A fascinating question for any artist, creator, or entrepreneur. I'm sure there's some fancy algebraic economic question that weighs opportunity cost of not pursuing a "traditional career", but at the end of the day, I tell young writers that they need to measure the 'pain' (whether that's lack of money, stability, criticism, failure) versus the 'gain' (enjoyment/satisfaction) they receive from pursuing their craft. For authors, it's typically those who just aren't willing to do anything else (high pain threshold!) that keep going and going until they make it. My two cents, anyway!

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Ok I did the math:

Right now, I have 5,000 free newsletter subscribers, 238 paid subscribers, and $16,000 in annual revenue. At $50/year, I’ll need 1,400 paid subscribers to make $70k a year, which means at my current conversion rate (5%) I’ll need to have 28,000 free subscribers. As my newsletter is currently growing by 250 free subscribers each month, it will take me 7.7 years to reach full-time income.

However, these numbers do not account for exponential growth. For instance, it took Anne Helen Petersen several years to get to 4,000 free newsletter subscribers and only another two to get to 17,000. Two years after that she was at 65,000. She now makes more than $300,000/year from her newsletter.


These numbers also do not account for alternative revenue streams. For instance: The newsletter Dirt has 10,000 newsletter subscribers—far fewer than A-Mail—but they made $100,000 last year by selling NFTs. To only 165 collectors.

I still believe there is a world in which my newsletter (and A-Mail’s) could earn a full-time income, but the biggest barrier to both is having the time to do that. In Anna’s case, her freelance work earns more income and requires less time than her newsletter. In my case, I have a demanding day job that takes precedent over my newsletter.

Anne Helen Petersen was able to turn her newsletter into a full time income, but she also received a $100,000+ advance from Substack to quit her job and write her newsletter full-time, which gave her the time she needed to make it a profitable business. Kyle Chayka is a freelance writer who had the time to devote to Dirt.

If you have the time to devote to your newsletter (because you are a stay-at-home parent, can afford to work part-time, have your living expenses covered, etc) that runway time can be a lot shorter. But if you have to work full-time, running a startup on the side can be a recipe for burnout! And that really makes all the difference.

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So do you agree with her decision to give up her newsletter?

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