The Crow's Nest
The Newsletter Formerly Known as Not A Travel Writer
The newsletter, this one you are reading, formerly known as Not A Travel Writer, is changing. There will be a new name and a new subscription-based offer, with extra fiction, narrative non-fiction, and more available. There will still be a free option.
The Short(ish) Version
Hello again friends and a happy solstice to you!
Here’s the big news, all about forthcoming additions and fun here at my Not A Travel Writer letter. Not least the fact the name is now something different…
The world has changed a lot in the four years since I started this publication.
For a start, I began it on another continent, in Asia. Then I moved to a different country, Portugal, securing a year’s rental two weeks before the first of the Covid lockdowns.
Add to this moving then to France, having a baby, getting married, renovating and decorating a home, and you begin to see how eventful the last few years have been.
Throughout all this—with a short break for a couple of months whilst dealing with the worst of the cat-and-dog-pee-related renovations—I have sent a letter to you, usually monthly, sometimes more often.
Each has contained original thought, words wrought in a fashion I hope you have enjoyed, peppered and punctuated with images I have captured, and shot through with threads of active hope. The world can seem a dark place, but it does not have to be that way, and I try to make this clear as often as possible. We can live joyful, thankful lives, without either giving in to despair or ignoring the issues facing our species.
Initially, I began sharing this letter as a means to keep in touch with people, to share where I was in the world, how I was doing, and what I was working on. As I started to publish more fiction, I also began to share group and solo book promotions, gathering readers in exchange for a free novella, for example. Perhaps that’s why you are here. The letter itself, however, has always felt like something shared with my friends or family, and this is how I have crafted it.
Writing is not an easy way to make money. No matter the form your work takes. It is at times lonely, at others frustrating. It is also rarely the work of one person. The support networks of the writer are so often underestimated and ignored, but without them, the work would never be done. Writers are always a sum of many parts.
Money is not the sole payment for us, there are other forms of payment for the writer*, but money is something unfortunately essential in this world of ours.
Sure, I could use certain skills, head out into the woods for fuel, or food, or trap and hunt animals for sustenance or skins, to clothe myself and my family, to find roots, flowers, and leaves for medicine, or to seek stones, antler, bone or clay to turn into tools or pottery. However, society and laws make this difficult, at best, and often illegal, laws introduced many years ago in order to keep the serfs and peasants under the proverbial thumb, to ensure they are reliant on their queens, kings, the church, or some other warlord, are still in effect today. I suspect, if we were to clothe Ailsa in tanned chamois or mountain hare skins, buttoned with antler, and sewn with sinew, the authorities may well intervene. Such is the world we inhabit, we are taught that these things are barbaric and primitive and, in doing so, we move step by step away from the natural world.
No, I can perhaps supplement what we have through careful harvest and gathering but, realistically, going full-on ancestor mode is not feasible.
I’m sure you can see where this is going, especially as I’ve already mentioned this on several occasions of late.
This newsletter, this letter you are reading now, will remain free.
I need to state that from the outset.
If you are here because you want free book promotions (with the blessing of the respective authors involved, nothing shady here!), or to find out when, how, or where my next novel will be published, then you will still get that, for free.
I will send a letter at least once a month, as I have for the last four years, but there will be more, should you wish to pay for it.
Each of the newsletters you have been receiving, as you may have noticed, is long. Too long (literally. Often, email clients won’t display the whole thing without clicking through further, as you may have noticed, reading this…). I’ve talked about this before, about what format I want this letter to take, what direction and path my words need to travel, about how I need a way to make it both more manageable for me, whilst also still being agreeable to read.
In short, I will be taking out certain sections, those which could, and perhaps should, be expanded into something more, a letter of their own. I will also be revisiting paragraphs from previous letters which shall be revitalised and expanded upon.
I will be sending out letters for this paid version with more regularity, and each shall be shorter than those you’ve received thus far. Usually. I reserve the right to send ridiculous multi-thousand word essays when they fit the subject.
I will also be making my back catalogue of fiction available to subscribers, as a sort of bonus, both serialised and as downloadable versions.
By now, you should have noticed the name change.
I thought long and hard about this, about whether to keep the Not A Travel Writer name, or whether to move to something different.
Any name change is fraught with peril, but it can also be a regenerative action, one which heralds a new beginning and an exciting path to follow.
From now on, this letter will be known as The Crow’s Nest.
However, that’s not entirely the whole story. You’ll receive this newsletter, under that name, but from me, Alexander M Crow, rather than the Not A Travel Writer name. You will also receive certain other posts from other sections, whether previews of paid posts, or occasional freebies.
You can always unsubscribe from each section (more of which, below) if, for example, you only want this letter and not the others. There is a lot to come and I like to think it is all good.
Here’s a special, time-limited offer for current readers, should you wish to subscribe:
You will also be shortly receiving an extra letter, with details of how to earn freebies by encouraging people to subscribe.
That’s the short version.
*A note on personal payments for the writer: not least the fact that, on my one foray into internet dating, that word “writer” was the thing which caught the attention of one Aurélie, a Frenchwoman living in Chiang Mai. I’m now her husband, she is the maman of our child, we’ve moved around the world together, and will continue to do so. You can’t put a monetary price on that. Incredibly useful word, writer…
Now for the longer version…
Life without change and growth is a grey and stagnant thing, a backwater full of mosquitoes and leeches, sucking the goodness from the world and making us bland, bored, and boring.
I believe change is not only a good thing, but it is absolutely necessary to develop—as a writer, yes—but also as a human being.
With the arrival of Substack Notes, which I talked about in the piece linked to here (and here is my Notes feed), I have brought forward my plans for a paid subscription model. It was something I had always intended, but had been unsure how best to approach.
I have found Notes very useful to examine the work of other writers, whether those who started years ago or the influx of more recent Substacks, study different letters, different types of writers, and conduct rather a lot of research in order to see how they approach the topic of paid subscriptions. There seem to be a few recurring points:
Asking for money is something tricky — it alienates some readers, even those who always open the letters.
It is better to start with a paid subscription offering as soon as you think ‘I’ll do it one day’ (not like me, when I thought about it three years ago and didn’t…!).
Keep sharing free things — and make the occasional paid post available too, as a taster for what people are missing.
Write well. This is crucial.
Everyone seems to mention how the price of a monthly subscription is about the same as a takeout coffee. Which makes me realise how long it has been since I had something akin to a Starbucks, and potentially how much cheaper a coffee is here in France!
Having a niche is important, yes, but I have also seen a lot of letters where the niche is the person, such as other writer’s notebooks (which is the format I have always felt I shared), or a letter about the many facets of a life on a homestead, for example: food growing, nature, crafting etcetera. Very much linked to this is the following:
It is essential to have a good Bio/tagline — something I’ve tried to polish and work on of late. It’s difficult to narrow down what, exactly, these letters are about, other than a catch-all for the previously mentioned notebook, but the bio/tagline should at least give a rough idea what it is you share.
Similarly, it’s all in the name — something I spent a lot of time pondering.
Sections are very useful. Essentially, these mean you can share different facets of your writing (or, indeed, photography, for example), and people can choose which to subscribe to.
New subscriptions come in mostly from Substack itself, with some people suggesting Facebook Groups, Instagram, and LinkedIn as other places to find new readers. (Personally, I also add a lot of people from group book promotions, although many of them don’t seem to open or read my words.)
Consistency is key — if you say your letter is weekly, it had better be weekly, BUT there is also a counter/parallel argument that, if your readers know you are taking a break, they will usually be okay with that. Communicate your intentions and follow them through.
You do not need to offer anything beyond the writing. Substack is not Patreon, something others keep stressing — writers don’t need to be sending out bonus items to those who pay them, the work itself should be enough.
This is a circular economy, or it strives to be, at least. Like the early days of blogging, a recommendation goes a long way — it is important to take time to read others and to share why you do so.
Before I discuss the ideas I have for what I shall share here, what it is people will actually be paying for, I shall first address some of the pointers above.
Changing the Name
My website is still NotATravelWriter.com, as that is where I shall continue to build my travel writing, and it works well for that (thanks to SEO, amongst other things) but, as you may remember, I also own alexandermcrow.com, which currently forwards the curious to Not A Travel Writer but one day will become a Thing of its own.
As I move forward with my writing, it makes sense to connect as much of my work to my name as possible: this is the link between all those words, after all. (NOTE: this is my writing name, Alexander M. Crow, it is not ACTUALLY my name, as I took Aurélie’s surname when we married last year [although I have yet to update my passport, seeing as the UK government would then charge me £82.50 for that pleasure]. I’m actually Alexander M. Bonnet Crow, or ABC, for short.)
I thought of several alternative names, ideas mostly revolving around my surname, before settling on The Crow’s Nest. I considered Crow Bonnet, with a logo of a crow wearing a hat, but decided it didn’t quite work as well…
When I was little, before we moved to Orkney when I was eight, our house in Lincolnshire was called Crow’s Nest. Made sense then and it seems to make some sort of sense now. The idea of the nest, a place to weather storms and raise chicks, rebuilt in differing locations, or repaired and renovated, added to the fact the crow’s nest is traditionally the lookout post on sailing ships, right up at the top of the main mast, makes this name a good one for this letter.
I want this space to be one where I record and share the things I see and the thoughts I have, as well as give a sense of hope and comfort wherever possible. The Crow’s Nest works for this.
Also, crows are pretty awesome birds, after all.
(But don’t get me started on the phrase “stone the crows”, that one led to several unfortunate rock-throwing incidents when I was a child. Joy.)
The Free Letter and the Work Ahead
There will still be a letter every month, sent to my entire mailing list, for free, and it will include similar things to those I have talked about over the past four years.
I intend to continue sharing the details which make up my life, those things which percolate into fiction especially. Each letter will still begin with a vignette of place and time and nature. I want to keep readers updated with news on my works in progress and demonstrate how my own adventures and life feed into the fictional tales, whether directly, or indirectly.
My travel writing has a natural home on my website, NotATravelWriter.com, and there it shall stay. I am likely to link to these posts here in the free version of The Crow’s Nest, but I am not as likely to discuss the behind-the-scenes parts of maintaining and monetising a blog. Those will also find a home on my site.
It is worth noting at this point that the last thing I want to do is create additional or unnecessary work for myself. I also don’t want to stop or pause the other work I am already doing.
I need to continue with the website, with writing and sharing and marketing my travel pieces and I believe there is real value there. I also know that, with time, all the SEO work will kick in and traffic will only continue to increase. With traffic comes affiliate and advertising income, something different to a subscription fee.
I also need to continue with my fiction and, as I have spoken of on several occasions, the goal of being a hybrid author — both self-published and also traditionally published. Again, two different sources of income, each complementing the other.
And, finally, I need to continue with my monthly free newsletter.
Three distinct projects, each of which is not inconsiderable, and each of which can be broken down into different sub-projects.
Organisation and motivation are key here, without that, I know I will simply drift, without anything progressing as needed. A crucial point which aids in this is the fact each project is different. This allows me to stay motivated, to push each forward every week. By breaking each down into sections, it is also easier to move in the right direction.
This is also the reason certain projects are placed in a queue — the serial-fiction Mesolithic/ancestral skills letter, A Time of Trees, for example, needs to wait until other fiction is complete. I shall then write enough of the story so as to tease it out over many months. If I were to start this now, it would simply dilute the other work I need to be doing. Serialised fiction is something I am very keen to pursue and I talk more about this later.
The seasons are of vast importance to me. They always have been, whether the broader brushstrokes of summer, autumn, winter and, my personal favourite (just), spring, or the micro-seasons heralded by nature: the first swallow, the first swift, the tawny owls calling, the blossom appearing, the leaves on the birch turning golden, or the first frost. There are many and I love them all.
The paid-for letter shall be shared in seasons. Not necessarily connected to the above, although there will be the occasional overlap and certainly nature will play a crucial role in my words.
Think of each as a television series (as we call them in the UK) or season. Each with a theme (sometimes looser than others), each with a number of episodes. Each shall have an introduction and conclusion and be followed by a short break before the next begins.
I really like this idea. Coherency makes a lot of sense, and gives me the opportunity to plan and plot, to share things which matter to me (and to you, perhaps), in a way which feels comfortable and logical.
The central connecting theme of each season shall be nature and, especially, our place within it. I shall be looking at a variety of topics within this, using examples from my own adventures, but also from different cultures, whether those which exist today or did in the past. Ancestral skills, the idea of being able to live as a part of nature, not outwith it, will be crucial.
Nature is me. Always has been, for as long as I can recall. Too often, we as a species seem to believe we live somehow beyond the natural which is, frankly, nonsense. Nature is a power we cannot control and, increasingly in the coming years, we will have to learn to give as well as take.
When I write about the natural world, I find I come alive in a way which does very good things to my brain chemistry. As such, it makes a lot of sense to share this with you, the reader.
Initially, there will be two principal extra offerings here. One shall be a season of narrative non-fiction, or essays on subjects linked by a theme. The other shall be serialised fiction. At first, this will be my stories from the world of The Lesser Evil, beginning with the first, Only One Death, which is discussed in the next section.
To be able to serialise fiction, in a way which makes sense and can bring in new readers and another stream of income, is something I have wanted to do for years.
I have 137910 words of The Tales of The Lesser Evil, spread over six novelettes, novellas, and novels, with two more planned for publication later this year. By the time I have finished these eight Tales, there will be around 200k words in total. That’s a lot, and it gives me a good start on being consistent with my subscription offer.
This is good for the reader, but it is also a positive for me. The world of self publishing on Amazon is a tough to crack without luck or hours of marketing and, quite frankly, that was never my primary plan*.
Sharing my stories this way will find new readers and it should also reignite the passion I need to finish the series.
There is an excellent community of fiction writers on Substack, with a number of fantastic initiatives to aid in the process of sharing our words. As more and more readers start to use Notes (rather than readers who are also letter writers), the opportunities to connect the reader with the right words grows, and I am thrilled to be able to be a part of this.
Once a season of fiction is finished—the Tale is shared fully—then I shall also make it available as a free download for subscribers, probably as .epub, .mobi, and .PDF files. Then readers can choose whether to read the story as one in chapter format via Substack (the app or online) or on their ebook reader. I love this versatility.
I shall also make the French translations available here on Substack.
*The plan was, and still is, to find a traditional publisher for The Greater Good, the first novel of which is entitled The Care Industry, currently undergoing serious editing. I then hope readers will search for other things by me and buy the self-published work too, or perhaps subscribe to my letter. Different streams of income, being a hybrid author, makes a lot of sense.
I’ve noticed a number of other letter writers use the paid subscriber model in order to create a community of readers. This is principally done by using the chat or Notes facilities, or a combination of these.
I have always encouraged people to reply to my emails and this would be a natural extension of this.
Along with the essays I wish to share, I have been considering sharing a very focussed letter, perhaps with one photo, one paragraph of word-limited text, and maybe three to five questions, ideas of how to take the preceding essay and turn it into something which works for you, for example.
If you keep a journal, this could be of interest, likewise if you yourself are a writer or artist. Prompts and ideas can be useful.
Using the chat function, or utilising Notes, I might extend this at some point, engage with you, the reader, listen to how my own work perhaps rekindled a memory for you. A space for discussion could be mutually beneficial, especially if it is a community where we treat each other with respect, listen rather than shout, and generally behave in a fashion unlike most of the social media platforms today.
These are ideas for the future, although I am more than happy to say hello on Notes if you use it!
Often, I find I do not edit all the letters I send you as well as I should. I check for typos and obvious errors as much as I can, but I don’t have the time to deeply consider each word as I do in my fiction.
There is little tightening of paragraphs, or reconsideration of word choice. Mistakes do slip by. By taking out those topics which will make good standalone pieces, I hope to be able to edit them in considerably more depth; having a schedule will enable this, with planning and drafting and editing all a part of the journey.
There is a joy to this process, to consider each line and try to make it the very best it can be; editing makes me a much better writer, a better student of the craft.
I have no intention of charging a fortune and shall be launching the subscription rate at the minimum possible here on Substack.
However, in addition to this, as mentioned above, there will be the possibility to gain free benefits if you can encourage others to sign up, expect that message soon. There’s also there’s the limited time offer available for current free subscribers:
One thing to remember with my letters—and those of all the other writers on Substack—is that this is an ad-free space. There is no money from advertising, just from subscribers. A cut of the subscription fee goes to Substack but the rest goes straight to the writer. I like this model much better than one with adverts everywhere, or some sort of pool to dish out the money (ahem, Medium, I’m looking at you).
I love the fact that people pay for what they want to read. Everyone is different, not everyone will like what I share, but that doesn’t matter, it is a good thing. In my direct experience, I feel like the other writers on the platform are not competing with one another, not shouting to make themselves heard, nor clamouring for a slice of an advertising pie. Instead, it feels more organic, more like we’re all here to help everyone else, rising tide, and all that. Let’s hope this continues.
Similarly, I considered Patreon, but it has a culture of subscribers expecting extra perks, and that takes time and effort I simply do not have. Personally, I believe if someone wants to pay to read the work of a writer, or view photographs from a photographer, or look at the pieces shared by an artist, that should be enough — think of it as buying a book, or a magazine, or framed photo; you don’t (usually) expect to get an extra freebie thrown in, do you? (That said, if I had the time and money to do it, I really like the idea of sending postcards.)
Finally, for this section, if you genuinely cannot afford the subscription rate, but would still like to receive the extra emails, then reply to this message and I can ensure you get them for free for the next six months, no questions asked. This is a thank you for reading Not A Travel Writer up to this point. If your circumstances change, you can always pay later, and I would always appreciate extra help with sharing my letter and finding new readers, especially on social media, which I rarely use.
Here’s that special offer link again:
Today is the turn of the year. Depending on where on our world you live, it is either the longest or shortest day. This letter is scheduled to be sent at precisely the point where the year either begin to head towards winter or move in the direction of summer.
I like this.
Today also marks 99 days without doomscrolling through news websites. This is a powerful thing for me, by far the longest I have gone without knowing all that is happening out there in the world, and I like it. I can’t change the bad, after all, and do news sites really share that many good stories? I get a lot of happier, curious, or intellectually stimulating links and summaries from the newsletters of others, for example, so much so that I really do feel I am missing nothing by not religiously keeping up with current world affairs.
I also like this.
The Crow’s Nest will be given a shiny new look, new logo, and other little details, once I have them finished.
It is exciting to be moving forward with this project and I look forward to sharing the first season very soon.
The photos accompanying this piece seem to make sense to me. Sometimes, if you are lucky, you find a beach full of secrets. Often, this beach does not look remarkable, simply a stony strand backing on to an old farm or stone building, perhaps a small stream running through it and out into the sea.
However, this is where the treasure lies.
The love I have for gathering things, hunting them across mountain and forest, city or coast, cannot be underestimated. Beaches are some of the best places to find interesting things, whether the detritus and rubbish of times pre-plastic, or those deriving from the natural world: shells, birch bark, curled into a scroll (known as Loki’s candles in the north of Scotland), bones, stones, or feathers.
The year before I left Scotland to see more of the world, I spent a family holiday in Orkney. It was the first time I had slept on the island since leaving my home there, back when I was eighteen; I will write more about Orkney in the coming months.
Where we stayed was next to such a magic beach. A farm and a small, extremely localised, community had been disposing of their rubbish in the sea for generations. For hundreds of years. And, due to the beach not really being on the tourist trail, nor being the most beautiful, it appeared that no one had gathered many of the treasures which lay there at low tide.
Usually, I am selective with what I take home, choosing only the best pieces, or those for which I already have an intended use, or sometimes nothing at all, merely enjoying the beauty of a shell before returning it to the strandline. This time, however, I wanted the treasure to be the use, a project which is the one you see illustrating this piece.
The idea of the hidden beach, a lode of flotsam and jetsam, of all those gifts of nature, fits neatly with my ideas for The Crow’s Nest. I want to show how we can discover things, look wide, then focus in closely, study them, place them in some semblance of order to make sense of the tiny cogs in this vast natural world we live upon. I did the same with all those beach treasures, laying them out neatly, all the while photographing this collection. A collection from one beach, gathered over a very short, specific length of time.
I hope you like the images and I hope you like the idea behind sharing them here. As ever, all photographs are mine.