How Jane Friedman built her book industry newsletter The Hot Sheet

Welcome to the latest edition of Creator Collab House. I’m your host, Simon Owens. For those who don’t know me, I write a media industry newsletter you should definitely check out.

Today’s featured creator is Jane Friedman, who writes a popular book industry newsletter called The Hot Sheet. I’ll start by asking her a few basic questions, but my main goal is for you, the audience, to ask her questions of your own. Jane is an expert on everything from the book industry to running a successful paid newsletter, and she’s happy to jump into the comments section to answer your questions.

And if you want creator spotlights like this one to land in your inbox, be sure to subscribe:

Ok, let’s turn it over to Jane…

What's the origin story of Hot Sheet? How did you come up with the initial idea? How did you develop the format? When did you launch it?

Ever since I started working in book publishing (~2000), I've been a reader of Publishers Lunch, a paid email newsletter by Michael Cader. It's expensive, though—meant for people working inside publishing who can expense it—and it can be a little insider baseball if you're an author outside the industry walls.

I had a conversation with a bestselling author and industry vet, MJ Rose, about launching a newsletter for authors that would be in partnership with Cader somehow, but it never came to fruition. But the idea remained attractive to me, and I put the thing in my back pocket for later.

Soon after I went full-time freelance in 2014, I had conversation with another journalist in the publishing industry, and we decided to partner up on a paid newsletter for authors. The first issue sent in August 2015. In summer 2019, I bought out my partner and now run it solo.

What have you found to be some of the most effective growth strategies for getting new subscribers?

I started by marketing to my blog readership at JaneFriedman.com (which gets about 100k visits per month) as well as my free email newsletter that now has about 35,000 subscribers. I'd already been pumping out valuable and free content for about five years and had an engaged audience, so it wasn't hard to reach 1,000 paid subscribers in the first year.

Today, one of the best ways to boost subscribership is to partner with authors organizations, like the Authors Guild, to offer a discount to their membership. I also do a good deal of speaking and typically make a special, limited-time offer to attendees who want to subscribe.

Can you walk us through the business model for your newsletter? How does it directly and indirectly help your career?

Hot Sheet is a 100% paid subscription product that's been profitable from the start. The expenses are very low. I pay Mailchimp and ChargeBee a low flat monthly fee—and the ChargeBee expense is exceptionally modest because I was an early adopter and remain on a cheap legacy plan. Together these two service providers essentially do what a Substack does, only better and with a lot more customization.

There isn't a web component yet to the Hot Sheet aside from a landing page to get subscribers on board, but I'm working on putting the entirety of the archive online so that all content is searchable by subscribers, maybe with a porous paywall for the public. The biggest barrier to more subscribers and more visibility for myself is the fact the content is seen by very few people. So I'm working on ways to ameliorate that in the future.

I do a lot of other work in the industry that pays well—mainly online teaching and consulting—but I've been reducing my number of clients so I can devote more time to Hot Sheet, which is more scalable, more fun, and more satisfying. It's on the verge of becoming a six-figure newsletter and I'd be there already if I were spending sufficient time on its development. But for the last couple years, it's something I've shoehorned in alongside everything else.

The newsletter was awarded Media Outlet of the Year in 2020 by Digital Book World, and I won Publishing Commentator of the Year in 2019 as well for my work on the newsletter. I've found that I have an audience of more than just authors—agents and publishers read it too.

What are some recent pieces that you're particularly proud of?

One of my favorite things to do is break down complex publishing topics in terms that everyone can understand. I also like offering a 360-degree view of issues that can be heated and controversial. I want to promote understanding, not conflict, especially inside an author community that can be surprisingly tribal.

  • Here's a piece I wrote on the controversy surrounding Senator Josh Hawley's book.

  • Here's a deep dive on the newly passed CASE Act, which is fairly divisive in the publishing community.

  • Here's an industry overview on comics and graphic novels, inspired by the recent acquisition of Wattpad by Naver.

What are the newsletters from other people that you open almost right away when they hit your inbox? What is it about them that makes them so good?

I'll position the question a little differently for myself, because my biggest challenge each day is email triage, and I almost never read anything right away. But there are newsletters I never delete without reading, even if it takes me two weeks to get to them. They include newsletters like yours, and others that require concentration and possibly deep reading. Hot Sheet is probably similar for my readers: no one is likely to sit down and read the whole thing the moment it arrives—it's too damn long, which I acknowledge can be a weakness.

So others I value in this way (aside from Publishers Lunch by Michael Cader of course) would include Hot Pod by Nicholas Quah, Dense Discovery by Kai, and Alex Danco. This is to name but a few; I probably subscribe to 100 or more newsletters! Part of that is driven by my need to know what everyone is talking about and linking to so that I can do a better job on Hot Sheet. But on a personal note, for sheer link candy and online shopping—for a moment to relax—I love Sidekick.

Want to ask Jane questions of your own?

Go ahead and leave your questions in the comments section and she’ll dive in and answer them.

Leave a comment

Want to be featured in a creator spotlight like this one?

Go here for instructions on how to be considered.