My not-so-secret plan

On building a platform and playing the long game

Welcome to So Relatable, a bi-weekly newsletter featuring conversations about the creative process, suggestions for nourishing yourself, and inspiring links. I’m glad you’re here!

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Two weeks ago, on my birthday, I finally reached a milestone I’ve been eyeing for two and a half years: 1,000 newsletter subscribers.

You might be wondering how this milestone relates to writing novels, making art, and trying to live a creative life. I’ll tell you: it’s all part of my not-so-secret plan to build an author platform, which is a fancy way of saying my ability to reach the people who might one day buy my book.

Writing a novel is difficult, getting a book deal is even harder, and selling books is nearly impossible. Leigh Stein recently wrote a newsletter about book sales and cited this stat: "98 percent of the books that publishers released in 2020 sold fewer than 5,000 copies." Oof. (To put that in perspective, books that become bestsellers generally have to sell 5,000 copies in one week.)

I’m a writer, but I also work in marketing. My whole job is to convince people they need a specific thing. At work, that thing is cloud banking software. In my creative life, it’s my writing. When I come across a stat like the one above, my marketing brain can’t help but view it as a challenge: what can I do, right now, to ensure my yet-to-be-published book beats those odds?

The first thing, of course, is to write the best possible book. That’s a given, so let’s set it aside for a moment. The second thing I can do is build an audience who will actually buy my book, which brings us to this newsletter.

Jane Friedman has a great post about how and why to build an author platform. When done right—organically, authentically, and slowly over time—“[a platform] represents a meaningful investment in your lifelong career as an author.”

I’ve been writing this newsletter for over two years, and in that time I’ve found great joy in our community, conversations, and occasional cups of coffee via Venmo. I consider this twice-a-month missive part of my creative practice, a way to share my process while I work on bigger projects. I don’t plan to monetize subscriptions, but I would like to monetize my writing, preferably in the form of numerous big and lucrative (or small yet prestigious—I’m not picky) book deals. Cultivating an audience of engaged and supportive newsletter readers can help me reach that goal. The time spent writing this newsletter (which is not insignificant!) isn’t a distraction from my work, but an investment in my literary career.

My secret hope, which I don’t mind revealing, is that when I eventually publish a book all 1,007 of you will buy it. Not because this newsletter is a marketing tool or a vehicle for consumerism, but because reading it inspired you to try something new, pushed you to prioritize your art, or helped you feel less alone. I speak from experience, because that’s what writing it has done for me.

So thank you for giving me an opportunity to become a better artist, for investing your time in my work, and—maybe, hopefully, fingers crossed—for helping me eventually sell a bunch of books to the best readers out there.

Next stop: 2,000!

Snack of the Week

Last week, I visited my family on Long Island and in New Jersey. But first, I spent a glorious evening with my friend Nicola in Brooklyn. (Reminder to read her debut novel if you haven’t already!) Because we’re now in our mid/late 30s, we opted to drink wine and eat dinner on the roof of her apartment, surrounded by her thriving garden as a storm rolled in and bolts of lightening lit up the sky. She made us a Caprese salad with homegrown tomatoes and basil, plus some killer mozzarella. It was a delicious meal, but the company made it truly *chef’s kiss*.

Relatable Reads

  • Everything I've Learned about Being a "Professional" Writer in One Post, Lincoln Michel. Pretty self-explanatory, but extremely helpful. Lincoln covers everything from freelance taxes to MFAs to querying agents, and he does it in a way that is accessible and entertaining. A good one to bookmark if you’re trying to make it as a writer! 📚

  • The Uncomfortable Rise of the Instagram Novel, The New Republic. My current WIP includes a fair amount of social media, so I found this thoughtful review of recent books and films that embrace technology really interesting. I also immediately added A Touch of Jen to my TBR list. 🤳

  • How the Pandemic Now Ends, The Atlantic. “Vaccines remain the best way for individuals to protect themselves, but societies cannot treat vaccines as their only defense.” I finally read this article after every single newsletter I subscribe to shared it, and I’m glad I did. I’m also glad my county just reinstated our mask mandate. Please get your vaccine!!! 🦠 

  • The Spine Collector, Vulture. A mysterious scammer no one can catch? A con targeting literary agencies? A relatively low stakes drama, seemingly crafted specifically for people with my niche interests? This story truly has it all. 🧐

  • Two of my favorite things are personal finance and newsletters, so I was excited to learn the folks at Morning Brew were launching Money Scoop, a personal finance newsletter that purports to make you smarter about your money. Since I still have a lot to learn, I subscribed immediately. Sign up here. 🤑

Coffee Club

Thank you to Charlene D., Niki C., and Eva R. for the birthday coffees! Because of your generosity, I am highly caffeinated and extremely grateful.

Want to treat me to a  ☕️ and support So Relatable? 💛 💃 🙌
Venmo: @Christine-Hennessey or PayPal Me.

Can’t afford a contribution? That’s okay! You can also click the ♡ below, forward it to a friend, or share the link on social media. Every little bit helps!

(At the end of 2021, I plan to donate 20% of anything I earn from this newsletter. Thanks for your support!)