In February this year, I introduced a membership option for this site. Membership is a way for you to support my writing here at mattgemmell.com, to ensure I can continue to create interesting content (including fiction and non-fiction books) for you to enjoy, and also get some rewards in the process.
I had no idea at all if a membership system would work, if my site was suitable for that sort of support option, or if any of my readers would be interested. Now that we’re five months in, I’d like to briefly talk about my experiences so far.
Truthfully, I didn’t have any particular goals or targets in mind when I launched membership. I’d previously solicited support via Patreon, but I wanted to use membership as an opportunity to communicate more closely with those who wanted to support my work, rather than just as a kind of tip jar.
What I really wanted was to have a relationship with the people who most enjoy my work. I try to be active and responsive on Twitter and via email, but I felt that there was another level that I hadn’t explored yet. A way to have a more meaningful dialogue with the people who like my work enough to want to help keep it going, while I get this new career of mine off the ground.
I didn’t have a set number of members in mind, or a timescale in which to reach that number. I didn’t know if I’d even get member number one. But I had felt for quite a while that, based on correspondence I’d had with readers, there was the possibility to do two things at once: forge a closer relationship with the most engaged subset of those who read my work, and also help to support my continued writing here.
Membership plans and benefits
The first thing I did was look at other people’s membership plans, and the tiers, and pricing, and rewards, and options. The second thing I did was force myself to forget all of that, and try to keep it simple and sustainable for me.
Ultimately, the purpose of membership was to facilitate continued, better writing. Not more writing, necessarily but better work, in a sustainable way. Making things too complex on my end would be counterproductive.
From my experiences with Patreon, I knew that the majority of supporters were most comfortable with a monthly donation in the sub-$5 range, but that some people wanted to contribute at a higher level. I knew that setting a minimum amount is always tricky, but that it’s also wise to set a default amount that’s above the minimum. That way, I could cater to everyone.
I also felt that that, if someone believed that my writing was worth enough to them, I could probably best reward that generosity with more of my writing.
According, I set up a membership plan with three options:
Regular, which is $4 per month.
Plus, which is $8 per month.
Your Price, where you can choose your own amount (the minimum is $1, as imposed by my payment processing company).
I also wanted to have benefits for everyone. The purpose of membership isn’t to receive those benefits – it’s to support my writing, for those who enjoy my work – but I very much wanted to give something back. If you sign up as a member, you get:
A weekly newsletter, The Writer’s Life, sent out on Monday mornings. I see this as the primary benefit for everyone. Members also get access to all previous issues.
Access to a sponsorship-free RSS feed for all of this site’s articles.
The occasional surprise, from time to time.
If you sign up for the Plus membership level (or at an amount equal to or greater than that, with the Your Price option), you also get:
Plus: A copy of Writing a Novel: Resolving Plot Issues, my short book on finding and fixing the problems in your novel’s first draft (around 50 pages). You get copies for Kindle (mobi), iBooks (epub), and also a PDF.
I also have some plans for exciting extra benefits in the future.
So far, so good. I had no idea how those plans would be received, or what the split would be. I had no real idea if the added benefits were appropriate, or if the plans were balanced properly. I had no idea if the price points were too high, or too low, or just right.
I still don’t have definitive answers to those questions. I’m feeling my way through this, and as ever, I’m just trying to respect my readers. What I can do, though, is tell you how it’s been going.
In a nutshell, I’m hugely pleased with how it’s turned out. I was so thrilled at the response, and it’s energising for me each week to remember that I have a group of people who enjoy my work enough to not just keep coming back to read my words, but to actually support the creation of new articles and books.
You can’t put a price on that sort of encouragement and validation. On my worst days, I can always log in and look at the membership roster, and get a boost from it.
Within the first month, the level of support exceeded what I previously had on Patreon. I suppose that was the only unwritten goal I had in mind. In terms of membership numbers, they’ve remained pretty steady over the course of the last few months, increasing very slowly, and with a very small – and natural – amount of fluctuation.
I’m delighted to be able to say that I have over a hundred members now, which is so far beyond what I ever expected that it’s still a bit difficult to grasp. A hundred people who, on a monthly basis, financially support the continued writing of a guy in Scotland who’s trying to make this into his new career. That’s different from sponsorship, or one-off donations, or software sales – it’s the ultimate act of belief and encouragement. It’s humbling.
The split between the membership plans has been surprising too. While most people go for the Regular plan, as expected, more than 25% have chosen the Plus option instead. I thought it’d be much lower than that, and with more people choosing the minimum price via the custom option.
My favourite outcome is that the newsletter has proven to be something that’s appreciated, enjoyed, and even actively anticipated each week – I get wonderful messages to that effect after each issue is published. The idea of an exclusive newsletter really appealed to me, and writing it has become one of my favourite tasks. I’ve sent out 22 issues so far.
The format stabilised after the first handful of instalments. I’d initially tried to do too much (of course), by having various sections and topics, and I was finding it burdensome to put together. I also realised that, if people were reading it, it was probably for two things: insight into my current projects, and original writing.
I switched to a simple structure around issue 5, and stuck with it ever since: a brief foreword with updates, behind-the-scenes personal notes, and links to any recent work; an original essay; and finally an afterword to lead out, usually continuing the thread or theme of the main body of the piece.
A few of those essays have been the genesis of pieces later published on this site, including:
Eulogy, on thankfulness, and not waiting until it’s too late.
Essentials, on how our perspective on what’s truly important changes over time
Whisky, on the finest substance in the world: single malt whisky.
Sci-Fi, on science fiction, and how it embodies hope.
Voice Two, on the other voices inside us, and the one I turn to in times of trouble.
Most of the newsletter essays remain exclusive to members, as of course do the updates on (and previews of) my current writing projects. Members have already read the prologue of my upcoming novel, Changer, for example.
The response has been incredibly positive; it’s been as much of a relief as it’s been a delight, honestly.
I also mentioned to my members recently that I would be writing this piece, and several were kind enough to provide some thoughts on how they feel about membership. I’ve included those thoughts below. Everything is quoted in context, and with permission, of course.
You can expand or collapse each testimonial by clicking or tapping its title. The content of each box is scrollable, where necessary.
Becoming a subscribing member on MattGemmell.com has been one of the smartest decisions I've made over the past year.
I'm a long-time reader of Matt's work, and I've been following him along on his personal site for years. Week in, week out, Matt's writing has always been insightful, clever and a joy to read, but what keeps me coming back is his unparalleled honesty. In an online world where most people are little more than avatars, Matt's refreshingly human online presence clearly stands out. He's relatable, and funny. He's also opinionated and extremely knowledgeable about the topics he features in his writing, and he knows how to transfer that knowledge to his readers like few people do.
And then there's The Writer's Life, Matt's weekly, members-only newsletter. Through it, Matt allows us to catch a glimpse of his everyday life: what he's up to, how he's doing with his various projects, and so on. But The Writer's Life is so much more than your typical newsletter. If Matt's website is a curated online home for his writing, The Writer's Life is more like a journal of annotated thoughts. And it just so happens that those thoughts are worth their weight in gold. Every Monday, Matt delivers something entirely new and original to my inbox, and it never fails to delight, or inspire new ideas for my own work. Without a doubt, it has become one of the highlights of my week.
There are plenty of perfectly good reasons to become a subscribing member on Matt's site. You can do it to receive his newsletter, or to remove sponsored entries from your RSS feed. You can do it to get access to his Google group for writers, which is a great venue to discuss any hiccups you may be experiencing in your own writing. Or you can do it to receive a free copy of his excellent ebooks. Any of those reasons alone would more than make up for the membership's cost.
That said, if you're anything like me, the real reason to do it carries admittedly more selfish undertones. It's knowing you're supporting Matt's work, of course, but it's also ensuring that it sticks around. It's knowing you're doing everything you can to preserve its continuity well into the future.
Considering how much Matt has given us over the years, it seems only fair to give a little bit back. But more than anything, I sleep much better at night knowing that next Monday, and the one after that, the same familiar "ping" will announce the next issue's arrival in my inbox.
I can hardly wait.
My advice to anyone considering membership to any site is to look beyond just the exclusives. Don't get me wrong, these are great, and much sought after, but should not be the basis for subscribing. Consider the body of work you have already read, and contemplate what is yet to come. Think about the effort that went in. The effort that will go in, on an ongoing basis.
Personally, I've subscribed to mattgemmell.com to show my support, and say: I love what you do, I believe you are great at it, keep doing it, and I'm looking forward to more.
The weekly members' newsletter I thoroughly enjoy reading? I receive that for free.
The Writer's Life started as a newsletter, but Matt quickly elevated it to standalone art. Witnessing the process from the very first issue was a bonus joy, every week. But you really, really need to read all past issues to get an idea on what a fascinating journey Matt invited his members on, and how amazingly it worked so far.
That's something very different, and well beyond anything you can call a "newsletter". You deserve to experience it in full. Grace and I enjoy every single issue. It truly enriches our lives, which is a bit weird to say, because we are 50+ and yet we find Matt speaking "our age" language so perfectly. Thank you Matt!
Grazyna Jaworska & Adam Andrzej Jaworski @memtkmcc
The agora is a fascinating, enriching place where we witness and participate in the everydayness of humanity. Our agora these days is inclusive of the online world—and it can be an overwhelming place. For me, it has been essential to find guides and anchors in this world, such that sense and sensibility can be had. And, most importantly, I need such guides to be able to achieve and sustain a kind of equanimity, in the face of the dizzying pace and infinitely varied landscapes of the online agora.
Matt has been a recent example for me of such a thing. He has become one of my lodestars. Reading him—in addition to his writing output at various sites—as a subscribing member, is… uncanny. It's uncanny because his writing, his thinking, reminds me of the many and various strands of thought and experience that I've woven through, over my own past half century of living. To find something like that in one still so young (he's in his 30s!) is extraordinary. To know that he has still so much to share—not least his life of letters as a novelist, which has just begun—is simply thrilling to contemplate.
This is not hyperbole. One merely need dip into an already deep oeuvre on his website, to know that what I'm saying makes perfect sense. To have a regular (weekly) insight to a person's process of thinking and living is a delight worth way more than the pittance necessary for access. Even when the thoughts and moments shared are dark and challenging—perhaps even especially then—it is well worth the time spent. When the online agora is so demanding and in-your-face, it is all the more crucial to find (and keep) voices that keep you sane, and that keep you remembering what the worthwhile things are. That is what Matt Gemmell is for me.
Lloyd Nebres @lnebres
As you no doubt have noticed from his site, Matt Gemmell is an engaging writer. To me, it's a no-brainer to support people like Matt whenever I can, which was why I joined as a member from the beginning. Now I'd be hard-pressed to cancel my membership, because of the great weekly newsletters Matt sends. Also, Matt's taste in whisky is almost as refined as mine, so what's not to like?
The Writer's Life is my ideal companion to a cup of coffee at dawn, or a glass of whisky at dusk.
Eric Teubert @ericteubert
The best thing about Matt's public writing is that he makes me think, even if it's a short missive that's outwardly about not much at all. There's always something to digest, rather than just skim over. No topic is off limits, even the most difficult stuff.
He writes from both the heart and the head at once, so there's feeling and emotion, but also rationality and introspection. Best of all, if you like writing yourself, he's wonderfully encouraging. I've written things I never would, had he not trodden the ground first, and then encouraged us all to follow.
I’m extremely grateful to those who shared their feelings about membership, and indeed to everyone who has signed up to support my writing. I’m delighted at the success of the membership programme so far, and I’m looking forward to strengthening my relationship with my most loyal readers in future.
If you think you’d be interested in signing up as a member, you can find more information here.
As always, thank you for reading.