Totally hear you on that. So, would teenagers want to pay for this kind of newsletter becomes the question.

      1. 2

        I think they would. In fact, I think teenagers can be some of the most fervent fans of the stuff they enjoy. Couple that with the fact that more teenagers are making their own purchases now than ever, and yeah–definitely.

  6. 2

    Definitely a thing and definitely viable. There's an erotic poc newsletter making huge bank because it's a niche not served elsewhere.

    1. 1

      Niches are quite powerful. I suppose any audience can be carved out almost anywhere. It's good to see people will pay to support such specific literature.

  7. 2

    I think it is a great idea, provided that you find people interested in that specific topic. I've seen people writing fiction and having patreon subscriptions, so I see no problems in approaching it as a newsletter. In the past many newspapers had fictional stories in their publications, some even turning into 'famous' books. The formula of periodic releases definitely works.

    Bear in mind that if there's continuity between episodes, Substack may not be the best approach, since new users will receive 'episodes' from the moment they register and not the first ones.

    Fiction is very hard to do right, because it requires continuous creativity, I suggest you have a good buffer (i.e. at least the next 3/4 releases), and good planning (cliff-hangers, etc.). Then, it is a matter of finding your audience.

    1. 1

      Well said, thank you. Patreon is also an option, I just feel as though I'm not so established for that. Still, these are all things to consider.

      You stated what is my only real worry for this project, and that new readers won't be able to read older episodes. I haven't seen for sure whether or not Substack allows subscribers to read the entire catalog or not. I'll look into that more. That would turn me away if I couldn't do that.

      I'm beginning to buffer out my first full story arc, and will probably write a few more smaller ones and edit them into an appropriate layout. It's definitely important to have a strong runway.

      I appreciate your thoughts!

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        Substack let's you see the archive. I was just thinking about the user experience. Perhaps something like getting the first N episodes for free and then subscribe. But not sure what would work best.

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          I see what you're getting at. Yeah that's not bad tbh. I wonder if it's possible to make a structured initial email schedule for free users that gets them the "introductory" story. And then, I'd need to find a way to structure the paywall.

          If I keep episodes to like 1,500 words or a 5 min read, it makes it a better UX for a newsletter. That was my goal. I'm sure it might effect scheduling. I could structure releases to reflect story arcs. It's an interesting thought.

  8. 2

    Adam Waselnuk ( writes a D&D newsletter called Sword & Source that's a fiction based newsletter. It's not like a series story perse. But it is something I've been thinking about lately.

    Why not have authors send out chapters or pages via a newsletter weekly/daily? Seems like it would be an interesting channel to use.

    1. 1

      I could see it. It's not much different in principle than what we do for products. Peter Thiels wrote The Make Book in public, despite his egregious spelling and grammar lol.

      It's an interesting thought. And thanks for the rec!

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