This past weekend, Carrie’s Chronicles passed the threshold of 1,000 subscribers. (Woohoo!) Given that just over a month ago I hadn’t even considered starting a new platform and my only advertising has been word of mouth and social media, this strong response has been unexpected and gratifying.
It’s also made me think about some things I probably should have considered more fully before I started — such as what readers are hungry for, what I want to focus on and how to make this venture sustainable and fulfilling for us both.
First, I’d like to thank you for signing up and let you know how much I appreciate your sharing the Chronicles with others. The greatest confirmation for any writer is to have her work widely read and enjoyed and the feedback and encouragement I’ve received from so many of you has made the effort I’ve invested very worthwhile.
When I chose Substack to launch this newsletter, I did so both because it’s the “in” place for journalists these days (check out this New Yorker article) and because it makes transitioning to a paid subscription model simple. Many Substack writers offer paid-only content; some offer both free and paid content; and others opt for a “sponsorships” model, where donations come only from those who can and wish to contribute.
Substack estimates the “conversion rate” (number of free subscribers who will remain committed after a newsletter transitions to paid subscriptions) at only 5 to 10 percent. So moving the Chronicles to a monthly or annual fee at this point would likely chop my readership to between 50 and 100 people. And frankly, that would be a real bummer, both for my future prospects and my ego.
If there were no other considerations, I’d prefer my work to be accessible to all, free of charge. But I also believe (and have always preached) that artists, in any medium, should be compensated for their work, just as would any other trades person. The reality is, you can’t pay a utility bill, a mortgage or your taxes with reader appreciation,.
But the personal payoff for me in writing the Chronicles can come in another form. Some of you know that I’m also at work on a couple of book projects.And the publishing industry, like the newspaper industry, has taken a beating in recent years. Even if you’ve spent 40 years writing award-winning journalism, as I have, no book publisher these days is going to offer a contract based on an audience of 1,000.
Frankly, money has never been a huge motivator for me, but a book contract from a reputable publisher still is. So, for at least the time being, I’m going to focus on what Substack calls, expanding my “engagement.” (I wish they’d come up with a better word; marriage is not on my horizon.) That’s where you come in.
Instead of paying a fee for the Chronicles, you can express your appreciation by committing to share every post you read with at least one other person, anywhere in the world. Then encourage them to join our tribe. Your vote of confidence and network of acquaintances is my best shot at working my way toward the kind of following someone like The Weeknd has (even though I’d never heard of him before Super Bowl Sunday) and catching an agent’s eye.
As for subject matter, many in Sarasota have encouraged me to continue focusing on the kind of often-neglected community issues I wrote about when I was with the Herald-Tribune. Readers from farther afield have asked for more on mental health, more on national issues or simply more “good writing” on any subject. Still others have muddied the water by saying, as one reader recently did, “I love the surprise of opening your posts and never knowing what I’ll find.” (You know, kinda of like Forrest Gump and that box of chocolates.)
It may be telling that the post that, by far, has garnered the most views to date was the recent “My Sunday Stroll,” which left weightier issues behind and focused, in fewer words and more pictures, on the simple joys of a weekend perambulation. (Given the great response, I’m happy to announce you can now look forward to a new “stroll” every Sunday.) That may be what we’re all most in need of these days.
And while I do feel some sense of duty to keep my community informed, for the first time in my life, I’m not working for a specific publication and I’m free to write about whatever strikes my fancy. That feels liberating and enticing. So for now, that freedom and my wandering feet and mind will drive my eclectic posts. Your continued feedback will help me to discern if I’m headed down the right path.