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Web 3 Special: Selling Your Book as a Series of NFTs with Elle Griffin

Apr 20, 2022

Elle Griffin is the Editor-of-Chief of Utah Business and a freelance journalist and co-founder of Cryptopia, a web3 festival that debuted in 2022.

But I most wanted to talk to her about how she's brought her books into the Web 3 world. See, she's not only crowdfunded a novel using crypto but she's publishing her next novel as an NFT series on Twitter.

I first became aware of her through Jane Friedman and began subscribing to her Substack. Then I came across this story in Hacker Noon about how she was selling chapters of her book as NFT's. I wanted to know more. And so I reached out to interview her and now my brain is on fire with ways writers can enter the Web 3 world. Yours will be too once you listen to this.


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Anna David:  Thank you all so much for being here. 

Elle:   Thank you so much for having me. And it's nice to meet you. 

Anna David:   Nice to meet you, too. I discovered you I believe the first time I discovered you is through Jane Friedman, possibly. I discovered many things when I subscribed to your newsletter and started reading it. I believe it was also Jane Friedman that wrote about how you were minting your new novel as NFTs. And there's this amazing article that I read on Hacker noon. That's all about that. And I have just been fascinated by it. So I would love to talk to you about your process, how you got into this web 3 world, and what it's like as a writer to do this. So how did it start?

Elle:   Well, I've been following the web 3 world a little bit, just because it's been really incredible what it's done for creatives. So if you've seen anything about NFT's anywhere, I mean, those are artists that are creating pieces of art. And now because it's this tech centric product, where the artist gets to retain ownership of their work, and people can invest in it like they're investing in a stock. It's added all of this investment to the art world that just wasn't there previously, like, I mean, not even since the Renaissance, have people been investing in art in this way. It's been really crazy. So I've been really curious to see, okay, we've seen this play out for graphic artists, anything visual, really. And I've been curious if it was going to play out at all in the publishing world. So artists that are written in the written word. And there have started to be some players in this space. And I kind of watched them emerge.

I think the first one was the Mirror platform. And that was based on the Ethereum blockchain. And that actually allows writers to, you could write a blog on Mirror, but if it's connected to your crypto wallet, you can you know, once you publish it, the article lives on the blockchain. And you can choose to, you know, press a little button and minted as an NFT. And then you can sell that NFT. And you can do crowdfunding there. And so there's been some really interesting things there. So I was just curious if there would be a possibility to kind of fund a novel that way. And there is one girl who did it already, Emily Seagulls, she said she was going to write a YA novel. And she was gonna crowdfund it using Mirror. And she did, I think she raised 25 Ethe, which is like, I mean, ranges vary, like, but like around $80,000, essentially, in advance to write her book.

And then when she's done, and she sells it, she's retaining 20% ownership of the work, and everybody who invested in it can earn royalties. And it just seems like, well, this is a better deal than traditional publishing. So I launched my novel as an experiment, I didn't want to crowdfund an entire book, because I was like, Well, who knows? There's still not a way to successfully publish the novel, you can, like, fundraise the novel, but then it's like, well, you're going to publish it in the traditional way. So I was like, Alright, why don't I just say, for every point to five Ethe I raise, I'll write another chapter. And you can even buy a chapter outright. And I'll mention it as an NFT. And give it to you, if you'd like. So, I did that. And I ended up just writing five chapters, because I felt like it was the perfectly contained thing. And then I shut down the crowdfund. And now I'm trying to sell it to an animation studio.

So I think there's just so much potential here, because in my circumstance, it was like a very limited use case, it was really just so that I could write a newsletter for my newsletter, about how web 3 could work for writers in the future. So it wasn't really like a real thing. It was like an experiment, kind of like performance art for my newsletter. But I thought it was an interesting use case. Because here now we've got, I think, I ended up with five people who funded the project, and own chapters of it. And now it's a complete thing. And they all want it to be successful. So if I sell it to an animation studio, let's say, I, as the writer, retain 20% ownership, they will all earn on that sale, depending on what their stake in it is. And I just think that's such a fascinating model. Like, you're essentially buying a stake in somebody's art. And then you want it to be successful. So you're contributing to the success of that project. It's just, like, very fascinating. 

Anna David:  It's so cool. So yeah, if you look at your page on Mirror, it says the funding goal was just point two, five Ethe. So one chapter. Yeah. And then it's always so lovely when you see a number like this that you know that you raise the dwarfs the initial, it's so sad when you see the number of the goal. And it's tiny compared anyway, just the opposite of that. And so you put it out there, and I've read that you just said yeah, it was as easy as pressing a button, which I will say I am now exploring and you know, even connecting, do you have your dot Ethe name? Do you have your name? Doing that I found challenging, I had to get help. It's, quote, easy. I'm a generic sir. It's not so easy. Just going to be honest.

Elle:   I think doing all that connection stuff is not easy. Like once you're on Mirror, publishing on it is very easy. But it is very clunky to do anything on any kind of blockchain right now. So I mean, I've definitely had people write to me since that article being like, “Okay, I started my Mirror campaign. Now, what do I do?” And I'm like, “Well, unfortunately, I still face the problem of traditional publishing, in that getting somebody to read your writing is still very challenging. And getting somebody to know about your project, like any kind of discovery, is still very challenging.” I think what the web 3 world has, that's interesting is the model of a creator maintaining ownership of their work. But still, discovery is a long way off, I think ease of use is a long way off. How people are going to actually read this content is a long way off. So there's still a lot to be figured out.

Anna David:    Well, what's interesting about it, and really Substack, which you are super involved in, really, really made this clear. We delete newsletters, often that we don't pay for perhaps the same information written and we've invested in it. We've paid $5 a month, and we do read it, which is fascinating. And this idea that like, yeah, of course, we all support each other. But this idea that you have support that's financial, so that they're benefiting is just fascinating to me, because, you know, as the web has grown, and as everybody's a writer, there's just all this stuff out there. And who's got time? How do we each find our readers and placing value on it ourselves is how we do that. It's just fascinating,

Elle:   I think there are some. And I think we're still trying to figure out how this is gonna work for writers. But there are some very interesting use cases, one of the things that I think could be really beneficial is in the fan fiction world. Because right now, if you write fan fiction, say you were a Twilight fan fiction, you can't monetize that as the author. You can have 20 million people reading your Twilight fan fiction, but because of copyright and permissions and everything, you can't sell that work, or you can't sell merch, or you can't do anything, you know, any way to monetize that because it's somebody else's creation. Well, with a web 3 world, one of the use cases I think is entirely fascinating is the original author of Twilight could come out with an Edward NFT and Abella NFT and a Jacob NFT. And then I could buy those characters and then use them in my own work. And then I could sell my own work. And the original author could get a kick out of that, because I'm using their characters. And so it like links back to the original author and kind of gets rid of the thing that authors hate about fan fiction is like, you're taking my work and running with it, you're like, Okay, well, what if they take your work and run with it, and you still get all the credit, and you still even get a kickback on it? It seems like it kind of solves that problem.

Anna David:   It has to be an author that didn't publish traditionally, because they have to own it otherwise, you know, HarperCollins, or whatever? Do you know if Quentin Tarantino is getting very involved, you know, of writers who are getting very involved in and, you know, big writers, the Twilight type who are?

Elle:   I mean, their stuff. I don't know individual writers who are doing it, but I know writing platforms that are integrating it. So like, I think Wattpad is going to be a big player in this space. I think that I'll be curious to see if Al three and a Railroad get involved in this space just because they do operate in fan fiction and have similar kind of built in models for their authors where the authors do own their work. So any kind of platform where the writer already or Substack, some of the Substack team members have talked about integrating web three eventually, for the same reason and I know you can even purchase a few of the crypto subsets with crypto. So I think there are starting to be use cases where the platforms that writers write on will be able to be monetizable using web 3 technologies. 

Anna David:  So okay, when exactly did you start your Mirror story? 

Elle: December of 2021.

Anna David:  December, and how did you do it? Did you announce it before? What was the actual process? 

Elle:    So, what's interesting is it kind of started as a dare. Because I mentioned wanting to maybe write a biography of this tech guy in Utah. And I was talking to another tech guy in Utah, who was like, “Wait, no, write a biography about me.” And I was like, “I don't know.” And he was like, “Why don't you just write it as a fictional biography of me and you can put it on the it'll be a bit about me in the metaverse.” And then I was like, Oh, that's such a funny idea. And so I was like, Okay, what if I, what if I actually write this fictional novel about you in the metaverse and like, we'll just see what happens. And he was really gung ho. And this worked out to my advantage, because he is a huge Web 3 investor. In fact, he owns one of the largest angel investment firms in Utah and invests in Web 3 technologies, and startups. So by centering him as the main character in my book, I was targeting the web three world inherently because anything about him like he's like a character, he goes around dressed in Jesus robes and like a hot pink wig and like is given out Bitcoin to people at conferences.

So by putting him as the central character that automatically drew in a tech crowd that is already in the Web three and already follows this guy. So I just wrote a little prologue as a kind of joke, and I was like, “Alright, here it is, what do you think?” And he was like, “Oh, my God, I love this. Let's do it.” So I pressed publish on Mirror and launched the crowdfund. And then he actually funded the first chapter himself. And then that's when it started, and then he promoted it on his LinkedIn or something. And then people started coming in. So the story is like a fictional story of Scott Paul battling the forces of Mormonism and the metaverse. So it's like a very NFTy subject, I don't think you can write just like a regular book and crowdfunded this way. I think you kind of have to write for the world. And so by centering the book there, that's what kind of drew the attention and got people to invest and get excited about it. 

Anna david:   Well, that's what I was gonna ask you because most of the listeners are not writing and NFTs Metaverse stuff. Maybe they are, they haven't told me. So for now, do you think so? So let's say somebody is writing a memoir? Do you think it makes sense to just put it on Mirror to start that way?

Elle:   No, I think you should start a Substack. I think you have to. I mean, here's the thing, though, I do think that writers should write for the platform they want to publish on because I think too many writers right now just think, Oh, I'm gonna write a book. But books have such a limited market. And I mean, it was like in 2020, only 268 books sold more than 100,000 copies and 100,000 was like so small. I mean, you think about the video world and how many movies see millions of views compared to one book that got a million sales in 2020. So it's just that I think it's important for writers to think about before they start writing something. Is this a book? Should I publish this on Mirror? Should I publish this on Substack? Should I publish this on Tik Tok or Twitter, should I think about the medium in mind and then write to that medium? I think you'll have a lot more success. And I think things like a memoir, they do really well on Substack. I mean, there's people you could, you can spend three years writing your memoir, and sell it as a novel to HarperCollins or Penguin Publishing house and sell 1000 copies of it tops. Or you can have 1000 people following your Substack. And you debut a new chapter every week of your own personal story. And if they pay you for it, then you'll earn $100,000 a year as opposed to like the, you know, $2 you'd get from the book sales. So I just think it's important to think about what mediums would be most read, most monetizable. 

Anna David:   When you're right, that's I have the counter argument to Substack, which is I pay for a few. And, you know, I come from the generation where we could write for magazines, and we could get up to $4 a word. And it was really, the Huffington Post suddenly disappeared, and suddenly people were writing for free and suddenly, like you're begging for $1 word, then you're begging for 25 cents a word. Then you're paying the way people are forced to write. So it just, it just changed. And so I really adjusted my thinking about it. And so that's why what I'm always preaching to listeners, know this, is have a business that supports you, but you will never make any money. So for example, I have this business where we publish books for entrepreneurs who write and publish them. So I write books that will bring in those clients. And so when I'm reading these brilliant authors, and I'm paying them $5 A month, like these people who are sometimes writing like, every day, or three times a week, and, and it feels wrong, it doesn't feel wrong enough that I insist on paying them more, but there's something about it that I'm, they they're worth more than 100 grand a year. And if they had a business, they would make that I don't know, where do you stand on that?

Elle:   I think that it depends on what you want to write. I mean, there are subject writers making a million dollars a year from their work, and I think it's you definitely, if you're going to have a sub stack and you want it to be financially successful, you definitely have to think about it. Like you're saying, like a business, you're not just gonna write about some super niche thing and just accidentally make a living doing it, because you're on Substack, you have to actually think. I'm definitely approaching my Substack from the standpoint of like, Could this earn a living? Could I one day, just write a Substack, and that D My whole job, like, that's my, that's my dream. And so And fortunately, there are a bunch of people that are doing that on Substack. And I was recently part of the Substack fellowship program, and my mentor was making, I know, more than $300,000 a year from her Substack. And all she does is write one article a week. And I was just like, okay, so I think that there's a way to do it, and I think there is kind of a, okay, so $5 a month doesn't seem like that much to you to get four posts a month, or maybe six.

But if there's 1000 of you doing that, over 2000 of you doing that, or 10,000 of you doing that, then that's like a really good living for the author. And, and there are, I guess it is like, if you think about that as an ongoing cycle, it can be exhausting. Like, oh, as an author, I have to write an article every single week to make my living, but a lot of authors have built in breaks and are treating it like seasons with like, all of December off and all of July off and the readers don't mind. So I think that there's definitely a play there. And it's a play that I'm working on. But I think that it's just you have to treat it like a business like you are with your writing.

Anna David: Yeah, so Substack. And I actually don't know the answer to this. Anybody could start one because at first it wasn't that way. Correct? You have to be invited.

Elle:   Yeah, I think it was only two years ago that they got insane funding and have now been investing intensely in it and have really attracted a huge following. So in the last year, it has really come to prominence and gotten just humongous. And anybody can get on and write for free. I mean, completely free, Substack doesn't even pay, take any money until you're earning money. So it's like if you think about the early days of writing a WordPress blog, and having a MailChimp newsletter, you were paying $60 a month just for your MailChimp newsletter plus, like web hosting, and your blog and your WordPress theme. And that's just like, all part of the Substack stack. So it's like the easiest time has ever been to write as a writer.

Anna David:   Love that. No. So let me ask your advice as someone like me, who's got everything on Kajabi? You know, Kajabi with you know, Oh, it's kind of awesome. If you want to do everything, such as courses, email, you know, my businesses run on it. Do you think so? I send a newsletter every Thursday, which I hope you'll subscribe to. Do you think it would make more sense to do a Substack like for someone like me?

Elle:    So what do you charge for your courses?

Anna David:  It depends everywhere from like, $97 to 997 depending on what the course is.

Elle:   So you have a lot of different tiers, and you're essentially monetizing your courses?

Anna David:   Yeah, I'll be honest, not nearly enough. I dream of a passive income and it's really active from our clients. I haven't quite found the way to..I have so many amazing courses haven't quite found the way to monetize them. I mean, a little bit. 

Elle: I think it depends on what you want to monetize. Like if it's, I know that now with Substack you have three Content Options You can do a newsletter or a podcast or a video. And I know that you can choose to like, podcasts are only for paid subscribers or videos are only for paid subscribers. So you could have video courses that come out and are published to your paid subscribers on Substack, which could be really cool. But there's only two tiers. So you can only pay, like however much you are charged for monthly. And then there's like a founding Level tier. So like, for example, I charge $10 A month or $50 a year to subscribe to my newsletter and my newsletter paid options are that you get access to my writer resources and my interviews, which are both written content. And then I have a $200 tier that's for everybody who wants to receive an annual print magazine and the print copies of my books when they're done. And so, but you couldn't do more than that. I know that they do it that way for a reason. Because they're like they're like to tiers is the best you can, you know, I don't know the best it'll perform on the market, I guess. But so I think you could do that. If you wanted to do it that way. It's just like, how do you want to publish your content?

Anna David:    Well, why don't you have a course? And maybe you are developing it on how to do this. Like, I mean, you need to be the person who creates a course on what to write you on how to set things up on, you know, Mirror, how you should have the dot Ethe address, like that just talk about this process of how you did it. And you, I just feel like courses are so competitive, which is one of the reasons I don't sell that well, because there are so many courses about how to write a book and how to publish a book. But there aren't these courses yet. It doesn't even exist how a writer can work in the metaverse? 

Elle:   Well, that's the thing is, it's not working at all right now. Like not no writer is earning a living from Web 3 right now.

Anna David: But you're earning money.

Elle:  Yes, earning money. But it's very experimental right now. And I think it'll continue to be experimental until we have one platform that becomes the de rigueur thing. And honestly, I think it's not going to be a Web 3 platform, I think it's going to be a traditional platform that adds Web three features like Substack, or Wattpad, or Medium turning, like turning that on for their writers. And so it's just like a matter of who's going to do it first, and who's gonna do it really well. And that's where everyone will go. 

Anna David: But guess who's gonna be at the front of the line? The people who understand it like you. And the people who take your course that you should create. And so until I want to ask a practical question about Mirror, so you put it out there, it gets funding, how quickly did you write your chapter?

Elle:    I wrote one every week. So my goal was to put one out every Wednesday. So if my chapter was funded by Friday, I had a new chapter by Wednesday. It wasn't that hard, because my chapters are very short. They're designed for this world, and people don't have long reading spans. So it worked out. But I know that like the other girl that founded or crowdfunded her novel and Les Segal, she funded the whole thing up front and now it's been probably a year or so and her books are still not out because she's writing a full book. So it's gonna take a while to see kind of how that comes to fruition.

Anna David:    Okay, so as of today and looking at it, you have 2000, you know, equivalent to $2,097. Have you gotten any of that money in your bank account? Like for people who don't understand how this totally works like me? How does that work?

Elle:   The second you close your crowdfund you get access to that money. So the second I closed my crowdfund all of that. Ethereum went straight into my crypto wallet, which I just use Coinbase.

Anna David:    And so now you've got these, sorry, it's five chapters. And so what is your next move in terms of figuring out what to do?  Animation, can you explain that to me, like what do you mean animation studio?

Elle:    So for example, you know, my novel or I guess it's a short story. But Scott Hall Battles the Forces of Mormonism in the Metaverse, I kind of thought it's like such a weird concept and it's very, like, you know, he's shooting up into a planet and a pink bubble and the angel Maura Nye is like blowing bubbles and like ashen creatures there on the moon like and this is like weird stuffs happening. So I just felt like first that has To be animation and second of all, who's into Metaverse, animation and Mormonism I was like this should be a South Park episode. You know, like, I just kind of thought you can think of shows that would do really well with it. So I just thought, okay, that'd be really fun. And I'll just see what I can get. And it'd be so interesting to fund a television show that way, like to, so I don't know if anything will ever come of it. But it's an interesting model. And I'm going to replicate it soon. I purchased an NFT. That was part of loot project, which was one of the only tech space NFT's that has ever been produced. And basically what the project was, is they debut like four words or five words.

And they might be like demon crowns, or grimoires, or some sword. It's like all these kinds of loot items, you might get in like a video game or like a fantasy video game. And so I bought one that has like, very, very unique attributes in it. And then I wrote a story around those, like using those items in the story. And so I'm going to debut that one shortly. I'm trying to figure out the best way to publish it because my thinking was, okay, I've written this story about this mage queen who has these grimoires and this crown, and she has these powers. And I can say, Okay, here's the story. Now, I need 12 people to step up and go on this quest. And so that opens it up for any writer to then go purchase their own loot, and go on one of the quests with those items and can kind of like create this, I basically created the world. And now anybody can go right in it with their own NFT items. And so that's what I want to debut next. And I'm curious to see what will happen, then, maybe after the project is over, I can then sell my original NFT that I purchase for more money, because now it's part of the story. So I think there's a lot of interesting things that could happen. And I'll definitely be exploring more.

Anna David:   How many NFT's do you personally have of other people's? 

Elle:  Not very many, I think I have, I am looking at my crypto wallet right now. Probably five. 

Anna David:   Have you resold anything yet?

Elle: No, I don't know how to do that.

Anna David:   Yeah, me neither.

Elle: Even sitting my phone on my little crypto wallet, but I don't really know what I can do with them from there. 

Anna David:  Yeah, it's, you know, I highly recommend the person that I told you and listeners know this. I'm doing a series, I'm doing a series of three on how writers can get involved in this world. And so the previous woman that I interviewed, she talked about a couple things she said, if you want to get into the NFT world, first explore as a buyer, set up your open, see, buy something, then explore as a personal thing. And then professional because you want to do your research that way. And one thing that she suggested I'm curious about your take on this, she suggested writing a book that you're planning to publish, published traditionally, but have something in the beginning. That's just you, you sell us an NFT. So you're kind of combining the two worlds. What do you think of that idea?

Elle: Well, if you're publishing it traditionally, then it's going to be owned by your publisher.

Anna David:   No, I'm sorry. I meant like putting out a paperback copy yourself. 

Elle:   Okay. Yeah, like if you self-publish, you can for sure do that. And I think personally, I think this would be very interesting for Royal Road because authors that write on Royal Road are all writing lit RPG genre stuff, which is like, you know, players are kind of in a video game world. And it uses like, video game terminology in the stories where you like, suddenly the main character, like finds a sword, and it has this power, these powers and that like contributes to the storyline. Why not make that an act an actual NFT that people can like, buy that sword? It's similar to buying merch. If you buy merch now from an author like a fairy Harry Potter wand or something? Or like, if you would, were actually in a video game you might buy things to get more power. Why not bring that into the publishing world? 

Anna David:   What is a lit RPG? 

Elle:   Literary role playing games is what it stands for.

Anna David: Well, this is fantastic. That was one other question that I was going to ask you that I already forgot. And maybe it will come back to me as I say these words, but it hasn't. I'm what so Oh, I know what it is. So let's say this memoir writer, is there anywhere if it's not Mirror, where would where would they start if they wanted to explore this world?

Elle:   And so I think if it's a memoir as it's in your personal story, Substack. If it's a cookbook Substack, if it's a lit RPG, Railroad. If it's a YA novel, Wattpad. If it's a romance novel, Kindle Unlimited.

Anna David:   But Substack is not, you can't mint anything as an NFT on Substack. But if they want to get into this world… 

Elle:   Because who are your readers? Like, if you're writing a memoir, the people that are going to be your readers are probably people that are interested in you, not necessarily people that are familiar with Web three, unless you are like a Web three personality. In which case, maybe that works, but I feel like you have to think about who your readers are. And your readers are not like a tech, a techy audience and like the web 3 world probably isn't right just yet.

Anna David:   Unless you're going to be the one that introduces them to the Web 3 world.

Elle:   Yeah, but even in my, I have 4000 newsletter subscribers on Substack. And none of them invested in my NFT novel. Instead of five people donating like $1,000 each who are like really techie web three people that found me on Twitter. So it's just different worlds.

Anna David:   Yeah, I mean, I think you're doing a favor for anybody who kind of goes, Wait, I don't understand this world. It's time to get in it. Get in when you're an early adopter. And so you're offering them an opportunity, but opportunities are scary and weird. So I get you know, I'm right at the cusp of entering this world, so I get it. But hey, anyone listening? Well, it's too late, your funding closed. But for your next one, go invest you guys just put get a Coinbase wallet, buy some of this stuff. I'm not a financial Web 3 advisor, but I just highly recommend educating yourself about it. And this is the way to do it by getting involved.

Elle:   Yeah, you have to learn by doing in this realm.

Anna David:   So thank you so much Elle. If people want to find you, where should they go?

Elle:   Yeah, follow my Substack, Elle

Anna David:   And you're on Twitter?

Elle:   Yes, I am. But mostly on Substack. I might get back to Twitter eventually.

Anna David:    I'm getting back into Twitter. I'm deciding it's back.

Elle: I’m getting hot and cold with it. So I feel you.

Anna David:   Okay. Well, thank you guys so much for listening. I will talk to you next week.