As previously noted, every once in a while I have to ask for money.
Also, as previously noted, I don’t like doing this. But it is a necessary part of this business model.
Also, as previously noted, some people are deeply, deeply offended by this. Yes, they are, and they write me hatemail to tell me all about it or attack me on social media over it. However, despite the sneering criticism of certain vocal critics, it is possible for a writer to make a reasonably decent living this way. It’s not easy, and I wish there was another way to go about it, but an independent political writer can make a living this way.
Writer. Blogger. Essayist. Social media “influencer.” Whatever you want to call it. Eight hours a day, I put words together. I never intended this to become a profession. Well, I mean, I did, but not this. Not this way. See, I always wanted to be a writer, ever since I was a kid. My grandmother used to hand out books at Christmas and when I was about seven or so, she gave me a copy of The Hardy Boys #8, The Mystery of Cabin Island. I’d always loved words, and my mom used to read to me when I was little, Bolivar Shagnasty, Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel, Go Dog Go! I loved the pictures and the stories, but I’d never been much of a reader before The Mystery of Cabin Island. That book changed everything for me. I became a voracious reader. I read everything – particularly once I discovered this thing called a library where you could go and they’d just let you borrow whatever books you wanted. The Hardy Boys. Nancy Drew. The Bobbsey Twins. Adventure novels. Historical fiction. Ghost stories. And then one day on the way to the checkout desk I passed a rack of paperbacks. Ragged. Dog eared. Lurid. And right in the middle was this weird purple cover with this weird machine and a bunch of strange people kind of doing something around it, dancing? Working? Praying? I dunno. It was “Farmer in the Sky” by some character named Robert Heinlein. I knew that name. He wrote stories for Boys Life and as a scout I had a subscription. I picked it up and added to the pile and the librarian said, “you don’t want that.” Yeah, right, lady. She did eventually let me check it out and I discovered science fiction and whole new worlds opened up for me. The second science fiction book I ever read was Robert Silverberg’s “Time of the Great Freeze” and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I’d sit in class and dream about it, about a world in the grip of new ice age, about atomic cities under miles of glacier ice, men fighting their way from New York to London over thousands of miles of frozen sea. That story was, man, hell, I still think about it five decades later. Goddamn, science fiction grabbed my imagination like nothing else.
I never met Heinlein, but many, many years later I met Bob Silverberg. I shared a stage with him, in fact, the Hugo awards at the World Science Fiction convention. I got to talk to him afterwards. It was like talking to Walt Disney or Mark Twain, the people who created the dreams of your childhood. You have no idea what that meant to me. See, way back when, some time not too long after I discovered books, I suddenly realized that there was a whole class of people, somewhere, who wrote those things. People who were paid to daydream, to think up stories, put words together. They didn’t get yelled at and told to pay attention in class. They got paid for it (not a lot, as it turns out, but something anyway). Writers.
Other kids dreamed of being cops or firemen or doctors or astronauts. A writer though, well, a writer is all of those things and everything else. Adventurer. Actor. Teacher. Warrior. Pilot. Passenger. Spaceman. Sailor. Scientist. Citizen. Villain. Hero. Whatever their imagination can dream up.
People did that.
And that’s what I wanted to be.
I mean, I already had the daydreaming part down, how hard could the rest of it be, right?
Now, 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.
Turns the rest of it was pretty hard. It’s work and a lot of it.
That model, that definition of writer, still very much exists.
And a lot of writers make varying degrees of living from it.
And that’s what I wanted to do. Ever since I was that kid, I’ve written down ideas. First laboriously by longhand, in notebooks. Then on an old typewriter. Then via generation after generation of personal computer. None of those doodles were very good. And I went off and did other things to make a living. But I always wanted to be writer.
When I retired from the Navy, I promised myself that I would do it. I’d sit down and get serious about it and I’d do it. So, the very day after I took off my uniform for the last time, I started a blog, this one. Stonekettle Station. I didn’t know what I was going to write, but I figured it was a way to teach myself the craft. I had no intention of making a living from this. None. I mean, who does that? (a few do now, but not back then). Hell, if I was lucky, maybe one or two people might even read it. But, I reasoned, if I worked at it every day, I could learn how to write the things people might read. Then I could, I dunno, something something book! My plan, admittedly, was a bit vague, but I figured I’d work it out as I went along.
Those early bits are pretty horrible. Pretty bad. Embarrassing even, some of them. I leave them up though, as a measure of how far I’ve come. Over time I came to realize that I’m unlikely to be another Heinlein or Silverberg. Whatever they had, have, that ability to create worlds whole cloth, I don’t. At least not the kind of refined ability needed crank out novels in volume large enough to actually pay the mortgage. I’ll keep at it, but it’s not what I’m good at.
Write what you know, that’s what they tell you.
A lifetime in military intelligence and I know politics, ours and theirs, the military, war, conflict, and how to pull out the pieces and take the complexity apart into something others can understand. And somehow, that’s what I ended up doing, writing about politics for quarter of million people every day. It helped, I think, that social media was coming online just as I started doing this, Facebook, Twitter, that’s where my audience is.
And that’s the problem.
Nobody pays you to write about politics on social media.
Well, okay, nowadays, maybe they do – but it’s not the kind of thing I’m interested in, being the professional troll for some foreign nation or a shill for some media conglomerate or political party.
There’s no professional market for an independent political writer who spends most of his time on social media.
But, that’s where I am anyway. In that strange new middle ground.
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 and that has never existed before.
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: a few years ago, when I started doing this full time, Stonekettle Station averaged maybe 20,000 visitors per month on a good month – and that was after 8 years of writing every single day. Maybe 3,000 people followed me on Facebook. Less than a 1000 on Twitter. Two years later, with some considerable effort, my daily Facebook audience exceeds 160,000 people per day for my personal page and the Stonekettle Station Group has grown to more than 30,000. There are another 100,000 followers on Twitter, and a single long form essay on Stonekettle Station can exceed 100,000 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, research, writing, swearing at the screen, dealing with trolls and hatemail, 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 and your kids.
It can be dangerous. People threaten you, threaten violence, even death. Worse (yes, worse), they work to actively take you down, silence your voice, get you kicked off the platforms you’ve invested more than a decade in – and some of most persistent attacks in this regard come from, well, for lack of a better word, your own side.
Goddamn is it work.
I’ve been invited to a number of writers’ 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. But, and this is real kicker, all those people, for me a quarter million readers a day, an audience that size would give a traditional writer some guaranteed income via the traditional means of agent, publisher, bookstore, publisher, check. But for me? There’s no such structure, no established methodology of turning words into income.
That structure is slowly evolving, I can see it happening, but it’s still nebulous and indistinct and for the moment it’s just me and you. Nobody in the middle. That’s both a good thing and a bad thing. And you know, 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. But unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way, and it’s probably better for us all that it doesn’t because I’d spend all my time lounging around that aforementioned boat like I was Betsy DeVos instead of, you know, writing.
There are other ways to do this, advertising is one of those models. But I look at sites covered in ads and I hate them. They actively drive me away. I ran ads here on the Stonekettle Station, but the increased revenue wasn’t worth seeing ads for things I adamantly don’t agree with on my website, shoved in front of my readers. I don’t want to use that model. So I opted out of the ads and removed them from my platform. I lost the revenue, but I get to keep my self-respect.
Likewise I find problems with other methodologies, specifically in that almost all of them would leave me beholden to various agencies.
So, I won’t do that either.
And every once in a while I need to ask for money.
I don’t like this.
But it’s necessary.
It’s necessary if I am to remain who I am and if I am to continue to write the things I write and that you come here to read.
But, and this is the important part, 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.
It’s important to me. And it 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 to it, asking for money, even as other mainstream sites do it without any shame, 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, and because IRS regulations, state and federal laws, etc, all of these things impact this process, I tend to change things up every time, trying to find a way to accommodate the legal requirements with my own principles.
Here’s how I’m doing it this time:
The donation drive runs from August 1st until sometime in September.
I’m not sure exactly when I’ll end it. Let me explain why: I’m giving away stuff. Loot. Booty.
The last few times I did this, I waited until the end to hand out stuff. I’m not happy with that, for a number of reasons. So, this time, I’m going to give away prizes every day.
That’s right. Every day.
And so, the subscription drive will go on until I run out of things to give away.
I’ve got 50 Stonekettle Station pens. Some are worth $35, some are worth $100 or more. I’ll give one away every day until I run out and I might be making more while this process goes on. I’ve also got a stack of Alternate Truths – the best-selling political anthology which contains my short story: Gettysburg, AND the sequel: More Alternative Truths, which contains my vignette Doctor Republican’s Monster and my collaborative short, Moses. Every other day, I’ll give away a signed copy.
I may throw in some other Stonekettle Station items as the drive goes on, T-shirts, key chains, and so on.
If you donate starting today, I’ll throw your name in the hat. The sooner you donate, the fewer people there’ll be, the better your chance. Gifts will get mailed out every day. You don’t have to wait until the end of the drive, whenever that is.
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 use the word “donation” because that’s the name of the PayPal function. That said, 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.
Addendum: (updated as we go)
Aug 2: Chih Wen is today’s recipient of a Stonekettle Station Pen.
Aug 3: Hayley Hop and Karen Soule are today’s winners.
Aug 4: Craig Brankin is today’s winner.
Aug 5: James O'Malley wins today.
Aug 6: Anonymous
Aug 7: Chris Hull and Chris Hull – there were two Chris Hulls, I wasn’t clear regarding which was the winner, so, they’re both winners.
Aug 8: Anonymous
Aug 9: Jim Hudlow is today’s winner.
Aug 10: Anonymous
Aug 11: John Hanna is today’s winner.
Aug 12: Anonymous.
Aug 13: Anonymous and Kim Hallett are today’s winners.
Aug 14: Anonymous.
Aug 15: Wendy Halvorson is today’s winner.
*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.
* Pens. I will continue to produce pens for sale via my Etsy store per the usual process.