excruciatingly, annoyingly close
There's a handful of people I know in real life that read my stuff, and seeing someone I haven't interacted in years on the street and them starting the catch up with "man, I read all your stuff" really made my day a couple of times. Most of these folk learned about my blog when it was still tame and I'd share it on my socials. Recently, as I've been digging a bit deeper and going a bit weirder, I stopped sharing on social media. I'd love to share it with more people I know, but I don't really want to be in their face with my writing.
It's not the biggest issue, of course, and I'd rather spend more time writing then obsessing about who's reading, but here I am, only human.
Mine hovered just under 1000 (within one or two) for two weeks. Then it finally hit it. It went up a little more and flat-lined for about three weeks. Then it started moving up again. After 2 1/2 years, and only 12 paid subscribers, it is obvious my newsletter is not going to be a significant source of income. So I am not going to think too much about numbers or growing any more and just enjoy the comments from my small group of active readers.
I've been thinking about the “not just numbers” challenge for a significant portion of the year. What would you recommend to writers who want a more engaged audience?
You write so well, keep it up. I sent last week’s post to a long time friend in Texas (wish I knew someone in Wyoming and Vermont) and she said you are a great writer. I hope she subscribes.
Wish Em and Allison Happy Easter, oh that wish goes to you as well
I appreciated this very much, Lyle. I've been fortunate enough to maintain a high level of engagement which has allowed me to enjoy the slow, steady growth of subscribers. March marked three years of publishing and finding my way with SPARK. I've got 763 subscribers now and new ones come on board each week which makes me happy. The good news is that the engagement levels have stayed high even as new folks join. That seems like a good thing.
It does feel more personal, as you say. I also disabled the notifications that alert me when someone unsubscribes and now all I see is when we welcome someone new.
Gosh, so true! I felt seen reading this. I’ve checked my stats way too many times recently and I don’t know what I’m expecting. I have under 100 subscribers. I’m a minnow here and I really need to accept that and just go on doing my thing.
Joining Soaring Twenties has helped me connect with fellow creators and that’s been a moral booster. In real life I’m having a hard time getting people I know to read and follow and engage. Few in my closest circle create or write things that they publish. I love to support my friends and acquaintances here when I notice something they have produced.
Anyway, you really hit the nail on the head with this one! I almost felt like Gollum in his cave with the Ring and you brought a lantern in and shone it on the Issue!
Write on Lyle! Remember the stonecutter’s credo:
“When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before.”
I don't know how many subscribers I have, and I don't get alerted when they drop me.
I do suspect when I published my latest short story, I had to have lost some people. My Substack bounces around types of content and those who followed for, say, workflow conversation, probably don't want to click a link and find themselves in a Weird West story where two men excavate the slimy corpse of a giant worm used as a commuter train. And those that are into the latter, may not necessarily want a post about pop culture and tourism in Central America.
So, why watch the numbers?
You just got a new subscriber because I loved reading this post!
You completely nailed how I’ve been feeling about checking my subscriber count, the tendency to see subs as numbers instead of humans, the danger of judging our writing ability based on the number of subscribers, and the precious feeling when someone out of the blue emails you thanking you for something you wrote.
We gotta just keep going!!
You're 100% right that staring at subscriber numbers is a "watched pot" exercise. Our dopamine-hungry brains are waiting for the next hit, waiting to get rewarded for looking. We're better off going and making a coffee (or tea, or matcha, or whatever you like), hunkering down, and getting back to writing.
Writing itself is a reward, is it not? The process of interacting with words, letting thoughts flow to the page, reliving memories, and making new connections is deep and sustained. I've been reading Nicholas Carr's The Shallows, and I'm fascinated by the studies he cites on how our brains respond to deep reading and repeated experiences or tasks. When we write or read, we're literally rewiring our brains to pay closer attention and think more creatively. It makes the process that much more worth it.
you deserve 20k
I’ve always seen subs leaving as filtering out the casuals and building up the number of true believers. So it’s a good thing. Perhaps that’s just me though as a delusional would-be cult leader. Who can say?
Anyway the point is your work is great, and consistent, and that is all you need.
Love the post, Lyle! I seem to have followed your advice about turning off my new subscriber notifications, because I don’t get them anymore, although I don’t remember when I did it. It’s been a relief, honestly. And with regard to the numbers game, I’ve been doing that a lot lately too. I’m very close to 100 subscribers, which while not a tremendous number, gives me hope that I can reach my goal of having over 500 subscribers by the end of 2023. But if I don’t, I won’t make a mountain out of this molehill. I’ll just do my best next year. I’m very grateful for how much engagement my posts drive, as well. In conclusion: cheers, and don’t sweat it, your 2000th subscriber will show up soon!
This is a great essay, Lyle! I agree with you, especially:
“What I should care about is that nearly 2,000 of you are individual humans who have generously allowed me to borrow a small bit of your time each week. That’s remarkable by basically any measure. Like, I couldn’t possibly fit all of you into my house. I can’t even really picture what a group of 2,000 people—sorry, almost 2,000 people—looks like. But I think we can all agree that a group of just about 2,000 people is a lot of people.”
This definitely resonated! It’s been slow going for me. I brought some previous followers over from my old email CSM but it hasn’t translated to much engagement. I guess it’s the slow and steady grind. As you say, we’re all human and can’t help but fall into the trap of wanting growth and agonizing over it.
I wish you could post pictures here, but I am reminded of the 'this is pointless' visual from Jack Butcher: https://visualizevalue.com/
You'll get there :)