Newsletters and the Sacred Act of Self Publishing

Some musings on newsletters and self publishing.

Newsletters and the Sacred Act of Self Publishing

As you may or may not be aware, I am creating a magazine! It's called Portable Model. It's named after a Joan of Arc album. It's about music. The theme is tangibility and I'm so excited. I've never done anything on this scale before, but in some ways it feels like the natural end progression of everything I've ever done. We've got a bunch of essays, scene reports, reported features, comics, quips, anniversary pieces, and more! If you like this blog, I think you'll like Portable Model.

This is a labor of love for me. I'm paying writers– not as much as I'd like, but paying nonetheless– and will be paying for printing out of my day job paychecks and I'm happy to do that, but if you thought to yourself "Hey! that seems cool, I'd love to help support that!" boy do I have an opportunity for you!

You can buy an ad and you can also donate!

Support Portable Model on Ko-fi! ❤️.
Support Portable Model On Ko-fi. Ko-fi lets you support the people and causes you love with small donations

Okay promo over! Thanks for the enthusiasm! You can follow Portable Model on twitter (@portablemodel) as well as my associated publishing company Two Flat Press on twitter and instagram (@TwoFlatPress).

I write about the act of writing a decent amount. I write about my relationship with being A Writer and with desires for professionalism and ambition. I've written this blog– in slightly different formats and under slightly different names– for going on 4 years. I've thought a lot about the value of this thing I spend my time doing.

The act of writing the blog and making zines has, of course, given me almost every friendship I've made over the last 4 years. I'm deeply grateful for that aspect, but it's not really the same as the value of the writing itself.

People have a lot of thoughts on newsletters. Are they the future of publishing? (No.) The future of journalism? (No.) Will they save us?! (No.)

The newsletter conversation– a conversation directed so often by people with prestigious publications in their Twitter bios who snidely want to tell you that newsletters are bad, actually– is a little bit frustrating. It starts with the reluctance to outline what is meant when someone says "Newsletters." I think there are kind of 3 kinds of newsletters.

  1. A tool for someone who makes some other kind of art to connect on a different level with people who like that art
  2. A publication that is paying writers that happens to use a newsletter as a major tool for reaching their audience
  3. An individual/duo-run blog

That first kind of newsletter is what a lot of musicians started doing during starting back in 2o2o alongside Patreons and that sort of thing. Lauren from Worriers putting out essays and dispatches from tour and selling merch. Jake from Slaughter Beach, Dog putting out info on songs and releasing demos and that sort of thing. Patrick Kindlon– as musician or comic writer– in his relentless pursuit of breaking the record for yapping in every medium possible. This is not usually what people are talking about when they say "newsletters," but it's happening and I do often read these newsletters!

The next two are really where I feel some frustration about newsletter discussions. Is what Dirt is doing a newsletter? Is Tone Glow a newsletter? Is Welcome to Hell World a newsletter? Yes, but I feel they're publications beyond that designation. Luke O'Neil is one guy behind Hell World, but it's not a venture on his own. He's paying writers. He has created a publication. And, in the interest of transparency, I was paid more for the Hell World piece I wrote than anything else I've ever written that wasn't put in print.

When people talk about the idea of newsletters as something that could be a future of culture writing in particular, I feel like these are, realistically, the places to look. I kind of think of it like when people talk about "Music Blogs" of the late 90s/early aughts and include Pitchfork. Like sure, but the inclusion pushes it toward a different realm.

The last category– the individual or duo's newsletter– might be what you think of first. The newsletter you're reading right now falls in here and we're all individuals (or duos), but it's different. It is probably best broken down into 2 subcategories based on

Sensitively, the first is a collection of professionals who have probably been laid off from any number of publications over the years– definitely Vice, probably others. There was a moment where this individual run newsletter was heralded as perhaps the future of writing! The future of how to make money as a writer! Ezra Klein said you can just get a bunch of paid subscribers and support yourself! The idea, I think, was to transfer your existing audiences built at other publications (or on social media) to your individual newsletter.

This is the vision Substack wants you to believe. It's unrealistic for most people, even people who write for a decent number of subscribers and this framing is sort of ridiculous anyway. Making full time income off a newsletter is not impossible (in theory), but it's tough. Obviously it's tough. Self publishing is difficult. Editing yourself is difficult. Self motivation is difficult.

People criticize this lane of newsletter probably more than any others because of the proposed idea that an individual writer could do their own thing alone and make a caliber of work on par with a more traditional publication. The valid argument here comes down to editing, really. There is value in being edited and writers can tend to write too much without too much consideration for the reality of readability in their newsletters– sometimes that's cool, but brevity should be encouraged. Sometimes 750 words is more than enough! That's true for everybody.

The other side of the individual's newsletter is that young writers and newer writers are not living in a world where editing is this robust mentorship reality. It would be awesome to have older writers and editors there to mold and shape you into a better writer, but where is that realistically happening? Maybe academic settings, maybe the literature world. When you're a freelancer in the world of culture/music writing, even a consistently working freelancer in those realms, the level of editing you're getting at all varies wildly. To even consider discussing editing as a mentorship relationship is, frankly, absurdly out of touch.

If you ask an older writer for advice they'll probably just tell you not to write. They might say something even less helpful.

The last form of newsletter is mine– or ones like mine. They're individual and they behave more like blogs and zines before them– not as a way to hopefully pay your rent, but as a way to push yourself into the sometimes difficult to parse world of writing. Writing this blog is the way I developed any level of voice. It's also been my gateway into writing as something I have done to make money and connections with other writers and editors.

In his recent blogroll edition of his newsletter, No Expectations, Josh Terry mentioned my blog and said some kind words. I promise this isn't a brag. I am including it for a reason.

very kind

This idea of being able to impact all on your own is at the core of everything I do and it's something I believe deeply. I believe in DIY in that way. I believe if you make cool stuff people will respond. You probably have to be a little more cringe than you want to be and push stuff in front of people, but people will respond.

I started this newsletter at an advantageous moment. July 2020 was maybe the best time to start self publishing online. People had a lot of bandwidth and enthusiasm for it. I found support from a lot of writers I was a fan of and people who would become my friends– I met my friends and co-hosts of Endless Scroll because I wrote about Anthony Fantano early on. I consider myself lucky to have started it at that moment from an audience perspective, but starting it at any point would have helped me with my sense of self and my trajectory as a writer.

I've said it a thousand times before, but I didn't go to school for writing. I didn't even really have to write much in college at all. I didn't really start writing at all until I was about 20/21 and done with college. I made zines before the newsletter that connected me to now-friends of mine that I've made zines with. The first time I ever felt any level of validation in creating anything was when Leor Galil mentioned a zine I made in something for the Chicago Reader. My writing starts with zines, but starting this newsletter is really the reason I have done anything cool the last 5 years or so.

Because I have that perspective, when I look at the state of journalism or essay writing or broader culture writing, I'm only able to look at it from the perspective of young people who are more like me. It took me a long time to figure out who I was or wanted to be at all. I'm not alone in that and I think that's sort of for the best in some ways, but it can make the world of professional writing feel like a gated community.

I struggle to relate to someone who had full time positions in 2012 or someone familiar with the intricacies of lit magazines. I sometimes struggle to relate to writers who knew they wanted to be writers at 16– though I think having self published work is incredibly valuable for those people too. Every writer I know who is younger than me does self publish. I think you have to.

The value of newsletters for younger people is answered by the very core of self publishing. It is vital to be able to find yourself and explore writing as a medium outside the bounds of what is timely and can be published by websites with ever-constricting bandwidths for freelancers. Lots of writers love to get on the internet and encourage people less professional than themselves to not write– to write less, shut up more, don't think you're special, you shouldn't write stuff like that– but that shit sucks. Write more. Write until you know who you are and then write more.

Next week I'll write about music I've been listening to or something like that I promise.

Miranda Reinert is a music adjacent writer, zine maker, podcaster and law school drop out based in Chicago. Follow me on Twitter or Instagram for more waxing poetic about self publishing: @mirandareinert.  This blog does have a paid option and I would so appreciate any money you would be willing to throw me! You may also send me small bits of money at @miranda-reinert on venmo/on Paypal if you want. As always, thanks for reading!