The first rule about Substack is you don’t talk about conventional book publishing. Chuck Palahniuk, the author of Fight Club, has become the latest big name to serialise their work online by announcing a deal with the fast-growing newsletter platform.
Palahniuk’s 16th novel, Greener Pastures, will be published in regular instalments from next Monday, at a subscription price of $6 a month or $40 a year (about £4.40/£30).
It follows Salman Rushdie’s deal to publish his next work of fiction as a serialised novella on Substack, while Patti Smith and the Israeli writer Etgar Keret have also signed up with the company. Substack, which has based much of its appeal on attracting well-known journalists such as the Rolling Stone contributor Matt Taibi, has more than 500,000 customers subscribing to its roster of writers.
Palahniuk said he was approached by Substack to publish his next work on the platform and was drawn to an offering of editorial independence. “That’s really attractive, the idea that you don’t have somebody editing the content of your work.”
Substack has paid Palahniuk an upfront sum for Greener Pastures and, unlike with a typical publishing advance, there are no conditions attached over what he writes. The serialisation will be interspersed with short stories from Palahniuk and current and former students from his writing workshop in Portland, Oregon, as well as lessons on writing craft and how to navigate the publishing industry.
The first three chapters of Greener Pastures will be made available for free and will be published on 27 September and 4 October. His Substack launched officially at 5pm on Monday with a newsletter containing anecdotes and writing lessons. Palahniuk fans can pay $200 to be “founder members” of his venture.
The 59-year-old writer said Greener Pastures started out as a piece of young adult fiction and became “really dark and somewhat sexualised”. It depicts “the crisis young people face as they must choose a career, a partner, and find a home and job,” and is about a group of high school students who are offered the chance to auction themselves off as successors to billionaires and royalty around the world.
The novel contains signature, jolting Palahniuk scenes. It opens with a 14-year-old girl climbing the stained-glass window of a church in front of a hostile congregation, bleeding from glass cuts as she tries to free a trapped hummingbird. Later in the novel, two parents seek refuge from a forest fire by hiding in their own partially filled septic tank. “I was told young adult fiction could not be too dark but it’s a slippery slope,” said the author.
Palahniuk, whose most renowned novel depicts a disaffected, isolated group of men, hopes that his newsletter and serialisation will build a more positive online community. Admitting that he is “sick” of “editoralising” online articles and prefers more useful internet content such as YouTube tutorials on how to clean garden furniture, Palahniuk said: “If it’s just opinion I don’t want to hear it. With this, I want to be offering people the nuts and bolts, the skills that people have taught me over the years.”
In the offline world Palahniuk has a three-book deal with Hachette, under which he has published his two most recent novels. A book version of Greener Pastures could be printed by the French-owned publisher, which has right of first refusal. “My readership tends to be completist and they want copies of all the books,” said Palahniuk.
The publishing industry will be “phlegmatic” about well-known novelists moving into the digital sphere, according to one expert. “In the history of modern publishing, no one has really worked out how to make long-form narrative fiction or nonfiction work commercially unless it is in a book format,” said Philip Jones, editor of trade title The Bookseller.
The Substack deal comes after Palahniuk found himself “close to broke” when he was the victim of embezzlement by an accountant working for his former literary agency. Darin Webb, a bookkeeper for Donadio & Olson, was sentenced to two years in prison in 2018 after Palahniuk lost an estimated $2.5m as part of the fraud.
“I was compelled to sell my house, but Hachette has helped me regain my footing. The Substack deal was not motivated by money, but my curiosity,” said Palahniuk.