I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: if I ever had the ability to do longform webcomics again, I’d probably want to do them at Study Group Comics.
WARREN ELLIS LTD Articles.
Seriously hit the wall on Sunday morning, with half a dozen physical alarm klaxons going off with the STOP DOING THIS NOW sound. It was helpfully pointed out to me that maybe writing 140 pages of tv scripts and several comics and other documents and doing script notes and various other things since early March was probably not smart since I am no longer young. I’m just about ahead of everybody right now, so I’m going to slow down for a couple of days. Techbros need to stop fucking around and bring me my android backup body. Oh you made soylent into a chewable emetic bar that still doesn’t qualify as food in Europe? Cool story by the way i’m dying over here fuckoids
tldr don’t email me about work
I just came across this book on Top Shelf’s catalogue, and it’s not out until 2020, so this is very much a note to myself aside from anything else, but I also wanted to save this superb cover. Owen D Pomery is the creator, whose background is in architecture (not unusual in comics – see also Dave Gibbons of WATCHMEN fame) and who operates an attractive website.
This bit is more about background and setup than development.
“Newsletters” is just the term. They’re often anything but, and to sustain themselves over months and years, need to be anything but.
I use the term “Republic of Newsletters” to evoke the Republic of Letters. From Wikipedia, because why not, I’m busy:
The Republic of Letters emerged in the 17th century as a self-proclaimed community of scholars and literary figures that stretched across national boundaries but respected differences in language and culture. These communities that transcended national boundaries formed the basis of a metaphysical Republic.
The first known occurrence of the term in its Latin form (Respublica literaria) is in a letter by Francesco Barbaro to Poggio Bracciolini dated July 6, 1417; it was used increasingly in the 16th and 17th, so that by the end of that century it featured in the titles of several important journals. Currently, the consensus is that Pierre Bayle first translated the term in his journal Nouvelles de la République des Lettres in 1684. But there are some historians who disagree and some have gone so far as to say that its origin dates back to Plato’s Republic. Part of the difficulty in determining its origin is that, unlike an academy or literary society, it existed only in the minds of its members.
It existed only in the minds of its members. That’s me, right there. That’s us.
They are, most often, just letters.
(I could also invoke Alastair Cook’s London Letter and Letter From America here. Which were short radio broadcasts, not letters, but still in the zone.)
I said the other day that “thinking of them as “newsletters” is usually bad and wrong. It’s just the term we’ve got. It’s not the model.” The model is the letter. Never forget that you’re writing to someone. It’s a letter from home, a letter from the road or from HQ or from out here on the Thames Delta. But it’s still a letter. (Never use the personalisation system some pro newsletter operations offer — so many people do not plug their actual names into the system that your friendly “Hi, ($name)! becomes “Hi (quite a lot of space here, or even just NAME) !” which just creates weird distance between you and your reader and makes you look like a robot scam artist.
Oh. Speaking of not a robot. When I was setting up Orbital Operations, many years ago, the system told me it would send a note to subscribers to let them know their subscription had worked, and what would I like it to say? Very late at night when I’m doing this. Very tired. So I just typed something like “yes that worked but unfortunately i know where you live now sorry.”
Funny joke about surveillance culture and internets yes, not a robot at all, absolutely dated dad-humour human here, press save. What the fuck ever, it was the middle of the night and I got it done. And never ever thought about it again, because of course I don’t get those emails. Until a couple of months ago, when a female friend emailed to tell me that a female friend of hers signed up and got that email and was instantly nooooooope fuck that, that is creepy and wrong. Which, obviously, it can absolutely present as. So I listened and went straight into the system and spent twenty minutes trying to find the fucking setting and then fixed it. I’m an idiot.
You’re writing a letter. Be human. Be welcoming. Do not set this shit up when you’re tired and just trying to get it done. Double-check every line and intent when you’re setting up. And don’t make stupid fucking jokes about knowing where people live and then forget all about it thirty minutes later and leave it there for several years ffs
Which needs a better title, but this is a blogchain (thanks again for that term/process, Venkatesh) about developing out Orbital Operations and adding new things to it.
I have just starting batching newsletter production, setting four editions in motion at once. This is a worrying turn towards “professionalism,” for something that is often slapped together at the last minute because, hey, it’s 10pm on a Saturday night and oh shit I haven’t started Sunday’s newsletter yet OH SHIT OH SHIT
Which happens, well, since this is me we’re talking about here, about as often as you’d expect.
Anyway. I’ve started the next four. For reasons.
I have always done newsletters, since I discovered the technology in the 1990s. They’ve gone through various names and iterations over the years. For the last several years, it has been Orbital Operations, always going out on a Sunday. I’ve had to schedule in skip weeks and the very occasional skip month, before, but it always comes out when I’ve said it’s coming out. As of right now, it has 21,783 subscribers. The tracker logs its open rate at around 60%, but testing indicates that the open rate is far higher and that readers defeat the tracker in various ways.
It costs me two hundred quid a month to run, plus the hosting for the most basic landing page in human history.
I happened to follow a link to something today and ran into myself. “This newsletter is the creation of graphic novelist and writer Warren Ellis and it’s likely the most unique newsletter on this list. It’s a direct feed into the brain of a really smart, really interesting guy.”
So that’s ne. It’s not a vast GOOP-scale audience, but it’s also not a newsletter that just links out to blog posts. I think it’s probably a confusing read for many, who come to me as comics readers or book readers or Netflix watchers or saw me speak somewhere or read an essay or saw my robots clicking on Twitter or whatever. I’m interested in a lot of different things, I do a lot of different things, and the foci of the newsletter are kind of tidal. And 21K people have hung on throughout all my meandering bullshit, so I think I can accept now that Orbital Operations is its own thing with its own life.
I need to get my thinking out in front of me now so I can see it. I need to think about what kind of thing it is, and how I should develop it going forward. It needs different voices in it — I’ve tested that in the past with good effects — and it needs to be a bit less work for me, and it would be nice if it at least paid for itself but let’s not go nuts Warren.
This, then, is me thinking about newsletters, and Orbital Operations, and considering its next steps. Maybe it’ll be useful to someone else, and that would be nice, but it mostly needs to be useful to me. We will see, reader, we will see.
A thought about newsletters in general: thinking of them as “newsletters” is usually bad and wrong. It’s just the term we’ve got. It’s not the model.
I’ve been thinking about buying one of those mini-printers that bluetooth to your phone and let you print out little 2-inch x 3-inch Zink photos with sticky backs. So I could just take a photo of something, print it off and stick it in my notebook, with the digital original waiting to be backed off into an external drive later.
I suspect those little photos don’t have great archival duration. So, in ten years, I or my daughter might open one of those notebooks to find little blank rectangles stuck all the way through it.
I have saved a shitload of photos over the years. I mean, for many years I’ve had an automated system that saves off any photo I post on Instagram, because I do not need them owning the potential only copy of any photo of mine.
And I think several of us, around the same time, came to the momentary position that perhaps we don’t want Instagram to have them at all. Or at least not all of the photos we have a use for. I find, for instance, that I’m happier posting them here, and may do more of that. Even though square photos come with metadata that confuse the fuck out of WordPress and often causes it to post them on a 90 degree rotation for some dumb reason.
I admit, I’m not sure where I’m going with this. It’s an… urge? Without a lot of theorising behind him. I would like to use the available tools as tools more, maybe? Getting hold of these things and bending them more towards personal purpose?
(because category jotter is for fragments and randoms)
Georges Simenon used to write a novel in eight days, producing between six thousand and eight thousand words a day. He’d start at dawn each day and be done by 10.30am, drenched in sweat. In his younger days, it’s said, he’d throw up after completing his shift. One of my favourite stories about Michael Moorcock is that he’d start a book on a Monday when the bill from Harrods came in and deliver the novel on Friday to get the cheque to pay it.
I cannot imagine what these things are like. I’m a 500-word-a-day novelist. Sometimes I wonder if I’m too late to try it: whether it’d kill me, whether I’d dry up halfway through. Whether it would even be worth it. These things stand like megalithic stones in the landscape of a writer. I know I’m working in their shadows. But I also tell myself: what muscles do you tear and what do you lose when you try it?
Simenon owned wolves. But he had to give them to a zoo after they ate the cat.