In the middle of 2017, I started an email newsletter. It was called “Recommended short fiction on Medium” and the aim was to send out a weekly email which listed three short stories, published here on Medium, that I thought were worth reading. You can still see the residual traces of this newsletter in some of my old posts.
Even at the time, I wasn’t totally sold on the idea. Email seemed like old technology that had been overtaken by sleeker alternatives. People were already getting too much of it: even if they voluntarily signed up for more, they weren’t actually going to sit down and read it. An email newsletter was a dead end. I tweeted that I felt as if I’d just bought a fax machine in 2017.
But I went ahead with it. I tried to hedge my bets by mirroring each issue of the newsletter with a post on Google+. That seemed fitting. A few years previously, Google had attempted to supplant and replace email with their feature-laden new product, Wave. Wave hadn’t caught on. Perhaps people found it too confusing, too complicated. Then Google revamped the product that had reputedly been intended as its social network, its Facebook-killer. According to some observers the revamped Google+ was the replacement for Wave. If I was uncertain about going all-in on an email newsletter, maybe Google+ was the ideal fallback.
The newsletter lasted for about 14 or 15 months. I started it off on Tinyletter, which had been very popular prior to its absorption into MailChimp. I found that I didn’t like certain aspects of the presentation and, as a result, I spent too much time fiddling in the background with the HTML. I had allowed a certain amount of time to read a few stories, pick three and write something short about each of them. At that stage, I felt that my work should be done, but I still had to find a featured image, get the look and feel right and then do a G+ version. It became a bit of a drag.
Then Google+ suffered a data breach and the company announced that the network would become enterprise-only in a few months’ time. There were further problems and the shutdown was brought forward. I took the opportunity to knock the newsletter on the head. I quit Twitter, joined Micro.blog, registered an Irish domain name and built a static website on GitHub Pages. And now, two years on, I seem to be ready to start sending out a newsletter again.
This time it will be on Substack. I’m not going to need a Google+ fallback, as I did with Tinyletter. Substack presents the newsletter’s archive in the form of a visually interesting (though not customizeable) web page, and allows potential readers to follow via RSS if they don’t feel happy receiving regular emails. I was already following two Substack feeds in NetNewsWire: Matt Stoller’s BIG (which is about monopoly) and Helen Lewis’s The Bluestocking (dealing with feminism, politics, journalism, UK culture and related topics — things that interest her, in other words). I look forward to seeing new posts from both of them, though BIG can often seen relentlessly on-topic and I rarely feel obliged to read right to the end.
That single-minded focus that I see in Matt Stoller’s newsletter is one of the things that worries me about my own. I’ve decided that my subject is going to be book discussion and (literary-adjacent) criticism. I’ve done some of this kind of thing before, here on Medium and also on my own site. In fact, the first issue of the newsletter contained links to seven such posts, to give potential sign-ups an idea of what to expect.
Welcome to Talk about books
Thanks for checking this out. I intend to send this newsletter out every 2 weeks, and that it will contain writing…
The newsletter will be free initially. If I get enough people to sign up, I’d like to charge a modest fee eventually, though not soon (I’m thinking of something in the region of US$20 a year, or no more than US$2 a month.) It’s called Talk about books, and I hope you’ll find something in it worth reading.