How my Substack newsletter helped me bounce back from a broken car
|Sep 18, 2019|| 19|
Long before I started my Substack newsletter I was a full-time teacher/Director of Academic Support at a private school in Massachusetts. Music journalism was just a passion I’d dabbled in over the years, but when Questlove tweeted out an old Prince Paul interview of mine in February 2016, I started to believe that I might actually be able to write at a professional level.
Four months later I made the leap and arranged to work part-time at my school while writing on the days I didn’t teach, an arrangement that continues to this day. Around the same time I started Micro-Chop, a Medium publication for my self-published work that focused on beatmaking, DJing, music production, rapping, and sampling.
Trying to build a career in music journalism has been a turbulent and sometimes demoralizing journey in the three-plus years since. I’ve almost thrown in the towel more than once. The thought definitely crossed my mind a few months ago, when, out of the blue, I found myself deep in a financial hole.
Through all the ups and downs of my career, my wife Jenn, a special education teacher who’s also starting a baking business from our tiny apartment kitchen, has always been by my side. Jenn also founded the Pioneer Valley Jump Rope adult jump rope team. In June, we decided to drive from Massachusetts to Florida, so she could attend the USA Jump Rope national competition in Orlando, but we didn’t quite make it. An hour outside Orlando, my car overheated. We soon found out that both the radiator and the engine were shot.
Our only repair option fell through due to a backorder on parts, so I was stuck far away from home with a broken car that had over 150,000 miles on it. My only option was to pay off the thousands of dollars remaining on my car loan and sell it for a pittance to the Daytona Subaru dealership.
I was already in a less-than-ideal financial situation and would soon find out I needed a root canal operation that would cost thousands of dollars more. I needed to make money – fast. I knew I wouldn’t be able to sell enough articles on short notice to make what I needed to get through the summer, so I thought about self-publishing options that could help supplement my freelance work.
I was becoming increasingly frustrated with Medium at the time, so I started looking for new places to grow my audience and monetize my work.
I forget who first told me about Substack, but the paid newsletter/website hybrid had been on my radar for about a year. Though several writer friends had suggested I give it a try, I’d been resistant. I couldn’t fathom people paying for a newsletter.
After some encouragement from a music producer friend named Tuamie, I reached out to to Judd Legum, author of Popular Information, a successful Substack newsletter. Judd was incredibly gracious, answered all of my questions, and encouraged me to start my own newsletter.
Taking his advice, I committed myself to sending out one article per week to my free subscribers and three articles per week to my paid subscribers. Then I was off and running – the Micro-Chop substack was born.
It took me a little while to find my comfort zone, but I grew to love the format and Substack’s user friendly setup. There’s something freeing about sending your writing directly to people’s inboxes. In many ways, it has helped me loosen up and experiment with format and style. And the prospects of earning more money and subscribers with each article are both great incentives.
I’ve been floored by the by the success of my newsletter in the two months since I launched Micro-Chop on Substack, especially considering the niche nature of the topics I cover. Not everyone wants to read a thousand words about making beats out of cassette tape samples or obscure rap singles finding new life on YouTube.
That said, I’ve eclipsed 650 total signups. Holding myself accountable for the publication of three new articles every seven days is turning me into a much more efficient and prolific writer. My gross annualized revenue increases every single week – and it has helped me lessen my financial strife.
I also find the Substack system simple, efficient, and effective. It’s easy to explain to readers what they’re signing up and paying for. There are no confusing tiers or bells and whistles that distract me from the most important thing – writing another great story for my readers.
Once people start signing up for paid subscriptions, the money generated from Substack is transferred easily and frequently to your bank account. Creators receive rolling payouts from Stripe every two to three days, a standard of timeliness in paying writers that is absolutely unheard of in my experience.
Given my initial success, what does the future of the Micro-Chop Substack newsletter hold? I’m not sure how much more I can grow my total audience, but early signs of continued growth are encouraging. It’s rare that a day goes by without at least a few new signups. I’m confident that, if I stick with it and work through the peaks and valleys, the Micro-Chop audience can expand significantly.
Whatever the final outcome, Substack has re-energized me as a writer. At a time where nothing seemed to be going my way and my bank account was in dire straits, I found a new way to engage and grow my audience while making some money.
If you’re a writer looking to build your audience, generate revenue, or do both at the same time, I strongly recommend that you start a Substack newsletter today. If you stick to your schedule and commit to demonstrating your best work, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results.
If you have any questions about my journey and/or the Substack process, feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.