And a discussion about Substack Pro and corrupting the youth.
This is the third newsletter from me this month, so I shall keep this relatively brief, covering two topics only, interspersed as always with a handful of my photos. Like this one:
The second subject I shall cover is the future of this newsletter and, specifically, whether it will continue to be published by Substack. This is not, exactly, essential reading — but it might be of interest to some. Hence, my ability to use the word brief above — there will be a long wordcount, but you do not need to read it all! Contains danger.
Just to be clear at the outset — the newsletter WILL continue to be published, and it WILL continue to be free.
But, before this, let’s talk about books and group promotions!
(This also means the useful/hopefully-interesting-for-everyone stuff is first, and then you can simply skim or skip the later section if it does not interest you, just admiring the pretty pics.)
Free Books, Review Copies, AND Reduced Prices!
As you already know, this month Death & Taxes is enrolled in Fantasy Reviews! and, if you are interested in picking up a free copy of this tale to review, you have until the end of March to do so. There are more than thirty other titles in this group to choose from too.
Only One Death is also free, as ever, and from the 15th of March to the 13th of April is available as a part of Diverse Fantasy Reads Giveaway. Click the link to browse through the books also available. As the name suggests, this is a group for books with diverse characters — something very close to my heart, and something I return to in the section below. Have a look — I’m sure there’s something of interest to everyone.
Finally, for this month, Death & Taxes is also a part of 🌱 March Madness Fantasy Book Fair, a group promotion where all the books are US$2.99 or less. As an experiment, I have reduced the price of Death & Taxes to US$1.99 or equivalent, which means I get substantially less in royalties, the theory being more people may buy it. We’ll see. Have a look at the promotion, here, where you can find a remarkable 66 other books also taking part.
This is the 29th newsletter I have sent from Substack, the first, back in July 2019, was sent only to myself, at two different email addresses. I did not start publishing to an audience, with a regular schedule, until November 2019, as I readied myself to bid farewell to S.E. Asia, and Chiang Mai in particular.
Some statistics — since that November, I have sent a newsletter every month, with seven months where I have sent two and, including March 2021, two months where I have sent three. I suppose, if I had the time, I could work out how many words that is, but I don’t. There are, after all, too many other words to still write — and who knows how much or little time to do so? However, I can tell you the last newsletter was just under three thousand words long, and it was certainly nowhere near the longest. I’m guessing you’ve had a novel’s worth of free words by now. I like to write, what can I say?
Substack has served me well. I have not tried to make any money with a subscription model, as yet — my monthly newsletter(s) will always be free. If I ever have time, however, I’d like to operate a 100% / 20% model, where I keep writing and sharing the 100% I already do, and add an extra 20%, for a small price. This is the model I shall be pursuing with Coil, and the forthcoming relaunch of my website, notatravelwriter.com.
You won’t need to read the 20% content to find out what I am doing, to hear of special offers, or what I am reading. You won’t need it to learn where I am in the world, or digest my latest nature sketch, you won’t even need it for essays or more details about the world of The Lesser Evil. BUT it will be tempting — it will be the proverbial cherry on top, and I have a few exciting, enticing ideas already lined up. As with the novellas and forthcoming novel in the Tales of The Lesser Evil series, I do not expect this to pay off immediately — this is a long game, and I expect dividends some months, or even years in the future.
Recently, Substack shared some details about Substack Pro. Essentially, this is the platform giving an advance to writers, in order for them to concentrate on actually writing, ease financial burdens and give them the one thing we writers crave above all else — time. Time is the only currency worth investing in, remember? I’ve spoken of this before, and no doubt will again.
This newsletter — essentially, a writer’s notebook, is not really the sort of niche Substack are likely to fund. Again — perhaps in a few years, after many more people discover my words (and they will, I’m rather confident of this, seeing how I can now honestly tell myself I’m actually a good writer and people actually like reading my words), then they might be more interested. For now though, I’m not niche, or political enough.
A Brief Aside — how dangerous am I?
Some years ago now, I made a deliberate decision: instead of sharing angry missive after missive, firing off rage-tweets, or crafting long essays detailing my stance or personal connection with certain key battlegrounds, I decided to let my fiction speak for me. I am a sneaky bastard like this.
Consider these options — if I were to plan, structure and create an essay entitled ‘This Millennia-Old Oppression of Women Must Stop Now. Enough is Enough, FFS’, versus write an engaging fantasy tale, in which I cunningly weave in strong feminist themes, alongside some crazy action, tendrils of magic, and epic knife fights — which do you think is most likely to be read by, say, a teenage boy raised to believe women should be kept in a certain place? Which do you think will actually stand the chance of changing his mind on this subject? Which do you think makes me more dangerous?
One day, I will take it as a wonderful badge of honour, if there are calls to ban my books, based on their feminist/LGBTQIA+ positive/opposition to the oppression of ethnic groups stance but, for now, I’m that writer your parents warned you about. The idea is, even if you harbour a hatred or small sense of discomfort about any of these things, the story and characters will be too damn good that, yes, I will ‘corrupt’ you, make you see the world a-fresh, engage your brain to ask questions of itself, of the world around you. It is a grand tradition, and one I love being a part of. Believe me, I am seriously dangerous, without any multi-tweet rants. I really do believe that the words I write offline, the fiction I create, are more important in the long run.
Back to Substack
I have no problem with Substack Pro in itself. It makes a certain sort of sense, and I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking what a difference the money would make (come to think of it, just a fraction of the money I’ve heard whispers of would mean I could hang up the freelance gloves and concentrate on work which matters). However, I DO have a problem with the way this has been rolled out and, especially, one crucial point.
Substack is not releasing details of WHO gets a Pro advance.
I’ll be honest, I’m not entirely sure what their reasoning for this lack of transparency is. I do not know why they haven’t simply released names and, indeed, Substack links to their Pros. If they are proud of them enough to fund them, why not tell us who they are? They say this is a part of their light touch as non-publishers, letting the writers themselves share details, when they want to. Or if they want to. The rumours, of course, indicate that certain angry right wing or bigoted types have been paid six-figure sums in secret, lured to the platform, in exchange for making Substack some substantial cash in the future.
And here’s where I perhaps differ from a lot of other people upset about this.
If Substack had announced who they were funding, then everyone (myself included) could make an educated decision on whether to stay or take their newsletter elsewhere. The issues of hate speech, the issues of free speech, the issues of us versus them are complex, and always have been. It is far too simplistic for people to say ‘you publish works by X, therefore I will never use your platform again’. It is far too simplistic to call for oversight, censorship, and removal of certain voices.
The problem inherent in any publishing system is that it can be hijacked, become the place to be for undesirables, become the location where rallying cries to dubious or downright revolting causes are heard. Some companies, like Facebook, for example, actively encourage this division. Clicks and share and likes are all more money for the machine. Others, like Twitter, make a few examples of individuals at a time which suits them, but cannot do much to stem the angry loud tide of trolls, bots, bigots, racists, or others who, traditionally (pre-social media and internet) would have been reduced to lurking in dark places and obscure pamphlets. Perhaps that distant relative you really have nothing to do with anymore, or this angry man mumbling behind his curtains about the new neighbours, or the ‘it’s just their generation/the way they were raised/their views are in a minority’ excuse-laden crowd.
Substack has the same problem all those other platforms has. If it allows certain voices to be relayed by its software, then they could simply argue they do not have the money or people to police every word — how could they, when everywhere else is already failing at this?
By secretly funding certain voices (same phrase deliberately chosen), by not telling us who gets our subscription money, then Substack are in danger of losing me, as they have lost several others already.
And then there is the rather large issue that this, essentially, turns them into a publisher (something Substack has always said they are not, nor will be), with editorial oversight, simply by dent of choosing who is a Pro , and who is not. I am confident their list will be full of diversity, but by not sharing it with the world they sow doubt and reap confusion and mistrust. You can’t secretly choose to pay certain writers an advance and NOT be a publisher. That’s not semantically possible, no matter how much you try and spin it.
I shall reiterate — unlike many others, it is not sharing a platform with certain voices I have a specific issue with, but the way this has been handled and, in particular, the continued refusal of Substack to release a list of their Pros. It’s all very nudge nudge, wink wink, and I do not like it. If a major publishing house offers me a deal in the future (and, quite frankly, I am confident this will happen, with my plan for hybridisation and all) then I will not spend too much time scouring their authorial backlist for names I disagree with — that is a swift ticket to never being published. Our world is full of different voices, some calm and peaceful, spreading messages of love and kindness to all, others more rabid, loud and frothing with hatred and fear. I’d rather get my own message out there alongside that of someone I disagree with, rather than stick to principles which means no one ever hears it — I am confident that my message of kindness, tolerance, acceptance and love is the right one and will one day be universally accepted, after all. That, or we destroy ourselves.
At the time of sending, there are approaching 400 of you who receive this newsletter. Not too many by some writer’s standards but, for me, I am delighted by each and every subscription. And, as I have also mentioned before, if you do not like this notes, if you no longer wish to receive my words, I am also more than happy for you to unsubscribe. Usually, after every newsletter, there are several such unsubscriptions (is this a word?!)— but the number of readers continues to grow, nevertheless. This truly delights me. Some of you are friends, some family members, many others complete strangers — or friends I have yet to meet — and you all stay for my words (or pretty photographs, that’s fine too). Thank you.
Substack will not miss you or me if I take my newsletter elsewhere — but they might sit up and take note if many other authors also leave, taking their subscriber lists with them.
I have not yet decided what to do but, I suspect, the next newsletter you receive, in April, will answer this question. I am looking at other locations (Twitter’s recent offering, for example — seeing as that is my social media platform of choice; even with those loud, unpleasant voices, I can still curate my feed to be full of joy and love and kindness and interest — even now, that is still possible with a little time and work).
In short, you might get a note from me saying I’ve left Substack, or you might not. It won’t affect you, as I do not ask for any payment for these newsletters, but I thought it worth sharing these thoughts with you, seeing as I have this opportunity. However, it MIGHT mean I end up in Spam — so please check there for me next month!
And, for those of you who scrolled past all those words to simply see the photos, these images are of the coast and sea, which I have found myself missing of late (I often do, if I am not near it as the equinox approaches. No real idea why, but it is something I discuss in my forthcoming novel, The Care Industry).
See you in April, have a good equinox, be excellent to each other.