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A year on Substack
The grand experiment... continues.
By Lisa Brunette
This week we mark our one-year anniversary here on Substack, and while we’re thanking our readers with one heckuva goat-milk soap giveaway, we also wanted to take the time to share a few words about this grand experiment.
For those of you who are new to Brunette Gardens, we’ve actually been around a lot longer than a year, as I’ve blogged since the beginning of, well, blog time, as a result of my ongoing life as a journalist and in my geeky tendency toward early adoption in the tech realm. Some of those blogs no longer exist, but one of them lives on as the news site Crosscut, where as deputy editor I was tasked with building out the lifestyle section and recruited travel author Sue Frause and gardener Valerie Easton to the stable.
When the Dreamslippers Series released in 2014, I also started a new blog to help promote those books, and pretty early into that I couldn’t help delving into green-thumb topics, even if it was just to share excerpt descriptions of a character’s fictitious garden, based on my real-life Seattle backyard. Over time, plants took over, as they are wont to do, and the mystery novels receded into the background.
I learned about Substack last year via profiles on writers I admire, namely, , and —all fearless contrarians, to a man. After trying out the platform for a few months, I made a leap of faith, moving the garden blog from Typepad over to Substack. While I’m no tech noob, made the conversion as painless as I’ve ever experienced.
So here we are.
A lot’s happened for me and Anthony personally over the past year. We’ve dubbed 2023 “the year of dying,” as a matter of fact, a reflection of our dark humor in the face of an obvious curse. How else to explain my cousin’s death at the tender age of 52, the loss of two pear trees and five chickens, world-record-sized kidney stones, a plague of insects whose bites leave putrid marks on Anthony’s flesh, a flat tire, a broken tooth, and the demise of a company I’ve run successfully for seven years?
I don’t mean to complain; we realize we’re still in a privileged position. My cousin’s at peace now after a long battle with cancer. We’ve been blessed with a lovely wild-plum harvest in lieu of pears. We’ll try again with chickens next year (unless we chicken out). The kidney stones are finally exiting, and nail polish solves Anthony’s crazy bite reaction (must be chiggers). The tire has been patched and the broken tooth, will, hopefully, be crowned, as if it were a troubled monarch. While I had to lay off all four of my full-time staff, including Anthony himself, he quickly found another job, the rest of them are slowly landing on their feet, and I have scraped together enough solid game-writing work to carry on while this Substack continues to grow.
You might wonder how long we’ll keep on keepin’ on here at Brunette Gardens. The answer? As long as we can either continue to subsidize the time and effort spent, or it begins to pay off.
Most of the writers you follow here on Substack aren’t making a living at this, or at this alone.works as a private chef to an ultra-high-net-worth family, Erin Hanson of mentioned to me she works a day job in health care, and both and design garden landscapes for a living. I’ve earned an income through writing or writing-adjacent work (editing or teaching and managing other writers) for the past 30 years. Unless AI replaces us all, I’ll continue to do so, whether that’s with or without this Substack.
The subscription model is as old as it is new again, but it has yet to prove itself (again). If you’re a word wrangler like me, it’s everywhere you turn these days, whether subscriber-driven journalism platforms like Substack, or Apple Arcade over in the game space, or Netflix for you scriptwriters. Will readers take it upon themselves to fund what they’ve been getting for free all these years? That depends on whether or not you all see the value in add-free reading and higher-quality engagements with the authors you follow.
On that note, I have a question for you: What would convince you to upgrade to a paid Brunette Gardens subscription? Tell us in the comments.
Before I close, I want to share our top three posts for this first year (as of the writing of this post). This list is also always available to see on our home page, under the heading, “Most Popular.” I askedhow this list is determined, as according to my stats it’s not solely on the basis of the email open rate, the usual benchmark. She explains: “It’s a mix of factors including views, engagements, and number of new subscriptions the post drives.” Here they are, from 1 to 3.
Thank you all so much for your insightful comments and encouragement over the past year. Let’s make 2024 “the year of really living,” shall we?