The newsletter is the ultimate form for a moment in which writers feel pressure to produce a steady stream of advertisements for themselves. “The dominant literary style in America is careerism,” the critic Christian Lorentzen wrote this spring. (“This is neither a judgment nor a slur,” he added, not quite credibly.)
Put work you care about less—work for hire, short-form editorial, dumb jokes, random experiments—on platforms you don’t control, where the risk of failure is a distinct possibility. Leverage the resources of what else is out there. But when you’re working on the stuff that does really matter to you, put it in a place you have ownership of. Put it on your website. Send the newsletter using tools you run or manage—and be willing to pay for that right.
Popular email clients, particularly Gmail, have a tendency to cut emails off after a 102-kilobyte limit. Why the heck is that?
- You Write Too Much
- Your Email Has Too Many Design Elements
- Your Links Are Too Long
- Your Readers’ Email Addresses May Be Too Long
- You Waste Too Much Space
It is interesting to think about this in regards to Angela Lashbrook’s discussion of spam filtering. It is also another reminder of why email is broken.
A new micropayments platform for newsletters won’t magically liberate public intellectuals from commercial pressures; it won’t solve the tensions between free speech and safety; and I highly doubt it will make having a career as a writer any easier. But it will create space for writing not tailored to the trending on Twitter section, encourage writers to develop a deeper relationship with their audience, and promote the sort of writing (both longform and short) that doesn’t fit neatly into the categories of legacy media.
I really liked your association between Substack and Medium. What Monahan labels a ‘social media interregnum’. I really liked Chris Aldrich’s point about ‘yet-another-platform’.
I have been using Buttondown, but have reservations and am considering moving to Mailpoet, especially as all my posts are already on my site.
It seems like everyone and their dog has an email newsletter these days. If you go back and check the last 10 sites you visited, I bet at least half of them have a newsletter.
Is that a bad thing? No way! While all the optin forms and pop-ups you come across online can be overwhelming, there are se…
Although I have followed bits and pieces over the years, I have decided to actually add the feeds to my list.
I have particular been enjoying All Songs Considered’s dive into the 2010s.
In 2015, Meredith Haggerty produced an episode on TinyLetter and women’s writing for her WNYC internet-culture show, TLDR. In it, Haggerty quoted the essay “The Laugh of the Medusa,” published by the French feminist scholar Hélène Cixous in 1976. “Women must write her self: must write about women and bring women to writing, from which they have been driven away as violently as from their bodies,” Cixous argues, going on to explain that the only way women can make up for their absence from recorded history is to write themselves in now, super fast, with lots of detail and energy.
This, Haggerty argued, is what women were doing with TinyLetter, and what many of the best newsletters are doing now. In her newsletter Like This, the writer Meaghan O’Connell documented in gory and personal detail the experience of giving birth. Starting in 2014, the writer Charlotte Shane published a serialized memoir about her experiences as a sex worker in a TinyLetter called Prostitute Laundry. It was later adapted into a book, but as she was publishing the newsletter, she kept no public archive: You had to subscribe, and whatever you’d already missed was lost to the wind.