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I'm Publishing My Next Book on Substack (tedgioia.substack.com)
71 points by mathgenius 3 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 58 comments



(Disclaimer: I both self-published books and also write a paid newsletter on Substack)

The author of this article makes the point that Substack pays ~90% in revenue, versus traditional publishers which do ~10%.

While this is true, I do think the author seems to deliberately avoid mentioning the self-publishing platforms like Gumroad, Podia etc which allow authors to keep 95-96.5% of revenue when publishing books, and also have a direct connection with people who bug the books through emails. I say this as someone who published through one of these platforms. (Also, there are other newsletter providers which charge even less of a commission, like Revue charging 5% or Ghost or ConvertKit charging a monthly fee based on the number of subscribers, which could come out to below 5%)

A real (financial) pull of publishing a book via a monthly, paid newsletter is the higher revenue per customer. A customer won’t pay more than, say, $40 for a book. But they’ll more likely pay ~$120 by paying $10/month for a year. See also how Steven Sinofsky is publishing his book series Hardcore Software on Substack with the option to pay up to $300/year to get a final, printable PDF edition of the series once finished. I paid $100 to read this series for a year and one of my friends went for the $300 option.

Holding on to publishing rights is a huge difference when going self-publishing or newsletter-first. When I worked with a traditional publisher, only then did I realize I have no rights to publish my words without publisher consent: this was when I asked if I can share drafts of my writing in public, and the publisher said this is down to approvals on their end. This realisation was a reason I ended up self-publishing instead. As the author of the article notes, by keeping publishing rights, it’s always an option to sign a contract with a publisher for a print book.

What is not written in the article is how self-publishing makes a lot more (financial) sense once:

1. You have enough of a reach to not benefit much from the - sometimes surprisingly little - marketing that a traditional publisher does

2. The association with a publisher brand is no longer a priority.

3. You don’t need a publisher helping you finish a book pushing you with deadlines (they sure help!)

4. You are ok paying for - or doing yourself - editorial things (development editing, copyediting, proofreading)


> A real (financial) pull of publishing a book via a monthly, paid newsletter is the higher revenue per customer. A customer won’t pay more than, say, $40 for a book. But they’ll more likely pay ~$120 by paying $10/month for a year. See also how Steven Sinofsky is publishing his book series Hardcore Software on Substack with the option to pay up to $300/year to get a final, printable PDF edition of the series once finished. I paid $100 to read this series for a year and one of my friends went for the $300 option.

Wow, this sounds awful (for the customer). Is that where publishing is going? $120+ for a book?


Is anyone else surprised that Sinofsky, who must have made - at a minimum - tens of millions of dollars at MS, feels the need to charge at all - let alone $300 for a pdf - for his memoirs. It’s almost as though he doesn’t want people to read them.


feels the need to charge at all

lol. Bill Gates' book on climate change is selling for $14 (Kindle version) https://www.amazon.com/How-Avoid-Climate-Disaster-Breakthrou...

I can understand charging for hard copy, but why does someone worth 100B feel the need to charge for digital version of his book on the most important topic of today, climate change? Even if 100,000 people buy it, that is what, 1.4M? Bill must make more than that in the time it takes for him to drink his morning coffee?

That said, it is his book, he can do whatever he wants with it. He was kind enough to make the PDF available for free for college kids, for a while... https://www.gatesnotes.com/Energy/How-to-Avoid-a-Climate-Dis...


I suspect for Gates it might have been a condition of getting the publisher to promote the hard copy version. If the pdf is free then hard copy sales would be much smaller. Still he could have paid for the promotion etc.

I guess that Sinofsky thinks he has a very niche audience who can well afford $300 so they he might as well get them to pay.


There is no one on Gumroad that wants to read books. Substack is more than a e-commerce stripe checkout flow. Author can keep 100% of their earnings (except CC processing fees) if they use a static webpage and a Paypal button; this is missing the point entirely.


You’re saying gumroad doesn’t have the “discoverability” or “reachability”? I’m interested because I wanted to publish my next book through that platform.


I have never browsed on Gumroad (or Leanpub), I have never logged in except to buy or download. Every (e-)book I have bought on Gumroad I found somewhere else (sometimes here on HN), and there it was linked to the Gumroad page.

You should plan to have a book web site, at least. And probably submit it on HN.


That's not what I am saying. Specifically for books. There might be users logged in to look for other things regularly, but Gumroad would not be a place to find readers.


If you want discoverability, Amazon is a much better bet. Definitely entails other tradeoffs.


I'm surprised that substack shows up so often on HN. It doesn't support syntax highlighting, tables, Latex, and has no widgets for data or interactive visualizations. Perfect for lots of audiences who want long-form writing, but HN?


It’s a YC company. I don’t see much special for it, let’s see how long it lasts. At least Medium did some very unique things with their text editor (I challenge anyone to find a more enjoyable _writing_ experience than Medium in the world of online editors, barring Google Docs)


What? Medium is horrible to write. We basically migrated from it because it’s like word. Who likes to write using word besides non-techies?

And even then, I’d chose wordpress over medium any day because of how restrictive and gated medium is. Their rss feeds are also so hidden it’s annoying.


You may not agree, but from a technical / UX perspective it is impressive - the rest of their UI platform sucks but I think their editor is top notch

https://medium.engineering/why-contenteditable-is-terrible-1...


have you tried Quip (https://quip.com)


How is this related to blogging / text editing?


> I challenge anyone to find a more enjoyable _writing_ experience than Medium in the world of online editors, barring Google Docs

I was responding to to the bit about online editors, and Quip has a very nice collaborative editor that has a lot of useful functionality (which eventually makes its way into Google Docs)


Interesting - thanks, I’ll check it out sometime


Yeah, it’s honestly a bit weird.

I think the cause will be a combination of being a YC company along with community that has a general skepticism of legacy media outlets and an enthusiasm for alternatives. Plus the nature of the platform as a “no curation” direct channel from writer to reader lends itself to a particular kind of writer that’s attractive to that same community.

Personally I’m not really on board and a “substack.com” domain is now a negative quality signal for me in the same way as “medium.com” has become, but I can totally see why it’s a hot topic for some.


I don't think any of that has substantial effect, most users aren't writers, this is true in traditional social media, and is even more true in substack.

As a reader, I like substack. It promotes a healthy diversity in opinions unlike the increasingly ban-happy established social media and puts some power back into the writer's hands, at the cost of shattering the "For Free!" illusions of free beer social media.

What I just wish they do is realize how goddamn fucking aweful their rock-slow website is, how astonishingly user-hostile and actively infuriating it is to use.


I'm surprised no one has built a better publishing platform for books/multi-page content. Almanac's editor (based on Prosemirror) is top notch (https://almanac.io/), but it's a different target market. I'm trying to build a similar editor for the publishing space along these lines at pagespace.app.


YC company. Thats all you need to know.


Is there anything out there that does what you’re suggesting?


During the height of the culture wars (probably 2020) it was one of the few outlets with dissenting opinions presented in a credible and well written way.

It is for classic liberals who want free thought, so it seems logical that the site shows up here.


There were lots and lots of blogs with similar opinions.

It’s really the case that they played up their hosting of some controversial writers in order to build publicity - hence one of their founders appears on Joe Rogan etc.

You can admire their stance and business model or not but let’s not pretend they were out of the ordinary.


You should use Smort.io [1]!

I've been building Smort to be the best place to read online. Just add smort.io/ before any URL to read the article in Smort. No login needed!

Demo: https://smort.io/demo/home

You can annotate, edit with markdown, save articles permanently and also share the annotated articles with other people. We also have inbuilt arXiv support so that you can read arXiv papers without wrangling PDFs. Latex equations are rendered quite well!

[1] https://smort.io


Piece neglects an extremely important point. Ted says he has tens of thousands of subscribers, which I assume puts him into the top 20 newsletters, or close anyway. On internet platforms a minority of creators reap outsized rewards and subscriptions are highly concentrated.

He moved to a platform after decades of traditional publishing which got him the position he is in. It's like Taylor Swift starting her own record label and wondering why she keeps so much money now.

Small creators rely on distributors for advertisement, management, organizing events, networking and so on, none of which Substack does and none of which Ted needs. I don't think going down that route is good advice for anyone who isn't already extremely big. It's like going from being a member of the actors guild to becoming a Twitch streamer. If you're really famous you can likely carry your readers over, otherwise you may have a problem.


Small creators rely on distributors for advertisement, management, organizing events, networking and so on, none of which Substack does and none of which Ted needs. I don't think going down that route is good advice for anyone who isn't already extremely big. It's like going from being a member of the actors guild to becoming a Twitch streamer. If you're really famous you can likely carry your readers over, otherwise you may have a problem.

You are correct. It's not a valid comparison. Publishers help promote the author. Substack does no promotion.


Very interesting article, but that first line about Walter White didn't really do a good job in setting the correct tone for the article.

That being said, the book he plans on releasing in installments about music looks good.


I think that's the only notable thing to take from the article.

Walter White is the new Che Guevara. Now everyone thinks about Walter White when they feel a bit rebellious.


It's like back in the day, when a bunch of Victorian (?) novels were published by chapter in newspapers.


Dickens published his works in serial format so that was pretty cool (https://www.uvic.ca/library/research-teaching/collections/se...)


One of my favorite books is The Screwtape Letters, by C. S. Lewis[0].

I'm not a Christian, and don't agree with everything, therein, but the book is a great treatise on general decorum and a thoughtful approach to basic morality.

That is exactly how it was written.

I'm pretty sure The Martian, by Andy Weir, was written that way, as well.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Screwtape_Letters


Serialization in newspapers and magazines was actually very common right up until the late 19th century into the 20th.


I’ve heard le compte de montecristeau was published like that.

Mangas are still published like this (in jump) I believe?


For mangas yes. In jump and other magazines. Printed on very cheap paper probably worse than hygienic one.


Doubles down as TP


It helps greatly that he already has a huge brand. Part of the role of the publisher is to promote authors, although that that has changed to favoring social media.

It would also seem like writing posts is a way better ROI on time compared to a book.


Yeah, and it looks like that with the Substack and Twitter audience growth comparison he is doing apple and oranges thing while ignoring that he fertilised the orange tree with apples.


Summary: because it’s all about “Me”! Me me me.


Interestingly enough the opening sentence was

“I’m a little like Walter White in the TV show Breaking Bad.”.

The moral of the story in Breaking Bad was that Walter was so self absorbed and selfish that he risked everything in his life.

How clueless we all are about the machinations of our own ego.


Using this as an opening sentence without any irony is the worst thing I ever read.


This thread is an example of the worst kind of commentary to be found on HN. These knee-jerk negative responses have become a meme at this point.

Instead of jumping to conclusions about the article (and author!) based on its first sentence, how about we take some nuance into consideration and try to understand where they're coming from?

With a positive attitude, you can clearly see that the author's comparison is towards the character's desire to focus on their work, instead of the "messy" processes around it. It's a superficial comparison about this one specific trait, not about the entire character or the series.


It’s good critique. Think about how much is conveyed in just a sentence. You wrote three paragraphs to a one sentence reply. How much did one sentence make you think? A lot.

In other words, you are proving that our initial takeaway from the opening sentence was valid.

How egotistical, to publish your book in a unconventional way, explain that you are doing so, proclaim you are a little like Walter White. How could one not judge the whole thing?

So what’s the critique here? Maybe there’s a better way to fucking say stuff. And one should, especially if you are literally in the business of expressing yourself.

Why doesn’t he tell the truth? Would a publisher even publish it? Would a paperback even get to a store? Does he have a better chance at marketing and broadcasting the book in digital form? Probably right?

But no, he’s little like Walter White.

What’s truly meme status now days is self aggrandizement and constant exercises in vanity and patting one self on the back. It has scaled to ridiculous levels, and the overwhelming waves of it drowns valid criticism.

No, you shouldn’t write this article at all. You should publish your book, evaluate it’s success and failure, and then write your analysis.


It's a Twitter hot-take that shouldn't be rewarded. We can expect HNers to be better.


Perhaps your issue is that you believe people can be judged based on their choice of social media, or that your reactions here serve as a "reward" for anything.

HN is not Lake Woebegone, where all of the posters are above average.


Is that worse that believing that people should be judged by their understanding of the deeper meanings behind the AMC prestige crime television series Breaking Bad?


The author, is a writer.

They comprehend that the first few words that you present, will set the tone and understanding for what follows. That any nuance created, flows onwards from the context that you have first presented.

Some random writing on Twitter, or in their own little blog, should be afforded more sympathy than just their first sentence, because they probably don't have a clue what they're doing. That is not the same context as someone who intends to present a literary work, that can hold itself, on its own value.

Much like how we would hold a CEO more responsible for his words, than a warehouse employee. Both may be representing the company, within their context, but one comes with a set of expectations and responsibilities that the other would never encompass.


He gives detailed calculations about how it is better for him financially(and for creative freedom) to publish on Substack. John McWhorter did something similar, wrote out the chapters of his recent book as separate essays on substack. Neither of these two are unknown names. There is something happening here.


I don't care about the creativity of an artist, if to access your content I have to connect to the internet and browse through an unfit proprietary platform and read your long form content through a bright computer screen for hours you'll have none of my clicks. I hope he publishes the thing in PDF or EPUB when he's done, otherwise it's just like reading a novel with a magnifying glass and by glueing together the newspaper extracts.


I don't find it very strange that his substack follower count grows more quickly than his twitter follower count as the twitter count will have direct influence on his substack growth. I am sure he is also aware of that, that's why he grew his twitter account in the first place.


About the much lamented monopoly power of a few publishers the author should consider that book sales are power law distributed as are movie sales. There is little to no point to self publishing he will still probably be in the tail end of the distribution


I don't know bruh but Substack sucks for Developer blogging.

HashNode.dev has a better editor, syntax highlighting just works and the UI is not a mess.


It might just be me, but I'm not sure what substack has over other platforms that offer better commission rates or even flat fees. They have some social graph / discovery features, but it feels very half-baked at this point. Most of the people who're tremendously successful on substack, Ted included, seem to already have an audience outside of the platform itself anyway.

In fact, some of the controls that I have to cede to them just to get my posts pay-walled were just unacceptable to me. Just the other day I realized that it's very easy to bypass the paywall to any substack websites. You just simply have to:

1. Change the useragent to 'googlebot'

2. Clear your cookies, if you'd visited the before.

3. Profit(?)

I get that they probably did it for some SEO optimization purposes, but I'd like to have to liberty to opt out of this behavior for my newsletter, hosted under my own domain no less.


This is an unlabeled advertisement for substack. Please stop the endless substack spamming. They just lie about the earnings they all have relationships with substack, stop fucking commuting fraud by allowing all these fake “I’m just a random influencer and I love substack” posts, it’s illegal to not disclose that they are paid to say this.


How do you know it’s a paid ad by Substack? I’m perfectly willing to believe that, but the simpler explanation seems to be that it’s an ad for the author’s book.


After your comment, I went and read the article too. Scroll down to the below part onwards

> 10 REASONS TO PUBLISH A BOOK ON SUBSTACK

> (1) Substack is an accelerating platform:

> A few days ago, I had a chance to sit down with Substack’s founders while they were visiting Austin. I told them that I was initially skeptical about the platform, but a moment arrived when I finally grasped the way Substack empowered me.

I honestly doubt someone who just met the founders of a company face to face would then write an article purely void of any need to promote the platform, plus when you look at the text following what I quoted, I doubt that would be written without checking with the company first.

My 2cents, I could be wrong.


On the net your default assumption for someone promoting something is that its paid. Its not always true but its far more often the case than not.




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