Celebrating an entire year of madness
Heartfelt thanks to everyone who’s come on this journey with me
The story so far
Last summer I’d reached an inflection point. I’d spent the prior two years writing a novel which failed to hook an agent. That outcome was a sure bet statistically, but a bummer nonetheless.
Deflated, but not defeated, I regrouped, recognized my craft wasn’t up to snuff, channeled my latent rage, committed to improving, and in September began a second, entirely new novel — the first draft of which is this-effing-close to completion.
Despite my renewed vigor, myriad artistic, commercial, and philosophical questions remained:
How could I continue improving as a writer?
What strategies and tactics could I leverage to make my sophomore novel more appealing to bloodsucking literary agents?
Were there any lunatics out there who might want to buy a novel written by me? Besides my wife and besties?
How might I find and engage those lunatics?
What other types of stories could I write?
How could I get eyeballs on those stories?
Could writing become my “career?” Or at least a side hustle?
Was I compelled to write? Or simply having a midlife crisis?
The answers to many of these questions elude.
But of this I’m now certain: I have been, am, and always will be a writer.
I never fostered childhood dreams of becoming a famed novelist. Or delusions of grandeur of winning fancy literary awards. I just love to write. It’s what motivates me. It’s what I’m good at — allegedly.
I’ve stocked shelves. Made irrelevant molecules. Marketed overpriced drugs. Pitched the stocks of morally — and eventually financially — bankrupt companies. Played hagiographer to fraudulent biotech companies.
Other than the shelves, only creative writing has inspired.
But writing — especially books, especially novels — is a terrible idea.
The publishing ecosystem is fragmented and fiercely competitive. The few remaining large publishing houses are in chaos, clinging to broken, anachronistic business models while our nascent digital overlords run circles around them.
Market valuations tell the story.
The proposed (and now terminated) merger between Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster — two of the world’s five largest publishing houses — valued the latter at a paltry $2.2 billion dollars.
Even after the recent stock market meltdown in the tech sector, Netflix has a market capitalization around $130 billion. Disney’s stock — though a conglomerate of multiple distinct businesses — is valued over $175 billion. Meta: circa $300 billion. And we all know Twitter was hilariously bought by our Chief Twat for $44 billion.
These companies don’t sell books, but they do sell advertising masquerading as addictive content.
Fact is modern consumers are inundated with choice, and reading sterile paper pages isn’t anywhere near as fun as watching babies, dressed as pandas, who are also ninjas, sauté chicken in Nyquil.
At the same time, the ongoing digital revolution has democratized online writing. Nowadays any self-aggrandizing dickhead — like me — can write a novel and pitch an agent. Or self-publish their replacement theory treatise on Amazon.
Demand down. Supply up.
Even Jay Powell can figure out that’s a bad combination.
Armed with my fancy MBA and experience as a globalist, corporate cuck, I knew the commercial prospects of writing a novel were grim.
Armed with my legendary tenacity and hardheadedness, I didn’t care.
As I continued to research and analyze the publishing marketplace, looking for any tips and tricks to help me break through, a common idea kept reappearing: aspiring authors should develop a platform.
Agents, editors, publishers, hacks and other hangers-on all co-signed the idea, which — if done successfully — should allow writers to organically build their readership.
Having a dedicated following (e.g., future customers) from a blog, or social media account, or podcast, or whatever, could improve the odds of successfully pitching an agent, then a publisher, and ultimately selling books.
The reasoning is sound, though likely apocryphal. Moreover, the concept — particularly for fiction authors — suffers from circuitous logic: famous published authors have large platforms or huge social media followings because they’re famous published authors; they’re not famous published authors because they have large platforms or huge social media followings.
But I digress.
And besides, what else was I gonna do? Mine crypto?
So early last fall I set out to build my platform.
The tools at my disposal left much to be desired. My only digital presence was a dilapidated LinkedIn account. I wasn’t on Facebook, Twitter, Insta, or TikTok. By that measure, did I even exist?
My aversion to social media was — and is — longstanding.
I really didn’t (and still don’t) want to plug myself into the Zuckerberg machine. As a washed forty-two-year-old, video and photo heavy apps didn’t exactly inspire. And long before Muskageddon I knew Twitter was a dumpster fire (I joined the sinking ship this past March nonetheless #choices).
More importantly, I didn’t want a platform to be aggressively online, desperately trying to accumulate artificial followers. I wanted a platform to write, where I could show real people I was hungry, and willing to do the work, and my ideas and my voice were worth their precious time and attention.
Of course, that’s a big obligation. As a depressive, unemployed, middle-aged, stay-at-home dad, I was reluctant to commit to such an endeavor.
But my wife, Felicia, my bedrock of support, challenged me to get out there.
“Develop a legitimate business plan for your stupid little art project, or take your sorry ass to the local homeless shelter,” she said.
Properly motivated, I endeavored to build a portfolio of work. My goal was to produce at least one piece of satire, comedy, or humor per week. Or an exploratory essay about a topic which interested or amused.
During Thanksgiving weekend last year I began drafting my first few pieces. A few days later I launched a Medium page.
To kick things off with a bang, I reposted my one and only award-winning story:
And followed it up with this Christmas-themed gem, which laid the foundation for the upcoming year.
Then I just kept writing.
By January, I’d found my voice.
By February, I’d found my rhythm.
By March, I’d built momentum.
But by April I began questioning my channel and content strategy, i.e., was Medium the right place for an aspiring novelist? Were email newsletters the new hotness? Could I build a viable, if tiny, “business” using a different service?
For those and a variety of other reasons — which I detailed in this spicy launch post — I migrated to Substack in May.
That’s when I created Field Research.
That’s when I began ironing out my creative (and potentially/hopefully commercial) strategy.
That’s when — together — we started building this community: week by week, story by story, subscriber by subscriber.
Now, one year later, here we are. And what an absolute pleasure and privilege it’s been.
From a creative standpoint, this has been the most rewarding and fulfilling period of my professional life.
I’ve written over sixty stories, which have entertained, educated, appalled, and triggered. I’ve engaged with warm and generous readers. Met and collaborated with brilliant and talented writers. Experimented with new forms and techniques. Taken huge swings and big risks. Elevated my skills and honed my craft.
To everyone who’s supported me: thank you, thank you, thank you!
To close out this post, I want to celebrate the first birthday of my platform, bask in the resounding success of my burgeoning online media empire, and show you all my appreciation and gratitude.
So please enjoy the following Thanksgiving-inspired, Field Research-approved lovefest, sponsored by Hallmark and Lifetime.
Shoutouts to my fam
First and foremost, shoutout to my lovely wife, Felicia, who’s stayed married to me despite my blatant failure to live up to her expectations.
Her abject disappointment is matched only by her unwavering support. Hopefully, one day, for her sake more than mine, I’ll get something published somewhere prestigious and dull her immense pain.
Second, shoutout to my wonderful kids. Loving, caring, kind, and considerate. Always willing to be big helpers. Never deigning to be unreasonable. Or irrational. Or emotionally manipulative. Or psychologically unstable. Or physically violent.
Not a single day goes by when you two don’t support my vision of writing full-time. When you two don’t go the extra mile to make things easy for your dad.
I’m truly blessed.
Third, shoutout to my old dad. Your abandonment instilled in me the kind of warped, cynical, deranged, and distorted worldview required to write these depraved stories.
True artists thrive on nihilistic fatalism.
And finally, shoutout to all of you people for spending time reading my stories each week. Your feedback, support, suggestions, and engagement make this entire endeavor worthwhile — it’s certainly not the money.
In particular, extra special thanks to Alex, Bella, Christina, Dennis, Robert, and Ron for occasionally pre-reading my posts. Your efforts have helped me stave off cancelation (thus far).
Shoutouts to my Substack fam
FYI: getcha tabs ready.
Shoutout to Bev Potter of Bev Has All The Answers!
Bev will forever live in infamy as the first person who willingly subscribed to Field Research. I loved her work on Medium, and when I saw what she was doing on Substack I knew this was the right place for me.
Subscribe to her hilarious, surly, and sardonic newsletter here:
Shoutout to Catherine Baab-Muguira of Poe Can Save Your Life!
Cat was the first “famous” person to endorse me on Substack and has been a huge supporter of my work. Our Twitter exchanges always bring (brought?) a smile to my face as well.
If you haven’t done so already, buy Cat’s hilarious, genre-busting “self-help” book, Poe for Your Problems, here. And subscribe to her wonderful newsletter here:
Shoutout to Kris Mole of Fiction Deficit Disorder (FDD), Maegan Heil of FRESH MEAT, and Wil Dalton of Process by Wil Dalton!
These talented, emerging fiction writers were among the first to take a chance on my fledgling Substack. I love their writing and I’ve learned a ton from observing their process, exchanging ideas, and discussing craft.
A trio definitely worthy of your attention. Check out their newsletters here:
Shoutout to Michael Estrin of Situation Normal!
A Substack OG, Michael’s one of the nicest, funniest, most charming dudes on the planet. He’s been a constant source of inspiration and a massive supporter of my work.
Michael’s weekly newsletter, Situation Normal, is a must-read, sure to brighten your day and make you laugh out loud. Seriously, FFS, subscribe here already:
Shoutout to Tom Pendergast of Out Over My Skis!
Tom’s been a stalwart of support, encouragement, and — when needed — healthy skepticism, all of which have helped me mold, refine, and redefine what I want this crazy little publication to become.
Tom writes an eclectic mix of personal essays and serialized fiction on his warm, generous, and joyful publication, Out Over My Skis. Subscribe here:
Shoutout to Dennard Dayle of Extra Evil!
Whenever I get high on my own supply, thinking, Nobody else can do what I do, Dennard reminds me I’m barely flirting with greatness.
The Newsreels in his whip-smart weekly Substack, Extra Evil, will destroy you. Subscribe here:
Shoutout to Neal Bascomb of Work/Craft/Life!
Neal’s a master storyteller and the accomplished author of multiple award-winning, best-selling narrative non-fiction books, including Faster, Hunting Eichmann, and The Winter Fortress.
That he let a rando like me write a guest essay about being a stay-at-home-dad for his superb newsletter, Work/Craft/Life, is a testament to his generosity.
Reading Neal’s books and newsletter are an absolute delight, sure to educate and inform. Check out his website and make sure to purchase a book or two for your friends and family this holiday season. And don’t forget to subscribe to his excellent newsletter here:
Finally, shoutout to the thirteen Substack writers who are recommending Field Research! Your endorsements have been incredibly helpful in bringing new readers into the fold.
It’s been an amazing, incredible, rewarding, taxing, wonderful year. Here’s to the next one and the many more to follow.
Next up: With year-end holidays in full swing, and calendar year 2022 mercifully limping toward the finish line, I’m going to take some much-needed time off.
On Friday, December 2 you’ll get the Field Research Year in Review, which includes links to the ten pieces that defined and epitomized this year of madness.
You won’t receive a post on Friday, December 9.
But never fear. On Friday, December 16, I’m launching a new satirical fiction series called “The 30th.” This one’s bananas.
See you then.
Unless you benefit from nepotism, “major” publishing houses won’t buy your book without representation by a literary agent.
Slight bias aside, I love my current novel. Agents can tell me whatever they want. You’ll get a chance to read my book, whether it goes through a traditional publishing house or gets serialized right here on Substack.
A judge blocked the merger after the DOJ sued. The companies then called off their proposed tie-up. Read more here.
I call Field Research dark comedy and satire, but I’d like to think it defies categorization. Mostly deranged, sometimes inspiring, always RZA-razor sharp.
They didn’t actually sponsor me, which hurts my feelings.