Last January, I was reading Twitter when I came across a hysterically funny thread commenting on actors walking the red carpet for the Golden Globe Awards. The author—Quinn Cummings, was a former child actor (nominated for an Academy Award for her role in The Goodbye Girl).
Cummings “retired” from acting, wrote several books and “started making jokes” on Twitter, aiming “fora Dorothy Parker/Carrie Fisher tone.” While she “enjoyed making people laugh” Cummings, “missed writing longer stories” which lead her to create a series of threaded tweets, and “put it up with no sense of what might happen.”
What happened was she more than doubled her Twitter following, gained more than 430 monthly financial supporters on her Patreon account, and is one of a select group of people who’ve figured out how to make money from Twitter.
Rieva Lesonsky: Your Twitter feed is funny, sassy, sarcastic, political and confessional. Hard to pull that off. Is that a reflection of your personality?
Quinn Cummings: In real life, I am fairly quiet, very introverted; I think my most noticeable quality is that I’m punctual. When I’m online I am entirely different. I think of my online identity as Court Jester, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. Court Jester says the things I say to myself in private, only written out and carefully designed to make people who abuse their power very angry. It’s an odd thing to say about your own writing, but I admire Court Jester. She’s ballsier than I am. Of course, she would correct me and say she has twice the ovaries.
Lesonsky: How did you decide to sell access to your work on Twitter?
Cummings: For several years, I posted a blog three times a week detailing my life and my adventures—which were mostly misadventures. It was popular. It got me a book deal. But after about seven years, I realized I was kind of burned out on the blog format and started using Twitter more enthusiastically, building followers based on political humor. I was doing well but realized I missed the longer format. Also, I wanted to write a story that just made people laugh. In November, I created that threaded Tweet about the worst decision I ever made in an office. That thread has been retweeted over 17,000 times.
After squeezing my work into tweet-sized bites, I realized there might be a place for longer stories, so I started stitching together a fully fleshed out story every weekday. My only rule: Keep it funny, because people are stressed enough.
People seemed to really enjoy it. In one month, my follower count doubled, and I loved having the chance to tell stories again. The only problem was, creating these things wasn’t a quick job. It was cutting into my income-producing work. After two months’ creating five small stories a week, I created a Patreon account, told my readers what I was trying to do, and crossed my fingers.
After one day, I was earning enough to cover my health insurance. As a working writer, that felt great.
Lesonsky: How does it work?
Cummings: When I first considered doing this, I quizzed my Twitter followers about what they would pay for these stories [and] $5 a month was the number I heard most often. The $1 level is for those people who want to kind of leave me a tip. They don’t get the extra story, but it’s a way of supporting me and I am grateful for those supporters as well. When I started, I assumed that would be the more popular level because, hey, 2019. [But], I have more than twice as many $5 supporters as $1 supporters, and I have seen quite a few $1 supporters move up their patronage after the first couple of months.
Lesonsky: Are you monetizing your Twitter account or are you using Twitter as a promotional tool for your Patreon account?
Cummings: I would say I’m monetizing Twitter. The way to imagine it is that Twitter is the city in which I live. Recently, I have put out a shingle and started a business in the city. People who know me from that neighborhood are supporting me. There are ways to use Patreon to find new supporters and I’m learning the skills, but Patreon is not my original language, Twitter is. I will probably always speak Patreon with an accent
Lesonsky: You’re already making money. What’s the future look like?
Cummings: I…have no idea. Until January, I would have sworn there was no way to monetize what I was already doing for free. I ran the experiment and am pleased to say I was wrong. Now, what other limiting beliefs need to be tested?
When you’re on social media the way I am—which is to say, all the time—you notice things. I’ve noticed human beings need stories. We crave them. Joan Didion said, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”
In fact, stories may be why we’re alive; some scientists theorized humans developed language to communicate where the food was. All I know is we live in a stressful and lonely digital world, but if the right person comes up and says, “Let me tell you a story,” humans come racing. We love stories, we long for authenticity, we yearn to feel whole, sane, not angry, connected, if only for a few minutes. I want to tell stories and I’ll continue to look for new ways to do it.
Check out the stories of other successful entrepreneurs here.
About Rieva Lesonsky
Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and Co-founder of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship, and the blog SmallBizDaily.com. A nationally known speaker and authority on entrepreneurship, Rieva has been covering America’s entrepreneurs for more than 30 years. Before co-founding GrowBiz Media, Lesonsky was the long-time Editorial Director of Entrepreneur Magazine. Lesonsky has appeared on hundreds of radio shows and numerous local and national television programs, including the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, The Martha Stewart Show and Oprah.
Lesonsky regularly writes about small business for numerous websites and for corporations targeting entrepreneurs. Many organizations have recognized Lesonsky for her tireless devotion to helping entrepreneurs. She served on the Small Business Administration’s National Advisory Council for six years, was honored by the SBA as a Small Business Media Advocate and a Woman in Business Advocate, and received the prestigious Lou Campanelli award from SCORE. She is a long-time member of the Business Journalists Hall of Fame.
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