Welcome to Hell World is one of the most popular newsletters on Substack today. It’s run by journalist, author, and poet Luke O’Neil.
His newsletter combines a commentary on US current affairs with poetry and insights from Luke’s life. Luke’s writings aren’t for everyone and he’s not afraid to say it. A blurb on his new book reads: “The Left’s new low.” —Tucker Carlson
Check out this week’s interview.
Bryan: Hi there, my name is Bryan Collins and welcome to the Become a Writer Today podcast. Before I recorded this week's podcast episode where I interview Luke O'Neil, the writer of the popular Welcome to Hell World newsletter, I was waiting to do this myself, and it said that there's a recession in Ireland. There's a recession because of the corona pandemic and there's a recession, not just in Ireland, but in many countries.
And we're not sure how long it will last or when it will end. And it actually got me thinking about the last time there was a recession back in 2008. Back then, I was a freelance journalist and I wrote for a number of technology publications in Ireland, but I wrote for one particular publication that I was overly dependent on. And when the recession arrived, who do you think they were the first to get rid of? Well, it was freelancers. Because when you're a news media publication and you're running out of money, you're going to cut freelancers because you need to protect your full-time staff or even your bottom line.
And at the time, my freelancing contract dried up and then my other freelance contracts dried up. And basically, I was out of work for about a year. I ended up drifting into another profession that had nothing to do with journalism. It took me quite a while to find my way back to writing. But I remember at the time thinking, "I'll never be so dependent on one source of income or on one employer like that again." I wanted to prepare for the worst.
So these days, I earn a living from writing through creating online courses, through recommending writing software that I use, through advertising and also through some freelance writing. Now, I know it can feel like a lot to figure out how to develop all of those income streams if you're a new writer. So, one strategy that's working really well for many former journalists, for many freelancers and nonfiction writers is creating a newsletter. Creating a newsletter is fantastic because you don't necessarily need to work harder because your publications can scale up even if you don't. And if you encourage people to pay for your newsletter, you can quickly earn a living because of shear maths.
If a hundred people pay you $5, you can quickly calculate how much you could earn if 1000 people paid your $5. One person who's doing that quite well is Luke O'Neil. He's the writer and the man behind Welcome to Hell World, and he's also an author and journalist. And in this week's interview, I wanted to understand why Luke decided to set up his newsletter in the first place. And that's what we get into at the start of the interview. And Luke also explains why he feels there's room for different types of writing for a nonfiction writing for anybody who's going to create a newsletter today.
Of course, before we get into this week's interview, I do have an ask. If you enjoy the show, if you could leave a short review on the iTunes store or wherever you're listening to us, or rate the show. Because your review or your rating will help more listeners find us. That said, let's go over to this week's interview with Luke O'Neil of Welcome to Hell World. And I started by asking him to explain what exactly his publication or newsletter is about, and why he decided to set it up in the first place.
Luke: It's kind of a curious mix and I think that's why people seem to like it. I send it out two or three times a week, and one might be a reported feature from a scene of a political rally or something like that. One might be an interview with somebody who's doing some good work in labor organizing or other leftist political spaces. And one might be memoiry type writing about my own life and mental health and things like that. And then, sometimes it might be all three stacked on top of each other, weaving back and forth into one another. And I don't ... probably certainly not the first person to try to mix all of those things into one thing, but it's a little bit rare. And so for that reason, I guess I'm lucky that people have taken to it.
Bryan: Yeah. I would say, although some journalists are trying to do that, you don't often see it in many publications or sites today. So it's quite difficult to do well. Your articles or newsletters air on the longer side. I think I read one that was about 4,000 words. Is that fair to say?
Luke: It's funny. The email service, I use Substack, which has become quite popular of late. I didn't know that there's a limit on how long an email can actually be.
Bryan: Neither did I.
Luke: No. And so I find out almost every time. I mean, that also has to do with including media, like pictures and stuff, that curtails it a bit. But I think that length is part of what I think distinguishes that, and what I said, I've been a more traditional journalist for a long time, almost 20 years now. And I really got fed up with the online ne