Why Authors Refuse Lucrative Substack Offers | Books

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Subscription newsletter platform Substack announced on Wednesday that it has signed an exclusive deal with Salman Rushdie – but he’s only the latest in a growing number of authors to make the leap to write direct-delivered serial fiction. in the inboxes of subscribers who pay a monthly subscription.

Several comic book writers and artists have announced lucrative deals to provide exclusive content for the California-based company founded four years ago, in some cases bypassing contracts with Marvel and DC to do so.

Among the comic book writers who have made the jump, James Tynion IV, whose star is certainly on the rise, turned down a three-year contract to write Batman for DC in order to write for Substack.

Tynion, who was named the Eisner Awards’ Oscar-winning comic book industry best writer earlier this year, has two series in development as TV shows and is writing The Nice House on the Lake series for them. DC’s “mature readers”, Black Label, as well as Batman’s writing.

It was the success of these creator-owned titles, to which he and the rest of the creative team retain the rights, that made him turn his back on the caped crusader.

On his blog, Tynion wrote: “DC presented me with a three-year renewal of my exclusive contract, with the intention that I will be working on Batman for most of that time… And then I got another contract. . The best I have ever received in a decade as a professional comic book writer. A grant from Substack to create a new list of original comic book properties right on their platform, which my co-creators and I would fully own, with Substack taking no intellectual property rights, or even publishing rights .

Molly Knox Ostertag, Skottie Young and Scott Snyder also signed with Substack. Marvel screenwriters Saladin Ahmed (Ms Marvel) and Nick Spencer (Amazing Spider-Man) are also on board.

This differs, for example, from creating content on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, through which many comic book projects are funded and delivered directly to contributors. Substack pays advances to content creators. And this is how they hope to attract renowned prose fiction writers such as Rushdie to the model as well.

Substack’s Lulu Cheng Meservey says the company calls this a “professional deal,” with advancements on a sliding scale based on the writer’s profile. She says, “We have several authors in our sights who are currently published traditionally, and we are proactively approaching writers who we think would do well at Substack. Over the next couple of years you will see some very recognizable names. “

Other authors who currently use Substack include Maggie Stiefvater, who publishes one exclusive fictional short story a month for paid subscribers, and music writer Zack O’Malley Greenburg who publishes his book We Are All Musicians Now.

Substack takes between 10% and 15% of an author’s income from subscriptions and offers editing, proofreading, art and design services, as well as legal services as part of its packages.

While comics have a strong independent DIY philosophy, with prose writing there is still a gap between traditional publishing and self-publishing. Can Substack overcome what many see as a stigma attached to it?

“Substack is very liberating for authors,” says Meservey. “They can publish directly to their readers, they have full control, retain all their rights. We are building a community around them so that they can have direct contact with their readers. They can serial publish, just like Charles Dickens did.

And that, says broadcaster and cultural commentator Mark Lawson, is the bait that just might attract some of the big names.

He says, “Most novelists fantasize about writing a serial novel at some point. Perhaps the most famous example is Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities, which was serialized in Rolling Stone. But then there was still an arrangement that it would then be sold to its usual publisher and appear in book form. “

Several comic book creators have said they will release their serialized digital comics in physical form and at least one of Substack’s existing prose writers, non-fiction author John McWhorter, who serializes his work The Elect on the platform, has a traditional agreement to publish it as a book after its Substack release.

Writers flirting with the idea of ​​Substack would be best viewed, Lawson says, in football terms: they’re probably on loan from their existing editors, and not transferred for good. He doubts that the big names will turn their backs on traditional publishing.

“If you take detective fiction, which is selling wildly now,” he says, “the big names have long established series, so if Substack were to join, for the sake of argument, Ian Rankin, Peter James and Val McDermid, they could get a new book from them but they couldn’t get their backlist. And that’s where the value is for a lot of perpetrators.

That said, Lawson believes readers would certainly shell out for a Substack subscription if that was the only way to read their favorite author’s latest novel. But he wonders if the model is sustainable.

“Even with their own editors, writers are not under exclusive contract. They sign up for two or three pounds at a time, and they do other things. Substack could get them to do an experimental novel or try out the serial fiction they want to do, ”Lawson says. “And if this works incredibly well, what’s going to stop mainstream publishers from just sticking with the idea and publishing their own authors’ serialized fiction through their own paid newsletter service, rather than letting Substack do it? To do?”

For Rushdie, the Substack deal is about finding a “slightly more complex connection” with readers, and giving him space to talk about things that “are just too important to be discussed in tweets … I think the new technology always makes new art possible. forms, and I think literature has not found its new form in the digital age, ”he told The Guardian earlier this week. “I’m just diving in here and that will be, you know.” Either it will be something wonderful and enjoyable or it will not be. “

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