What’s New and Hot in Publishing?
Gayle Lynds: In one word: Substack! Welcome to the lively, ever-changing world of best-selling, award-winning author Richard Cass. Known for his lyrical style, his mysteries and suspense novels are riveting. He’s also an experimenter, and today he’s going to tell us all about the booming publishing platform called Substack.
By Richard Cass
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 academic jobs available
- 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 new mode of publishing called Substack. You may have heard about Substack being in a confab with Twitter over cross-posting from Substack to Twitter, but that’s more a function of Elmo Musk and his magical thinking than anything substantive at the moment.
Substack characterizes itself as 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.
Here’s an Esquire article on some writers you may have heard of using Substack to reach readers, publish fiction, even provide writing workshops. George Saunders, in particular, has a lively set of discussions going with readers and writers here.
Anyone can publish on Substack. A writer can charge for full subscriptions or give them away, charge for certain content and make others free. The writer keeps 90% of any earnings; 10% goes to Substack, a more reasonable cut than most publishers’ royalty structures.
I got interested in Substack when I heard that romance writers were using it successfully to serialize novels. I haven’t done a deep dive into research, but I know at least one New York Times bestselling romance writer who has been serializing novels for several years on Substack and shows 30,000 plus subscribers. Her paid subscribers commit to 70 dollars a year for a chapter or two a week, and even though she doesn’t charge for everything, I suspect the free content might drive physical or ebook sales, as well.
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 Substack provides metrics on how many people read each piece, etc.
I’m using Substack in two ways, as a publishing platform and as a personal 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 abrogate any of the rights in a work, so if I can sell a piece elsewhere.
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 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.
My platform is growing slowly, but I do have paid subscribers, and it is a pleasure to feel that support. But even free subscribers gain value from seeing my work, which they can also share. And I have had the experience of subscribers recommending others.
My next Substack experiment starts on June 1, when I begin serializing my novella The Retrievers. I plan to publish a chapter a week, without charging at first, as an experiment to see if people respond to reading fiction in that format. After the first three chapters, I’m going to put the rest behind a paywall and see what the response is. The experiment is costing me nothing, and I’m always going to be interested in new ways of getting my work out into the world. 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. And as my oenological heroes, Bartles and Jaymes, used to say, “I thank you for your support.”
Do you subscribe or post on Substack? Tell us about your experience in the comments.
Richard Cass is the author of The Last Altruist, the tale of a dishonorably discharged vet turned amateur sleuth when his friend’s mentally-challenged son is framed for murder.
Dick is active in the Maine Crime Writers and contributes monthly to their blog. He is also an active member of the Mystery Writers of America and serves as the Member Outreach representative on the board of MWA—New England.
He writes full-time in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he lives with his wife, Anne, and a Maine Coon cat named Tinker.
At first I thought ‘nah, I couldn’t possibly do that’…but now the idea of serializing a book is settling in. Sounds like a fun and low-stress way to connect with readers!
One of the interesting aspects of it is the Twitter-like Notes feature inside Substack, which allows you give and take with readers . .
What a interesting approach. LIke Lisa, the idea of serializing a book could work and I just might try this, although I have to admit I’m not sure how to initially spread the word that it’s “up there” (if you’re not already a bestsellng author with other works). Perhaps others can highlight this challenge. Thanks for being our guest on RWW – appreciate it!!!
I like the idea, too, Karna. If you decided to experiment with substack, we at Rogue Women could let people know about it!
Yes, building the following is the challenge. But essentially all your asking people for is an email address. The rest is up to them (or not 😉 ).
It’s just amazing how much is going on now in publishing, and this particular venue seems to me a huge opportunity. Thanks for filling us in, Dick. As you know, I’m a follower!