It was a year ago today that I created this Substack. A year of consistently building up a body of work, a year of refining my skills and growing my audience and experiencing for the first time the giddy thrill of making money online. Of receiving support and payment for something that I had created from scratch, rather than merely getting a monthly payday at an hourly rate from a job that has no real scope for me to slowly master a craft.
The possibilities of scale, of Stripe notifications, of earning while you sleep, of recurring monthly revenue and all of those things that I had previously written off as smooth-talking guru patter became possible. Became true. The scales fell. I get it now.
With the first trickle of revenue came a sea-change in mentality. The learned (and culturally reinforced) notions of (self inflicted) bohemian poverty and struggle under the flimsy guise of some sort of artistic purity faded. Real artists don’t starve. They build a small and loyal core audience and expand outwards from there. I see that now. They raise their standards artistically and refine their technique accordingly and so their audience grows as connoisseurs as the artists grows as a creator.
This is the business model. The ethos.
And it’s a virtuous circle. It’s a win-win. And life, in my opinion, should be centred on the pursuance of win-wins.
So that’s the story to date. This is where we are today- with side-hustle money coming in, with the prospect of being a full time man-of-letters looming, with the dream, in short, looking more and more likely to come true. But before I get to what I have planned to help make this happen I want to take a minute to reflect on and showcase some of the best essays I have put out on here to date.
Highlights of The First Year
Most widely read essay (by far):
Highest Open Rate:
Most commented upon essay:
Most Liked essay:
Most Popular Bonus piece:
My Personal Favourites:
What was your personal favourite? Does it differ to any of the above? Feel free to let me know in the comments…
First Year- What I Did Right
This is not to be downplayed. I put out a quality essay of a minimum of 1000 words every single Sunday at 2pm GMT/ 9am EST sharp. Come hell or high water. You can set your watch by it. I have managed (and it wasn’t always easy) to cultivate this habit and this weekly discipline. I believe that this is foundational, it is a cornerstone of all of the growth and success I have enjoyed to date. I could quote whole reams of aphorisms and platitudes that affirm this but it really is true- you just have to keep showing up and building the practice of putting things out into the world, no matter what else is going on in your life.
Put Out Quality Work
And more that just being consistent with my output, I believe that everything I’ve put out to date is good. Of course as I look back I am never fully satisfied (this is simply a part of the artistic temperament- you just see what you could’ve done better or what you would do differently if you took a second crack at it) but no one essay strikes me as a failure. I’ve never phoned it in no matter how late at night circumstances have forced me to work on these essays.
Built A Community
This might be the most important thing of all, and certainly the one that I am most proud of. I’ve been blessed to receive quality comments for every single piece to date (I’ll admit, many of the comments are better than the essay they are commenting on). Through a combination of a well-read and insightful audience and my efforts to be helpful I have pound-for-pound one of the most welcoming, nuanced, insightful and just pleasant comments sections around.
And this goes double for the discord community that premium subscribers gain access to. We’ve built (and are continuing to build) something genuinely magical over there. Members are creating more, falling for the lures of the mainstream internet less and are (from what they tell me) living better lives as a result. This is due to them more than me. I have created the space, they are the ones who have made it such a special place to hang out, contemplate life and raise each other up without the metrics and mimetic nonsense that is so often part and parcel of the wider online experience.
Timed Going Premium Well
This was gut instinct as much as anything. I didn’t rush turning on the money tap. I spent well over 30 weeks putting out consistent quality writing before giving people the ability to support me if they chose. I answered every single comment and email. I gave people plenty of forewarning while reassuring people that they can continue to read for free if they choose without being any less valued. Strategically this was the right play. And more than that it is simply the right thing to do morally. I don’t believe in the hard sell or trying to coerce people to buy out of scarcity.
Though at times I wanted to I didn’t give in. I didn’t take a week off. I stuck to it and historically sticking to things hasn’t always been my strength. Making it (by your own standards) as an artist is a war of attrition. You have to outlast both the field and your own doubts and misgivings. And I’ve proved to myself that I am capable of that.
First Year- What I did Wrong/ Could’ve Done Better
Got Banned From Twitter
I got banned for banter between a mutual which the algorithm flagged up because it can read words but not intent or context. The whole thing was a little reminiscent of Milan Kundera’s debut novel The Joke.
I laughed it off, I doubled down on making my Discord group as good as I possibly could, I doubled down on writing quality long form work. In truth, my attention span regrew to its prior strength and my time spent reading actual books grew massively. The quality of my prose (in my own estimation) improved. But. Sign up growth stagnated. Traffic took an absolute dive off a cliff. I pondered the koan of the tree falling in the forest a lot.
On balance it was regrettable. It set me back as much as it moved me forward. If not more so.
Was Inconsistent With Putting Out Short Stories
Short stories are where I showcase my prose writing abilities. They themselves are my prime medium of exemplifying the ‘show, don’t tell’ ethos. That is, rather than telling you about my supposed writing abilities and pontificating about culture and the craft, short fiction is where I ‘show’ you that I have some clue that I know what I am on about.
And my output has been lacking. If you follow the link to read my (very small) archive you will see that the stories are good but that they come along far too infrequently. I need to change this.
Didn’t Seize Momentum
During the time of my old twitter account I would occasionally see a massive spike in traffic when a big name account would share my work. When this happened I would be pleased of course, but I didn’t relentlessly double down and convert this traffic as I should’ve done.
You live and you learn. There’s a tendency- at least with myself- to take my foot off the pedal when I am really flying down hill. This is a mistake. As any gambler worth their salt will tell you, you bet bigger when you are winning, and smaller when you are losing. Most do the opposite. Lesson very much learned.
Didn’t Articulate My Offer Clearly Enough
I’m still very much a novice when it comes to the marketing side of things. Copy, positioning, all of that stuff. And an area where I fell down when first going Premium was that I did not clearly lay out exactly what you get when you opt to pay me the monthly subscription fee. The answer to the question What’s in it for me should be crystal clear. And it should be irresistible. It should seem an absolute bargain. Like you’d be crazy not to.
I’ve laid out the offer here- exclusive articles and reviews, free copies of all future ebooks, first refusal on future limited edition signed physical books, access to a thriving and exclusive community- but it still needs fine tuning.
It is an ongoing process of over-delivering to the core group of supporters and fans.
Didn’t Release Any Products
Let’s not beat about the bush. I claim to be a writer- a true one, an artist as opposed to a ‘content creator’ but I don’t have any books available for you to buy, either physical or digital.
Yes, I am building the core audience still, and yes I don’t believe in hack work or rush jobs, but it’s still not a good look if we are being honest with ourselves. Again- show’ don’t tell.
The Plan For Year Two
Return To Twitter
Sigh. I’ve written before about Twitter and Its Discontents as well as my thoughts on the platform in the light of the ban. There is much wrong with the platform in terms of what it does to society at large as well as to the individuals attention span, creative work and ability to maintain peace and equilibrium. It’s addictive. It brings out the worst in people more often than not.
But it’s where the people are. People no longer search for ‘content’ via search engines and if they do SEO friendly fluff hogs the limelight. People congregate in one of half a dozen or so massive, corporate, Silicon Valley based social media sites. These are the facts. I wish it were different but these are the facts.
So to drive traffic, grow my audience and perhaps do my small part to save some people from this sad fate I need to go back to the public square. I will automate an account, post quality, nuanced, news-cycle-free snippets and links and see what happens. I’m struggling to think of a a more viable alternative at this point in time.
More Short Stories
I like writing short stories and people tell me they like reading them. In a world of atrophied attention spans I think they are an underrated and under-utilised art form.
I believe (with work) that I can excel at them and use them to stand out.
A new short story each month is the aim. Each will be available for free on my site as well as as a pay-what-you-want PDF. Expect the next one within the next two weeks.
Sundays are for long form essays. This is sacrosanct. But Thursdays will be a place for further work, for experimentation, for interaction. I get questions which I can answer on Thursdays at the length they deserve. I have a stash of reviews and discussions of obscure films that I want to share and expand on. There are all kinds of books I want to review and talk about.
Thursdays will be the day that I tackle such thing (this very piece you are reading now is an example of such supplementary work).
I will post them on this site to save further bombarding of your inbox, and many will be made exclusive to premium subscribers (a further addition to The Offer). Let me know any thoughts and suggestions on what direction we can take this in.
Improve Promotion And Marketing
This links heavily to rebooting twitter. Without being impatient or a slave to the metrics I need to ensure that I give each essay, each story, each release the best shot it has of reaching the people who will enjoy it.
This is all about tweaks in the work itself and accompanying CTA’s, clearly articulating the offer, positioning myself to reach new people, finding the balance between promoting hard enough without going too far the other way and so forth.
As I say, it’s all a learning process this. I’ll share what I learn about it as I go.
Actually Release The Damn Novel
The big one. I’ve been working on this on and off for years. I need to finish it and release it and move on, frankly. Early 2022 is the aim for release. And when that rolls around, believe me I’ll let you know about it!
So that’s where we stand and that’s where we are aiming to go.
I intend to turn this into a full time living and prove (to myself and to you) that it is possible to thrive both financially and above all artistically as an independent writer. That it is possible to build an audience without having to either kowtow to gatekeepers or to continually churn out lowest common denominator ‘content’.
I firmly believe in the promise of the 1000 True Fans hypothesis. And I will continue to do my utmost to prove it possible.
I hope you’ll come along for the ride.
Until next time,