How might subscriptions help expand your author business ecosystem? What are some tips on encouraging readers to buy direct? Why is the future looking positive for authors in the creator economy? Michael Evans gives his thoughts.
In the intro, marketing for multi-genre authors [Self Publishing Advice]; Same as Ever: Timeless lessons on risk, opportunity, and living a good life by Morgan Housel; Year of the Locust by Terry Hayes, and what we can learn from both of these books.
Plus, join me and Joseph Michael for a free webinar on Using AI as an author, 5 Dec 2023. Click here to find out more.
Today’s show is sponsored by Ingram Spark, which I use to print and distribute my print-on-demand books to 40,000 retailers including independent bookstores, schools and universities, libraries, and more. It’s your content—do more with it through IngramSpark.com.
Michael Evans is the author of science fiction thrillers, as well as Subscriptions for Authors and Creator Economy for Authors. He’s also the co-founder of Ream, a subscription platform that helps authors create a thriving paid membership for their readers.
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.
- Finding the courage to try something new
- What subscriptions are and how authors can use them
- Who does well on Ream and other subscription-based platforms
- Creating incentives for readers to join subscription-based models
- Monetizing the idea of exclusivity and scarcity
- The importance of building trust with your audience
- Michael’s optimism for the future of publishing
Transcript of Interview with Michael Evans
Joanna: Michael Evans is the author of science fiction thrillers, as well as Subscriptions for Authors and Creator Economy for Authors. He’s also the co-founder of Ream, a subscription platform that helps authors create a thriving paid membership for their readers. So welcome to the show, Michael.
Michael: Thank you for having me. It’s so wild, but really cool, to be on this end of the mic. I’ve been listening to you since the beginning.
Joanna: Thank you so much for coming on. So first up—
Tell us a bit more about you and how you got into writing and publishing.
Writing’s been an instinct for me since the youngest age, where I’ve just loved storytelling, mainly through fanfiction. I didn’t realize I was writing fanfiction at the time because I was writing it in journals. I was a little insecure about my writing — it was my journal.
I didn’t start to think of myself as an author, didn’t start to actually start to write my own worlds and stories, until I got into middle school. My parents had gotten divorced, and for me, just coping with what was a very disruptive time my life was writing. It was my escape.
I had simultaneously become super passionate about technology in the future, but also disillusioned with it, and kind of felt like the answer to creating a better world wasn’t just creating new technologies, but was instead like trying to figure out what is actually best for people. That’s where stories came in.
So I started writing, and I wrote for two years, between 13 and 15, very seriously religiously, and had kind of written two books by the end of that. I didn’t like even think of it like in terms of publishing. That wasn’t even a thought of mine. It was just for fun.
But when I got to the end of the second book, I was like, maybe I could get this out in the world. My mom, she was like, let’s see what’s even possible.
She looked up like self-publishing, and basically, your name came up. So she actually bought your book and gave it to me, and I read it. Then we discovered the Sterling & Stone guys, and they were great. That kind of got me into the world of like, oh, okay, I can do this.
Then basically, in high school, I was like, okay, I’m gonna work a part time job during school, I’m gonna save up all my money. My mom, normally I would have had to spend money on getting a car and things like that, but my mom was like, I’ll drive you to work. She was the most supportive person ever, like I love my mom.
So she’s like, okay, I’ll drive you to work, you can have this job, so you can save up all of your money. And I was like, okay. So I did that, I worked as a pool attendant at a resort. I just put all of it into editing, cover design, we all know the expenses that come with being an author.
I published my first book going into my sophomore year of high school.
I guess I caught the bug, I fell in love, not only with obviously writing itself, but also the business of writing.
I got the idea that maybe I could be a full time author. That actual adventure, I cannot even dive into full detail right now, but over the next few years I ended up publishing 12 books, I ended up getting super deep into KU, Facebook ads, Amazon ads, learning a lot about different areas of the publishing ecosystem.
Then I went to YouTube. Then I went to live streaming right when I got to college. That was another adventure. We did a road trip around the country.
I was a creator partner with a startup that was founded by Sean Parker called Airtime, who was the first president of Facebook, and that started to connect my mind on a few things. One, I always loved YouTube, specifically Hank and John Green were some of the people who made me feel like I could write a book. And for those who don’t know, Hank and John Green, they’re awesome.
Joanna: Yes, they are fantastic.
Michael: They are fantastic. And then finally —
When I got onto YouTube, to live streaming, I started to see what other areas of the creator economy were doing.
I just felt like there were so many different areas that authors could move into with direct sales, building community, different product lines in terms of merch, and that in a way, we just needed the tools to help us do that.
So then I got super passionate about building technology that could actually help a community of people that I loved and cared about and was a part of, which was indie authors, and specifically, fiction authors.
Then about a year and a half ago, I started Ream with Emelia and Sean. That’s how I got my start on all of this, and it’s been an incredible adventure. I feel like the luckiest guy in the world to be able to just do what I love. That’s what it’s all about.
Joanna: And what I appreciate about you—we’ve met in person in Austin, wasn’t it?
Michael: I think it was Phoenix. Technically I think Scottsdale, somewhere around Phoenix.
Joanna: Okay, it was last year or something.
But you don’t seem to hesitate when it comes to jumping into things, and you experiment, and you try stuff, and you have a go.
So I did want to ask you about that because I’m sure some people listening are like, how has this guy done all these different things?
Also, given that you learned about self-publishing from me while you were still in school kind of makes me feel old. But in terms of this attitude to jumping in and trying things, is that something you’ve always had? And can you give any tips to people listening who are like, well—
How do I get the courage to jump into trying something if I’ve never done it before?
Michael: Totally. I mean, for me, I definitely had an aptitude for risk-taking, like I love it. The adrenaline of trying something new, seeing it it’ll work out, going all in, that’s like what I love. I love taking risks. So that’s just me, that’s where the author entrepreneur comes out, especially the entrepreneur part.
Michael: Not everyone has the same risk tolerance. Not everyone has the ability to take the same risk.
But we all have 24 hours in a day, we all have the resources we have to do things, and we all hopefully have some goals and dreams that we want to work towards.
What’s always been most helpful to me is keeping the long-term vision in mind. Whenever I’ve struggled is when I’ve swayed away from that. I’m definitely like a high futuristic type of person ,and I think we relate on that, Joanna.
What I always would mess up on, like in my dark moments, because I obviously did like the movie trailer version of my life. There were some really dark moments, in self-publishing specifically, when I was running Facebook and Amazon ads, I would say there was a moment where my going all in on things was a huge detriment.
I started spending a lot of money on Facebook ads before I really validated the read-through of my books. So I was kind of I would say, quote, unquote, gambling on a certain read-through calculation.
For those who don’t know what read-through is, read-through is the idea that if one reader comes in and reads book one, and maybe you’re selling it for like $5, so then you get maybe $3.50 in royalties, if you’re on a retailer, roughly that. Read-through is the idea of if you’re writing in a series, or even if you have multiple books under a pen name, that when you spend money on ads to acquire a reader and bring them into selling a book, they’re also going to read more of your books. Therefore, you could technically advertise book one at a loss and still make money over the next few months.
Now, I say technically because that didn’t happen for me. I didn’t have that high of a read-through. That was something that I should have spent more time actually slowing up, reading more of my subgenres, and reflecting more on where I wanted to be, the long-term vision.
I was super caught up in, how can I get to $1,000 a month on Amazon, like yesterday? How can I get to $10,000 a month ASAP? Which I never hit to $10,000 month, I think my biggest month was like $1,300 or $1,400, and I spent like $1,100 on ads.
So I’m being open about the numbers just to say, you know, it was hard for me. I actually made a lot of mistakes.
If I could go back, yes, my all-in nature is really great, I think a lot of us as creative people have that. We like jump into the new story and this is gonna become everything.
But I do wish I slowed down and kept the long term vision in mind because —
You don’t have to make it in a month as an author. In fact, you’re probably not going to. That’s just the truth. It’s a tough industry.
But over the course of years, if you can stay consistent, stay in the game, and keep improving your craft, improving your skills, you’re gonna go somewhere awesome.
I unfortunately, because of this stressful process I put myself through, burned myself out. I think if anything, the only positive thing is that I came out of it with some lessons about myself and a willingness to try and make a change in the community to help authors pursue a more sustainable path in publishing, which is what I think subscriptions, a lot of it goes back to.
Joanna: It’s interesting, you talk there about some of the mistakes you’ve made, but just to set the scene, tell people how old you are now so they know how long you’ve been doing this.
Michael: I’m 21 now, and I published my first book a little over six years ago. So I’d say I’ve been in the community, really serious about writing and publishing, for now about seven years.
Joanna: Yes, and I love this about you because I do talk about, and many people talk about this —
There’s your actual age, and then there’s your writing craft age, and then there’s your business age.
I think the problem that some people think is that, for example, I know some authors who have a really high writing craft age, as in they’ve been writing books for a really, really long time, but their business age is zero, as in they have no experience with business or trying things. Even though you’re younger in the physical age, you have six-seven years’ worth of writing craft and also business.
So I don’t want you to think those failures were a bad thing. They were a really good thing because, I mean, by the time you’ve done this for another decade, you will have learned so much more.
So I just want people to realize this, that we all have these different ages, physical ages, craft ages, business ages. You’ve had a number of businesses already, so I mean, you’re getting through your lessons, which I think is good.
Michael: Yes, I’ve always had a habit of, I guess, maybe speed-running through life at times.
But I totally agree, we all have different paths, and we’re at different places and different points. I hope what people take from my story is just that it takes a while.
Sometimes I see, at least this is a weakness in myself, being a little impatient. And if you’re anything like me and you’re hard on yourself, you want to push yourself, and you also kind of want to make this happen on an assumed time period, I would just tell you that things age with time in a good way.
It doesn’t have to all happen overnight, it probably won’t. That doesn’t mean that even if it’s not going the way you want it to right now that you’re not improving and that you’re not getting a step closer, even if it doesn’t feel like it. That’s one of the tough parts about this industry, but it’s also one of the really exciting things when you learn to fall in love with it.
Joanna: Indeed. Okay, so you’ve mentioned subscriptions, and you’re one of the three co-founders of Ream. So tell us what Ream is, and also, what subscriptions are.
Michael: I’ll start with what subscriptions are, and then tell you how Ream can help authors actually make money from subscriptions. So subscriptions, in short, there’s a lot of different subscriptions in our lives, so when I say that word it’s like, oh, what am I subscribing to?
In the context of what I’m going to be talking about today —
Subscriptions are a recurring payment, could be monthly, could be annual, that a reader makes directly to you as an author.
So a subscription to an individual author. It’s not like an all-in-one subscription program like we see with something like a Kobo Plus or a KU.
What the reader gets in exchange for that subscription varies. You get to pick that as the author. You even get to pick your price.
Some common things we see are early access to new books before they’re released elsewhere, access to the backlist, maybe access to some bonus content, character profiles, world building maps. We see community events, authors doing live streams, book clubs. We see merchandise, we see signed books, book boxes. I’m now overwhelming you. The point is, your subscription can be what you make of it in a really fun way.
I always like to say the best subscriptions are at the intersection of what do your readers want, which genre plays a role in it, your relationship to your readers play a role in it, and what do you want, what are you good at, and what are you able to do right now with the time that you have. I’m sure we’ll talk a bit more about that, but that’s subscriptions in short.
Ream is a platform, specifically for fiction authors, to run their subscription.
So people have probably heard of other subscription platforms, and Ream is really just the new age one that is specific to fiction authors.
What makes Ream special is we have an e reader, so readers can actually read your books inside the platform and comment inside the books to help build a community.
We have text messages inside of stories, you can have pen names on Ream. So you can have multiple accounts or multiple pages, I should say, from one account. We have a whole separate community section where you are able to make posts, art, other sorts of benefits you want to give your readers. You can accept addresses on Ream and send them signed books.
So it’s really like an all-in-one subscription platform where all those business models that I just shared, you can run on Ream. We help you save a lot of time in doing it because we have a number of scheduling features that just make it so easy to manage your Ream and your subscription. We also are constantly working with our authors to make the platform better. And that’s Ream, in short.
Joanna: You mentioned there that you have an e-reader. To me, in my language, that means you have a device. You don’t mean you have a device, you have an app?
Michael: That’s actually a good clarification. So we have an e-reader app where you can load up your books, publish them, and your reader is able to comment actually inside of the stories, as well. You get to moderate that as an author if you choose. So yes, it’s an app.
Other kind of subscription platforms, like if authors try and have it on their own site or elsewhere, it’s much tougher to load in early access content and bonus content and have it be an actual friendly experience to the reader because they don’t necessarily allow publishing books. That’s what we’re built around. We’re built around stories. We’re built for and by fiction authors.
Joanna: Okay, yes, because I mean, I’ve been using Patreon @thecreativepenn since like 2014, I think. And nowadays, it’s a kind of a community for this podcast, and I share business stuff, but I’ve never done fiction as part of a subscription. And I wouldn’t because I don’t do regular enough fiction. I mean, basically, I only publish a couple of fiction things a year. So from what you’ve seen—
What types of authors do well on Ream and other fiction subscription platforms?
Michael: Yeah, great question. I think there’s a few archetypes. One archetype is the one that probably most people think about first, for two reasons. One, because it’s probably the biggest right now in subscriptions, and two, actually, Emilia Rose, who co-founded Ream with me, and Sean, Sean’s Emilia’s husband, and he’s our CTO and software engineer who’s really building a platform.
So Emilia, she was making six figures a year in her subscription, and she was running it using a different platform that really just didn’t work for her. It actually was clunky for her readers, she was seeing higher churn, and she also was spending a lot more time managing it, and they were even censoring her content. She’s a steamy romance author.
So when me and Emilia met, I was like, wow. I’d been in the industry, I guess at that point for five-plus years, because this was about a year and a half ago, and I was like, I haven’t really seen an author, a fiction author, succeeding with this subscription model. I was used to people, like podcasts doing it, I was used to seeing Youtubers do it. So this wasn’t like a new thing to me, but it was new that like a fiction author was succeeding in it. So I was just so fascinated.
So when I talked to her and got to learn from her, her model is mostly based around early access. What that means is that she gives her chapters to people who are paying inside her subscription early, before they release on other retailers.
So an example is she might release two chapters of book one to her subscription in January, and by March that book’s released fully in her subscription, and she’ll release it out to the public maybe in April or May for people to buy a la carte on retailers.
Now, this model of early access is very popular among authors who come from serial fiction platforms.
So Emilia Rose actually kind of gained a lot of her audience—now she’s everywhere—but initially, she started off on Wattpad. That’s how she gained her audience.
Wattpad has changed a lot in the years since then, but that was a great place for her to start at the time. That was her only way to monetize at the time because she was posting her work for free on Wattpad, then pay-walling the early access in her subscription. So that is still a very common model we see authors do.
A lot of Royal Road authors who are publishing especially like progression fantasy, lit RPG, they’re very successful in this model.
We indexed a list recently, roughly 20 million-plus dollars are made by fiction author subscription. So it’s a niche market, but definitely, it’s a thing. And the lit RPG authors are huge on that list, like they dominate it, right. But then there’s a lot of romance authors coming from these fiction platforms. Think of Radish, if you aren’t familiar with Kindle Vella, similar type of models, but that’s kind of what it’s like. But that’s not the only type of authors being successful in it, so we see other kinds of authors.
We see authors like K. Webster, who’s very big on book boxes. That’s what she’s doing. We see authors like Jack Stein or David Viergutz, both are horror authors. Their subscriptions are mostly based around short stories, which horror has a long tradition of short stories, and they’re difficult to monetize. Actually, subscriptions makes it a great format for it. One short story per month, $3, think of that type of thing.
We also see authors like Elana Johnson, who she’s not coming from retailers, those who know Elana Johnson, she’s incredible. Sorry, she’s not coming from serial fiction platforms, she’s coming from retailers. That’s where most of our audience is.
She sells direct now too, but when she started her subscription, the idea was not necessarily just based around early access of the next serialized story, it was giving her readers a very specific storyline that was within an existing world that she had. She had a cowboy romance and her readers really wanted that and were willing to basically get that like bonus content, and she’ll probably roll out of her subscription eventually.
There’s a lot of awesome opportunities in subscriptions, and there’s a lot of different models. It really just depends on that intersection of what do you want to do, what are you able to do, and how much time do you have to put into it.
I recommend bootstrapping your subscription in every sense of the word. Like, you shouldn’t be spending 40 hours in your subscription when you have a lot of other things in your publishing business, unless it’s making you enough money to warrant that. So you can put more in overtime in that way.
Then, of course, what do your readers want?
The best way to test what your readers want is to get started and try one thing, one benefit at a time, and see what the response of your readers is.
That’s some big high-level advice in tandem with the archetypes. We see authors in a lot of different genres being successful. Romance and lit RPG are definitely the two biggest. We see horror picking up, fantasy, and science fiction, for sure. Thrillers, I’ve been surprised, there’s more coming in thrillers but not as much in thrillers right now. Cozy mystery, I would say has more than thrillers, which is interesting. Cozy mystery has people like Tonya Kappes doing really well, etc.
So yeah, that’s kind of like a genre market map of subscriptions. I would say that —
Genre doesn’t entirely correlate to success. It’s more based on your relationship with your readers, the specific model you’re running.
There’s quite a few more variables than just, what’s your genre?
Joanna: Oh, yeah, absolutely. So I find this interesting, I mean, you’ve mentioned Wattpad, Vella, Radish, Royal Road. These are some other subscription sites.
Michael: Not subscription sites, serial fiction platforms. Author’s will use them kind of as a funnel into their subscription site because on these platforms, you have very limited control of your audience. You don’t get their emails, you don’t have the payment data.
If you’re using a platform like Ream, it’s based around direct sales. You get all the emails of your subscribers, you can control the payment data, and also, a lot of these platforms are under monetized.
Like on Wattpad, it’s very hard to make money on unless you’re like in their contract paid program. So authors will utilize a subscription to actually make some income from their work. So subscriptions are kind of like a home for your readers, and depending on what other platforms you use, authors are kind of funneling their readers into their subscription and giving them this special VIP access. You could kind of think about it like a VIP club.
Joanna: Yes, and I mean, that’s how I’m treating my Patreon as well. So if there are any nonfiction authors still listening, then there are other ways to do it for nonfiction.
But coming back to this idea of selling direct, and obviously, you talk about the creator economy, too. I do as well, in that selling direct is so important. Having our customer data, getting access to the money, and that’s what you’re doing with Ream.
What is difficult for many authors, especially those who have been around as long as I have, and who have pretty much used Amazon, Apple, Kobo, the kind of dominant ways of doing business, is that —
People find it very hard to shift their mindset away from a big retailer-centric model.
The biggest question I get asked, even around things like Kickstarter and Shopify is, but how do I get people to buy from me direct? Whether that is buying on Kickstarter or Shopify, or subscribing to a Patreon or a Ream or whatever.
So how do you advise authors to do their marketing and encourage readers to move over to these sorts of models?
Michael: I have a two part answer. The first part is more general mindset. The second part is actually some more practical advice about how you can apply that mindset and maybe structure some marketing campaigns to do that.
So the first thing, the mindset. I want to be very clear, and I think most people who talk about direct sales and the importance of it would agree, no one’s saying to abandon the retailers. No one’s saying to completely abandon them and go direct. You can do that, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but there’s a discovery benefit you get from these platforms that can be beneficial. So I’m not saying abandon them entirely.
This whole new ecosystem of publishing is going to take literally like a decade-plus to play out.
So in the short run, that’s not a good idea. I have futurist ideas about where publishing is really going in like 10 years, but that’s more wishes and desires and not relevant right now. So if you want to do something like subscriptions, because I’ll be honest, I know Kickstarter, I know direct sales a bit, but I’m no expert. I wouldn’t even call myself a subscription expert, but I know a little bit more about it.
When it comes to subscriptions, one of the things I like to share with authors is that when you’re priced on a retailer, right, everyone gets the same experience, everyone pays the same, and that’s great for a lot of your audience who just wants the standard experience.
But what about those fans who want more, and also who are willing to pay more, who have a higher willingness to pay?
That’s gonna be a smaller portion of your audience.
I’m not saying that if you have a thousand sales on Amazon, you’re magically going to get a thousand paid subscribers, that is a ridiculous conversion rate.
We see a little bit more like a mailing list, right? If you’re able to get anywhere from like 1% to 5% of a mailing list to convert, that’s great. Why that’s a big range is because mailing lists can vary in quality.
A mailing list of, let’s say, people who came in through the back of the book and already bought your book, yeah, that might be closer to a 5% conversion rate done the line. Whereas if it’s from cross promos and things of that nature, nothing wrong with that, but that’ll obviously be a lower conversion rate to subscriptions.
What does that mean? Because I’m being candid about numbers, I’m not trying to promise everyone all of their audience moving over to subscription platform that’s paid overnight.
But what I am saying is that if you have a certain percentage of your audience who’s paying you extra per month, $3 or $5 a month, that can make a big difference to you as an author, and it doesn’t have to eat away at the retailers because you’re providing them kind of a different level of service.
You’re giving them that behind the scenes, you’re giving them that early access, whatever it is that they want. They just get the opportunity to support you, to know that they have what’s called reciprocity, where they’ve gotten so much value for your books, but they can only pay you so much in a retailer. Now they want to give that back.
So there’s all these different psychological phenomenons that come in, and the whole thing is that you are not your readers, as an author. So you being able to try something like this, knowing that there’s no exclusivity agreements, knowing that you can run it the way you want, there’s little to lose, especially because I’m not asking anyone, and no one should be, spending $1,000 to launch their subscription.
You can launch your subscription for free, and as you make money, invest more into it, keep that money invested in the rest of the business. So that’s one mindset shift.
The second thing is actually being practical, because okay, Michael, great, you’re telling me there’s an opportunity there that might work for me, fine. And that, sure I understand that I could diversify revenue streams, I understand that controlling my customers is important. We get that, a lot of people have said that, but how can I actually do that? Well, for subscriptions, I found three things to be really effective in actually bringing people over.
The toughest thing I find for authors is we only have so much marketing energy.
We only have so much. And when I tell you you have to manage the subscription, that’s one thing. Okay, I have to post the content there. Okay, I have to set that up. That takes time, right. But you also have to market it, and that also takes time. It could be worth it, but we have to make it worth it. So how can we leverage your marketing time really well?
And we’re going to use a lot of the same psychological tactics that retailers already do for us, and because retailers already do these things for us, we don’t have to think about them as authors, but when we’re selling direct, we do have to think about these things. So what are they?
One is making something available for a limited time. How do you do this in subscription, when a subscription is supposed to be always open?
Well, I’ll give you an example. Kat T. Masen, she launched on Ream, I think, in September. She was doing an early access based subscription, and she’s an author who does very well in retail. She’s a romance author. And when we were talking, I was like, you should launch your subscription for a couple weeks and then close it off, so that readers have a time pressure to get in.
And you don’t need to be working and worrying about marketing at all for the rest of the year. You can just send out an email or two in that one month and use that sort of time pressure to get people in. She was able to get over 100 paid members in her first launch, so it went pretty well for her. Now, obviously, she has a larger audience, and if you don’t have any preexisting audience, I’m definitely not promising you that you’ll get 100 members overnight, but it’s a strategy that worked.
What is another strategy besides limited time? Another one is discounts. We see this all the time in subscriptions. The discount is the free trial, right? Literally, if you go onto Kobo Plus are you go onto Kindle Unlimited, how they get people into their subscription is offering people a free trial.
So you can do discounts and promotions and things of that nature, that are also maybe limited time, to get people in so that they are paying monthly. That’s another way to do it. We see this all the time in direct sales. So subscriptions are like an aspect of direct sales.
If you’re doing a la carte sales, we see this a lot of time with bundles, right. Bundles is basically playing on the same psychology of giving someone a discounted deal to kind of move over and have a little bit more friction in moving into a newer ecosystem. So if you ever want to do a discounted promotion code like that, not every subscription platform offers things like this, but if you’re on Ream, you just reach out to our team and we can create it for you.
The last thing I see is exclusive content. This is what YouTubers I think utilize the best like expertly, expertly. But basically—
It’s creating something that’s only available to this specific audience.
So maybe it’s a special edition cover. Kate Robert is famous for this and has a very big subscription doing this.
Maybe it’s limited-time merch, like a merch drop. This is what YouTubers, I think, at least growing up, make most their money off of. They were launching these limited time merch lines that you can only buy, let’s say, for a couple of weeks.
You could literally do that as an author, but it could be a special edition cover, it could be a few short stories that are only available in your subscription.
Exclusivity is something people will pay for that will help them get them over the edge.
So these are things that are just in addition to like the standard marketing. Sure you can share your link, sure you could do that, and I could give you that advice, and like that’s fine. Like, oh, yeah, if you have your subscription just launch it and see what readers think, yeah, that can work really, really well.
But obviously, I know that can be frustrating for some authors who tried that and are like, this is draining for me or this isn’t sustainable. So I hope the mindset and then those three tips actually give you some really actionable advice about launching and bringing people into subscription.
Joanna: That’s great. And I mean, again, it’s interesting how there’s just different variants of direct sales.
I mean, Kickstarter also taps into that exclusive short period, the exclusive merchandise or the exclusive types of books.
What I think I’ve found difficult over the years is that people would use the idea of ‘fake’ scarcity around exclusivity, and they’d be like, you can only get this book here and then it would be somewhere.
With Kickstarter, with the limited-time subscriptions, if you do exclusivity, you can actually do real scarcity.
So my gold foil hardback for Writing the Shadow that I’m doing for this Kickstarter, that by the time this goes out is well over, but I feel happy that I can market with real scarcity now, whereas before, I never wanted to do that because I wasn’t scarce.
Also, again, coming back to the nonfiction side, I decided to really double down on the subscription for Patreon.com/thecreativepenn because I was getting so much negativity from a wider community.
So I wanted to put a whole load of exclusive stuff, including a lot more about AI, behind the paywall, even if it’s a very small paywall.
So that might be another tip for people, is if you want to —
Create things specifically for a community who want to hear what you’re saying, rather than a broader, ‘everything is free’ audience.
I mean, that may be, you mentioned, the more steamy writing. It could be that that’s something that some people want, or, I don’t know, lots of other things.
I feel like the exclusive idea, the scarce idea, these all definitely work.
I also just wanted to comment, I just did my numbers while you were talking, you mentioned between 1% and 5% of an audience, and I did my numbers, so—
4% of my podcast audience subscribes to my Patreon.
Michael: That’s very good.
Joanna: Oh, good. I thought I’d share that number.
Michael: That’s amazing. I mean, just a testament to how, literally, you have the best podcast in self-publishing. No offense to anyone else, I love other podcasts, but like you’re amazing. That’s very good. That’s like actually super impressive, especially like at your size, too. So ultimate congrats on that.
But yeah, that’s it right. And I think I’m already like having to hold back excitement because when you say things like scarcity, and then like it being authentic scarcity, I immediately think about trust, and then like trustless technology systems and how you build trust with that. That’s like a whole other thing, we can go on a tangent, me and Joanna, at 20 Books about that.
When it comes to actually building trust, because I want to highlight that —
Trust is ultimately the core of an author’s business.
If there’s anything I want people to take away from this podcast today, if there is one thing, I don’t think every author should have a subscription, which is totally a weird thing to say as a guy who’s a CEO of a subscription platform.
Joanna: I totally agree.
Michael: Yeah, there’s just no way. That just doesn’t make sense. But for people who it’s right for, it can be very good.
I will tell you, there’s something we can all learn from subscriptions, which is that subscription marketing, and there’s a great book by Anne Janzer, who’s an awesome nonfiction author, by the way, and I’m going to recommend the book, it’s called Subscription Marketing.
It’s all about how —
Subscription marketing is really about retention.
That’s the core of what subscription marketing is. The word we like to use in the author community, which I’ve already used in this podcast, is read-through rate. Are readers coming back for your books?
Obviously, the biggest way to build trust with readers is writing amazing stories that meet their expectations that you put on the packaging of it, whether you’re packaging it in a tier, whether you’re packaging it in a book description, etc. I mean, that fundamental of the business, I don’t see necessarily going anywhere even as we have all these technology and platform changes.
However you package it up, however you monetize it, someone needs to get what they expected from it, and hopefully even more, and want to come back to keep continuing to get more. That is huge. That is the core of subscription marketing.
Sometimes I think in the author community, we can get very caught up in finding the new, finding the new. How can we bring more people in? How can we increase our audience? And that’s such a pressing problem for so many of us because we might have smaller audiences, but —
Don’t be so focused on the new that you forget about your existing readers, and serving them, and focusing on that retention.
That’s a very important part of the equation and that is how you build a long lasting business in publishing.
The ways you can build trust are by sticking to your word. Underpromising and over-delivering. That’s probably the biggest one, the biggest one. It’s by doing things that kind of meet your why, that align with your mission, that align with your values, and not compromising. Now that builds trust in people, that builds a tribe around you.
Joanna: Absolutely, and the principle of know, like, and trust is something that I’ve had schooled into me from day one. I’ve definitely built my business on that.
Now we are almost out of time, and you have mentioned a couple of times this sort of futurist aspect, the decade of transformation it’s gonna take for direct sales, and also you kind of hinted at decentralized technology. For me, that kind of means blockchain and some interesting stuff there. So I do want to ask you about that, because I was just thinking, so you’re 21 — when I was 21, Amazon had just launched.
Joanna: I was 21 in 1996. Amazon launched in 1995. I did not buy shares in Amazon back then. I did make up for that later. But it is so interesting to think that we just don’t know.
And of course, there were a ton of companies around in 1996 that then went completely bust in the dot-com crash. There’s a whole load of things that will change in the next, let’s say, in the next 21 years.
So given that you are a generation who grew up completely differently to me—so I didn’t have a smartphone in 1996, we didn’t have the internet like we do now. There’s so much we didn’t have, and there’s so much opportunity. So I know this is difficult, but—
What do you see coming? What do you hope is coming?
Michael: I love this question. I mean, it’s an impossible question to answer, but that’s why I love it. I’ll just say very candidly, like, I have no idea at all.
Joanna: None of us do!
Michael: No idea. So don’t take any of this as gospel, but maybe some predictions, some trends I see, maybe some things I hope for, honestly. What do I hope for? Because I’m optimistic about the future, I might write, if you go look at the books I’ve written they’re kind of dark, dystopian sci fi stuff, and I enjoy that. But I really write those things because I, ultimately, always come from a place of light and hope, how can make the world better?
And I do believe the world is gonna be better for authors in 10 years from now, in 20 years from now, than it is today.
How will that look better? How will it be better for readers? Well, I think there’s like three core trends, and then one big definition I want to share because I dropped a buzzword and didn’t define it earlier, and I should define it.
So I talk about creator economy, a lot of people talk about creator economy, and everyone has their own definition. My definition of it is this.
The platform economy was like when we had these big monolithic platforms that controlled everything, and the Creator Economy is a shift away from that by empowering individual creators to own and lead their own individual communities.
And basically the foundations of this, because I see the creator economy is the future, I see it being ecommerce 3.0, of sorts, and kind of where things are headed.
What I see in that for authors is that, one, owning the relationship to your readers becomes more and more important, owning that data.
So I do see direct sales as a continuing trend and something that’s going to become bigger in the future of publishing.
Direct sales, whether it’s through subscriptions, whether it’s through a la carte, whether it’s through crowdfunding, all these are ways to do direct sales, right? That step becoming more important, owning that customer data because Amazon, ultimately—and I use Amazon and all the other retailers—owns the customer data. They built incredible businesses off the back of that customer data, right. Amazon literally turned books into The Everything Store, and I think it’s time that authors have that same ability to using our customer data and help ourselves to build stronger, better business. So that’s one thing.
I think in tandem with that with, like data ownership and direct sales, there is definitely a web3 aspect to it in terms of we’re going to see that continue on even more. That’s gonna go somewhere crazy that I’m not even going to predict. But it’s gonna be very cool when we think about authenticity, trustless systems, digital scarcity, that’s riding that direct sales wave.
The other way that I see, and I’m going to mention these two letters, because how could I talk about the future and not mention these two letters, is AI, specifically generated AI, because we’ve had lots of forms of artificial intelligence in the publishing world for a long time.
When I think about generative AI, I see it as a little bit more of an enabling technology rather than a platform shift.
I could be wrong, but I don’t think it’s going to completely disrupt how publishing is done, but I do think it’s going to change maybe how things are created. I think it’s accelerating already existing trends, that we have tons and tons of content now, tons and tons of content, a huge oversupply compared to the eyeballs. That is true, regardless of AI, but I think these things can help speed these trends along in terms of author’s recognizing it.
I also think it helps an even more important trend, which is if you’re going to be running your own business, there’s so much to do. There’s so much to actually do, so many skills to have, and having this sort of co-assistant, however you want to word it, that can be more accessible to people, I think will increase equity, inclusivity, and access in this industry.
Now I say that, very well knowing the downsides, very well knowing that there could be a more dystopian future. But I hope that this is where it’ll go, and I believe it is, again, more of an enabling technology, rather than disruptive for authors, and enabling and empowering in a good way.
I believe that, but I don’t personally build in AI technology. I’m not working on an AI company. I’m working on more of the direct sales and community aspect, which I’ll talk about that, the community aspect, the third pillar of this.
I see community becoming more and more important.
I’m going to recommend an essay then I’m going to finally stop talking.
There’s an essay called The Loneliness Economy by Hugo Amsellem. It’s awesome. It’s all about how we’re living in a world now where loneliness is basically one of the biggest social and, actually, public health problems.
The world has changed drastically since the launch of Amazon. We’re now spending more time in our computers than we are with our friends and family combined. That is really wild, and what it’s doing is it’s bringing the rise of these, what I’ll call, third places Hugo refers to this as well, and these third places are online digital communities that become social and become homes for readers, and I would argue, any content viewers online.
This is something we see especially common with Gen Z and millennials. It’s the big generational shift. 40% of Gen Z and millennials have met friends online.
I’ve met most of my friends online, most of my friends started online, which means that a lot of the friends that will be created in the future will be from peoples shared passion for things like stories, like books, and those could be your books.
How does that change the industry when readers are connecting with your works in a completely different way? I don’t exactly know.
Again, I’m kind of highlighting trends rather than giving concrete predictions, but it’s going to be a big shift. That’s one of the things I’m most excited about is how do we empower that? How do we help readers who need this connection online more than ever? Because there’s this big loneliness problem that has been kind of created out of this first era of the internet, the what we’re up to now. So that’s what I see in the future, those three trends.
Joanna: Well, I love to hear you mention hope and positivity, and that you’re feeling positive about the future for publishing and authors. Obviously, I feel the same.
But my hope is also that people like yourself and your co-founders, as young people in publishing, I mean, young, techy people stay in publishing, like that would be my hope. I am so pleased that you’re involved and that you’ve created this company with your co-founders. Very exciting times. So why don’t you—
Tell people where they can find you, and Ream, and your books, and everything you do online.
Michael: You can go to Ream if you’re interested in signing up. You can create an account for free. Ream is pretty simple, we just take 10% of the revenue you make in the platform plus payment processing fees. It’s a pretty standard model for a subscription platform. So if you’re interested in joining Ream, signing up there, you could go to ReamStories and sign up there.
And that’s where you can find a lot of awesome information about just getting started with subscriptions, about the business model, and meet some other awesome authors doing it. I also have a free book called Subscriptions for Authors, which you will find on the subscriptionsforauthors.com website, everything is there. You can also find it for free on any retailer, anything of that nature. It’s even free on YouTube, it’s even free on Spotify, like anywhere you could basically put something for free in audio format, it’s free. So that’s where I’d recommend getting started.
Otherwise, I’m not going anywhere. I want to see the world be better for authors. I think that we have a role to play in it, and we all have a role to play in it. I’m excited to push it forward with everyone and create a future where storytellers rule the world. That’s our mission.
Joanna: Fantastic. Well, thanks so much for your time, Michael. That was great.
Michael: Thank you so much for having me on. Literally a dream come true. If anyone’s new to this podcast, this is the right podcast be listening to. Just keep listening to Joanna.
The post Subscriptions And The Creator Economy With Michael Evans first appeared on The Creative Penn.
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Author: Joanna Penn