As previously noted, every once in a while I have to ask for money.
Having given up military consulting work and having shut down my woodworking business and art studio (hopefully temporarily) when I left Alaska, I subsist for the moment solely on income derived from my social media sites and this blog.
A few years back, I wouldn’t have believed this possible.
A few years back it wouldn’t have been possible.
But despite the sneering criticism of certain vocal critics, it is possible for a writer to make a reasonably decent living this way.
It used to be “writer” was defined as somebody who assembled words and ideas into books, short stories, articles, and perhaps screenplays, fact or fiction, and submitted those efforts via various means to editors at publishing houses or various presses or various media outlets, and then lived on cheese sandwiches hoping a check of some modest amount would come back. Traditionally the profession of “writer” meant you repeated this cycle without healthcare or adequate hygiene or presentable clothes until you died, or gave it up for a real job – both of which happened with distressing frequency.
That model, that definition of writer, still very much exists.
And a lot of writers make varying degrees of living from it.
As previously noted, if you’re a Stephen King or a John Scalzi, you might make millions and live in a golden mansion high on a landscaped hill in the middle of a private island waited on hand and foot by an army of nubile, scantily clad olive-pitters (this is totally true and I heard it directly from one of George R.R. Martin’s gardeners). But more likely you’re a stringer for the local paper, and you might make enough to buy a cheese sandwich or two providing you’re not particular about the definition of “cheese” or those weird green spots on the bread.
Various degrees of success exist between those poles.
And that’s where I exist. In that strange new middle ground. I wanted to be a writer since I was kid. It’s a sickness, writing. A weird mental disorder that makes you sit in front of a keyboard for hours, daydreaming and playing with ideas and wondering why anybody would read the blather on the screen. But my grandmother gave me a Hardy Boys book (#8; The Mystery of Cabin Island) for Christmas one year when I was about 8 or 9. I’d been an indifferent reader up to that point, but that book captivated me and my lifelong obsession with words began right there. Somewhere shortly thereafter, in a staggering moment of epiphany, I realized there were actually people out there who got paid to sit in front of a keyboard and daydream and those people didn’t have to put on pants every day. Hell they might not even own actual pants – unless you consider pajamas legitimate work apparel.
I knew then that’s what I wanted to do.
I’d always intended to go the traditional route, cheese sandwiches and all.
I’d never intended to write about politics. But evidence would suggest that’s where my talent lies – if you’re charitable and agree that it is indeed an actual talent and not just something you could train a chimpanzee to do (they taught ‘em to fly spaceships, so I imagine political pundit wouldn’t be that difficult).
But by the time I was free to write what I wanted (upon my retirement from the military) and I started writing in earnest with the idea that someday somebody would give me actual money for it, the world had changed. How we connect to it had changed and continues to evolve at a rapid pace and a new type of “writer” became possible – well maybe not new new, but perhaps a more modern version of the political broadsides and pamphlets penned by the likes of Thomas Paine.
It’s amazing to me how fast this has gone.
Ten years ago, hell five years ago, I would never have guessed that Facebook would become my primary platform for day to day short form. Facebook is a horrible platform for the kinds of things I write. It’s a bastard cross between a blog and public forum and doesn’t do either very well. It’s subject to arbitrary and random censorship. There’s no protection for intellectual property at all. It lacks the most basic of editing tools and formatting functions, its search capability is ridiculous and all but useless. Facebook’s interface, timeline management, and display are one of the single most infuriatingly horrible experiences in an age of limitless customization – limitless to everybody but Facebook users that is. It’s impossible to get any kind of help from the operators and it’s subject to every kind of cyber-abuse from bullying to trolling to sexual assault.
And yet – and yet -- it does one thing very, very well.
It does one thing that other technology cannot do, that traditional publishing venues cannot do.
Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and other social media platforms connect writers to people in an organic, viral, geometrically expanding manner that is completely impossible anywhere else.
Now, interacting with readers on a real time basis for hours upon hours every single goddamned day isn’t for every writer. It takes a certain degree of masochism to do it. In point of fact, a lot of writers become writers because they are anti-social bastards who enjoy living on moldy fake-cheese sandwiches and sitting around all day in dirty pajama pants and who tend to break out in a cold sweat when they actually have to put on pants and go outside where all the other people are.
So real time interaction with their audience isn’t something they consider a feature.
And that’s okay. “Writer” is a loose enough definition that it accommodates the gregarious right alongside the smelly hermit.
But, if you write well, if you write the things people are interested in, and if you’re willing to interact with your audience directly and in real time, then social media makes it possible for your work to spread far beyond the size of audiences normally available to traditional writers. For example: Two years ago, when I started doing this full time, Stonekettle Station averaged maybe 20,000 visitors per month – and that was after 8 years of writing every single day. Maybe 3,000 people followed me on Facebook. Two years later, with some considerable effort, my daily Facebook audience exceeds 100,000 people and a single long form essay on Stonekettle Station can exceed 60,000 unique pageviews in a few hours.
Social media, for all its ills, has created new opportunity, an alternative to traditional writing models. Not a replacement, a supplement.
And that’s where I ended up. That’s where I exist.
I admit that in my case there is some degree of luck. I happened to be in the right place just as opportunity opened with the right experience and skillset and enough free time to take advantage of it. It suits me. It’s not easy. Really it’s not. It sometimes (often) takes 14 to 18 hour days (I spent six hours last night just screening new applicants to the Stonekettle Facebook Group), research, writing, swearing at the screen, it can be incredibly frustrating at times for reasons you never imagine or anticipate. It requires constant attention, a constant presence, and everything becomes grist for the mill, making much of your life public – something that is often less than thrilling to your spouse.
Goddamn is it work.
I’ve been invited to a number of writer’s conventions to talk about this with other writers – or those who want to become writers under this new paradigm. That’s something I’m happy to do. I’ve been pretty lucky and I’m glad to pay that forward. The world is a big place, there’s plenty of room for many, many more writers in this new arena and I’m happy to help get them started.
If every one of those quarter million daily readers signed up for Patreon and donated a buck a month, well, I’d be writing this from the deck of my personal yacht and looking for property next to John Scalzi.
Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way and so every once in a while I need to ask for money.
I don’t like this.
But it’s necessary.
And it’s to your advantage.
Because this way I am independent. I don’t owe anybody, no business, no agenda, no political party or ideology, no boss, I don’t owe any of them a damned thing. I write what I write, be it long form, short Facebook posts, or a simple Tweet, to the very best of my ability and as I see it – not as somebody else has directed me to see it. I maintain my social media sites, my Facebook page and the Stonekettle Facebook Group, my Twitter feed, as independent entities, managed by me and me alone to my standards and not some corporate agenda.
That seems to be important to you, dear reader, and I take that responsibility seriously.
By remaining independent, I owe only you, the readers, the very best work I can put out and that’s it.
But it only works if you provide support.
I doubt I’ll ever get used it, asking for money, and I’m not sure I want to. That aversion always, every time, makes me more determined to improve, to work harder, to produce a better product for you and to expand opportunities for YOU to have your say, to interact, in a safe and intelligent forum.
So, here it is: I’m asking you to donate.
Because my business model is evolving (IRS regulations, state and federal laws, etc, all of these things impact this process, I’m still learning the best way to go about it), I’m doing this a little different than the last few times.
The donation drive runs from June 1, 2017 to July 15, 2017.
I’ll be giving away a dozen Charter Member Stonekettle Station shirts (customized to the winner’s size and color preference. Also note: Charter Member shirts can only be gotten via this process, they are unique and are not available elsewhere. See the footnote below regarding shirts) and at least three signed copies of Alternate Truths – the best-selling political anthology which contains my short story: Gettysburg.
Any subscriber who donates any amount via the PayPal DONATION BUTTON between those dates will be put in the running for one of those prizes.
Winners will be announced July 20th, 2017.
To donate, click on the “Donation” button, either embedded in the text below or on the upper right side of this screen and follow the directions.
You may enter more than once. Each donation will be counted as a unique subscription.
If you’ve already donated to Stonekettle Station this month, you’re already on the subscription list.
Those of you who already donate via an automatic monthly payment, you’ll be entered automatically in the giveaway. (See the footnote below for additional information regarding automatic reoccurring donations)
Legal Disclaimer: To be clear, this is not a lottery or a raffle. Donations are voluntary subscription fees specifically in support of this blog and the associated social media feeds and conducted in accordance with state and federal law.
That is: you’re paying for content not a chance to win something.
I am not claiming any tax-exempt status or charity. Donations are considered business income and I pay all applicable state and federal taxes on that income and I have the records to prove it.
The items I give away are my intellectual property, created and paid for by me. As such I chose to randomly gift them to supporters, just as I give away my custom made pens to my fellow writers. The giveaway list is generated randomly from voluntary subscriptions, since I have no other way to determine who readers are. You are not donating for a chance to win a prize, you’re paying for the content of this blog and my associated social media feeds and I’m using this opportunity to give something back other than just my usual blog essays, Facebook posts, and Tweets.
As always, thank you for your support.
1. Shirts: I recently acceded to reader requests and began selling Stonekettle Station T-Shirts. There were some production problems with a few shirts in the original run. This is to be expected of a new process from a small business. Especially in the volume we’re suddenly doing. Anyone who purchased a shirt and who experienced a problem needs only to contact the vender via her Etsy site and it will be fixed. That said, we’ve made a number of improvements to the process. All future shirts, including the Charter Member special additions, will be created using this new improved process. New shirts will be available for purchase later this month. I’ll put up posts here and on Facebook telling you how you can get one for yourself.
2. Reoccurring Payments: If you’ve set up a monthly donation via PayPal and you suddenly realize it’s been cancelled, that’s not me rejecting your money (because I would never do that. I need the money and I’m not too proud to say so). Likely it’s something to do with the PayPal process, usually your card has expired. I have no control over that.