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Get paid for your work
It's time I took my own advice.
My partner and I spent last weekend in New Orleans. It’s one of my favorite cities in the world for reasons that many people list — its food, music, history, and architecture, to name a few — but also because it’s central to my personal story.
New Orleans is the city where my parents met; where my brother and I were born; where we spent yearly summer vacations; where I’ve introduced friends to the wonders of jazz and the regrets of Bourbon Street; where I spread my dad’s ashes and, three years later, my husband’s ashes; and where I have felt more alive and more myself than anyplace else.
Like many visits to NOLA, ours was filled with music. There was the jazz band parked outside Cafe du Monde, the accordion-wielding Zydeco masters, the scrappy sidewalk musicians around every corner, and the joyous Dixieland quartet that wowed The Spotted Cat crowd. Music in New Orleans is a given, and tipping the musicians in New Orleans is an integral part of the experience. We made sure we had $5s and $1s in our pockets as we wandered the streets, ready to support the many artists we encountered.
The trip was well timed. It gave my partner and I a few much-needed relaxing days together, it reconnected me to a city I love, and it also clarified my decision to introduce paid subscriptions to My Sweet Dumb Brain.
A year ago, I decided to create this newsletter. I had few expectations, and my motivations were simple: I missed having a newsletter, and needed a place where I would be held accountable for writing each week. I wasn’t sure how it would evolve over time, but I was excited to find out!
Now, 40 issues and 1,500+ subscribers later, I’m so glad I made that decision. My writing skills have strengthened, I’ve learned a lot about public vulnerability, and I’ve enjoyed the exercise of regular self-reflection. The experience has been incredibly healing for me. Best of all, I’ve gotten the loveliest emails from readers who have said that my words have been healing for them, too.
As this newsletter has grown, I’ve often thought about charging for it. Every time, I backed away from that idea. I came up with a variety of excuses not to introduce subscriptions, all of which boiled down to one fear: What if people don’t think my work is worth paying for?
So I kept performing for free, too afraid to discover the answer to that question. If I were a musician in New Orleans, I’d be the lone performer without a tip jar. My choice to write without compensation inadvertently sent a message — to readers, but especially to myself — that my creative contributions aren’t as valuable as others’.
This weekend reminded me that connecting with artists and supporting their work, even through a small donation, feels good. Just like a trip to New Orleans would be a lot less enjoyable without music, life would be a lot less interesting without art. And artists, including writers like me, need to get paid just like anyone else!
This is me putting out my tip jar. Today, I’m officially launching paid subscriptions to My Sweet Dumb Brain. I’ve included questions and answers about the subscription model below, which will hopefully give you all the information you need. Either way, you can respond to this email to ask additional questions, share feedback, or request a special song.
(Just kidding about the song! This musician metaphor only extends so far.)
What will I get as a paid subscriber?
Subscribers will receive My Sweet Dumb Brain in their inboxes once a week, along with access to all past posts. The newsletter format will stay roughly the same, with a new essay, related resources, and exercise each issue.
Subscribers will also be able to comment on posts, a new feature I’m excited to explore with readers in the future. I’m also planning to send periodic mini-newsletters — updates from past issues, reflections on articles I’ve written elsewhere, and recommendations for things that have helped this ol’ brain of mine.
What if I don’t become a paid subscriber?
You’ll still hear from me and my brain, just not as often! Non-paying subscribers will now receive one My Sweet Dumb Brain newsletter on the last Wednesday of each month. That issue will be just like the other newsletters — essay, resources, exercise, you know the drill.
How much are subscriptions?
Subscriptions are $5/month, or $35/year.
I can’t afford that. Can I get your weekly newsletters another way?
If you’re unable to afford that cost, let me know and I will gladly hook you up with a free subscription. Seriously. No questions asked. Just reply to this email (or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org) and I will add you to the list.
Another option is to split the cost with someone else. One of my favorite things about writing My Sweet Dumb Brain is hearing from people who enjoy talking about the newsletter with others. I want to continue enabling those conversations! If you’re a paid subscriber, just send me the email address of the person whom you’d like to add as your newsletter +1. (I’ll leave it to the two of you to determine how you’ll split the subscription fee.)
Wait, can’t I just read these essays for free on Medium?
Oh, you’re clever! I have been cross-posting my newsletter essays to Medium for a while, but I’ve decided to stop doing that. I might write one-off posts on Medium in the future, but I’ll no longer publish My Sweet Dumb Brain stories there.
What made you decide to move to a paid model?
As I shared on Twitter last week, I would wholeheartedly advise anyone to get paid for something that they devoted hours to every week. It just took me a while to listen to own advice!
I’d like to continue to devote just as much, if not more, time to this newsletter. That comes at a cost. By charging a subscription fee, I’m able to financially justify the effort I put into My Sweet Dumb Brain. Plus, I’m a big believer in creative folks getting paid for their work. It’s finally time to practice what I preach.
How are you feeling about this?
Nervous! Anxious! Like an impostor! Excited! Proud! Scared! Silly for caring so much!
Most of all, I’m feeling really grateful. The readers who decided to subscribe last week — before knowing exactly what they were paying for! — gave me such a confidence boost. The fact that there are people out there who are not only willing to read what I write, but also pay for it is incredible. Thank you.
I’m grateful that there are platforms like Substack that enable writers to get paid. I’m grateful that my sweet dumb brain finally decided to take this step. And I’m grateful for the many things I’ll undoubtedly learn from this experience.
Does Rebecca get paid, too?
Yes! Rebecca Coates, my editor and longtime friend who gets a shoutout at the end of each newsletter, will receive 20% of subscription income. I am thrilled about this!
What if you run out of things to write about?
Oh boy. I worry about this sometimes, but thankfully haven’t run into this problem yet! I’ve managed to build consistent time for writing into my routine, and for better or worse, my sweet dumb brain gives me plenty to write about. If I do find myself struggling for topics, feeling burnt out, or uninspired, you can trust that I’ll be transparent about that. In the meantime, I’m always open to ideas that readers are interested in.
When does the subscription model begin?
Next week! Next Wednesday’s newsletter will be sent to subscribers only. Ditto for the Wednesday after that, and the following Wednesday. The issue published on the last Wednesday of each month will go out to everyone. So that means that if you remain a non-paying subscriber, My Sweet Dumb Brain will return to your inbox on August 28.
If you decide to become a paying subscriber, thank you! I am incredibly touched that you’re willing to pay for this experience.
And if you decide to stay a non-paying subscriber, thank you, too! I know that inbox space and attention spans are limited, and I sincerely appreciate you giving some of both to this newsletter.
Here’s to getting paid for the work we do.
Good job, brain
I'm reading: I’m ~in between~ books. In the meantime, I’m joining the chorus of people singing the praises of The Crane Wife. CJ Hauser’s writing is achingly gorgeous.
I’m inspired by: The lovely, generous people who subscribed to this newsletter ahead of time. Thank you! You gave me a much-needed boost of confidence and motivation as I headed into this week.
I'm aiming to: Trust my instincts. Making the move to paid subscriptions is a situation that’s rife for self-doubt, and I’m going to do my best to avoid falling into that trap.
“The perfect tools aren't going to help us if we can't face each other and give and receive fearlessly, but, more important — to ask without shame.” Amanda Palmer on the art of asking.
Claire Landsbaum defends personal newsletters and shares insight into how (and why) writers are getting paid for them.
Here’s a great and comprehensive list of other newsletters worth opening.
For your sweet dumb brain
Asking for something is hard because it puts you in a vulnerable spot. There’s always the chance that someone will say no. Of course, you’ll never get a yes unless you ask.
Think about something that you’ve been reluctant to ask for, and go for it this week! Maybe it’s negotiating for a raise at work or a day off. Perhaps it’s suggesting a date with your crush or drinks with a new friend. Or it might be asking for emotional or other forms of support to help you through a tough time. If you’re struggling with how to ask for something, talk it out with a trusted friend first. You may get turned down, but you also just might get the thing you’re hoping for.
This newsletter is written by Katie Hawkins-Gaar. It’s edited by Rebecca Coates, who is now getting compensated for her hard work. Hooray for that!