Help Me Keep Doing This
A heartfelt plea.
I am good at business (not).
I’ve got a real doozy of an offer for you.
How would you like to pay for something that you could also get for free?
I’ve been sending this newsletter into the world for more than a year. Doing a little back-of-the-envelope math on the fifty-eight posts I’ve shared, the entire corpus of The Biblioracle Recommends is longer than The Great Gatsby.
Anyway, this has been a great deal of fun, particularly for something I had zero expectations for when I began.
I started the newsletter because I feared that the new owners of the Chicago Tribune would see me as a line item not worth preserving. The newsletter could serve as a lifeboat for anyone who was reading the column to find each other as we figured out a next move.
It’s become more than I could’ve imagined. Having a spot to stretch out a bit, to be more myself, and to exchange thoughts with a community of interesting and dedicated readers has been energizing. I often find myself thinking about what I want write about in the newsletter when I should be working on something else.
But here’s the rub, as much as I enjoy writing this every week, I can’t continue to do it indefinitely for free. As a freelance writer, I have a very direct relationship between my labor and my income. I write something and then I get paid for it. I also have only so many hours in a week. Dedicating a chunk of those hours to something I know is not income producing is a luxury I can’t justify indefinitely.
In a perfect world where time is infinite and I do not have to worry about my labor and my income, I would never have to make this request, but we don’t live in that perfect world.
So, I’ve decided to turn on the paid subscriptions feature for the newsletter.
Looking for community
Here’s the other rub. I don’t really want to put the newsletter behind a paywall for subscribers only. The whole point of this kind of writing is to share it with as large a community as possible, and while I understand the allure of exclusivity as a way to drive revenue, I don’t want to go that route.
My pledge is to keep all of the newsletter content free regardless of whether or not you are a paying or free subscriber.
The added value for subscribers will be priority service on book recommendations. If you are a subscriber and send in your list of recent reads, you go to the top of the queue. If the queue is long enough that there’d be a delay in conveying the recommendation here, I’ll email you your recommendation directly.
Be a “founding member.”
For “founding members” I’m offering a full book concierge service. Want to get a recommendation for yourself, a loved one, a book club, something to prop your window open? I’m your guy. I’ll Zoom into your book club meeting and thank you in the acknowledgements of my “Best of the Biblioracle” collection that I’m hoping to pull together in 2022.
If this thing takes off and it’s possible to do more posts or pay outside contributors, maybe some of that will become exclusive, but if you’ve enjoyed the content provided here up to this moment, please know that it will continue to be free to all regardless of subscription status as long as I’m able to do it, which will be as long as I can, but will be much longer should it become an actual remunerative part of my portfolio of work.
I suppose I’m now demonstrating why I am a writer and not a businessperson, asking people to pay for something I’m giving away for free. It’s the public broadcasting model, and I’m not even offering a tote bag.
Why this is probably going to fail.
Everything I’ve read about how to monetize your newsletter says I’m doing this precisely wrong. Exclusivity and paywalls are strongly recommended. Content that antagonizes some group or another is what gets the most circulation on social media because it is shared by the people who both love and hate you. I have no desire to deliberately antagonize anyone. I’m just a guy who likes thinking and writing about books and reading who wants to talk with other people who have similar passions.
My hope is that there’s enough enthusiasm for the newsletter for people to support it with a few dollars a month so I can keep doing it every week.
That said, I’m prepared to accept the verdict of the audience. I’ve been writing long enough to know that not every project is viable in the marketplace - lord knows I’ve had my share - and this may be one of those.
Next week I’ll be getting back to our regular content, but for now, a thousand thank yous to anyone who has read my writing about books over the years, and thank you in advance to anyone who decides my work here is worthy of your support.
I believe it’s as simple as clicking on the button right here:
…where you will be prompted with the choices of a monthly subscription ($6), annual subscription ($60), or founding member ($250 default, but you can put in any amount above $60 if you’re so inclined).
My Chicago Tribune column this week ruminates on the unsurprising choice of To Kill a Mockingbird in the New York Times survey of the best book of the past 125 years and how it’s okay to question these choices and what they mean.
Hanya Yanigahara’s To Paradise is going to be one of the most talked about books of the year, particularly if reviews are as divergent as this from Lynn Steger Strong, and an almost polar opposite take from Ilana Massad.
Here’s an interesting interview at LitPub with the team from independent press Europa Editions, publishers of Elena Ferrante among many other choice authors.
This is one of the best, most interesting essays I’ve read about how we read in the digital and social media age. It’s by Kate Harding. It’s long, but very worth your time.
Buzzfeed has “26 Books to Get Excited About This Year.”
Craziest story this week. A staffer at an Italian publisher was arrested by the FBI for impersonating various other publishing professionals in order to steal unpublished manuscripts from authors both famous and not.
You must check this out, link of the week. Inspired by my method for recommending books by asking the five most recent reads, Mia Billetdeaux, at her newsletter, “Borscht for Breakfast” is asking people for five recent meals and then recommending what they cook next. Check it out if you’re looking for inspiration in the kitchen.
The final affiliate income tally for 2021 was $308.05, reaching and exceeding our annual goal of $300, which means I’ll be matching that donation with one of my own, so Open Books will be getting a check for over $600.
This year’s goal is to be last year’s total. I’ll match any total up to 5% of the annualized revenue for the newsletter or $500, whichever is larger.
If you’d like to see every book I recommended in this space last year, check out my list of 2021 Recommendations at the Bookshop.org bookshop.
The list of 2022 recommendations will be filling up week by week.
Recommendations are always open and supply is low from the holiday lull, so waits are short. Some will even be featured in the print edition of the Chicago Tribune.
1. The Ninth Hour by Alive McDermott
2. Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane
3. Charlie Martz and Other Stories by Elmore Leonard
4. The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad
5. What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
Dick C. - Michigan City, IN
Dick looks like a reader who enjoys some wit along with mystery and intrigue, which brings to mind Mick Herron’s “Slough House” series, which I have been doling out to myself in morsels so as not to run out. The first of the series is Slow Horses.
A somewhat belated Happy New Year to all, and may your 2022 be filled with wonderful books!