Saturday, December 18, 2021

thinking more about Substack

Substack is a subscription-based platform where you, as an author, can upload your writing, usually in the form of essays, stories, and think pieces. Wikipedia describes these as "digital newsletters," which I suppose they are. If people like your content, you get more subscribers as the word spreads. The content is normally linkable, and I don't think it allows comments,* so it's not a platform for building any sort of commenter community. I suppose a rival could respond to your essays by creating a Substack account of his own, but hey, that's between you and him. Substack isn't immune to the same popularity effects that make some YouTubers rise above others in hits and subs, so it offers no guarantees you'll become a sudden millionaire with thousands of subscribers. What Substack is, though, is the answer to the age-old petulant complaint of most of us who blog: I love writing, and I write all the time, but I'd like to get paid for doing this thing I love. Substack is a chance to do just that.

I've been watching Substack from afar for some time, now. I still don't know much about it—that's how far away I am. But I was struck by a thought, just today, that prompted me to write this blog entry. I have a mess of book projects coming down the pipe, stuff that I'm hoping will, once self-published, earn me some extra income down the line. So it occurred to me: why not join Substack and publish the content for pay now, getting paid now? I can still self-publish later if it's that important to create a dead-tree version of my work. Substack is the royal road to paid self-publishing. And while I'm no Shakespeare or Hemingway, I think I have the writing chops to put out something of merit. I don't want my tombstone merely to say that I walked across Korea several times (although that's nice). I'd like to leave something permanent in the world. Something written and meaningful.

It further occurs to me that I can experiment with Substack's functionality by creating posts with material already on my blog. For example, I've written some long pieces on politics and religion that I could rework a bit and publish under the aegis of a "Substack—religion" or "Substack—politics" account (I envision several accounts producing several income streams if Substack allows that).** A lot of my old religion posts could go to one account; the entire story of my slow conversion to a quasi-Trumpian worldview could go to another. I might even end up marveling what all of those pieces might look like when gathered together in that way instead of being scattered pell-mell over a single blog as they are now.

Lots to think about. I'm either a writer on the verge of finally creating his writing empire or a fly buzzing around a turd who thinks he's king of the universe. Big moments start small, though, and we'll never know how big things can get if we don't try.

If you're thinking of joining Substack, make sure you're at least decent at editing your own writing. I don't see too much gaffe-y prose over there. It's not all mistake-free (what prose is?), but the quality of writing is an order of magnitude better than what you get from, say, regular blogs, which are often tossed off (yes, even my stuff) with little care for linguistic rigor. The "content is more important than structure" crowd would not do well on Substack. You need content and structure. Sorry if that sounds haughty, but it's just the way it is.


*Paying subscribers are linked to you via email, so they can react to you directly. Part of the experience of Substack is the removal of walls between author and audience. This removal isn't really anything special, but the immediacy of it is notable.

**As it turns out, you can create multiple Substack accounts under one main account. You can also choose which of your Substack articles are subscriber-only and which are available to the public for free. This is good to know.


John Mac said...

Very interesting and a great idea. You could also have a section for your outstanding movie reviews. I've never actually read anything on Substack yet, but I've heard of several writers leaving traditional media platforms and publishing exclusively there. For one thing, there is no censorship of unpopular political viewpoints or un-PC opinions.

Hurry up! I want you to be the first writer I read there!

Kevin Kim said...

If I can turn this into something lucrative, I'm going to. Wish me luck.