May 3Liked by Dane Benko

Wow, lots to unpack here. First of all, thanks for putting this together. It must've taken a lot of time. I hope you were fairly compensated! ;) This piece is timely for me, as I've recently made an unheralded return to Substack and Medium. I'm rethinking writing online (and writing in general, to be honest).

I've spent the last few years working on novels. Drafted one novel, put that down, drafted a different novel, put that down, started redrafting the first novel, and now I'm working on a third novel. It's been a lonely, Sisyphean effort. At the height of my despair, I came across the Elle Griffin post you referenced (or I guess the first one you referenced). The piece wasn't revelatory, but the facts laid bare one after the other were...disquieting. The silver lining was that it clarified something I've been feeling for a while: I can't put all my eggs in one basket.

So, I'm revisiting online platforms, but I'm also rethinking my overall presence online -- my, er, personal brand, if you will -- including my website, which hitherto has existed as a static mini portfolio. One interesting non-novel-related thing happened in these intervening years: I created a website that served sort of as a repository for castoff research I'd done for my first novel. I populated it with some content, set up a newsletter sign-up form, and then pretty much left it alone. A couple of years later, I checked out the back end on a whim. This website had, with no encouragement, quietly captured 100 subscribers and was consistently attracting about 1,000 visitors a month -- not numbers that will knock anyone's socks off but not bad for no time investment, apart from some SEO work I'd done at the outset. Set it and forget it.

Which brings me back to the notion of a cohesive online presence. A few years ago, I published a piece on Medium about gun control, far and away my most "successful" post, drawing thousands of readers, most of them irate. I was contacted by an editor of a newspaper in Colorado (forget which one), who asked for permission to republish. Another few thousand readers. All told, I earned 44 bucks. What really ruffled my feathers, however, is that I didn't build MY audience. Sure, I got some new followers on Medium, but it's not like they were subscribed to my newsletter (not sure if Medium had implemented that functionality back then). I didn't have their emails. It didn't do anything for me long-term.

I don't have a definitive strategy yet, but I know it includes my website, capturing email, and directing traffic with intention. Anyway, I've taken up enough of your time. I should've just written a post of my own. Clearly, your piece stirred up a lot! I appreciate you writing it.

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May 2Liked by Dane Benko

This is one of the most lucid takes on what’s happening right now to artists and creators. I’ve been struggling with a lot of what you mention here for awhile now. But your piece has made it clear that it’s not a matter of “should” I move my work to my own domain but rather “when”

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Time spent on Substack inevitably yanks me between “Be ambitious!” and “Don’t care about ambition!” which is disorienting. I feel like you’ve nailed so many dimensions of this uneasy arrangement in your piece.

That said, reading about the economics of posting freely online also disorients me. I finish reading this and can’t shake the feeling I’m doing this wrong—wrong for being here, wrong for not monetizing, wrong for hoping to expand my audience, wrong for what I’m writing and where it goes, wrong wrong wrong for every decision I make regarding my writing. If there’s one thing Substack does for me these days, when a Twitter clone centers the in-app experience, it’s amplifying a feeling of futility.

As much as I admire your piece and engaging writing here—and I definitely, 100% do—I wish that I hadn’t read it. Naive though I was, I liked it better when I could write and share without the platform bombarding me with the feeling that it isn’t enough to share art that would exist otherwise.

But that, I suspect, is part of what you’ve written about so effectively here, so again, kudos for the powerful piece.

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Ha, sorry. Let's not feel futile. Embrace the ambition. If I left you with futility then that's a good note that I may have messed up my argument.

I draw your attention back to the "rattle other doorknobs" paragraph. I don't know what you write but there is an audience for it on Substack and an audience outside it looking for your Substack. The question is how and where they pay for writing like yours (might be Substack!! Might be something like a lit mag or journalistic periodical. Etc). Then figuring out how to get your work there and being sure to enable payment and ask for it.

My career counselor mother told me and also I learned from freelancing that if you work in a creative career, half your time is spent running your business and the other half actually making stuff. If you're more a hobbyist the running business side will obviously shrink concordantly, but part of my thing here is that hobbyists should at least consider whether platforms 'deserve' their unmonetized content and it suffices to bury it in the flood, or whether there's more local or specific groups that will appreciate it and support you more.

You'll be okay. The business is always difficult but the work is worth it.

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I appreciate the reply. I don’t think it’s your piece—which again, I got a lot from—but the accumulation of all these voices that have transformed Substack into commerce, which for me it never was before. The more the economic angle gets put on my plate when I open the app, the more I catch the scent and start to question my cooking. I have a career that isn’t writing; I didn’t join Substack and start writing here to begin another one.

But the platform drives a pressure to do just that, which makes sense: payments to me are payments to them. The “futility” is my internal signal getting muddied up by that external pressure. That’s maybe a me thing versus a wide thing, but I have friends who’ve followed me here who report the same. I’m not blaming you for the futility; I’m crediting you for helping me enunciate it.

In any event, really, thanks for the reply. You could have offered platitudes like every condescending Notes post patting me on the head, but you didn’t. That feels like a win in this landscape.

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May 13Liked by Dane Benko

Thank you for taking the time to lay all this out for us—it is a very important thing for every writer / creator / whatever to think about.

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...a millions hands raised to the sky...would dig seeing some of your work if you are down to share...

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Hi, you can subscribe to this Substack where I release experimental films every few months. My monetization model here is to keep the most recent posts free and then paywall them when newer ones are released so interested parties can view "the archives." So far hadn't been that successful so there ya go, figuring it out.

In addition to the experimental shorts, I have a narrative horror short my co-producers and I are seeking distribution for and another I am sending around to festivals for another year and then will be figuring out what to do with, and am working on a third.

Much of this essay is to myself re: whether I should be satisfied with or whether they belong on the Internet for free, but maybe! It depends on who needs to see it. If you'd like to see the two complete narrative shorts, DM me.

And I'm writing a feature length script right now. I've written two before but this one is more producible, so I am going to finish and polish it and start marketing it hopefully later this year before moving on to the next script.

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