Substack is bringing blogging back, and I’m there for it…
Remember earlier this year, when I was wringing my hands in despair, while worrying that I’d have to shut down my blog and go to the workhouse instead?
I kind of figured I owed you an update on that.
So, first things first: the blog is, as you can see, still very much here — for now — and, spoiler alert, I’m not writing this update from the workhouse either, so that’s a huge relief to me, as I’m sure you can imagine. Especially considering that the workhouse isn’t actually A Thing any more, so God only knows what I’m imagining when I say that.*
(*Don’t worry, you don’t have to imagine because, luckily for you, I wrote a
short novel entire post about it here…)
Back in May, when I wrote that post from my pit of despair, this website was costing almost as much to run (Mostly due to hosting costs) as it was earning in revenue, and Google were threatening to allow AI to take over
the world the internet, thus taking away at least 50% of my traffic from there in one fell swoop.
Well, so far that last bit hasn’t happened. (Which doesn’t mean it won’t ever happen, obviously, just that it hasn’t happened yet…), but, in a bid to try to prepare for it, Terry and I did some boring, behind-the-scenes work to reduce the size of the site, and, in the process, managed to reduce our hosting costs to a level we were happy to continue paying — again with that foreshadowy “for now” caveat.
But the site is still not making enough money. The workhouse still beckons.
Which is why I turned to Substack.
I talked about this a bit in my “OMG, my blog might be closing down” post, but for those of you who haven’t heard of it, Substack is a bit like a social network for writers. I keep comparing it to Livejournal, but then I remember you young ‘uns won’t know what Livejournal is/was either — which, honestly, is your loss, really, because Livejournal was the BEST, seriously. It was blogging before blogging was a Thing. It was “write like no one’s reading” — because hardly anyone was. It was like Instagram when Instagram was still good: only, rather than posting photos of our pets, or our lunch, or whatever, we’d all post these long, rambling diary entries about our lives, in this unfiltered, almost totally unselfconscious way you’d just never be able to get away with now.
So, we would have these “journals”, and they were all hosted on the Livejournal website (Which actually still exists, although it’s not nearly as popular as it once was: there’s a short history of it here, if you’re particularly interested), which, as I said, was a bit like Instagram, but for writers. You could follow people there. They could follow you. (They obviously didn’t often follow ME, because I was as unpopular there as I am on Instagram — which I guess was one of the reasons I eventually jumped ship. But they could have if they’d wanted to.) In this way, you could waste literally HOURS of your life, navigating from journal to journal, and soaking up the minutiae of other people’s lives, in all its unfiltered glory.
Substack is a bit like that.
And, I mean, it’s not totally like that.
Substack is much glossier than Livejournal ever was, for one thing. It’s far more slick. And while you will still find people writing long, rambling diary-style posts about their lives there (If you do, please point me in their direction because I am ALL ABOUT THAT…), you’ll also find a lot of very serious, “literary” writers, for want of a better word. Journalists. Authors. Magazine editors. V v famous people like Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie. They write newsletters rather than “journals” or ‘blog posts”. Those newsletters are sent to subscribers by email, as well as being archived on the site itself. Some of them have themes, and niches, and probably whole teams of people dedicated to making them just as good as the magazine sites they’re starting to replace.
So… not exactly like Livejournal, then. But also not totally different from it, either, in that Substack is a site for writers — and, by extension, for readers. It’s for those of us who’ve been banging on for years now about how we miss the “good ol’ days” of blogging, and complaining that Instagram just isn’t for us. Substack is a place where you can read and write long form content, that hasn’t been dumbed down to make it easily digestible to the Insta-generation. It’s a place where you can discover new writers, and also reconnect with “old” ones (Lately there’s been an influx of “old-skool” bloggers to the platform that makes me feel almost, almost like we’re getting the “blogosphere” — remember when we used to call it that?! — back again). It’s not perfect, obviously: I don’t think any platform is, really. But, right now, it’s the best we’ve had in a long time — which is why I’ve been spending most of my time there lately.
I’m still not giving up the blog.
I guess I should make that clear up-front. This site is my first “baby”, and I’m still intending to keep it going for as long as I can afford to.
But I’m also on Substack now, and because it has a much larger, basically “built-in” audience than stand-alone sites like this one have these days, it’s become an important part of my bid to remain financially solvent, and continue to make a living from my writing: something that’s becoming harder and harder to do through the blog alone.
Substack IS still a “blog”, though: or, mine is, at least. Every Friday, I publish a “diary” style newsletter documenting what I’ve been getting up to that week. Once a month, I post a spending diary, in a bid to keep myself accountable, and get out of debt. And, in between those times, I write about all kinds of other things, although mostly about my ongoing attempt to navigate a life in which almost everything has changed, from how I earn a living, to how I’ve started having to stick a silicone patch on my chest every night, or I wake up with a chest like crepe paper.
Some of these posts are behind a paywall. Because that’s the other thing you need to know about Substack: as a platform for writers, it’s also a platform which aims to support writers and help us find ways to earn a living from our work. I know this won’t be popular with some of you, who’re used to content being free, and that’s why my Friday newsetters ARE free, and always will be.
The fact is, though, that while internet content has, until recently, been mostly free to read, it’s not free to produce. Writing a blog — or a book, or a newsletter, or any other kind of content — takes time, effort, and often actual money to create. And I think the internet has finally reached a point where people are starting to understand that; to realize that writers have bills to pay too, and that the content they produce is how they earn the money to do that.
The good news, however, is that while SOME posts on Substack are only available to paying subscribers, the fact that readers there pay for content directly means that they don’t have to pay for it in other ways. There are no adverts on my Substack newsletters, for instance. There is no product placement, and no sponsored posts, where a brand has paid me to advertise something to you. (Some of my posts do contain affiliate links, but only where it’s relevant to the content, and you obviously have the choice to not click on them if it bothers you.)
I feel like this is the way the content-driven part of the internet is going now: a kind of natural evolution, which has taken us all the way from Livejournal, through the many iterations of the blogsophere and magazine-style websites, and finally coming ALMOST full-circle, to a place where writers can write whatever they want again, but without actually having to starve in a garret to do it.
It’s pretty exciting, really. And very refreshing to finally find a platform that GETS IT, and understands how to connect readers and writers in a way that (hopefully) works for both. I don’t, however, intend for it to replace the blog entirely, which is why, going forward, I’m going to be sharing some of my Friday newsletters here on the blog, as well as digging into the archive to re-work some of my older posts for the newsletter.
If you’d like to keep reading, and give Forever Amber a shot at surviving all of the huge changes that it (and I) keeps getting hit by, the best way to do that is by subscribing to the newsletter — a basic subscription is totally free (although obviously if you do choose to upgrade to the paid version, you’ll instantly become my new favourite person, as well as getting access to all of that extra content…), and you’ll find the sign-up box at the bottom of this post.