Trying to Start a Newsletter in 2023?

Self-Portrait in an Abandoned Church in Rural Alabama

Can You Build Subscribers in Such a Saturated Web Space?

Is this the most overused word in the Internet writing space these days, a Newsletter? I’ve kinda always hated the word. It depicts such formality. News AND a letter. It also comes with such authoritative knowledge in the chosen topic space.

I had questions…

  • What if you actually aren’t an authoritative voice in any given space?
  • What about how saturated the space is, all of the Internet? Does my voice really matter with all the other noise out there?
  • Am I just contributing to the noise or is this a useful exercise?
  • What about Substack? WordPress? Hey (who)?
  • Is it worth even attempting to write on Medium again in 2023?
  • Can you build subscribers post-Medium Partner Program Changes date? They say you can? I like the direction they lay out, although the complexity is mind-boggling.

Can You Still Gain Followers, and Where?

I started writing on Medium from the moment they went live. Then I slowly quit as the hype died away. Then I came back a few times over the years, and now I want to give it a go again but all my “friends” are gone? Who is left on Medium, other writers? Maybe that’s better? Now I’ve given up on that “Medium” as the paywall and all the barriers to entry are too high. So what about WordPress, Substack, and all the other places out there? Are any worth my time?

Today it seems as if everyone wants to write their own newsletter on their own platform with their own subscription. Keeping up with multiple subscriptions is an asinine pain. I liked Medium. One subscription and you get the whole site, all their writers. I like the design, functionality, diversity. Really, my only beef is I have always had a hard time with the stats. It’s hard to be positive when your goal is something above… zero.

But if I was to write a “newsletter” on… well, WordPress today, I think it would go something like this…

There Would be an Introduction to the Newsletter

Ever since I made my first website back in circa 1992 I have wanted to write online, to share my thoughts and ideas with others. To learn from other people’s perspectives and points of view. Back then it was a post-AOL self-hosted Internet world. A “free” Internet of intrigue and ideas. An Internet before commerce and advertising took over. It was a glorious time. I was using a company called Concentric Network (now bought many times over and eventually owned by Verizon).

According to the first time the Wayback Machine crawled my site www.concentric.net/~sfillmer it was 1999. I had not looked at that page in maybe 20 years until now. Apparently, the Wayback Machine exists just to exploit my complete lack of creativity in building my own website as it looks almost the same in 1999 as it does today. How is that even possible?

But here we are a mere 24-ish years later and I’m still asking myself the same questions. Back in the 90’s it wasn’t called a “newsletter” it was just computer nerd stuff nobody cared about like called Bulletin Board Systems (BBS). Today is different. There are rules for newsletters today. Rule #1 is newsletters are for monetizing your followers, but I digress.

There Would be No sales. No ads.

I HATE ads. Hate them. Hate. So I seek out places on the Internet that are free from ads. Medium is just one of those places. The others are… 🤔

My newsletter would not selling anything. I would not ask my followers to DO anything (other than maybe read). I would want to have genuine conversations with people for the sake of learning theior story, not solely for the purpose of I’m your clickbait friend. Did I mention I HATE ads with a passion. So I would put somewhere in the description of my newsletter “No sales. No ads.” because that’s important to me.

And how many spaces do we have left in our daily lives where the agenda is to enjoy the space without being sold something? If I ever find space like that, I stay longer, engage more, and feel lifted up. Ads wear me out. They are so engrained in everything we do it’s impossible to get away from them.

I Would Need a “Why” Behind Such a Newsletter

Trying to figure out the “why” was much harder than I thought. Everyone has those standard excuses “I don’t know what to write,” or “I don’t have anything to say,” or “who is going to read this anyway,” and so on.

There are countless excuses why not to write, but in the end my thinking came down to (1) I like to write, take photos, talk tech, and discuss matters of faith, and (2) I like to connect with others online. I came up with plenty of other reasons, but the “why” got narrowed down to those.

You have to have a defined topic to talk about, you can’t just ramble on about anything that comes to mind. I think that must be rule #2.

There Would Need to be “What” Behind the Newsletter?

I think a newsletter would be mostly for me to try to understand myself better. But maybe someone else has asked this same question, “What would be the point of me starting a newsletter?”

In case someone else was also struggling with the same thing, I came up with a list:

  • To make space for creativity to happen
  • To create original content just for this space
  • To be a launching point for interesting topics
  • To engage with readers in a fun and positive way
  • To provide some kind of value to readers
  • To have content that doesn’t depend on social media
  • To create new content OFF social media
  • To one off friends and family so I can be as cool as they are
  • To force myself to into a creative head-space again
  • To create content without having to conform to the expectations of someone else
  • To just to do something I enjoy doing for the sake of doing it
  • To create a more personal community through subscribers
  • To take and post more photos
  • To read other people’s newsletters more often
  • To be more open with sharing media and content
  • To discuss topics I personally enjoy
  • To continue to refine my writing skills
  • To earn some money (🤫)
  • To get out of my comfort zone
  • To live life more freely and open
  • To be more vulnerable and face the fear

I would love to read other people’s newsletters. So I would seek out other newsletters. Other people who aren’t trying to sell me something, but are just trying to figure out life in this world. Real people. Not Insta-people, real people.

I would subscribe to their newsletter and learn about what goes on in their world. If someone wanted to start their own newsletter, I would encourage them to just do it and not worry about what people think or whether it’s “good enough” or not.

Just be you. It only has to be is unique to you. Nobody else can be you. You are what’s interesting to me. To make original content interesting and fresh, you can’t just copy what has already been done, you be you, and I will be me.

There Would Have to be a “How” Behind this Newsletter

How would I organize such a newsletter? I would break up the organization of my newsletter into sections of interest, like Photography, Technology, Faith, all in token sized bites of curated content, easy to swallow but with some spice.

It would have to be easy to read, skim, or click through on interesting things from around my Internet world.

To steal a term from the crypto world, I would offer a few tokens, or findings if you prefer to hold people’s interest, and mine. For me, this would be categories like:

  • Photography… lots of original photos
  • Technology… something unique not overdone
  • Thinking… outside the box
  • Living Life… just everyday life stuff
  • Matters of Faith… hopefully small inspirational things
  • The Uncategorized… an open creative space

I may or may not hit each topic (token) in each issue, but that is what makes up the sandbox I made for myself, it might change.

What Would NOT Be in this Newsletter

Sometimes it’s easier understand what something is not. I would have to set some ground rules for myself. It would not be…

  • a place to sell things
  • a soapbox
  • a place to be intentionally controversial or divisive
  • a place for politics
  • a place with a hidden agenda of any kind
  • a place for negativity or trolling
  • a place to criticize or judge others
  • a place with a narrow point of view
  • a place that didn’t listen well

How Often Would You Post?

Oh, I didn’t say anything about frequency. I might want to do a daily post, but that might be a bit much. A weekly (out on Friday) newsletter sounds good, but who knows. It may be bi-weekly, monthly.

Can you be less consistent? I think that breaks rule #3 about newsletters.


Newsletter Issue 01:01.001

I would have to do a sample newsletter, just to try it out for size to see if this is something I would really want to do. After all, this is going to take a lot of time and effort. So I will go ahead and create a sample newsletter to start.

Photography

This question came across my screen the past week asking, “Are we allowed to be creative for the sake of being creative?” I loved the answer.

In America, no. Somehow, our artwork and creative pursuits is only seen as virtuous if we are able to earn money from it, “make a living from it”, or preferably make a killing from it.

For example, if you tell other people that you’re a photographer, probably the first question they will ask you is if you earn money from it, or if you make a living from it. Why do people ask you this? Because once again, to earn money from some thing is a legitimizing force. To do something, without concern of money is seen as pointless.

Erik Kim Photography

I have fought this notion for as long as I can remember. Especially as it pertains to photography. Kim’s newsletter (posted below) has a lot of really good thoughts about just shooting and ignoring the noise that constantly surrounds us.

I’m trying to get out and shoot more and worry less about how perfect it looks. Instagram has made photography “too perfect” among other things. The only person that has to like the image you’ve created is yourself. And if you don’t, you have a way to improve.

From My Lightroom Archives

I remember walking through the woods on this trail thinking this is the greenest-green I’ve ever seen. Looking at it years later I still think the same thing. Here is the full high res version with explanation if you are interested.

The first question we must deal with is to define photography, or to at least try to discuss what it is, and why it is significant. Everything I Know About Photography

Erik Kim Photography

Technology

Technology moves so quickly these days that it’s fascinating to see who knows what and uses what apps or devices. I have friends that know nothing about the software I used and vice-versa. I found it fascinating to see the technology I used just to publish this newsletter. Sure some can use nothing but a keyboard, but these are the things I used to get this article published.

  • iA Writer
  • Revue
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Twitter Write
  • Refind
  • Typefully
  • Readwise
  • Instapaper
  • Procreate
  • RSS Readers (Feedly Most)
  • Safari, Chrome, and Firefox
  • Tailwinds
  • WordPress
  • Apple Mail
  • iMessage
  • Lightroom
  • Photoshop
  • an iPhone Camera
  • Sony a7iii Camera
  • an iPad, a MaBook, and a Mac Studio
  • and Apple Music for sanity purposes

I’m sure I’m leaving something out, but you get the idea. We use a lot of stuff to create. Our brains have a fantastic capacity to learn and retain information.

Thinking Outside the Box

This is about thinking outside the box, not living like Davey Crocket or something like that. There are so many different ways to “thinking offgrid,” but for us, it’s about how do we live with less, to be content with less.

Doing things that aren’t necessarily attached to the “main grid” of life is what I consider “off grid.” Cable vs streaming is a good example. We canceled DirectTV 10–12 years ago, and that was a move off the grid of cable tv. It was a fantastic move for us back then. There are almost countless things in normal life that can be seen through this lens (more on this in later issues).

Most recently, we bought a 20 year old van to convert into a camper, RV, #vanlife, whatever you want to call it. This is offgrid for us. We are just getting started on this project, but we have done this before when we converted a Greyhound Bus into an RV.

Matters of Faith

I read a lot more now than I did years ago. Still not as much as I would like. One of the best apps I’ve come across with regards to reading is the Readwise app which pulls in all your kindle highlights, articles, books, all kinds of things, and then puts it in a short daily email called Your Daily Readwise.

This was a great snippet in my email the other day.

We live forward. Ecclesiastes teaches us to live life backward. It encourages us to take the one thing in the future that is certain — our death — and work backward from that point into all the details and decisions and heartaches of our lives, and to think about them from the perspective of the end. It is the destination that makes sense of the journey. If we know for sure where we are heading, then we can know for sure what we need to do before we get there. Ecclesiastes invites us to let the end sculpt our priorities and goals, our greatest ambitions and our strongest desires. (View Book on Amazon)

Living Life Backward by David Gibson

I love that. Let the end sculpt our priorities and goals. It’s so easy to let distractions rule the day.

The Uncategorized

I will leave you with a drawing I did for Halloween a while back. Don’t judge. I’m trying to learn how to draw like a 5 year old again. Procreate App is awesome for that. I’m happy with that.

In my experience, doing anything for the wrong reasons almost always kills any creativity and freedom that can happen in that space. Most “good” reasons today almost always revolve around how much money it can made, or how many “members/followers” of whatever you can gain (because more followers equals more money). I’m trying to ignore those reasons.

And so there you have it. If I was going to write a newsletter today, I think that is how it would go. Maybe I will just stick with single articles and prose… newsletters are just so formal. 🤔

🟢 Cat:

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