Publishing in the Modren Wurld (No Pictures)

Most of the writers I know who are interested in publishing their work are acutely aware of the odds against getting work out into the world in the current publishing climate. Some of the possible culprits are:

  • Too many MFAs with too few available academic jobs
  • Too many employed MFAs who need publishing credits to survive in academia
  • The ease with which you can self-publish a book or story, without troubling yourself too much about editing or design.
  • Even, I suppose, AI—See this article for details on one magazine’s experience with AI-generated submissions

So in the never-ending search for outlets, I’m experimenting with a different mode of publishing called Substack. You may have heard about Substack being in a contretemps with Twitter over cross-posting material from Substack, but that’s more an artifact of Elmo Musk’s continual fiddling and his magical thinking.

Substack calls itself a subscription newsletter platform, allowing writers to send digital newsletters and other materials directly to subscribers. It also includes a payment infrastructure, very simple to operate, that allows a writer to monetize their writing. If you’ve been reading Heather Cox Richardson’s Letters to an American, you’ve seen an example of a Substack newsletter.

Anyone can publish on Substack. A writer can charge for subscriptions or give them away, or they can charge for some content and give some away. The writer keeps 90% of any earnings; 10% goes to Substack, a more reasonable cut than most publishers’ royalty structures.

When I publish a new story or essay, Substack sends it by email to all subscribers. So I have no need to maintain a spreadsheet of email addresses or a Constant Contact account. And it provides metrics on how many people read each piece, etc.

How I’m using Substack is two fold:

  • As a publishing platform
  • As an archive

I can publish stories, essays, even novels, through the platform and make them freely available to people who might be interested in what I write. Publishing on Substack does not use any of my rights in a work, so if I can publish it elsewhere, I may. I’m trying to put out a new piece every ten days or so, and I mix up the genres while I try to find what people most want to read.

My Substack platform is growing slowly, but I do have paid subscribers, and it is a pleasure to have that kind of support. But even free subscribers gain value from seeing my work, which they can also share freely.

Having been writing for nearly forty-five years now, I have a large body of work, some of it published, some of it not. Substack also allows me to collect all those pieces from all those dark and spidery corners of my hard drive and have them archived in one place. This gives me an opportunity to publish pieces that I may not have pushed hard to get into publication before.

My next Substack experiment starts on June 1, when I will begin serializing my novella The Retrievers. I plan to publish a chapter a week, without charging, as an experiment to see if people will respond to reading fiction in that format. I’m interested, needless to say, what the response will be. But mainly, I’m interested in experimenting with new ways of getting my work out into the world.

You can find my Substack here. I’d love for you to subscribe (for free or for pay), share posts, or otherwise participate in the community I’m trying to create. As my oenological heroes Bartles and Jaymes used to say, “Thank you for your support.”

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4 Responses to Publishing in the Modren Wurld (No Pictures)

  1. John Clark says:

    Thanks Dick, for an easily understood take on an intriguing option.

  2. jselbo says:

    Wow fascinating. I read Heather Cox Richardson almost every day – didn’t know about this at all. THANKS!

  3. kaitcarson says:

    Intriguing concept.

  4. Julianne Spreng says:

    Thank you for the Substack explanation. Sounds exciting and will check out yours.

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