Subscription newsletter platform Substack announced Wednesday that it had signed an exclusive deal with Salman Rushdie, but he is just the latest of a growing number of authors making the leap to write serialized fiction delivered directly to subscribers’ inboxes. They pay a monthly fee.
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 avoiding contracts with Marvel and DC to do so.
Among the comic book writers making the move is James Tynion IV, whose star is certainly on the rise, and who turned down a three-year deal writing Batman for DC in order to write for Substack.
Tynion, who earlier this year was named best writer in the comic book industry “Oscars” at the Eisner Awards, has two series in development as television shows and the script for the series The Nice House on the Lake for the label ” mature readers “of DC, Black Label, as well as writing Batman.
It’s the success of those creator-owned titles, to which he and the rest of the creative team retain the rights, that led him to turn his back on the cape crusader.
On his blog, Tynion wrote: “DC had presented me with a renewal of my exclusive contract for three years, with the intention that I would work on Batman for most of that time… And then I received another contract. The best I’ve been given in a decade as a professional comic book writer. A grant from Substack to create a new list of original comic book properties directly on their platform, which my co-creators and I would fully own, without Substack taking over any of the intellectual property rights, not even the rights of publication “.
Also enrolled in Substack are Molly Knox Ostertag, Skottie Young, and Scott Snyder. Marvel writers Saladin Ahmed (Ms. Marvel) and Nick Spencer (Amazing Spider-Man) are also on board.
This differs from, for example, creating content on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, through which many comic book projects are funded and delivered directly to contributors. Substack is paying down payments to content creators. And that’s how they hope to attract renowned prose fiction authors like 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 that are currently traditionally published, and we are proactively reaching out to writers who we think would do well on Substack. Over the next two years, you will see some very recognizable names. “
Other authors currently using Substack include Maggie’s stepfather, who publishes an exclusive fiction short story per month for paid subscribers, and music writer Zack O’Malley Greenburg, who publishes his book We Are All Musicians Now.
Substack takes 10-15% of an author’s earnings from subscriptions and offers editing, proofreading, art and design, and legal services as part of its packages.
While comics have a strong freelance and DIY ethic, with prose writing there is still a divide between traditional publishing and desktop publishing. Can Substack overcome what many see as a stigma attached to the latter?
“Substack is very liberating for authors,” says Meservey. “They can publish directly for their readers, they have full control, they keep all their rights. We build a community around them so they can have direct contact with their readers. They can serialize, like Charles Dickens did. “
And that, says broadcaster and cultural commentator Mark Lawson, is the bait that could attract some of the big names.
He says: “Most novelists have the fantasy of writing a serial novel at some point. The most famous example is perhaps Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities, which was written as a series on Rolling Stone. But there was always an understanding that it would later be sold to its regular publisher and would 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 authors, nonfiction author John McWhorter, is serializing his work. The chosen one on the platform, you have a traditional agreement to release it as a book after its Substack release.
Writers who flirt with the idea of Substack would look better, Lawson says, in football terms: They’ll probably be on loan from their existing publishers, they won’t carry over forever. He doubts the big names will turn their backs on traditional publications.
“If you take crime fiction, which is selling hugely now,” he says, “the big names have long-running series, so if Substack does sign up, for the sake of argument, Ian Rankin, Peter James, and Val McDermid They could get a new book from them but they couldn’t have their fund list. And that’s where the value is for many offenders. “
That said, Lawson believes that readers would definitely pay for a Substack subscription if it was the only way to read their favorite author’s latest novel. But he wonders if the model is sustainable.
“Even with their own publishers, the writers don’t have exclusive contracts. They sign up for two or three books at a time and do other things. Substack can have them do a novel as an experiment or try out the serial fiction they want to do, ”says Lawson. “And if it works incredibly well, what will stop major publishers from taking the idea and publishing their own authors’ serialized fiction through their own paid newsletter service, rather than letting Substack do it?”
For Rushdie, the Substack deal is to find “a slightly more complex connection” with readers and give him the space to talk about things that “are too big to discuss in tweets … I think new technology always makes it possible to new art forms, and I think literature has not found its new form in this digital age, “he told The Guardian earlier this week.” I’m just diving here and que sera sera, you know. Or will it turn out to be something wonderful and nice, or it won’t be. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism