An author's perspective on The Great Unbundling and the "death" of media
"The truth is most people wake up and the first thing they do is look at their phone and read. What they read is not a book... But they’ll also read an essay. Right away, right with their heads still on the pillow."
This is exactly the context in which I just read this — like you were spying on me in my vacation!
This was eye-opening for someone like me who's had no dealings with freelance writing. It sounds like an exhausting and hardscrabble racket. Constantly courting and selling is enough of an indignity that it should pay a lot more than prestige, imho. I'm sure you've made the right choice. I am glad that Hoels submits to no yoke.
I can't remember which piece it was, but it was on Medium where I read one of your writings on consciousness (or AI, it was a few years ago).
Your writing is honest, clear, and I think of it as "sneaking up" on the reader. I started reading that piece on Medium, and before I knew it, was 2/3 of the way through it.
Only now discovering this piece. It's damn inspiring. Thank you. After being in the USA for 4 weeks, I'm still amazed at how few people seem to know what Substack is. In France it's a ghost. But even here, there's a small community. Here's to haunting the masses, slowly but surely.
I likewise was struck by your observation that people read things first thing in the morning. I mean, I do that EVERY day but I thought I was one of those weird freaks. Now that I realize this is common, it's a game-changer. Among other things, I will be publishing my newsletter earlier in the day! But I might also give some thought as to what I'm writing, to get it to stand out and speak to that person who is half-asleep, procrastinating on starting their day, and wants to be inspired, entertained, or enlightened in the five minutes before they have to finally get out of bed and into the shower. Thanks for the insight on that point as well as writing for publications. That's always something I've thought about doing, but have done well enough writing blogs for companies that I never really felt the need to pitch individual articles.
"Your Nobel laureates might "submit to the yoke" as you called it but when it comes to writing I simply cannot be bought."
Well, Eric... I'm ready to buy. I hope you'll accept my modest seven dollars this month. I'm quite moved and inspired by this essay and want to thank you. I look forward to reading more of your work!
A great much to consider in this piece. Thanks for posting it, I enjoyed the hell outta it. I started writing years and years ago and followed the advice of Stephen King...short stories are where you learn to tell stories...and Ray Bradbury...the first million words don't count. That has always seemed like a more polite way to quote Hemingway's "The first draft of anything is shit." The point I'm making is that any freelance writing, not just for outlets, has always been exhausting. I started 40 years ago and it's just as hard now, simply in a different way. I have no sage advice for beginning writers, you have to find your own path; mine is currently cluttered with dreams that never came true, but just enough success to make it fun while I keep writing the stories I love to write. I guess it boils down to...do you want to do it, regardless of the publishing and/or monetary success, or do you not? Sometimes that answer eludes me.
I found this piece very interesting, and I thank you for it. However, I'm confused by your reference to Jesus' telling his followers to submit to his yoke. The exact verses read:
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
This feels like the opposite of what these editors are demanding... Jesus offering himself as less burdensome than the yokes of this world, not him telling people to submit to him or else. I am not an editor (by any means) but I'd edit that bit, if you don't mind my saying so :)
As an illustrator I've made a similar choice for very similar reasons as you describe Erik. I've done illustrations for "real" publications in the past and as the years have gone by "doing illustrations" became more about the pitching, the editorial hassles and then (as a freelancer) trying to collect my promised pay. After a national "real" magazine used my illustrations and I had to chase them for over a year to get them to fulfill their end of the contract i.e. pay me. I did the math and ... now I do selfpublishing and Substack etc... much as you describe. Anyhoo I appreciated reading your experience and knowing that I'm not alone. Thank you!
It is a dream of mine to write for a news outlet; however, as a teenager, I have noticed that Instagram and even TikTok have become online platforms where young people can find mostly-credible news. Personally, I am subscribed to both the New York Times and this blog, and I find myself having a much easier time reading through your essays than I do flipping through the NYT. I think newspapers tend to overwhelm students with an abundance of information. This is also why we gravitate more towards Instagram infographics and 30-second TikTok videos.
Eric - I'm a bit confused. The title of the piece is "Writing for outlets isn't worth it anymore" but then you do say that writers just starting out should aim for outlets to get that under their belt.
For every wildly successful writer there's a thousand bloggers just starting out and dipping their feet in the water. Most won't make it, but a few will. Power laws! So by saying that new writers should go to outlets, you're saying that for a lot of writers, outlets are still the way to go. However, the way you describe outlets, it sounds terrible for new writers. Especially writers that aren't super skilled yet at delivering the hooks and crisp prose that outlets want. I think maybe the more generally applicable advice might be for most writers to develop their craft with blogging and then when they have a piece that's really good and a good fit for an outlet, then submit it. The benefits I do see to outlets are they let you reach a different audience and build up credentials that might be useful if you want to publish a book someday. Does that sound right to you?
This next year I'm planning to spend less time working and more time doing things that are fun and more in line with my personal interests. A big part of that is going to be blogging and developing my voice and skills as a writer. So naturally I'm very interested in this subject.
Writing about getting published is savagely illuminating. I firmly believe that getting published (anywhere) is more about human connections and friendships, ie, nepotism at its finest. Have you ever thought of packaging your writing advice for aspiring writers? Becoming an agent? Opening your own publishing endeavor? What about multimedia? The image of Michel de Montaigne was a welcome addition to the essay, glad you chose to include it.
I think your bible quote might be a bit off or from a different translation. Jesus doesn’t promise yokes, he says in Matthew 11:30 that his yoke is easy and burden is light. The Old Testament has endless rules that are impossible to comply, leaving man in a state of perpetual failure, Jesus cast away that burden. You may have inadvertently made an erroneous comparison.
Keep making connections, pushing through and giving readers entertainment. I thoroughly enjoyed this edition and look forward to more.
Splendid essay! The yoke is no more!
"The essay is the native written artform of the internet. At its best an essay is varied, ranging, authoritative but amateurish, stylish, concise but unhurried. It creates the most civilized online discourse due to the context provided by its length, and since communities of voluntary readers are appropriately siloed from each other. The essay is a rare chance to break free from the straitjackets put upon thought by academia and capitalism’s incentive toward hyper-specialization."
Damn, now I want to go to war for the essay.
This piece resonated with me in many ways but most of all the 'publishing is harder than writing' bit, probably because I read it as a break from a (science) journal manuscript I am working on this afternoon. Although I've long felt the weight of the logistics around science publishing and let that weight hold me down (more than one article of mine has died on the vine in the 'revisions' phase; same goes for most of my unsuccessful NSF proposals), I don't think this thought really crystallized itself until your piece. I am getting increasingly frustrated with the system of science publishing -- from authors paying page charges (that could otherwise fund science or students), to the public not having access to research they paid for, to the exorbitant costs of professional meetings that mostly only make me feel like shit, to playing politics in the review and editing process (through self-censorship, guessing what will cause the least resistance and most approval from reviewers, how to most effectively respond to reviewer criticisms etc.). I wonder if you think a substack could ever be a way that scientists could publish their science (data, methods, interpretations) and get appropriate exposure and credit for it? For me, my publication rate has been definitely hampered by my losing the war of attrition. With all the discussion of equity and inclusion in science and academia these days, it seems like 'self-publishing' (cringe) would reduce the barriers to participation. But how does one do that in a way that could ensure an appropriate level of seriousness (get cited, be vetted, etc.)?
Thanks for a thought provoking read Erik.💯 May you have great success beyond the "prize" of the gravity producing blandness of the yoke.