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What if the traditional publishing model is not the best way to publish a book in a digital age? What if publishing it as an ebook on Amazon is not the best way, either? Elle Griffin questions the established ways of publishing a book and explains how she is using SubStack and NFTs for her words.
Elle Griffin is an author, editor, freelance journalist, and creative entrepreneur, using new methods of publishing to reach readers and make multiple streams of income with her work.
You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript is below.
- Why the economics of publishing most books don't add up
- Tips for authors who want to use SubStack
- How SubStack differs from Patreon
- Ideas for authors who want to get into blockchain and NFTs with their words
- Embracing change and technology as a creator
You can find Elle Griffin at ellegriffin.substack.com and on Twitter @novelleist
Transcript of Interview with Elle Griffin
Joanna: Elle Griffin is an author, editor, freelance journalist, and creative entrepreneur, using new methods of publishing to reach readers and make multiple streams of income with her work. Welcome, Elle.
Elle: Thanks, thank you so much for having me.
Joanna: I'm excited to talk to you today.
Before we get into more of the technology, tell us a bit more about you and how you got into writing.
Elle: I've been a writer for a really long time. I actually started my career in the content marketing side of things, and then moved my way over toward editorial. Now I've been an editorial journalist for a number of years.
While I was working on that, on the side, I wanted to write a novel. So I wrote a gothic novel called Obscurity and when I finished it, I did all the normal things first. I sent it out to agents and I was thinking maybe that would be a good idea.
But as I was doing that I was researching publishing as my own, like a journalist would, researching the industry, trying to figure out how my book could best be successful. That's when I decided that my book was not a mass-appealed kind of book, it was not going to have 100,000 followers, or buys, purchases.
So I decided that it would be better off for a couple of thousand people that would really love it. And if that was the case, I was interested in doing that as part of the Creator Economy, which is a newer idea where the idea is that the author or writer gets paid monthly.
People subscribe to that author monthly, as opposed to, ‘Let's pay this author $10 every time, every five years when they have a book come out.'
The idea is you subscribe to an author ongoing, and they provide behind-the-scenes access and things as you're going there, similar to your strategy because I know you have a blog and a podcast on the side of writing fiction.
So that's what I've been doing. I did a newsletter on SubStack, about a year ago, which has explored all of this and has been a very interesting experiment.
Joanna: I want to start with the SubStack experience because one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you is I've had so many authors ask me about SubStack. Now, of course, when I started doing this, I started writing in 2006, it wasn't around, but I grew an email list as one does.
I've always kind of felt SubStack is just an email list that someone else manages for you. So I've been like, ‘Okay, I've got to ask someone why it's so good.' So let's start with the fiction and we'll get back into the nonfiction.
You serialized Obscurity on SubStack. What are your tips for authors who want to use SubStack for fiction in particular?
Elle: When I first started serializing fiction on SubStack, I pitched the idea to my readers, I said, ‘Look, okay, publishing doesn't work. Here's all the reasons why.
What if we bring serialized fiction back in the form of a SubStack newsletter, I'll send out a new chapter of my novel every single week, you can subscribe to it for $10 a month or $50 a year and get the whole book. For an added tier, you can pay $200 and get access to the hardcover very first edition of the book when it comes out.'
That article just went insanely viral. At the time I wrote that article, I had done a lot of research on SubStack and, basically, everyone was doing nonfiction there. You're not wrong, SubStack is pretty new and it only really started reaching mass appeal in the last two years, when they got funding and started investing in it a lot.
So it's fairly new, but it's picked up steam really quickly. And that article saw 60,000 views in one day.
One of the co-founders of SubStack reached out to me and was like, ‘We want SubStack to be a place for fiction. We love your idea.‘ All of these fiction writers started following me at that time, and were like, ‘Whoa, like, this is such a great idea. My books have been published on Amazon, and nothing's been happening to them at all. So this is such a cool idea. I'm going to try this, too.'
What started out when I wrote that post, there were I think, three or four fiction writers on SubStack, and I was one of them. And then it just exploded from there. I think there are hundreds, if not thousands now.
Because of that SubStack added the fiction category to their website, they ended up hiring another person to help recruit fiction writers to the platform, that's how they got Salman Rushdie to join and some of these really big authors to join.
So it started this crazy movement and now I think it's very fascinating because there are all these writers you can find and follow on SubStack. You can read their fiction, a new chapter each week, or however often they publish.
And because SubStack has this community element built-in, you can comment on each other's work. And then comments lead back to your work. So everybody's networking through it, it's been really fun. I think it's a good idea personally.
Joanna: It's so funny because what you just said there you can comment and it leads people back to your work. That's exactly what we did in the early days of blogging. It was like go on people's blogs, leave comments, and that will bring traffic to your work and linkbacks and all this. And then what happened was that changed, and people moved.
I used to get a lot more comments, and then people started commenting on social media. So those comments went away.
What you're talking about there, it sounds like essentially SubStack is like a serialized blog.
Elle: Yes. It's very similar to blogging in the aughts. I had a blog then, too, and it was very similar. And you're right, we lost that and all those comments into social media.
I wish I could tell you all the things they're building because I'm a beta tester for them now and the things that they've got, it's just down the pipeline, it's every writer's dream. But it's exactly that, it's allowing writers to network with each other and find each other and follow each other.
Now, when I write an article on SubStack, I get hundreds and hundreds of comments and that never used to happen when I used to just have a blog or like, I think, between when I had a WordPress blog, and SubStack, I had a MailChimp newsletter, or like a tiny letter newsletter, and those I mean, I have barely any interactions. So engagement is really beefed up there.
Joanna: That's so interesting. You've just changed my view now because I was thinking SubStack was just like an email list, but what you're saying, it's more like a blog with an RSS feed through email.
I get your articles by email, but essentially, they're coming from your SubStack blog. I need to think about a much bigger ecosystem.
Elle: Yes. If you go to ellegriffin.substack.com, you can see all my ‘newsletters.' It's like mixing a WordPress blog, with a newsletter, like a MailChimp newsletter, with a social media, only you can do it all in one place.
As the writer, all I have to do is write and click send. So it's very cool. It's like building it all in one.
Joanna: Does it include podcasting as well, or video or any other media, or is it writing focused?
Elle: Yes, so you can have your podcast on your SubStack, and you can also push that out to Spotify and anywhere else, but a lot of people have SubStack or SubStack podcasts, and you can just follow their podcasts.
The interesting thing with SubStack, too, is a lot of newsletters will charge you. I'd have to pay $30 a month or something to send a newsletter, but SubStack is completely free. But I can charge my readers to subscribe to higher-tiered content.
A lot of writers will write a free newsletter and then say, pay to subscribe to also get the podcast, and then SubStack just takes 10% of that. So it's really nice because you can do podcasting, and they just announced they're going to do video as well. So now you'll be able to get all of it.
Joanna: I know I'm asking a lot of what might seem basic questions, but how does it match with Patreon then? Because I use Patreon for my podcast and for some extra content. And as you talked about the beginning, that is a subscription, creative economy, monthly income from wonderful people listening who support the show.
How is SubStack different to Patreon?
Elle: They're very similar. I actually got both a Patreon and a SubStack when I first started because I wanted to test both out and just see what the feature differences were. And basically what I determined was that Patreon is great in a lot of ways, but SubStack is very specific for writers.
Whereas Patreon is for everyone, writers, musicians, and game makers, like anything you can think of can live on Patreon. There were a lot of like little things that I just felt weren't ideal for writing. For example, my SubStack lives on this website that is hosted on SubStack, and so people get there from Google. I get a lot of people from Google.
I get a lot of people from everywhere because people can share the article as if it's like an article in a news website. So I felt it was a little bit more ideal for writers in terms of sharing content more widely.
You don't go to Patreons' website and browse around trying to look for Patreons to follow. You'd have to be following somebody on some social media platform and then they tell you come look check out my Patreon, because I was like, how would you get there?
Whereas SubStack, you can browse around and look for all the other SubStacks, because you want to read writers and find writers to follow.
The benefit that Patreon has over SubStack is they allow you to have multiple pricing tiers. SubStack just allows you to have two. You can have a monthly and annual, and then a founding member tier, which is the higher level tier.
Joanna: I see that SubStack has better SEO, search engine optimization, so better discoverability for words. So that's great.
Let's talk about the nonfiction essays, or we could call them blog posts or articles that you have. So how has that gone?
What have you learned from a year of SubStack? How is the income fitting into your business?
Elle: It's interesting because when I initially started, I announced that I was going to write my newsletter for free, which means newsletters just nonfiction, it's basically me documenting my journey of getting published. And then I was going to charge if you want to join to read my book, then you can pay $10 a month or $50 a year.
But what I found after a year, and I'm halfway through serializing my book now, I sent out a survey to everyone that was my paid subscribers, asking how they were liking it and everything. And not a single one of them subscribed because they wanted to read my book.
Every single one of them had subscribed because they wanted to support my newsletter. So I decided to change tactics, and I decided, okay, I'm going to start charging for some of the things I offer on my newsletter and allow my fiction to be free. And so far, that has gotten a lot better.
I think people are very used to getting fiction for free. And even some of the case studies I relied on early on like Alexander Dumas who serialized The Count of Monte Cristo in a newspaper, people were paying to subscribe to the newsletter, but they weren't paying to subscribe to The Count of Monte Cristo. That was just part of the newspaper.
So I just figured I might as well start trying to think about it like that, where the fiction is not necessarily how I'm making money, the nonfiction is, and is more easily monetizable but the fiction is available to anyone who wants to read it.
I think you take a very similar approach. It seems like you're monetized through all of your nonfiction work, and that supports your fiction work. Is that true?
Joanna: I'd say it's probably this point about 25%. I make a pretty good income as a fiction writer as well. I make a lot more than most fiction writers. But then I've got 20 books or something now as a fiction writer. And I've been doing fiction for over a decade as well.
I definitely have almost two separate businesses. But I don't use any serialization with my books at all. That's to do with long-running series, with boxsets, with different formats, a lot of different sites.
[More on my business model in How to Make a Living with your Writing Third Edition.]
Also, I think it's like you said, people might not be so used to reading serialized fiction on SubStack. I wonder how Salman Rushdie is doing it?
Elle: Not great, it looks like.
Joanna: No, exactly, but I bet you they paid him some money upfront for that. It's not like he has to rely on the subscription, he would have got paid upfront.
People who want to serialize fiction are going to sites like Radish or Kindle Vella, or Wattpad, places like that. So I can see how it's difficult to do that on SubStack.
Let's come to one of the articles you wrote recently, you said, ‘Do I even want to write another book, or should I write something that will get read instead?'
Can you talk a bit about that? [Original article here.]
Elle: I have limited time, I have a day job in journalism. I've been writing my book on the side of my job for three years, and then I published it this year. And then what was so crazy to me is, as I published my book, and I had maybe 46 people actually read through to the current chapter. And I have 4,200 newsletter subscribers.
So I just thought this is so funny; I wrote this thing that took three years of my life, that I worked so hard on and that I personally love, that feels like a personal masterpiece for me. But it's just not read and enjoyed the way that I would love it to be.
But my newsletter is just by accident, and it's so strange to me because my newsletter is so easy for me to write. It almost just feels like my own journal. It's like me having all my thoughts about publishing my book, and just about being a novelist and exploring different avenues.
So I was just like, ‘Okay, do I want to spend the next three years of my life writing a book that's going to get 46 viewers? Or would it be better use of my time to continue working on my newsletter and maybe one day I'll have 20,000 newsletter subscribers, and I'll feel pretty great about that. And maybe that'll be even earning me a living, and then I can work on my next book and put it out there, and it will have a better chance of success. And I won't need to like rely on it for any kind of income.'
Joanna: So essentially what you're saying is you still do want to write books, but you want to build an audience first and a business first, and then potentially write other things that you can put out for free or you can make some money on but they don't have to support you, basically.
Elle: Yes. And maybe it's a little bit masochist of me to say that I want to write another book because with all the research I've done in the past year, I mean, even the fact that you are super prolific, you're a super successful, New York Times bestselling author and the fact that those are only making up 25% of your income it's kind of proof, right?
Elle: It's proof that we're not just going to be novelists for a living. Maybe you could be, and there are a couple of people that are, but when I was doing my research, I looked up, I went through all the data for 2020. I was so excited to get access to the data from Bookstat, Paul Abbassi was so gracious, he's the owner, gave me access to all of the 2020 data on book sales.
I was wading through that, and I was like, ‘Wait, only 200 books, 267 books sold more than 100,000 copies in 2020.' And I was like, ‘Two hundred some books of the 2.7 million published and 100,000 copies is not very much.'
If you think about how many people view a video on Netflix or on TikTok and people spend three hours a day on video content and only 15 minutes a day on written content. So I was just like, this is a little bit masochist of me to even want to write another book. What's wrong with me?
Joanna: I think sometimes the muse will not be denied. And those of us who are drawn to write stories, we can't stop that.
I do think for most writers, it isn't about the money and most writers do have a day job. I could say for me at this point, the nonfiction is a day job.
I do want to come back on the sales, a lot of the six and seven-figure authors, fiction authors I know, they are in Kindle Unlimited, so pages read is more of a metric than sales. And of course, Paul does great data from Amazon, but I don't know how he integrates pages read.
I think that would potentially skew the sales because that 100,000 copies is presumably traditional publishing data.
Elle: Yes, it's traditional publishing, audiobooks, and everything on Amazon that's not Kindle Unlimited.
Joanna: Okay, so that definitely changes the game. Because as I said, a lot of people have got different income streams. And again, I think these different income streams are so important, as we're talking about.
I do want to just mention another, because obviously, I'm one of your subscribers, so I get all your posts. Now, one of them was you sent a list of agents, and you were I don't know if you are now querying agents.
Even though you know all of this, are you still going to try and get a traditional publishing deal? Or is that something you've just given up on?
Elle: I don't know because, originally, I was thinking, I don't know if I want to go the traditional route, just because a lot of traditional publishers today don't put a lot of marketing behind the books that they purchase. When I've talked to a lot of authors that have done that, a lot of them had regrets.
‘I was so excited to get an agent, and then I was so excited to get a publisher. And then I sold 2,000 copies, and they kept 75% of the profits, and I can't even do anything else with it for 10 years until my contract runs out, or whatever.'
They were hoping that they were going to push it harder, or get it into airports and get it everywhere. So I'm a little bit leery, that being said, I think that if you have a book that's a mass market play, maybe that could be a good option, but again, the odds are so slim that you're going to be the success story that I almost feel like self-publishing would be better.
I actually want to know more about those Kindle Unlimited stats because I cannot get my hands on any and I'm trying to understand that as well. Because like you said, there are plenty of people being very successful in there.
I have recently had a lot of agents that I actually queried two years ago, start following my newsletter and I'm like, what's happening? Do I need to start pitching my books in my newsletter? So that has definitely made me start to think, it's another way to maybe I should figure out a way to play this.
Joanna: Publishers and agents want authors with a platform, and you now have a platform.
Elle: But because I now have a platform, I'd be better off selling to my list directly then through the publisher.
Joanna: Yes, that's the unfortunate truth.
Elle: They just want to sell to my own audience.
Joanna: That's true. And also because for example, I love the fact you've written some fiction, but I'm one of those people who's following you because I'm interested in your thoughts on publishing. So if you put out a fiction book under this name, I probably won't buy it because I'm interested in the nonfiction stuff.
That's actually one of the reasons I started another pen name back in 2014. I split my fiction under another name, J.F. Penn because I wanted to separate my audiences. So that's another interesting potential for you in the future.
Have you considered separating your audiences under another pen name?
Elle: I'm definitely thinking about that. Because I think, for example, my book is also on Wattpad and Royal Road, and I almost think I would be better off putting my fiction on Wattpad and serializing it there where I'm known for my fiction, and anybody who's following my Wattpad is following me for my fiction.
But I include at the bottom of every chapter in Wattpad, ‘Hey, you can subscribe to my newsletter ellegriffin.substack.com', because I do think eventually, not only other people that follow me on SubStack just for my newsletter, but I think there could be people that follow me for my fiction and want the behind the scenes access that I give in my newsletter.
So I don't want to split my brands, but maybe just split them, right, the people that come in, just for my fiction, and there might be people that come in for my nonfiction. And either way, I think my newsletter is kind of a ‘well, this is who I am.'
Joanna: Who I am, exactly. From my experience, I found an overlap of about 5%.
Elle: That's interesting.
Joanna: It is. But there you go. Everyone has a different situation.
Let's talk about your novel, The Totally True Story of Scott Paul, which you crowdfunded through blockchain platform Mirror. Tell us about that. I think a lot of people listening will never have heard of this platform.
Tell us why you choose Mirror and what were you doing with that?
Elle: I've been really interested in the whole web 3 crypto, NFT scene just because it has attracted the attention of this techy audience that is somewhat wealthy and are investing in art, basically, all these NFT debuts are art, their graphic design, their hand illustration, and just money is pouring into these things. Millions of dollars being spent on NFTs.
This is the first real investment we've seen in art for a long time, maybe even since the Renaissance.
People will invest in fine art, maybe for their homes a little bit, but for whatever reason, I think because of its involvement in the tech crowd, NFTs have just attracted this audience of people that are interested in art. And so I've been fascinated watching it and then I started to see these platforms pop up that are not just for graphic design, but for writers.
Mirror was kind of the first one, and there's a couple more right now, but neither of them are quite as well followed as Mirror so far. But the idea is interesting. You can basically write an article on the platform, when you publish it, it lives on the blockchain, although that's happening behind the scenes.
As a reader, you're just reading the article. And then you can sell that as an NFT and it's as easy as just pressing a button that says mint as NFT, and then you can choose the wallet address of the person you want to give it to. And then they have this crowdfunding feature that's a lot like Kickstarter, where you can just debut something and say, ‘Hey, crowdfund this project,' and it's all via Ethereum.
It's like you're investing in a Kickstarter only you're not just making a donation to that person you're investing in that person. You get proceeds if the author does.
So what I did was, I debuted a crowdfund on Mirror and I said, I'm going to write a novel that takes place in the metaverse and I'm going to write a new chapter for every 0.25 ETH raised, so it was a serial novel. It was a little experiment.
I wrote a tiny little prologue and I put it out there and I wrote it specifically for the crypto tech audience, meaning that chapters were very, very short. They took place in the metaverse and involved a lot of the weird NFT stuff that goes on in the metaverse.
The story was very weird, and then I ended up raising… It depends on the day, well how much the ETH is worth but it's like 0.75 ETH, so it's like $2,000 to $4,000. And I actually closed the crowdfund after that because I thought that the story was in a good place to end. I didn't want to keep it open and keep writing new chapters forever. So I decided to close the crowdfund at that point, and I wrote each story minted it on Mirror, and then sold them to the people who invested.
Now it's a finished story, and what I'm trying to do is sell it to animation studios, because I think it would make a good South Park episode, for instance. Scott Paul is the main character and it's about his battle with Mormonism in the metaverse, so quirky and very much fits the vibe of a South Park episode.
I was like, ‘Well, I'm going to try to sell it as an NFT to an animation studio.'
And if I sell it, then all the backers of the project, they own a percentage of the project, so they'll get percentage of their earnings. So it was a very interesting.
I think it's kind of early. And I think there was one other book that crowdfunded on Mirror and that was a YA novel called ‘Burn Alpha.' And then there's been a couple of other smaller projects, but what I'm really interested in is some of the bigger platforms are about to get into NFTs and I think there are some fascinating ideas that are going to happen and come out of that,
Joanna: I love this. I've done a few shows on NFTs. I feel like a lot of authors don't get it at all…most authors don't get it, and most publishers don't get it either. But I'm like you, I'm very excited about it.
What you basically did, there was a kind of royalty fractionalization. And if you do sell it to animation, or South Park or whatever, then as you said, the people who own those NFTs, they bought into your future. So it has that built-in marketing because people want you to be successful, because then they are more successful themselves, which I really like. You mentioned there are bigger platforms. So what are you seeing?
Elle: I've been in talks with several platforms that are looking at some very awesome ideas. The one I'm most excited about is a way to monetize fanfiction. So the idea is, imagine you write a story, and it's really good. Let's say it's a vampire lore story, and everybody wants to write fanfiction for it.
What you can do as the author is you can say, ‘Here, I've minted the characters of my novel as an NFT, if you want to use them in your book, go right ahead.'
So then the fanfiction writers can buy those characters and use them in their own novels, and even sell their own novels with the original author earning royalties on those characters because they're being used in another work.
It's this kind of way for the initial author to still get credit for the fanfiction and I think that's really interesting because that's a lot of the reason why authors are against fanfiction is because they're like, ‘Well, then you're taking my work, and then you're being really successful at it and it's my work to start with.' But if you could kind of build that into the process, that would be so cool.
Joanna: You're absolutely right. I don't know if you saw the project, I can't remember the name of it now. But last year, so we're talking in March 2022, and as soon as around November 2021, a group of YA authors put up this kind of thing. They got absolutely slammed in social media, and they ended up taking it down. [It was Realms of Ruin.]
I feel like people didn't understand what they were trying to do. They got accused of ripping their fans off, and all this type of thing.
Do you think the understanding of blockchain and NFTs is moving fast enough in the right direction?
Elle: I think that it's hard because definitely if you're into NFTs as a writer, you're an early adopter, so you can't think of your readers the same way. You can't think of the readers of an NFT project being the people who read your fiction novels, for example. They're going to be a tech dominant kind of person that already knows about NFTs and crypto and is well versed in that.
Anytime you debut the idea, and then share it with maybe a general public who isn't as knowledgeable about it, they might see it differently. A lot of people right now think about NFTs – they'll call them MLMs, or they don't understand. I think there's a lack of understanding about how they actually work and how they benefit the original creator and the people that are investing.
But I think as that starts to become more clear, that won't happen like that situation that happened. I think it needed a little bit more communication around it in what they were doing, but they also probably needed to target an audience that may be better understood, and I think the audience is better understanding like every month.
Eventually I think, once we're using Venmo and stuff to swap crypto back and forth, it'll be like a no-brainer, something that we're not even really thinking about. It's just the fact that it exists in this techie space and a lot of the platforms are hard to use right now, that makes it hard to understand.
It would be like trying to get somebody to use the internet in 1996, but nobody knows what the internet is. So you're trying to send an email with like MS DOS, and it just seems really complicated, and you're like, why would I ever do this?
Joanna: I'm glad you used that example because I've said this too to people. I'm like, ‘Look, you don't know how the internet works but you use it. You don't know how PayPal works but you send money that way.'
I feel like people are almost annoyed because we're talking about something that is so early, and they're expecting it to be exactly right at the moment. Whereas, of course, it took well, like you just said, like 25 years for us to get to this stage of the internet.
I'm thinking it's two to three years away until we really get a lot of more mainstream users, or do you think that might have accelerated due to the pandemic?
Elle: I know that there are a couple of platforms that are about to debut this in a big way that will make it more natural. I think maybe you're right, probably two to three years, once that stuff is all rolled out and it becomes so natural, you're not even thinking about it, then it'll be normal.
It kind of already is normal if you think about right now, to use Wattpad, you have to buy coins, and then you use coins to unlock chapters of a book. That's kind of how crypto will work; you won't be thinking of it, it's just a coin. Or when you go to Disneyland, you can have Disney bucks or whatever.
You use different forms of currency for different things and you're like buying those with US dollars. So I think eventually, that's how it'll be and I think it's very, very close.
Joanna: One question, you mentioned 1996. Now, I'm definitely older than you and I actually was part of a millennium bug project, way back. I remember the millennium bug. But what happened to a lot of my friends, who a lot of them worked in companies that then got destroyed in the dotcom when all of that crashed. So a lot of these companies didn't survive and then companies like Amazon, for example, obviously made it through the crash into the mainstream.
Now, a lot of people are calling NFTs a bubble right now and of course, we've already had a drop in the value of some of the cryptocurrencies and, obviously, the world right now is difficult.
Do you think we're heading for an NFT crash or do you think that it just is starting?
Elle: I think that there are a lot of startups in this space right now. And there's going to be one or two of them that we're still using five years from now, and the rest are going to be gone.
There's a lot of players vying for this space and trying to make it something but right now we all use Venmo to transfer money back and forth to each other that's kind of stuck around. I think there'll be eventually some like one or two things that we start using as part of our day to day lives, but most of it won't survive, for sure.
All of this right now is like a big playground or a sandbox, where we're testing out a lot of ideas and seeing what works. And there's a lot of excitement around NFTs, but yeah, some of the NFT projects are totally stupid and like why would you buy them?
When the stock market crashes, and nobody has jobs, are you really going to be happy that you have a picture of an ape on your phone? That's probably not going to make a big difference to you. But I think that the ultimate, what NFTs stand for, as we start to figure out like what makes an NFT valuable, some of those things will stay.
For example, The Bored Ape Yacht Club is not a picture of an ape on your phone, it's a $20,000 admission into a millionaire's club where if you have a business idea or you're a startup and you're trying to get investors, it's probably a good idea to buy a bored ape so you can get into the Yacht Club and have access to those people who could invest in your business.
So I think determining what will make an NFT valuable in the future, once we figure that out, those will be the things that have staying power, and the rest will kind of just go away.
Joanna: You sound like a realist in that you assess data and you're like, ‘This isn't working, I'm going to do something else,' and less emotionally attached to some of your projects but I feel like you're also adventurous in your tech. And many people listening are afraid.
They are actually afraid that the current business model is going away, that everyone's still struggling with monetizing themselves on Kindle and Facebook, let alone all these new platforms.
How can people change their attitude to look to the next decade with more excitement than fear?
Elle: I think that is so fascinating. I feel like this is especially to writers, and I'm not really sure why because I think it's because there's like a certain prestige to writing novels. But if you're a writer at all, you grew up thinking like one day I want to write a book and that feels like the pinnacle or apex of your career as a writer.
The book format has changed so much over the years, and it's weird to me that we're still holding on to it today when it's one of the least read mediums you can use in your toolbox.
If I think about would Victor Hugo use TikTok, or would he use Twitter today? Absolutely. Victor Hugo was like a political scion, he would for sure be on Twitter every day. Would Alexander Dumas use SubStack? I definitely think he would be because he published his book as a serial in the newspaper. And back then people made fun of him and said he wasn't the literary sort. He was just a commercial fiction writer, like selling out for the money.
Yet for some reason, I think, because the book has retained some level of prestige. It's still what writers really want to strive for, but if you actually look about at where people are spending their time, they're just not spending their time reading a book on Kindle, or reading a book from the library.
I read some stat recently that was something about even if you buy a book, it's not a guarantee it's going to be read. A lot of people are aspirational book buyers, meaning they just buy them and put them on their shelf and never read them. And so it's just, like, well, where will your writing be read then, where will your writing have the best chance of being read? Right now I think that SubStack, I think it's medium to some extent, they're starting to be vocal.
There's Wattpad, there's Railroad, there's Tapas, and Radish. Go where the people are reading and then publish for that format. There's nothing wrong in making your novel a digital novel or publishing it as a serial, there's so many ways to publish your novel, why not publish it in a way that will be successful?
Joanna: Brilliant. I love your SubStack, I think it's fantastic.
Tell people where they can find you and everything you do online.
Elle: It's ellegriffin.substack.com. All my stuff's there.
Joanna: Brilliant. Thanks so much for your time, Elle. That was great.
Elle: Thank you so much.
Jerry Windley-Daoust says
This was an absolutely fascinating interview…I’ve followed Elle’s newsletter for a while now, curious to see how it would work out for her. I am not surprised that not many of her newsletter subscribers were interested in reading her book; the newsletter was on a totally different topic from her fiction book, which was in a very niche genre. On the other hand, I appreciate her adventurousness and curiosity, and I was especially interested in hearing about her experience crowdfunding a serialized novel on the Mirror NFT platform. Please invite her back again next year to check in again!
Joanna Penn says
Thanks, Jerry, glad you enjoyed it!
Jerry Windley-Daoust says
Sorry, one other question. In the interview, Elle suggested you made most of your money on non-fiction content rather than on your fiction books…but then you seemed to say that only 25% of your income was from your other income streams (and 75% from your fiction). Which is it? Really not trying to pry, but if you’re sharing anyway, I’m just curious about whether the fiction or non-fiction side is more lucrative (I’m a traditionally published non-fiction author trying to break into the indie fiction world, you know!).
Joanna Penn says
I meant that around 25% is fiction, 75% non-fiction, but everything really meshes together as they fuel each other. I don’t separate them out in my finances. I separate out products e.g. ebooks vs print vs audio vs courses etc, but not author names.
My last breakdown is here: https://www.thecreativepenn.com/2021/07/03/book-sales-revenue-breakdown-2021/
Jerry J Windley-Daoust says
Thanks, Joanna. I was also fascinated that she made something like $2,000 – $4,000 writing for the crypto crowd on Mirror. I took a look at their website…it definitely feels like it has a way to go before mass adoption — their UI feels so 1990s — but it raises LOTS of intriguing possibilities about what might be coming down the pike in the future.
Joanna Penn says
We are definitely in the very early days of web 3!
S. J. Pajonas says
An absolutely fascinating interview. I’m not sure if it gave me any ideas, but it was really cool to hear how she used NFTs and blockchain for crowdfunding.
Joanna Penn says
Thanks, Steph, lots of possibilities to come in the future!
This is the first interview I found so totally depressing I’m reconsidering writing. Because I think she’s right. Shrinking readers and a flooded market mean even though my books are good, the odds are they’re dead in the water. I got in too late, starting from zero now seems like an unwinnable fight. I fear and I don’t have some other nonfiction thing to monetize. Not that that’s what I want to do anyway. I do want to make a living from my books, not necessarily a mega bestseller but enough to rely on (by publishing wide). Deep in the back of my mind that felt not possible, and this episode clarified where that sense of wrongness stemmed from. Maybe I’m wrong, and there is hope here, but I fear numbers don’t lie. Someone talk me down!
Joanna Penn says
I can talk you down 🙂
I think there is more opportunity than ever, and the basics still apply. You need a lot of books to make a living, and Elle only has one or two, so she doesn’t have the perspective of those of us with more books and smaller income per book, which all adds up!
It is absolutely possible. I am proof of that!
Plus, what else would you rather do with your life!
De Villiers Keet says
I know I’m a little over a year late to the party to comment on this specific episode. To be honest, I came here following an indie publishing article mentioning SubStack, and I set to Googling about fiction writing + SubStack and who should I come across, but my favourite and long-time-followed expert in all things indie. 😁Really great listen and eye-opening talk on SubStack. Thanks to you and Elle for another great interview.
I do have a bit of a follow up question for you regarding the talk you two ended up having on NFTs. I’m also finding most content on your site regarding NFTs to be all early 2022. I’m not sure if this is the proper place/forum to ask you, I could do an e-mail or other Q&A forum if that better suits. But I just wanted to find out what your feelings are now about NFTs, after a lot of them spectacularly crashed and burned during the second half of 2022, amongst other crypto debacles, and if you’re still so positive about them?
My two cents: While like you, I am also very excited about a lot of the great tech potential things like the blockchain and NFTs could offer. For example the idea of being able to “mint” something like a book or art made by a creator and that is utterly unique, incorruptible, and cannot be separated from the author as the creator in any way. I also really like the concept of micro-transactions that you’ve mentioned on previous shows, e.g., where hundreds of thousands of readers have access to your content via a platform and each small piece of your work they consume, like a page or two, nets you some tiny bit of royalty that doesn’t mean much on its own but can add up to a whole lot if hundreds of thousands read it. Or the royalty fractionalisation that you mentioned in this episode, which gives investors the opportunity to not only invest in your work but also share in your success further down the line. Or smart contracts, how amazing would those be?
Having said all of that, aside from being an aspiring author, I’m also a full time programmer and all of the things I’ve seen and learned about blockchain specifically over the last 6 or so years, and later NFTs, horrifies me.
The concept of an algorithm using a decentralised network verifying and vetting the authenticity of a piece of data, making it impossible to overwrite or corrupt, is not a new thing. But everything I’ve read and heard about blockchain says that it is really not a good way to do it. It’s slow, cumbersome, and sometimes the fact that honest mistakes cannot be overwritten is a real downside. Crypto evangelists harp on how absolutely incorruptible a crypto coin is and that means it’s safe. In reality, people have their crypto wallets stolen all the time. Crypto sites get hacked, not to mention spawn and crash left, right and centre. The coin is incorruptible. The mechanisms and the people managing it are most certainly not.
The same goes for NFTs. Again, don’t get me wrong: a real, true, honest-to-goodness smart contract would be an amazing thing. It would revolutionise the way art and creative content gets produced and consumed. But NFTs are again a really bad way of doing this, from my understanding. All they are is a tiny token on the blockchain with a tiny bit of space for some content, _one of which_ could potentially be a smart contract. But firstly, the amount of practical code that could be written in such a small amount of space would be of questionable practical use at best, and secondly most NFTs are just urls to an image somewhere on a server or the image itself if its small enough. Again, the _token_ itself is non-fungible. The content of it can—and as we’ve seen over the last year—quite often is literally anything I can grab from anywhere on the internet. So many artists have had their art stolen from sites like Deviant Art and so-called minted as true, original, non-fungible content.
Anyway, I sound like a bit of doom prophet now, I’m sorry. You’ve always struck me as someone who is really keen and on tech stuff and interested in how it all works. I urge you to give this video a watch, by a chap named Dan Olson: https://youtu.be/YQ_xWvX1n9g
I’m not an affiliate of his or anything, one of my colleagues sent me the video one day and despite it’s daunting length, I found myself sitting through all of it and for it to be a very illuminating video on how it all fits together. It’s very interesting (if also a little bit of a downer, sorry again). Not saying his word is the be all and end all on the matter, but very illuminating.
I’d be interested in your thoughts on blockchain and NFTs now in April 2023. Like I said, I’m also very keen on the future of the overarching tech concepts and what can be done. Things like AI and the recent Laika interview you did, to name but one. I just find myself having to swallow the blockchain and NFT implementation of it all with a gigantic block of salt at the moment.
Joanna Penn says
The crypto crash of 2022 got rid of a lot of speculation, so there is now a lot of development, so new options will emerge.
Blockhain as IP registration is something I still think is interesting and with a proliferation of AI-generated content, something for original creators is also a good idea. I think we will see a convergence of AI, blockchain, metaverse in the next 18-24 months, and new variants will appear. We are in a time of flux, for sure.