The Joy of Leaving Substack

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The ice cream image will make sense when you finish reading the newsletter. I swear!

I’m feeling overwhelmed…

In a good way! Don’t worry, mom. I’m fine!

Last week was my first Equip Story newsletter. I sent out the email on Thursday to everyone who has subscribed to my old Adventure Snack newsletter on Substack. But I wanted to make sure all my Substack subscribers knew I’d switched over to WordPress. In theory, everyone should’ve gotten the first email, but when you switch systems, things can go haywire. (Imagine a 90s TV commercial where a girl in a lab coat and goggles shouts, “There’s been a mix-up at the newsletter laboratory!”) So on Friday I sent out a quick note on Substack saying I’d moved off the platform and if you didn’t get Equip Story in your inbox or your spam folder, you should probably re-subscribe.

I forgot that I get an email from WordPress every time I get a new subscriber. My inbox got flooded with dozens and dozens of subscriber sign-up emails! As an inbox zero person, it was a heartwarming nightmare!!! But in all seriousness, I want to take a moment to thank you for reading, commenting, replying, re-subscribing, and making me feel welcomed back after almost half a year away.

So, let me get you up to speed. My last post on Adventure Snack was in November. My Pokemon evolution finished last week, end of April. Five months is a long time to be cramped up in a pokeball. So, what happened? Why did my newsletter-morphosis take so long?

If you’re like, “Adventure What? I just got off the bus and I need a brochure.” That’s fair. Adventure Snack was an interactive fiction project where I published 100 short games in 4.5 years via email newsletter. At the end of last year, I wrote two newsletters: one about how I thought Adventure Snack went (it was a mixed success, one I’m proud of it) and the other about how my newsletter was going to change on a broad level.

Back in November, when I was first planning to launch Equip Story in late January, my hope was to make the transition as technically smooth as possible for readers. I was going to change the name, the header image, and my about page on Adventure Snack to “Equip Story” and keep writing on my pre-existing Substack account. Why mess with a good thing? Substack, as an organization, was very good to me personally and I’m grateful to them. I found a community of writers there who’ve become my friends, like Equip Story’s first commenter, Michael Estrin, who writes the hilarious newsletter Situation Normal. I’ve been to Substack sponsored drink-ups, events, and classes. Substack featured me three years in a row. One year they sent me a gift basket with a tote bag and a t-shirt. (I have too many tote bags and t-shirts. I tried to do the Marie Kondo thing on my t-shirts and every single one of them sparks joy apparently?)

However, last December, Substack’s top brass decided to pull down their pants and show the world their entire asses and corresponding holes. To summarize, when it was pointed out by news outlets that Substack not only allows white supremacist content on their platform, but encourages it by giving nazis the tools to profit from their newsletters – profit of which Substack takes a 10% cut – it sent me into a mini-crisis. Is it morally wrong to continue posting on Substack? If I leave Substack, where will I go? Don’t other newsletter platforms cost a ton of money to use, whereas Substack is free? What about the community I’m part of there? Why am I scrolling Substack’s Twitter clone Notes on the toilet for posts about nazis when I should be enjoying Christmas oh god?!

After talking with my family, friends, and fellow newsletter creators, I decided to leave Substack for a number of reasons – moral and technical. But I want to focus on one reason in particular: having fun.

I love starting a new project. It’s my favorite part of the creative process, where everything feels possible, and that’s thrilling. My second favorite part is finishing a project. There’s a satisfaction in that. The story ends. A sunset is walked off into. In a distant third is the horrible middle slog where you have to put in all the effort while doubting if the project will even succeed and asking yourself whether or not you’re a fraud. Hate you, Slog!

Okay, back to that first one: starting fresh. Imagine drawing on a blank sheet of paper. That’s fun! You can draw anything you want, at any size, with any materials you want. Now imagine drawing on a W-9 form from the IRS. The page is already filled with text, so there isn’t a lot of space to let your imagination go wild, and the pre-existing text reminds you of income inequality and how you pay more in taxes than many multinational corporations. (By the way, if you’re reading this and thinking you want to start doodling on IRS forms just to see what that looks like, you’re my people and please leave a comment linking to your creation.)

What I realized was that rejiggering the old Adventure Snack site would be like drawing on a W-9. Substack has a lot of limitations when it comes to image and text formatting. All the newsletters and their websites have to follow strict guidelines. Before I knew I was leaving Substack, I worked with a terrific graphic designer, Mike Reddy, on the Equip Story branding. He asked me questions like, “What kind of font do you want to use on your site?” and I was like, “I’m locked into, like, three choices with Substack and none of them spark joy, unlike my promotional t-shirt for the film Wild Hogs.” It was a bummer.

When I decided to send newsletters through WordPress (if anyone’s curious, I’m using WordPress + The Newsletter Plugin + Postmark and it costs me $15/mo to send newsletters, which is more than free but still pretty affordable), it opened up a world of possibilities. I could design a home page with a unique design. I can use fonts and colors that express the vision of the project. And when I send an email to you, I don’t have to worry about whether my writing will somehow algorithmically lead you down a white supremacy or anti-science rabbit hole. The only rabbit hole I want you to go down is into the world of VCR board games, but that’s for another newsletter.

Also, I’m still going to Substack meet-ups in LA. I didn’t get ex-communicated for leaving the Churchstack. (Subchurch? Eh, neither work.) My fellow writers are curious about life outside the ‘stack and I’m happy to explain why and how I left. The irony is that I was an early adopter to Substack. I told many creators why having a Substack was a good idea, and now, five years later, I’m telling creators why it’s a good idea to leave Substack. *Weary Sigh*

To design a WordPress site from scratch, research the plugins, find an email service provider – it took a lot of extra effort. I started a new job as the Narrative Lead for a game studio, so finding pockets of free time to build the site was a challenge in and of itself. And the launch wasn’t perfect. There was some kind of issue with sending my emails through a company called MailerSend that dropped the spaces betweenwords randomly like that and ihateitaaaaah. Hopefully it doesn’t happen again on this newsletter or I will crawl under a blanket and do some cool screaming today.

So there were trade-offs with starting fresh. I had to work a lot harder to launch, and I’m still ironing out the kinks, but in the end, I don’t regret a thing. In fact, it was a joyful experience, all told. I had a lot of fun designing the email template, sourcing pixel art, and allowing my vision for Equip Story to fill a whole page, rather than squeezing it into a box. It’s like when you make yourself a banana split at home. Sure, you could just eat ice cream out of the carton, but with a little more work – peeling a banana, finding a long bowl, unfreezing the maraschino cherries lost in the back of your refrigerator – now you’re living like a goddamn Archie comics protagonist.

Ironically, when I play games, I’m an “Easy Mode” / “Story Mode” kind of guy, but completing a creative task in “Hard Mode” definitely has its rewards.

🔌 Plug: I wrote an article for Twist Tales with my 5 tips on game writing, plus my pitch for an audio-only Mega Man game.

📨 Next Week: Go down the warp pipe into the hidden level in Super Mario Bros. that inspired my new philosophy on creativity.

🎲 Your Turn: What creative projects have you been up to in 2024? Reply to this email. Or share with the world by hitting the comment button below.

Image Credit: freepik

Geoffrey Golden is a narrative designer, game creator, and interactive fiction author from Los Angeles. He’s written for Ubisoft, Disney, Gearbox, and indie studios around the world.

37 responses to “The Joy of Leaving Substack”

  1. As it happens, I’m one of the few not attached at the hip to a smartphone and have never really cared for the trend of everyone and their grandmother trying to shove an app that’s a glorified web browser for one site down everyone’s throats… But yeah, there’s a lot of subpar to downright atrocious web design out there that is practically invisible to the sighted, but sticks out like a sore thumb to anyone who relies on a screen reader and a keyboard to surf the web.

  2. I’m really loving the theme/design of your weblog. Do you ever run into any web browser compatibility issues? A couple of my blog visitors have complained about my website not operating correctly in Explorer but looks great in Firefox. Do you have any tips to help fix this problem?

    1. Glad you like the design! I generally send the in progress site to friends and ask if everything looks good. I also use Chrome’s Developer Tools to see how a site looks on different mobile devices and desktop sizes.

      Honestly, how a site looks in Chrome vs. Firefox used to be a bigger concern for me, but I haven’t thought about it a lot in recent years. Maybe I should! 😬

  3. Trin

    You’re amazing!! I’ve been in IT long enough that any time someone says the word “migration” I know it’s time to use that PTO I’ve been hoarding. Glad you made it through okay!

    This year has been a weird one so far, but I’ve been trying to keep up with my crafty hobbies. I’m working on finally finishing a lot of my works in progress. I’ve got two embroidery projects and a cross stitch to finish, a million projects to start, and this lace shawl I’ve been meaning to finish since my bonus daughter was in high school. Here’s to hoping!

    1. Thank you, Trin! I’m an experienced migrator at this point. If I hadn’t been using WordPress since college, I probably would’ve needed to quit my job and live in a yurt with wifi for a year or two to figure it out, lol.

      Oooh, I’d love to see what you’re sewing when you’re finished. I think it’s a great instinct to wrap up your works in progress. The feeling of accomplishment is so niiiiiice.

  4. For what it’s worth, while Sub Stack has a lot of cruft that is hard to navigate around with a screen reader, making blogs hosted there more trouble than it’s worth to deal with most of the time, Word Press blogs are straight forward enough I can just bookmark them and add them to the directories I do an open all in tabs usually once a day. Plus, Word Press blogs don’t make leaving comments a royal pain in the anatomy.

    1. I much prefer using the Substack app to read Substack newsletters than reading them on the web. For the web, I prefer WordPress blogs, too.

  5. Owning your list and process is not an option.

    How many people based their businesses on algorithms that changed and screwed everything up?

    My daily mailing list is written in markdown to a statically built website that I can re-build at any point in time in any server I want, and I wrote a command to syndicate the content automatically (email, mastodon, twitter, etc), I also use sendy for email delivery in my own server.

    I’m glad you figured that you need to own your stack, otherwise it’s a sub-stack 🤦🏻‍♀️.

    1. This is very insightful, Fran. I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by pivoting to video.

      Platforms sometimes offer the illusion of choice and freedom. Your setup sounds really cool!

  6. I’m in a bind about Substack because I famously hate nazis (as in, if I were famous that would be would one the earliest things about me people would find out) but I might have to stick with it for now.

    I’ve considered several ideas for Misadventure Adventure. A Patreon where every chapter goes up for free but the version with the voting options and other interactivity is paid per chapter – this is an option I requested at Substack (pay per article) because I wouldnt feel right soliciting money on a regular basis when there are such lapses in regularity. I’ve thought about just moving Misadventure Adventure to my website (which is hosted by wix which has an included newsletter program that is free up to 3000 users) or maybe even hosting it on my website as its own site with a submenu etc and emailing subscribers when there is a new chapter.

    I don’t know how attached to the idea of a ‘newsletter’ I am more interested in Misadventure Adventure being some weird internet thing that you might stumble upon (that’s an intended reference) though I still would like people to read it obviously.

    Anyway, congrats on Equip Story – I’ll be continuing the adventure.

    1. It’s so great to see you here! Thanks for staying in the party.

      Thinking about it, I’m not sure how well the Substack newsletter format serves Misadventure Adventure. The project requires audience participation, and I think the gamers who would enjoy it most are living in places like DriveThruRPG and If you posted them there, perhaps as interactive ebooks or tiny websites, you wouldn’t have the expectation of regular updates, as opposed to a newsletter. I’m planning on moving the entire Adventure Snack archive to itch and give the games a second life.

      1. That’s not a bad idea – I’ve never really experimented much with – occasionally I get linked there to get a patch or something and I feel like I’m trespassing.

        1. I recommend giving it a look around. It’s the YouTube of games! Lots of great indie stuff there.

  7. Glad you’re enjoying your new setup, Geoffrey! Talking of kinks, the email is very hard to read on my phone (Pixel 6a, Gmail app) because the text doesn’t scale and is TINY.
    Very sad to see you leave the writing community over on Substack, but I’ll be keeping a close eye out for your emails.

    1. Thanks for the kind words and for joining me here with my tiny, unreadable text! 😅 I’ll look into the issue. I have an idea why it might be like that.

      In the meantime, the blog version looks pretty good on mobile. If you click on the main image, it’ll take you there.

  8. Sean

    Congrats and looking forward to the next adventure.

    1. Great to have you here on the new quest, Sean! Tally ho!

  9. Dave Goldschmid

    Way to go, king! Now we need you to drop your skincare routine!

    Great to see you back in my inbox, it did seem for a while like maybe you’d been crushed beneath the rubble of Adventure Stacking. Little did we know you were escaping a horde of naught-sees AND taking on a new day job. Hope the job’s been a positive experience for you.

    My current projects include working on my first VN (and watching the required 32,000 Youtubes about making VNs). Am also volunteering time helping this older woman in my building who has mobility and other health issues. It helps me almost as much as it helps her I think.

    Currently playing: I won’t mention the game title, but I think it was created by a trickster god who must’ve heard me comment that I love a good heavy narrative. “Oh yeah??” the trickster said, “so ya like heavy narratives, eh? Well… take THAT!” And kaboom – now I am grasping for purchase just to keep my head above water and finish this thing 😂 There are little post-its all around my home with clues scribbled!

    Bon voyage, Geoffrey, on your new(sletter) venture..!

    1. CeraVe Hydrating Foam x2 per day, on the recommendation of my wife. Otherwise, I would let my skin turn into a mass of gray wrinkles.

      Welcome to the new thing, Dave! Thanks for the kind words. Yes, rumors of my squashing were greatly exaggerated. The new job is awesome! I’m the Narrative Lead at an indie studio working on my first VR title. There are lots of interesting storytelling possibilities in the space.

      I’m excited you’re working on a VN! I’m sure you saw this channel already, but I really like Visual Novel Design’s videos. Very informative on the craft and audience expectations. And even more awesome that you’re volunteering to help a neighbor. I think helping out locally is where it’s at right now, both for society and our souls.

      Have fun with this tricky narrative game! I’m playing Darkside Detective and I really enjoy the throwback to classic LucasArts sensibility.

  10. All of my t-shirts also spark joy, which is a real problem. Just chiming in to say I’m happy to follow you wherever you go since your newsletter does, in fact, spark joy.

    1. I think I need a new criteria for judging my t-shirts. I was thinking about creating a database to track how often I wear each one, and if a shirt doesn’t hit a benchmark, it gets donated. Is this the nerdiest thing I’ve ever written?

      Sara, I’m overjoyed you’re here. We’ll conquer our t-shirt addiction together. 🫂

  11. Yeah…it was a rough Christmas. Glad you’re back on your feet!

    I just ran and fulfilled my first Kickstarter campaign for a TTRPG adventure. Super pumped, learned a lot, and I look forward to making more RPG stuff in the future.

    1. Thank you! It sure was a time, wasn’t it?

      Ayyy, congratulations! That’s wonderful news. Kickstarters are so exciting, and in my experience, the most emotionally draining. Looking forward to seeing more games from you!

  12. Glad to see the comment got through! Turns out comments are widely available internet feature. Who knew?

    In all seriousness, this was a great post! I love newsletters. I think every writer / creator should have one. Email rules! But I’m wary of getting too attached to any platform. Platforms will always turn on you, and if your an early adopter that turn can be especially brutal. All of this is by way of saying, I really appreciate the work you’re doing here. Talking about it is a gift to the creative community because if / when we feel compelled to move, it’s nice to see a friendly face saying, “follow me, I know the way!”

    1. The comments go through! The site is setup so I approve the comments before they publish, which is a way to fight spam. I don’t want Equip Story to get overwhelmed with links to sketchy internet pharmacies.

      I agree, newsletters are a great way for creators to “own” their audience and talk to them directly. Since most email service providers aren’t social media platforms, too, it’s easy to leave one for another. Funny enough, I actually switched ESPs between the first and second Equip Story emails (from MailerSend to Postmark), but I can do that pretty seamlessly now without moving my list and starting a new site. You can’t take your followers from Twitter to Instagram. (Or take your “followers” from Substack, which was another gripe I had.)

      Happy to be a friendly example for folks who want to go their own route! 😁

  13. Jesse

    I didn’t get an email for this just a heads up! I don’t see it in my junk either. :/

    Last time I shared a song I wrote so this time I’ll just share that I’ve also been doing lots of drawings. Been not choosing to draw anything in particular and just letting my hand go. Oftentimes it’s like a part of me surfaces and starts drawing something. It’s like a ouija board except it’s channeling my inner child! Oh yeah the songs and drawing are all trauma healing stuff for context.

    1. Thanks for the heads up, Jesse! According to WordPress, only 75% of the list has been emailed so far. (I’m gonna talk to my Email Service Provider about speeding up the pace.) If you don’t get it by EOD, I’d appreciate if you let me know.

      That’s a cool exercise! I’m so glad you’re using drawing as a tool to surface yourself on the page and channel your inner child. I’m self-conscious about my drawing. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a professional cartoonist, but I didn’t have a natural affinity to hand drawn art. When I draw, I channel my frustrated inner child, lol.

      1. Jesse

        I still haven’t gotten it just a heads up!

        1. Thanks for letting me know. I took some steps to try and fix the problem. Hopefully you’ll get the next one in your inbox next week!

  14. Miriam

    I hate Substack too but I can’t take on another subscription right now. So I’m sticking with it for now but I’m only using it for major updates for my subscribers. There aren’t any free newsletter alternatives. Not that I know of anyway.

    1. There’s no product as easy to use as Substack that’s free. I think you could run a newsletter through WordPress for free, but sending email with PHP (the built-in solution) is not recommended for deliverability reasons. I hope there are more competitors in the space someday!

  15. Emily

    I feel like everyone has had similar migration stories. Kind of a pain but ended up being incredibly worth it. (Also the mutlicolor background on this page is DELIGHTFUL.) Glad you’re back in my inbox. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Emily! I’m happy to be here with my multicolor dream layout. No pain, no gain, as they say.

  16. Hey hey! I’ve written like 3 film scripts, a graphic novel script and some webcomic scripts this year. Only the comic stuff is going anywhere, but I am enjoying what I’m doing. And I’m still doing Dohmance Dawn the Simpsons and One Piece podcast that I do.

    1. You wrote 3 film scripts in, like, a year right? That’s crazy to me. I’ve written… two, I think? In my whole life? Congrats on all the projects!

  17. Glad to have you back in our inboxes!

    I am currently prepping my next Kickstarter launch for my first-ever comic series. It’s been tons of fun collaborating with my artist and I’m really excited to see the entire issue as a finished product. I’m also in the midst of a comics-writing challenge (1/3rd of the way there) and working on a side story for my urban fantasy series that I hope to launch in the fall.

    1. That’s awesome, Jon! Love that you’re diving into comics. What’s the writing challenge?

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