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Issue 52: A Year Around the Sun

Reflections on a year of newsletter-ing, and what to look forward to next year.

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ft. Quo-Host

Hunter X Hunter The Last Mission - Overture (Companion Song to Read With!)

Dear Reader,

Food For Thought

With this issue, we are officially marking the one year anniversary of the newsletter!

Anniversaries give us a great excuse to pause and reflect on the what and the why of the work completed, the lessons learned.

In this issue, I'd like to go over what I have learned from shipping a weekly newsletter, reveal some metadata and go over if maintaining a weekly newsletter was worth it.


The first question that should be answered about any decision is why. A strong why is a foundation upon which an abstract tower (and real ones, for that matter) is built. Without knowing why you are doing something, failure will surely arrive, either through atrophy, or through some immediate event.

The whys of the newsletter for included:

  • can I publish something that I am proud of consistently?
  • can I experiment with my writing style, and become a better writer?
  • can I compete on the Internet without having or maintaining a social media presence?
  • can I make money from writing prose and/or code?

At the start of the year of issues, I had no answers to any of these questions. Now I am happy to say that I have answers to all of them! I'll be going over the results of these whys at the end of the post.

Business Details

It needn't be said that any endeavor, creative or otherwise, will eventually begin to need energy from outside the system to power it. Initially, you as the provider will be providing the entire energy from your own resources. It will eat into your mind and spirit. And probably your pockets too.

How much did I pay for the newsletter and my site? In 2023, I spent: Ghost Pro = $300/annually, Google Domain + email address = $12/annually. My analyics provider, Plausible, costs $60/annually. There are other costs that are rounding errors against these three, but any person should be able to create a Ghost account and buy a custom domain and begin publishing today, if they so choose.

How much did I make this year? From my calculations, I've made roughly ~$400 since the genesis of the newsletter. This means I made about ~$33/month running the newsletter. Definitely not enough to support a life, or even a newsletter frankly, but being breakeven for what I pay to host and giving me the privilege to write weekly is a good start.

In terms of growth and engagement, the open rate for the newsletter this year has averaged around a 52-54% open rate. This has stayed consistent through the growth of the newsletter. Issue #1 was delivered to 29 people, and the previous issue, Issue #51 was delivered to 130 people.

These opens matter less than the feedback I have received. Over the year of publishing, I have received personal replies or direct messages from ~8-12 members of the community (depending on how you count), which means a lot, since writing and publishing said writing can often feel like pouring your soul into a black hole.

Technical Details

The existence of a weekly email newsletter implies at the very minimum, that email software exists. There are many options to running a newsletter in 2024. I use Ghost because it is the only offering that makes sense for me. I am a developer who wants customizability so I can dive into the look, feel and functionality of my site, but I do not want to have to manage the "everything else" parts of running a modern website (email SMTP, user subscription billing and accounts, server management, SEO, mobile-first rendering, search, comments, etc.). I am a writer as well, which means that I focus on writing. Developers with personal sites often only end up writing one or two posts on their website per year (or forever) because of their insistence to own everything or pay zero dollars in favor of spending hours of their lives reinventing the wheel. Writers suffer the opposite problem of becoming too dependent on the platform they post to, without owning it, leaving them subject to changes decided by developers who may or may not be sympathetic to their causes.

Substack and buttondown are popular options if you want to write without having control. Hugo and NextJS are popular options if you want to have control, but not write. In my opinion, in the long term, you'll need both. But something is better than nothing, and perfect is the enemy of the good.

Life Lessons

So, did I get better at accomplishing my why as the year progressed?

In terms of consistency, I have sufficiently proven to myself that not only can I indeed publish weekly, I can publish hard things that make me think. I made a promise to myself and my readers, and I keep that promise to the best of my reasonable ability. This ability to speak and act on your truth is necessary for self esteem.

In terms of experimentation, the issues have become much more ambitious as they have evolved. Issues started as a compilation of work done that week, as well as things I found across the web that entertained me. Issues over the course of the year have evolved into essays thousands of words long (this particular issue clocks in at over 2500 words). By consolidating, reshaping, and not being afraid of failure, I have learned a lot about what it means to set goals and then take steps towards their reality.

I have become a better writer as well 🙂, yes.

In terms of social media competition, I'd say the results were mediocre to good. No issue went "viral", outside perhaps the well read series ending up on the front page of Metafilter, but the growth has been slow and steady. As I have said before, I am much happier with the creative breadth and depth I have achieved with the newsletter. I could not have done that spending 24 hours a day arguing on Twitter or bragging on LinkedIn.

In terms of money, I have played around with certain posts being free and others paid, etc. etc. This has not worked as I hope, and as a soloprenuer, efforts to make the newsletter profitable and sustainable are key to its continued existence. I have a plan going forward for the second year of issues (discussed below) to bring more revenue into the coffers while maintaining quality, adding discoverability, and not ceding any control. We'll see how it plays out! Email Newsletter Season Two

What will the future of the newsletter look like? Heading into year two there are going to be some substantial changes, while other things will stay the same.

Going forward, the newsletter will include a audiovisual arm as well as the written arm.

I want to improve the profit margins as well as increase the discoverability of for this next year, and to do that, I need to break into video. The videos will functionally feel a lot like the written versions, with the advantage of not having to read them. In addition, a special new creation, Quo-Host (discussed below) will be helping out!

Staring with this issue, I will be taking a month off from newsletters.

I need to write some scaffolding code for season two, and I need to get better on camera with the technology and resources I have access to.

In addition, I am working on an exciting app: Quo-Host, a LLM agent podcast co-host that retrieves relevant quotes from books as you are talking in real time. Many of the lessons I'm taking into Quo-Host were inspired by the lessons I've learned building this newsletter, including the importance of highlights inside quotes, and that the creative process and final output is heavily influenced by the quality of material available in its creation.

Finally, I want to slow down and take some time off. Unfortunately I have other projects in motion that prevent a "true break", but it is important to realize that work can never be "done" and productivity is merely a stream. We need lazy parts of the river, and we need rapids.

Going forward from the return of the newsletter in issue #53, the newsletter will be video and text alternating.

This means the newsletter will still be every week, but half the weeks will be embedded YouTube videos, and the other half will continue to be essays as you see now. Full videos will only be available to paid subscribers, but the first half will be free. This may or may not extend to the written version as well, but I doubt it. We'll see.

And Thank You!!!

Finally, thank you, dear reader, for sticking around. Writing is something I feel compelled to do, much like we need to breathe, but having my writing be read by other humans completes its purpose, and for that, I am in your debt! I'll see you in a month!

Writing is motivated by an impulse not only to direct ideas but also to direct them toward another. Only when a piece of writing reaches another, a reader, does it achieve this underlying intention. Writing is not only a reflective, inwardly directed gesture but is also an expressive, outwardly directed (political) gesture. One who writes presses into his own interior and at the same time outward toward someone else.

-- Does Writing Have a Future? (Electronic Mediations Book 33) (affiliate link)

I placed the highest priority on the sort of life that lets me focus on writing, not associating with all the people around me. I felt that the indispensable relationship I should build in my life was not with a specific person, but with an unspecified number of readers. As long as I got my day-to-day life set so that each work was an improvement over the last, then many of my readers would welcome whatever life I chose for myself. Shouldn’t this be my duty as a novelist, and my top priority? My opinion hasn’t changed over the years. I can’t see my readers’ faces, so in a sense it’s a conceptual type of human relationship, but I’ve consistently considered this invisible, conceptual relationship to be the most important thing in my life. In other words, you can’t please everybody.

-- What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (Vintage International) (affiliate link)

On My Gilded Nightstand - Favorite Newsletter Issues

Here are a collection of my favorite newsletters over the year! Give them a read!

Insane in the Meme-brane

want human programmers to create ideas I haven't seen before. I want the universal sea of 0's (the world before the first computer was created) to be poetically and methodically converted into 1's by a new generation of technologically enabled code-artists.
Issue 3: Insane in the (Meme)brane
On insanity, garble, shared understanding, and audiovisual content

Blogging in 3D

How blogging was fundamentally changed by the existence of sharing chats with LLMs.

Issue 13: Blogging in 3D
Better Never-Better than Better-Never, I suppose!

Can a Gardener be a Perfectionist?

A thesis into my favorite book of 2023, Gardens by Robert Pogue Harrison.

Issue 19: Can a Gardener Be a Perfectionist?
The Henry Fordification of life and prospect

The Real Book Quotes of L.A.

Nine weeks before the issue where I announce Commonplace Bot (below), my first experiment in getting quotes into vector format and "doing" something with them.

Issue 20: The Real Book Quotes of L(ibr).A(ry).
Is everything becoming embedded inevitable?

Napoleon's Secret Weapon

I like this issue because of the breadth of topics it covers, as well as stretching my skill in novel tasks of art, programming, storytelling, and thinking.

Issue 22: Napoleon’s Secret Weapon
You are what you read.

Bleeding Edge Technology is Made for Silly Art

In this issue, I get to play with creative coding. I really do love creative code. I also introduced the Random Post button, a mainstay of

Issue 23: Bleeding Edge Technology is Made for Silly Art
an analysis on what it means to be human

A House of Cards & Time Block Reflection

In these issues, I am vulnerable about how my life is influenced by decisions and failings, as well as a look into my systems that keep me going.

Issue 27: A House of Cards
What are your foundations? How good is your soil?
Issue 37: Sixteen Weeks of Time Blocking
When you hold the sand from a broken hourglass in your hands, it’s just sand.

Anything But Commonplace

This post marked the launch of my most ambitious project to date, Commonplace Bot.

I cannot sufficiently convey in words how impactful Commonplace Bot has been to my reading practice, as well as my writing process.

From this issue forward, the influence of the commonplace Bot is clear in my work, and I have no doubts that will continue to be the case going forward.

Issue 29: Anything But Commonplace
Commonplace Bot is live!!

We All Start as Strangers

An issue about friendship. Friendship is underrated in our day and age.

Issue 34: We All Start As Strangers
If you got a chance, take it!

Self Surveillance

The concept of arbitrage is important to me because I think it is something I do well that many knowledge workers do not, and it is an immense psychic relief to do correctly. Not to mention, great for progeny.

Issue 38: The Art of Self-Surveillance

The Losers of the Open Source Movement

I think the open source movement is over hyped. Especially when wielded by virtue signalers.

Issue 39: The Losers of the Open Source Movement
When the movement trends towards a cult

The Holiday Series

My first "series" issues. I think my look into the downsides of Christmas were interesting, though I did receive feedback that it might have been a bit harsh. Some predictions for the current year.

Issue 40: Santa’s Got a BIG BAG (of baggage)
The Holiday Edition Pt. I
Issue 41: Reflecting on 2023 and Predictions for 2024
The Holiday Issue Part II

Are GPTs Websites?

I think GPTs are a really big deal, though it might take a bit to get there.

Issue 42: Are GPTs Websites?
Or are they perhaps something else altogether?

The Well Read Series

This series has gotten me called a snob by the Internet, but if I am to be a snob, I am more than happy to be a snob about books. A reading habit is a critical component to a life well lived.

Issue 44: Is Being Well Read Actually a Thing? Part I - Zero to One
The superpower we neglect to use

Your Art or Your Life Series

In this series, I go over why having your own site in 2024 is not only the cool thing to do, it is the right thing to do.

Issue 50: Reset your Social Media Annually
On the controlled burn of online profiles

Thanks for reading, and see you next Sunday next month!

ars longa, vita brevis,