Happy Friday, writer friends,
I spent the morning sitting in the sun, the cat on my lap, reading Kevin Wilson’s short stories. I think that’s exactly how I’ll spend the rest of the weekend, too.
Enjoy the issue!
NEWS & VIEWS
The content treadmill
We’ve been talking about how the (traditional) publishing trade is facing an industry-wide burnout, with as many as 69% of staffers reporting overwork and burnout. But when it comes to independent journalism and authorship, are creators faring any better?
Substack and Amazon have routinely proffered themselves as the future of independent publishing but, outliers aside, how sustainable is the model?
In June Anna Codrea-Rado, who had a Substack newsletter with 16,000 free subscribers called A-Mail, wrote a goodbye post.
“There are lots of reasons for this difficult decision, but they can be summed up quite simply: it’s just not working. Most pressingly, the maths doesn’t add up anymore. The number of paying subscribers isn’t high enough to make this one-woman newsletter business sustainable anymore. I also realised recently that I’m spending more of my creative energy coming up with ways to fix that problem than I am on the actual writing part. It’s time to put my energy into something new.”
Codrea-Rado wrote that at one point the newsletter “was my most reliable source of (good!) income,” an indication that paid subscribers had decreased or, at the very least, plateaued.
Most of the readers of this newsletter are freelancers and independent writers, so none of this comes as news to us. What is new is the way it’s framed. When you start freelancing, no one tells you “just write and the money will follow.” No, you’re reminded repeatedly that you’ll need to pitch, you’ll need to market every single day, and that this only works if you treat it like a business.
Substack framed it differently. The subscription business will save independent journalism, they said. It’s a way for creators to make a living, they touted. You can get paid directly from fans, they promised. They even include a nifty calculator on their website that shows you how much potential you have to earn if only 10% of your free subscribers were to become paid members. They’ve convinced writers they can get paid for their art without having to think about the business. That you then have to spend a large portion of your time building up that business comes as a huge shock to many writers.
I’m not down on newsletters or their potential for making a significant income. Far from it. I wouldn’t have started The Wordling if that were the case. However, as we watch creators such as Emily Atkin burn out from being on a content treadmill or Charlie Warzel move to more established brands such as The Atlantic, we have to remember that this is a business. And like with any business, you need to build up your customer base and convince them—repeatedly—to pay you.
When you start a paid newsletter, you need think like a publisher, not a writer.
This is as true for newsletters as it is for social media content creators (who are experiencing high levels of burnout) and indie authors, who find that the only way to sustain their success is to write multiple books a year or risk losing readers.
The point of this is not to say that you shouldn’t start a newsletter, indie publish a book, or become a social media influencer. (I’m doing two out of three.) It’s that you need to understand that each of those things is a unique business model and in order to achieve success—or even just survive—you have to understand the fundamentals of what makes that business work. Then ask yourself—truly—whether it’s something you’re happy spending your entire days, weeks, months and years on even when, especially when, it’s not growing as fast as you’d like.
Treat your freelance business like a taco truck: “…when I asked her to tell 50 people she’s opening up a writing shop, this woman who’d braved cancer made a face like I’d ordered her to cha-cha naked through her high school reunion.”
The literary value of a good list: I have some standard tasks that appear repeatedly. Do laundry is one that pops up with depressing regularity. But there’s only one task that shows every day, and always on the first line. It says, “Write.”
Yes! Magazine: The “Bodies” Issue
We’re seeking solutions in this issue that include individual practices, like embodiment, that help ground us in our sense of self and our connectedness to our time and place, and solutions that can leverage our bodies—both individual and collective—in service of political and cultural changes. We know our bodies are porous, so some questions we’re considering include:
How do we balance our ability to absorb trauma, suffering, and abuse, with our need for rest, healing, and restoration?
What do Indigenous cultures have to say about the relationship between the individual and collective, communal body?
What can we learn from elders about healing generational trauma, about resilience, about perspective?
Where does individual freedom and autonomy intersect with collective liberation?
We’d love compelling, layered stories on these topics. Who is doing this work in your communities? Send us your leads and pitches for reported stories on initiatives, groups, and movements that are transforming the way we relate to our bodies—beyond ourselves.
All the stories we seek will be examples of excellent journalism and storytelling: stories that are well-researched, with compelling characters and that demonstrate struggle and resolution.
Hurry and send your pitches to email@example.com by Aug. 2 to be considered for the Winter 2023 issue.
The base rate for reported articles on the website is 40 cents a word.
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Focus, not just on what you need to DO, but who you need to BE and you will start to see it coming together.
CHINA: “Geling Yan says that she is owed a screen credit for the Chinese film “One Second”—and that companies bringing it to Western audiences are complicit in censoring her.”
NICARAGUA: “One of Nicaragua’s leading national newspapers announced [on July 21] on its website that its staff had been forced to flee the country and would continue working from outside Nicaragua. Nicaraguan authorities took control of La Prensa’s offices in August and arrested two of its employees earlier this month.”
GHANA: “From a distance, and on paper, Ghana is a thriving democracy in a region beset with political and social turmoil… But on the ground, and in reality, journalists do not have the freedom to do their work, nor do they have free access to information. Government institutions often go to court to resist freedom of information requests by journalists. They also face risks of arrest, detention, and torture from state agencies like the police, military, secret service, and political operatives of ruling parties. The attacks have been systematic, and in nearly all cases, no one has been held to account.”
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.”
– John Steinbeck
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