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deletedJan 13Liked by Tom Pendergast
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Good, I'm glad that was helpful. Yeah, stay free for a while, build up an audience, and maybe then consider going paid.

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deletedDec 30, 2023Liked by Tom Pendergast
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I’m interested in your statement “writers should get paid.” Where does the “should” come from? Is it the case that any on who writes anything “should” be paid, or is there some criteria that places writing in the “should get paid” category (and banishes other writing to the “shouldn’t” pile?) It’s just so damned complicated, isn’t it? I think in the end, each writer decides if they want to try to get paid, and then they let the market (that is to say, the audience) decide. Or they decide not to seek payment and discover what other forms of interaction are available? Did you see the recent article on tipping in the New Yorker? It’s interesting in light of your comments. Thanks for your comments, by the way, I appreciate the thinking they inspire.

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deletedDec 26, 2023Liked by Tom Pendergast
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Thank you! I don't know which took more elbow grease: revising the essay or making the spreadsheet! I'm actually not at all critical of people going paid, or even of using alternative avenues to accept payment, as long as it reflects and does not distort their values. I've considered putting in a "buy me a coffee" kind of feature myself, as it's not like I can't use a little extra spending money. What I think I object to (though "object to" might be putting it a bit strongly) is folks who become consumed by the growth/payment quest. Luckily, it's very easy to unsubscribe from them!

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deletedDec 21, 2023Liked by Tom Pendergast
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Funny how easy it is to turn on the paid subscriptions, isn't it? It sounds like you're not inclined to let it distort your behavior. The "freeloader" issue is real... will be interested to see what comes of it. Thanks for the detailed comment, I really learn from comments like this.

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Dec 10, 2023Liked by Tom Pendergast

👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏(Tom, now imagine what a few million more of these would sound like, i.e., Taylor Swift concert encore response? That’s how I feel about this post. Bravo!)

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Ha ha, that’s really funny! Thanks a lot.

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Dec 10, 2023Liked by Tom Pendergast

You organized all the random thoughts/frustrations that have been percolating in my brain for the last few months - and expressed them with clarity and conviction!

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It's funny, I just noted down my feelings about this for a long time; pulling them all together into something coherent was hard! But I think I've won at least a six-pack in beer pledges, so I'd say I come out a winner.

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I agree, Tom. Providing new ways of funding literary work is important, but there are incentives for Substack to push people toward a growth oriented perspective which is not aligned with deep work in writing. I've had to get creative to block them from showing me statistics etc so that I don't get nervous about things like that when I write. And for your calculator: I convert 3 percent which is pretty typical if you write intellectual essays, so I'm not about to get rich any time soon - but it makes a big differ on the margin when you have kids. Also, the people for whom the work is so valuable that they want to support it - that filters for very interesting people. So I feel happy about it, though it took a few months to figure out how to navigate the emotional pressures.

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Thanks Henrik. 3%? So interesting. Another friend who writes fiction says he gets about 2%. I'd love to know how this breaks down across various genres. The idea of filtering for interesting people is an interesting one, though I've seen paid Stacks that don't allow non-paying subscribers to comments, which strikes me as the wrong approach if you want to encourage engagement.

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Yeah, I have a friend who writes very personal about emotions and they have about 7 percent, and one who writes very niched about a specific scientific field has 10 percent. They both paywall more than I feel like doing.

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Interesting to hear. I just converted some of my more personal, past posts to paid and plan to make more personal posts going forward paid as well, and I subsequently got my first paid subscriber. Not gonna air out more personal stuff for all to see for free. So now 7% of my subscribers are paying :) So it seems to work out =)

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This is actually a substack functional problem that I also hate. So once you turn on paid, if you have a paywall ANYWHERE in your post, even at the end, it won’t allow you to allow everyone to comment. This is a very annoying feature for me and I wish Substack would allow a paid section but allow anyone to comment.

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I have asked them about this once and they told me they would consider it. Was a while back, but I can tell you they're aware of people wanting it.

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Yeah, it’s really off-putting, isn’t it?

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That was a revelation for me. It is inexplicable that they would narrow the engagement opportunity on a partially paid post as a fixed feature.

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I may have a work-around for this problem - not tried it myself yet. Here goes: instead of putting up a paywall, use a page separator and embed a link to the paid article (or intro + paywall), which you will have posted separately. In that way you get the engagement on the bit you are publishing freely. Hope that helps someone. If anyone tries this before me and finds a problem with it I'd be grateful for the information.

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This isn’t a bad idea, thank you!

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So this is what I came up with. It is an article that links to a parallel 'B-Side' which is free but in the future may be the way I put out paid content. There is also a link inside to a 'B-Side Explainer' which might help people understand what is going on. I would welcome any feedback on whether or not it is easy to understand and navigate. Perhaps it is something that will work for others. Thanks. https://open.substack.com/pub/michaelvigne/p/s11-e3-breaking-radio-silence?r=2bzb33&utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=web&showWelcome=true

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I'm going to take a look when I get a chance

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My plan is to turn paid on my archive posts. So every post will be free for one week. It is during that time most engagement occurs on my posts. It’s not the ideal set up, but it doesn’t leave anyone out. There’s a lot to think about before I turn on paid soon.

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I have a plan to put links to supplementary paid content to certain articles. That content will not be essential to the free 1,200 words (ish) and will be in the tldr zone for most people. To me it's important that the free content does not rely on the paid. I don't want to draw someone in to reading for five minutes and then highjack them with a paywall. It seems like a bit of a kick in the teeth, particularly if that paywall (as I have learned to be the case from this thread) prevents them from commenting after I have annoyed them. I don't like to be rude unless it is on purpose.

I tend to write mostly series. I 'soft launched' last year so haven't published much (less than 40 items) but have built up over 100 pieces in drafts in preparation for 2024. This thread made me rethink the paying aspect. I am hoping to do a free experiment with it this month so will let you know how that looks.

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Yes, same here. I hate reading an article then hit a paywall. Then you can’t comment. 🙈 So I’d hate to do that to my dedicated free subscribers. I’ll have to check out what you do Michael.

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I like this idea a lot. This allows your really engaged free readers to participate in conversations without hitting that annoying paywall.

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So this is my attempt Tom. You can whizz to the bottom and see the link to what I have called 'The B-Side'. I need to test it so any feedback from a reader's perspective would be welcome. It is necessary to put out the 'B-Side' first to get the link for the 'A-Side'. I know it is possible to get a private link in drafts and use that but I am not sure what happens to that once the item is published. That is the sort of thing I would like to iron out. Perhaps others can try out something similar so we can work something out together.

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Thank you, I wasn’t aware of that set up. My plan is to feature each of my publications for one week to unpaid subscribers so they can engage. Then archive it with a paid stamp if I can do that.

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I was talking to another friend who had 25k subscribers and was looking at how to convert more to paid, and I think the whole key is to have something interesting to offer to your "true fans." It seems like you've got that in spades: access to chats, perhaps deep dives into some of your work, and as you've mentioned, an archive and the ability to comment on that archive. I think that your audience (as his: he's a driving coach) has a deep thirst for expert perspective that would be easier to capitalize on. Good luck.

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Dec 10, 2023Liked by Tom Pendergast

In not focusing on $$, there is also the pragmatic effect of simply making writing your end all: you can literally write with abandon and mindfulness rather than "writing with one eye open" while you juggle the demands of being palatable and profitable.

It's a microcosm of the great debate of artistic integrity vs. mass appeal. They can overlap but it's more satisfying if it just happens rather than being forced and designed with SEO props and audience management.

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I like that "one eye open" metaphor---I feel that a lot in people and regret it most of the time. It does feel to me like the best writing comes when the writer fears nothing.

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Jan 4Liked by Tom Pendergast

100% agree!

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I agree. If authenticity did not matter, I dare say it would be fairly easy (but labour intensive) to engineer posts to slipstream the big accounts. Those that do tend to have lots of short-form but fairly unoriginal content, mostly leveraging other people's work wherever possible, cross posting and high activity on notes. I am not sniffy about that approach but my concern is that it can lead to cynicism and the wilful manipulation of readers. Once the focus is on commodification it ceases to be creative.

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yeah, that sounds like a horrible way to spend time, doesn't it? My marketing team used to urge me this way: there would be a news story (usually a data breach), and they'd want me to chase the ambulance. I often resisted (but not always, I'll admit, I'm not that pure)

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I've been thinking the same. Tom. I no longer want to "sell" anything. It changes the nature of the thing. I wouldn't enjoy myself. Well done!

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Yeah, me too: the closer I got to sales and marketing in my career, the less I liked who I was becoming.

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Me too. I loved doing the actual work, but writing marketing BS and going on sales calls were a chore.

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Just found your article.

I’m not a writer or publisher just a commenter but I did have a thought that may relate to your situation. And I’m not trying to give Substack another means of revenue. I was wondering if a per article pay model would be feasible? I see your apprehension about getting paid subscribers. What if you could do your usual writing free to readers but in case where you really poured yourself into a piece would it be worth being able to charge for that one article without a subscription?

Just a thought.

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Thanks for the comment. I'm not sure your solution would work for me--it would still force me to engage in valuing some of my writing over others. At some point, of course, you have to set a price if you're going to go into the market, but for now this writer just wants to stay out of that dilemma.

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I notice that some people have a link to 'buy me a coffee'. Perhaps there is some way to link that to a month's comp? Would that work for you? May have to see if that is feasible so thanks for the inspiration.

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yeah, I've seen (and "bought") the cup of coffee thing. Very common among people publishing games (Wafflegame.net and duotrigordle.com )

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Dec 10, 2023Liked by Tom Pendergast

This piece is worth at least 2 beers. Let me know when you’re available to collect.

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Dec 10, 2023Liked by Tom Pendergast

Count me in also!

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I'm up to a six-pack boys!!! Thanks.

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I'd throw in a beer for it too

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Dec 10, 2023·edited Dec 26, 2023Liked by Tom Pendergast

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic. I think you've captured the entire thought process I went through and have a few new insights. Good stuff.

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Thanks Todd. It felt like a lot of writers go through this thought process, but mostly what you hear on Substack is all the justifications FOR going paid. I wanted to be a voice for NOT.

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My competitive husband also refuses to play Scrabble with me, ha!

Great piece of writing here. I’m still pondering the whole payment thing.

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It's a tough one, isn't it? Maybe a subject for a future meetup.

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Dec 10, 2023Liked by Tom Pendergast

Interestingly, patronage – the act of a creator being supported by donors – is embedded in the history of writing (and painting, and sculpting and…) Yet, an industrialized, “boot-strap” society has effectively demoted writers as some less-than contributor to a culture. Thus, asking to be valued (paid) for the work makes us an “asshole.” (Funny thing: I know a lot of assholes that get paid a lot of money for doing meaningless things.)

What we avid readers and writers understand is that writing *is* culture. It defines, sheds light, shapes, reshapes, and has the power to uplift humanity. Writers deserve to be valued. Writers doing good, engaging work deserve to be paid. Period. It’s a hard-scrabble life if one isn’t using craft as a hobby. Fat-cash debut novels and high-paying essay gigs are rare. Most writers detest self-promotion, yet it’s a necessary evil of the career writer. So, every small amount earned by true working writers matters. Substack allows a measure of ownership of one’s value, even if the platform is imperfect. The challenge is, as you note, staying true to one’s craft and intention.

Ultimately, no amount of flashy headlines or top-10 lists can compensate for “bad” (uninspired, uninteresting) work. But those strategies may help good writers navigate this contradictory (capitalistic) publishing landscape. As the great (fully-funded) Shakespeare wrote: “Ay, there’s the rub.”

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Thanks for voicing the counter-position, at least in part. It's totally legit. As for the idea that asking to be paid makes you an asshole, I'd say it doesn't necessarily have to be the case (thus the ones I cited who don't go that way). The problem is, as you note, that so many who perfect that art of asking for money are assholes, they tarnish us all by association.

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You say " ... asking to be valued (paid) for the work makes us an “asshole.” I have to disagree in as much as there are many ways to value creative work that do not involve payment. Once you reduce value to cash terms quite a lot is lost in the process.

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Yes, that’s a nicer way of saying it Richard, your “something is lost in the process.” I have a weakness sometimes for colorful and invariably foul language, alas.

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I love this! I’m so glad you are staying the course on how you use Substack. I also laughed out loud when I saw your reason #2. It reminded me immediately of your February “I’m Confused” post which I found so useful.

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Funny, John, I almost linked that one. Part of what I was doing here is just to imagine what I'd be like if I entered into self-promotion ... and it wasn't a pretty picture.

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Well done, Tom! I'll buy you a beer ... or two.

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And I'll drink 'em. Thanks Mike.

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Dec 10, 2023·edited Dec 10, 2023Liked by Tom Pendergast

We think alike, my friend. I've had similar thoughts. I know that going paid wouldn't make any money, but more than anything else it's your reason number two that I most identify with. I could never write about my own work using subjective adjectives, for example, I'd feel painfully uncomfortable even describing a post of mine as "not bad," never mind having to call it funny, or brilliant, etc... I just come from a background in which that's definitely not acceptable. And at the end of the day, the imaginary reader I have in my head when writing, the person I want to touch with my stories, is someone who comes with similar hang-ups and grew up around people similar to the characters in my stories. And the characters in my stories are definitely not people who would let their friend get away with charging to read his writing! I guess if you're writing what you want to read, (which I do), then the target reader will always be of a similar mindset. So for this reason alone, I couldn't go paid, because I would feel like I can't show my face in my own community, with my own people.

Because I only care about writing for the select few who appreciate my work, I regularly clean up my subscribers list. If I see someone's been receiving my posts but not opening them or reading them on the app, I'll just delete them. I don't want my writing going out to a load of spam inboxes, or even worse annoying someone who isn't interested in my posts but is just too polite to unsubscribe. I'd rather have 5 subscribers with a 100% open rate, than 2000 subscribers with a 20% open rate. It might be an OCD thing, I don't know.

None of this is to say I make any judgement about writers that have gone paid. Good luck to them! If it's in their personality to be able to self-promote without any feelings of shame, and for it to work for them, I have nothing but respect for them, in the end they're always the ones who succeed in life and end up going places, while the rest of us get left behind. But I'm at peace with that. I have no aspirations higher than to keep improving in my writing, and to maybe just leave an impression on a reader or two after they've read a story. I'd be lying if I said I don't hope to finish a novel one day and get an agent etc... but I'm old enough to know myself and to have come to terms with my lack of drive and lack of focus.

As an aside, you and I are complete opposites when it comes to competitiveness. I've never cared about winning. I've never been able to invest myself in any sort of game, if ever I find myself at someone's house playing a board game or any other kind of game, it's because I've been forced out of politeness, and I couldn't care less if I win or lose. The only time I really want to win is if I'm up against someone like you for whom winning is so important! :D

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Ah, Kris, you and I are so alike and so different! I love the voice you've given to how uncomfortable self-promotion makes you. Man, I feel the same way to, especially with the adjectives. I'd be happier saying "this writing is a real piece of crap" than "this one blows the doors off." Thanks for the really long comment though, mate, there's good stuff there I hope other folks see.

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