Stop the Writing World, I Need to Catch Up!

Thursday, May 18, 2023

When I first jumped into the writing world, I approached it like a good student: researching, studying, learning, applying. And though everything was a bit overwhelming--with a lot of homework—I finally felt like I was on top of things. For about twenty minutes.

I mean, when you consider that it took hundreds of years for writers to go from penning words to typing words, the profession crawled along. And then technology arrived and zoom! It’s impossible to catch up with the constant innovation. The next new thing comes around just about daily. It's enough to make your head spin.

So when I see something new in the writing world, it might take a minute to make an impression. That’s what happened this week, when, after months of seeing Substack mentioned here and there, I finally studied up on the new platform. 

Well, I say “new” but Substack has been around since 2017—and it seems to be growing by leaps and bounds. Or maybe I should say dollars and cents because Substack is all about subscriptions. And though it’s possible to have a free Substack, I’m sure that once an audience explodes, the switch is made to the paid option. Which works out well for everybody. 

But you might be like me, wondering what the heck is Substack, anyway? And why should you, as a writer, care? So first, here’s the way the company describes itself: the subscription network for independent writers and creators. It’s mostly a platform for a blog (and you can export your already-developed blog from another platform), or a newsletter, or even a podcast, and it can set up the content for free or payment. (Substack makes a percentage of the subscription fee since they do all the tech work that you don’t want to do.) 

I’m sure there are writers/creators who are making a chunk of money; I’m not so sure they’re producing fiction (or essays or poetry). But that’s not saying an author couldn’t use Substack in a creative way. For example, a comic writer providing funny podcasts, or the novelist who might serialize their work. 

Substack reminds me a little of magazines. But instead of paying twenty dollars for a year’s worth of articles, maybe even a monthly short story and “lighter side” essays, the Substack reader picks very specific content and it’s digital only. 

The business model probably has much to do with the audience. My target audience, for example, is the more mature reader. They might read an ebook but they prefer paperbacks. They’ll look for favorite authors on Amazon or at bookstores; they like to attend book-signings. They have a TBR stack next to the bed. Yep, these are my people. 

Then there’s the readers who grew up connected to the Internet. They prefer getting their news or entertainment on their phones; they like their content in quick bites of three hundred words, and they may already be paying for their favorite podcasts. This is, I suspect, the Substack crowd. 

Ultimately, it’s like any business. If the value’s there, if there’s a market, readers will show up. Until the next new thing in the writing world comes along. And then off we’ll all go, sprinting to catch up!

Substack doesn’t feel like a good fit for me now but what about you? Have you explored this platform and/or use it?

Cathy C. Hall who finally wrote a new blog post!


Renee Roberson said...

Cathy, I feel like I can never keep up with all the new innovations in the industry either. My daughter keeps telling me to start a Patreon for my podcast, but I'm hesitant to do that because I don't know if I can be consistent enough in producing content for paid subscribers. I've heard a few things about Substack, but currently don't subscribe to any of their newsletters. I'm curious to see what others here think about the platform. I use good old Mailchimp for my newsletter (and have not been consistent with sending it out) so I don't know if migrating to Substack would be a good move for me.

Angela Mackintosh said...

I'm a huge fan of Substack and have at least 10 subscriptions through them! I was considering switching WOW over to their service because we pay hundreds a month just for email service, and Substack is an email service. It's run on the same type of engine as email and was created for email newsletters. So that means the content isn't search engine friendly like a blog is. Recently, they got in some kind of kerfuffle with Twitter, and Twitter disabled all links to Substack, so people couldn't click through. This caused a problem with writers looking to promote their work. So Substack launched something called Notes, their own social media similar to Twitter, which I don't think is working too well. The other thing that's troublesome is Substack recently lost some VC funding, so they crowdfunded from their writers instead, which seemed like a good opportunity for writers except they didn't release financials until after funds were secured, and it looks like Substack burned through millions making it negative in revenue. Who knows how, but I heard early on they paid a lot for big names to use their platform. Anyway, I still love the idea of Substack, and like I said, I've been considering it because it's free email service! So we'd cut hundreds each month we pay just for email. So it really depends on what you want to do with it, and the subscription fees are pretty good. Substack takes 10%, plus Stripe 3%. Patreon charges between 5% - 12% of earnings. Patreon has more options for various types of subscriptions and various content creators, but Substack is more for writers. I haven't explored it as a writer yet, only as a subscriber, and I like it. I use the app on my phone.

Cathy C. Hall said...

Renee, I did think of you when I was exploring Substack. It seems like a good option for growing an audience for a podcast BUT yeah, it does require commitment.

Ang, that's some great Substack intel! :-) I read that Substack got some big name authors...Chuck Palahniuk, I think? But I'm not sure a self-pubbed author like me would pull in subscriptions, or at least paid subs. You can buy an ebook for $3.99!

However, I wouldn't be surprised to see entrepreneurs in self-pubbing (or any writing business) switching to Substack. My gut tells me if you can provide great how-to content for writers, they'll sign up. Thanks for the insight into this platform and I'll be following to see what you do!

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

I've been seeing a lot lately on newsletters and e-mail lists etc. And Substacks hasn't been part of the discussion at all. I wonder why?

Cathy C. Hall said...

Not sure, Sue, but I bet now that Substack's on your radar, you'll see it everywhere. :-)

Nicole Pyles said...

Oo I love shiny new things. I've honestly been contemplating starting a substack for my weekly writing feature, "3 Things on a Saturday Night." Because I find them interesting and don't feel like the authors that join me for it get enough attention just being on my blog. But I haven't started yet for a couple of reasons 1) timing. I know to do this and have it be successful, I need to be consistent. And consistency for me is an issue for anything that is viewed as optional to me. 2) It's losing money. Actually, what Ang mentioned above is another reason I've hesitated! I saw news that they lost millions and I'm wondering how long the platform will last. I think we're all hungry for the blogging days of yore to come back.

But I'm subscribed to a ton of substacks! I love Oldster magazine (a great one on aging!), George Saunders Story Club, and a bunch of ones I have subscribed to for PR purposes.

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