Why you should launch a paid newsletter on Substack
I'm a journalist making money writing a newsletter and I think you should, too
Welcome to The Professional Freelancer, a newsletter that will make your freelance life richer. In this issue:
* Why you should launch a paid newsletter * Readers' survey * What day is best to pitch on? * Sophie the collie/whippet * What does class privilege have to do with your career?
I make money writing a newsletter and I think you should, too.
It’s been three months now since I launched FJ&Co membership, which for anyone who’s new around here, gives freelance journalists access to the tools and resources they need to further their careers. Perks include additional Professional Freelancer emails in the form of guides and interviews with freelancers and editors.
I wanted to share what I’ve learned so far about launching a paid newsletter in case any of you are thinking of doing the same. Actually, let me rephrase that – I want to talk about how and why I launched a paid newsletter in the hopes that you will also consider starting one.
Readers paying to read you is a wonderful feeling. I didn’t realise this until I started the membership option, but there’s a subtle difference between readers paying you directly and a publication paying you to write for them.
When a publication pays you, that’s one editor assessing your skills and agreeing to a monetary value for your words. Your writing becomes part of the publication’s overall voice and while it’s great to get paid to write, you’re never sure who is reading you or why. When your readers pay you directly, however, it’s the biggest pat on the back a writer could hope for. You build a genuine connection with the readers and you feel like your work has a direct impact.
And yet, I very nearly didn’t even launch the paid version of this newsletter. When someone (who actually runs a very successful paid newsletter) first suggested it to me, I dismissed it. Then a few weeks later, I hit the number of subscribers on Mailchimp that meant I needed to start paying to use the service. On top of that, I had more paying work coming in than when I first started writing the newsletter and despite it being my favourite thing to write, I’d have to prioritise other, less interesting, work ahead of it. If I wanted to keep sending it and spending the amount of time it takes it to make worth reading, I needed to find a viable way to fund it.
When I emailed Substack to ask them some questions about moving my list over, I still wasn’t sure. I was terrified of the prospect of putting myself out there and asking for money for my work. I was worried that no one would pay because I wasn’t a “big enough name”, that readers would think I was being greedy, I also couldn’t shake my inherent British awkwardness about asking for money.
I spoke with Hamish McKenzie, Substack’s co-founder, on a call changed my whole view on the situation. Hamish didn't convince me just because he’s a good salesman, but because we share the same views on the future of the media, what needs to happen to make the industry sustainable and the importance of independent journalism. He made me see that there’s a great value in the work I do in this newsletter and that it’s service journalism for the self-employed. He also pointed out that I encourage others to find sustainable revenue streams to fund their journalism, so why am I not following my own advice.
After I agreed to give it a shot, Substack helped me workshop what my members’ content would look like and guided me through a launch plan. They digitally held my hand as I pressed send on the email that announced I was going paid. It’s now three months later and I’m currently making about a third of my income through membership and it’s my largest predictable income stream. Also payments are handled through Stripe so the money arrives in your bank account a hell of a lot faster than an invoice being processed by a publication.
The money I generate through the newsletter has had a curious impact on me. Aside from the fact the newsletter now operates a sustainable model (which is very good for the mental health of a freelancer, if you’re wondering), I think launching the paid option has actually improved my writing.
I’ve been reflecting on this and I put it partly down to confidence; knowing that a portion of my readership pays me to write this email makes me see the true value of it. The paid model also professionalised it all – this really is a business now and I’m delivering a product to people that I take very seriously. The newsletter – both the free and paid versions – is always at the top of my priority list now.
I’m telling you all this because I truly believe that if I can do it, anyone can. I don’t have some secret, magic skill. I’m just a journalist writing consistently on a topic in email form and this platform has given me an easy way to make an income from that. I write about freelancing, but you can write about whatever your beat is. If you’re an international or regional reporter, you could report on local events and create a hyperlocal email bulletin. If you have a specialist subject you write about like TV reviews, classic cars or dance music, you could start a column. If you write fiction, you could serialise it. I really think that any and all writers can and should be using a platform like Substack to not only find their voice, but to also supplement their income.
Substack hasn’t paid me to write this, by the way. I actually approached them to ask how I can encourage more of my readers to start their own paid newsletter because of how great my experience has been. Hamish is currently offering a phone call to anyone who is thinking about going paid and who wants to workshop some ideas with him. Just email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell him I sent you. If you have even a kernel of an idea for a newsletter or a fledgling thought that maybe you’d like to start one – take the call.
Happy freelancing professional freelancers,
–Anna, FJ&Co. Founder
The FJ&Co noticeboard
Readers’ survey: I have a huge favour to ask of you. I want to improve this newsletter, the events and also the membership offering. In order to do that, I need to know what YOU, dear reader, wants. Please take the time to fill out this very short (less than three minute) survey. Thank you!
What’s the best day to pitch on? The question on this week’s #FreelanceHelpline is about pitching strategies and whether it matters what day you send an editor your pitch. Make sure you’re following FJ&Co on Instagram to stay up-to-date with the community.
The no-office office pet
This is Sophie, a 14-year-old collie/whippet adopted by Kayleigh Rattle when she went freelance last September. She loves reading The Doggy Times and is the best girl.
If you have a Good Pet who keeps you company as you work from home, send me a picture of them to feature here and bring joy to the lives of thousands of freelancers.
Calls for pitches
On this week’s episode of the podcast, Tiffany and I invited the journalist Vicky Spratt on to talk about careers, class privilege and why the question “what school did you go to?” is so toxic
I wrote about the weird trend of creativity-hacking and how you can’t optimise your way out of the messy parts of creating
I also wrote a mini-guide to not messing up your taxes as a freelancer
Now that I’m officially a ~podcaster~, I’m fascinated by what makes a good show. This Atlantic long read on Joe Rogan and his smash-hit podcast was eye-opening
The Roundhouse in London is hosting a meetup for freelancers aged 18-30 on August 29. I’m doing a couple of workshops there in September – it’s a brilliant and cheap resource for young freelancers and creatives who need some support.
I recently finished “My Friend Anna” by Rachel DeLoache Williams, the tell-all about the “fake Russian heiress” Anna Sorokin that gripped the national press earlier this year. It was a thrilling read and really captured some of the worst parts of New York
Amber Jamieson on how to calmly prepare for the inevitable recession that’s coming our way is a practical read and non-scaremongering