Catch Up Week Day 2: 80's Sequel Reference [Trenchant Edges]

Going over our Taxonomy of Weirdness and my original plan for the newsletter

Welcome back everyone, today’s going to be pretty short as I definitely over sat yesterday.

This sounds silly but really does mean I need to spend most of today in bed.

This is the Trenchant Edges, I’m your host Stephen, and this is Catch-up Week where we take a moment to look at some of the important posts from the past and step back to apply our usual toolbox to the future of the newsletter.

I want to talk to you

Before we hop into Catch Up, I’d like to offer up a chance for you and me to connect a bit more personally via zoom.

Just follow this link to schedule a time:

I’ve got a couple of newsletter-related questions but mainly I’m curious about y’all.

Catching Up With Weirdness

This Newsletter, to a large extent, is about coping with Weirdness.

Weirdness is anything your culture’s stock answers didn’t prepare you for and comes in many varieties.

As part of exploring this idea, we’ve developed a simple Taxonomy of Weirdness to guide what we’re looking for and what we’re trying to avoid.

First, there’s pulp fiction rumor, urban legends, and schlock. Low Weirdness.

Low weirdness appears to be trivial, but can be very important once higher forms of weirdness show up because it sets expectations and tropes for engaging with it.

Next is the schlock of cults, religions, and institutions or Middle Weirdness. MW is all about organization, be it MLM or a self-help seminar. This is where a lot of stuff on the edges goes to be domesticated.

Last is High Weirdness, or The Good Stuff as I think of it. This is the weirdness that’s hard to entirely write off or deny. Or, worse, the weirdness that happens to you.

The Original Plan for This Newsletter

At 12:34 pm June 25th, 2020, I posted the following on facebook:

In my quest to figure out some way to both generate interesting and useful content, avoid the traps of online influencer culture, and get paid enough to justify the time and effort so I never go homeless again I think I've found a business model worth testing.

A research-focused paid email newsletter, built around 1-2 month long projects. 2-3x a week. The result is a multi-thousand word deep dive on some special topic published on something like Medium or maybe psymposia or

Followed by a vote on what the next research project is.

The first thing would be a deep dive into Terence Mckenna's Timewave Zero.

The cost would be something like $5/mo or $30/year, ideally with an option to sponsor someone interested but who can't afford to pay.


And followed up with some math:

My cheapest client is $25/hr right now.

I figure I can add 10 hours/week for this without screwing my more lucrative work over. 

For the Terence project, it's going to take rereading at least: The Invisible Landscape, True Hallucinations, and The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss. Plus a decent mess of Terence's lectures (reduced by the Terence McKenna transcription project). 

Each is 200-300 pages, which will take me about 3 hours to read not counting time to add notes and such. 

So, adding an hour for notes on each gets us a total of 12 hours, add 3 for fucking with transcripts, and another 8 for lectures and that's 23 hours. 

There are a few people I'd like to interview (Kat Harrison, Dennis, Finn, the guy who programmed timewave zero if he's still around), which would be an hour each. 

Writing takes about 1 hour/1000 words, revising and editing takes about the same for the same length.

I figure I probably can't do this in less than 3,000 words, and 5-6 is pretty likely. Might end up at ten if I'm not concise. Let's be conservative and assume 5k total.

27 for interviews, 37 for writing and editing. 

Hell, let's call that an even 40 to account for anything else 'cause we all like big round numbers. 40x25 is 1000. Which means I'd need about 200 people chipping in to make the math work.

Is that possible?

Oh! fuck! I forgot processing fees. So, substack takes 10% and stripe probably takes another 5% so adding in nonpayment and renewal kinds of things that's probably a 20% margin.

So that'd be 240 people not 200.

I'd call something like 100 people an initial critical mass for me to start working.

Now, I’ve never gotten anywhere close to 100 paying subscribers. I’ve currently got 30, with another 24 people comp’d for various reasons. Some are mods in groups I started, some are people who asked me to comp them (which you can, btw, do at any point), and one of them is my mom (hi mom!).

One thing I didn’t expect is how many people would prefer yearly subscriptions. In fact, I started this newsletter on that very night when a friend asked me how he could pay me for the newsletter.

About half of my current subscribers are yearly, and that makes sense because fewer unsubscribe or have payment problems every month.

So the math to hit $1k/mo is quite a bit different.

A core challenge I’m working on is that I’ve largely avoided promoting this anywhere but my own platforms. This means that I’ve mostly been pitching it to people who’ve been getting my content on Facebook for months or years.

Which is cool and helpful, but I’ll have to shift and clarify things more to appeal to people who don’t regularly engage with me.

I don’t regard how much less than what I planned or wanted to make here as a failure. Not just as a “learning opportunity” but because figuring out how to write something sustainably here is more or less part of my healing process.

This *could* have been just another abandoned project. I’ve got a million of those.

It isn’t.

And I’ll take the win there. ;-)

Finishing up Today

I’m taking the time to analyze this newsletter as a business for a couple reasons.

First, I prefer transparency. Y’all are coming along with me so you’ve got a stake in the mechanics of how and why. Is it important that I initially thought I’d price yearly subscriptions at $30/year, but left it at the default of $50 when I set it up? I don’t know. That’s up to you.

Second, a lot of people are intimidated by business thinking. And I’d guess a sizable chunk of this audience have contempt for it. But the crap comes from how profits are created and distributed in most businesses, not with the concept of profit itself.

A business that does more than break even is self-sustaining. And that’s a neat quality for an organization to have. For all the talk of money being fake and the legitimate fakeness of money, it does proxy for real things like time, effort, and organization.

Third, many of the constraints around this business apply to many others as well.

Granted, my numbers here are tiny compared to anything large enough to sustain a staff, but that’s the point. Bringing in enough revenue to access cheaper credit and float the business is vital. Literal life and death.

All that’s worth understanding.

Anyway, be seeing you tomorrow.


Oh, and because of the intense demand, here’s another Chicken photo. This time with the crew engaged in their favorite pastime: Eating.