The Joys Of Running…A Substack Newsletter By Tom Knighton
It’s been a year for me. As of Friday, I’ve spent a year writing a newsletter on Substack titled Tilting at Windmills. In it, I cover politics that I don’t get to cover in my day job. Just one story a day, most days of the week.
And, in the process, I’ve made more money than I did on any blog I actually attempted previous to this.
Our beloved hostess, beautiful but evil space princess that she is, suggested I write up a guest blog for her on what that year has been like.
Let’s start with looking at how things were before I started with Substack.
Now, let’s understand that I make my living writing for blogs. I’ve written for PJ Media, Townhall, The Daily Caller, as well as a few other sites that no longer exist. Now spend my days as one of the main voices at Bearing Arms.
Writing a blog wasn’t the challenge.
However, actually making money with it was. Google AdSense is generally considered the gold standard for ad services on a blog. It’s the easiest to set up, too. However, AdSense can also cut you off in a heartbeat if it suspects you’re doing anything hinky. Even if it’s not you doing it.
For example, I once owned a newspaper. We went online only due to financial difficulties and used AdSense. Apparently, someone kept clicking the ads. I suspect it was either someone who didn’t like our coverage or, more likely, someone who was trying to help the paper out. Either way, Google yanked our account and all the money we’d earned up to that point.
So yeah, AdSense is less than ideal.
Plus, there’s the fact that you get paid based on traffic, and not a whole lot at that. In fact, the average payout is $2-$3 per thousand hits. Even if you’re getting a thousand hits per day, you’re getting decent traffic compared to a lot of sites, but you’re getting almost no money. You’ll have to do things like affiliate links or create your own products for sale to make any real money.
And I write politics.
Yeah…not the best avenue for money making, especially since I couldn’t think of a course I could really offer.
A year ago, though, I came across Substack in regard to a number of journalists who had exited the sites they wrote for and were now writing their own stories with their own voices and their own editorial control.
Yes, it’s indie publishing, but for news, politics, sports, or whatever someone wanted to write.
I’d thought about talking all about the steps I went through setting things up and really talking about Substack, but that’s really a better topic for another time.
Instead, Sarah suggested I talk about the experience of publishing a Substack newsletter, so I’ll do that instead.
Honestly? It’s not much different than writing a blog. You still write a story, provide links, blockquotes, and all the other stuff you normally associate with writing on a blog.
The difference is that you don’t really have to do a whole lot of backend stuff and monetizing it is ridiculously simple. You just provide some content for people to pay for and they will if they can see that the rest of your stuff is good.
Again, this is really indie publishing, but for more of a journalism flavor. Some newsletters have multiple authors. Some, such as mine, only has one and I do pretty much everything.
Like Amazon, Substack takes a small piece, but they’ve got to eat too, right?
The difference is that you’re essentially writing a blog that gets blasted to people’s email boxes and that they can pay for a portion other people don’t get.
And then you make money!
Now, let’s also be realistic. I’m making more than I did with my blogs, but I’m not making enough to do it full time. I’d love to be in a position where I simply can’t get fired by a company, but I’m not there yet. I need a lot more paid subscribers.
However, I have to be realistic about this first year.
Yes, I’ve written for some of the larger political sites out there, but my profile isn’t that big. Outside of the Second Amendment community, it’s almost non-existent, and the newsletter is for non-Second Amendment things.
There’s actually no reason anyone who didn’t know me personally would have signed up for the newsletter, at least in the early days.
That means I needed to market, which is something I need to get better about doing without being spammy. That last part is always the trick, isn’t it?
I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of my stuff posted at Instapundit thanks to a certain someone, and that has been a huge help, but there is probably more I can do.
You have to admit, it sounds a lot like publishing books indie, doesn’t it? That’s because when you go indie, either as an author or a journalist or anything else, it all falls on you. You don’t have a company to promote you. You don’t have people guiding you to do certain things that will sell better. You have none of that.
It all falls on you, but it’s worth it. No one tells you not to cover a certain story because that person is an advertiser. No one tells you not to cover that story because it’s not inclusive enough.
Picking what you write and how you write it? That falls on you too, and it’s great.
However, there are differences as well. I can’t write more and more newsletters so I can make more and more money. While some authors advocate cranking out a lot of books to make a living as a writer—not an inaccurate strategy, either, from what I can tell—that doesn’t cross boundaries.
With a Substack, the “thousand true fans” doesn’t necessarily help you out that much. Not without some other way to make revenue off of them or pricing your newsletter higher than I currently do. I can’t count on them buying four or five times as many newsletters per year if I just grind them out. That’s not how it works.
Which means you have to grow your audience beyond a mere 1,000 paying fans, and I’m not even close to even doing that just yet.
Yet let’s also be perfectly honest, marketing is what a lot of indies struggle with regardless of what they’re creating.
So, if I had it to do all over again, would I? Uh…yeah!
I mean, yes, there’s the money thing, to be sure, but there’s also the fact that I’m building something that can, in theory, be carried on after I’ve left this world. See, this newsletter isn’t just me screaming into the void…or tilting at windmills. It’s ultimately a business that can grow and potentially become more.
And there’s the fact that I’m not beholden to anyone except the consumers, the way the free market intended.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve worked for some great companies writing politics and I only regret writing for one of them—one that no longer exists—so I’m not complaining. But I’m also considered a freelancer, which means I can be cut with no recourse. There’s no severance, no unemployment, no nothing.
That can be a scary when you’re the soul breadwinner for a family of four.
And let’s face it, writing a Substack doesn’t take a huge amount of time. I write a post per day during the week, generally, and alternate which are free and which are paid in some manner. I did share the stories on Facebook and Twitter, but since no one ever clicked them from those places, I stopped bothering.
Still, marketing is the hard part, and I’m making it my goal for this next year to figure out some way to get a handle on it and grow even further. With luck, I’ll knock in out of the park well before this time in 2022.
Of course, along those lines, I’d be remiss not to include a link and a humble request to come and check my newsletter out.