Ready for Rain is a newsletter I started nearly two years ago as a way to practice writing. Each week, I write an article that usually has over 1,000 words and tells a story. These are often personal and focused on events in my life, like publishing books and building a house. It’s a lot of work to publish 1,000 words each week, but it something that gives me great satisfaction. Subscribers seem to like it too!
Early in the process, I started using the Revue newsletter platform. It’s part of a new breed of email newsletter tools that is purpose-built, simple to use, and affordable. It worked OK, but there were things about the situation that bothered me. My words were being archived on someone else’s website. The visitors to the newsletter web page were seeing someone else’s design decisions. I didn’t have control.
For example, Revue’s main call-to-action says “Subscribe to Our Newsletter”. To me, this sets the expectation that the visitor is viewing a blog and that the newsletter is secondary. Also, who is “our”? What about MY newsletter? I suggested changing it and was brushed off.
I wrote about this kind of platform risk in Big Enough. At Common Craft, we’ve made it a priority not to build our empire on someone else’s land (or algorithms). Now it was time to bring this thinking to my personal website.
My goal became to make leelefever.com the home of the newsletter. But there was a challenge. I had written 85 posts on Revue, full of images and links. These posts could be copied into blog posts and the links could be changed, but it would be time-consuming. So, as I’ve done in the past, I found a contractor on UpWork to do the work, which is happening now.
Soon, this blog will be the only home of Ready for Rain posts. All links will point to leelefever.com and all images will be hosted on my server. Then, I will cancel my account on Revue. Liberation!
Going forward, newsletter posts will begin life as blog posts that are also sent as newsletter issues. I plan to use the email marketing platform ConvertKit that we’ve used for years at Common Craft to send the emails. I also plan to learn markdown as a way to draft new posts.
In October of 2019, a news website called Splinter, which was under the same management at Gizmodo and Jezebel, was shuttered and the staff was fired. So, a group of Splinter writers created a new news site that became a labor of love. It’s called the Discourse Blog.
This story probably sounds familiar, but I think its outcome is becoming a model for the future. The people at Discourse developed the new site and earned an audience, but the content remained free. The model wasn’t supporting their livelihoods. At the same time, they saw an opportunity to have unconventional aspirations that went against industry trends. As co-owner Aleksander Chan wrote:
But we’re also immensely motivated by what we hope will be a new frontier in digital media: Truly independent, worker-owned and operated publications. We have zero aspirations to grow into an enormous media conglomerate making hundreds of millions of dollars; arguably, one reason why so many publications are struggling and thousands of journalists have lost their jobs is because all the wrong people are getting into the business to become the next Murdochs, Redstones, Sulzbergers, etc.
The team recently announced that the blog would soon be available with a paid subscription ($8 per month or $85 per year). Aleks goes on to say that the team has a different perspective when it comes to aspirations for the business.
Our ambitions, we think, are appropriately modest: a small, sustainable business that helps support our livelihoods doing work that is uncompromised by larger corporate interests. No chasing pageviews, no insane, hockey-stick growth goals. Just posts we believe in and actually want to publish.
How refreshing! This is a trend that I hope gains traction. It’s built on the basic idea of Kevin Kelly’s 1,000 True Fans essay from 2008, which has a big influence on me and Common Craft’s design.
To be a successful creator you don’t need millions. You don’t need millions of dollars or millions of customers, millions of clients or millions of fans. To make a living as a craftsperson, photographer, musician, designer, author, animator, app maker, entrepreneur, or inventor you need only thousands of true fans.
His essay was one of the first to open my eyes to the potential to aspire to serve a small but dedicated audience. A big part of that idea is working directly with customers, which Discourse is doing with subscriptions. I wish them great success.
At Common Craft, we spent a decade experimenting with independent publishing. See how we did it in Big Enough.
Friends, 2020 has become a year of widespread and unpredictable change, much of it frightening and disorienting. Our collective snow globe is being shaken and it makes every day feel like taking a step toward a destination that is just out of sight. Then, just when you think you’re on the right track, the globe gets shaken again. It’s frustrating and all-consuming. How are we supposed to do this?
Being an optimist, I am always looking for silver linings and opportunities that could appear from the shake-up. The best I can do, for now, is experiment and consider ideas that I might not have considered previously. It’s in this spirit that I am experimenting with the format of Ready for Rain
For the past 18 months, I saw Ready for Rain as a newsletter that contained long-form essays and stories, mainly about moving to Orcas Island and building a house. These will remain a focus, but the home of my writing will now be the blog on leelefever.com. Starting now, I am dedicating myself to being a blogger who writes multiple posts a week about a wider variety of subjects.
This is your invitation to join me on a trek through the snow. I can’t say that I know where we’ll end up, but I’ll do my best to make it an interesting trip. All you need is the click of a link to follow along.
Recent Blog Posts
A Balance of Ambition and Happiness
This post includes a quote from Bill Watterston, creator of Calvin and Hobbes, that connected with me. An excerpt:
“Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive.”
Excerpt: The potential to move the date felt like an escape hatch. As the news grew grimmer by the day, I became more pessimistic. Marketing and publishing a book during a tragedy didn’t seem right to me on a personal level. This feeling was bolstered by a number of practical considerations.
Excerpt: Even from this distance, I am aware of Liverpool and the anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone” that is sung by fans at the beginning and end of each match. This song (and Liverpool football history) became much more fascinating to me to after listening to an episode of John Green’s podcast Anthropocene Reviewed in which he tells two stories about Liverpool football.
Excerpt: We also started looking into alternatives to propane generators. Along with using fossil fuel, they are expensive and painful to maintain. We wanted to build a house with smarter, more sustainable options that had the potential to save us money over the long term.
Excerpt: The copyright tool found 1,164 Common Craft videos that were re-uploaded to other accounts. When sorted by views, they added up to millions. The highest viewed video had 1.1 million views and others had hundreds of thousands. Many of the highest viewed videos had been edited to include a post-roll promotion for another company at the end. It was amazing and disheartening.
Excerpt: I’ve always wanted to get a photo but they move too quickly. That’s why I was a bit delighted to find one at our construction site. When I walked in, I heard a buzzing sound from our guest room, which currently has windows but no walls. The hummingbird, perhaps for the first time in its life, was battling a pane of glass that wouldn’t budge. After taking a couple of photos, I cupped it in my hand a released it back into the wild.
I write books and run a company called Common Craft. I recently moved from Seattle to a rural island. Here, I write about online business, book publishing, modern home construction, and occasionally, dumb jokes.