Why did I switch from Notion to Ghost?
I need SOS-level help for distribution. I'll admit, my tactics as a writer for the last 18 months have been quite shit– probably rooted in fear. I've built a colosseum of ideas on a public Notion site– I'm 200,000 words deep (a metric fuck-ton), but you wouldn't know unless at some point in the middle of your busy day, you stopped and thought to yourself, "what's Michael Dean up to?"
When it comes to distribution, I've been a lazy MF with a barrel of excuses. Even though I've had a "sign up for my weekly newsletter" button on my site for a long-time, I've held a streak of 95 consecutive weeks without saying hello. I'll pathetically admit, I wanted to send something, but I kept getting tangled in shifting infrastructure and perfecting my first edition (some of you may know that I'm 18 iterations deep into Newsletter Junkyard, an untethered rant about loathing email, and I'm still not done.. talk about resistance).
I'm departing from my Notion site because Ghost offers one-click distribution. It cuts through the bullshit. Anytime you publish to your site on Ghost, it has the setting "blast the Internet" on by default. It's like negative friction, or digital lube.
The more I reflect on it, this is the exact reason I switched from Squarespace to Notion back in December of 2020. I only had a few essays on my Squarespace site. I was writing every day, but I had all sorts of reasons why my essays weren't good enough to go live. This lack of confidence, paired with the slight friction of Ctrl+C / Ctrl+V was enough to keep my Squarespace empty. Notion offered something different: one-click publishing. I already wrote my drafts in Notion. When publishing became as simple as checking a box, I suddenly went on a rampage. 6 weeks in a row of daily publishing. The pure simplicity of execution cut through all my psychological resistance.
The highest-leverage thing I can do is charge head-first at my next bottle-neck (even if that means losing my unofficial title as “the Notion guy”). I can already write and publish prolifically. Since Ghost automates my distribution, I can get my work in front of people without having to be strategic. It's crazy how one simple feature can make such a radical difference. Features are power-laws. A feature that hi-jacks my self-criticism and drive for perfection is 65,536 times more valuable than incremental upgrades to the Notions toolset.
Be fluid in your systems so you can combat where your most important bottleneck lies.
The "Essay vs. Newsletter" Debacle
Like most writers, I always thought we needed two separate pieces of infrastructure: a website & a newsletter. Each serve different purposes.
- The website is your digital home– it contains your about page, your bulletproof evergreen essays, and whatever else is necessary to reveal your soul or sell your e-books. Your website is an always-on serendipity-magnet.
- Your newsletter is your privately owned distribution channel. Lurkers on your website can subscribe to your newsletter if they want to keep tabs on you. Creators usually send these weekly to stay top-of-mind.
Sounds simple, but I've seen this division lead to all kinds of unnecessary torment for writers. The norm is to have one platform for a website, and another for email distribution. This creates a rift in the forms of writing that get created (the "essay" & the "newsletter" are different beasts). Maybe this is totally fine for some writers, but here's what I see happening:
- Some writers only have a Substack. They send essays through email, and they have a weekly streak, but they have no digital home of their own. Sure, their Substack profile has a URL, but their page is templated and bare. It's not customizable– it's just one parcel within the network.
- Other writers only have a website. Their site is filled with essays, and custom pages give you a full sense of them as a person. But since they have no newsletter, they can't easily notify their followers when new writing goes live.
- Many writers have both– but their newsletter and website are disconnected. They're patched together through hyperlinks and embed forms. It's feasible, but it's a bandaid solution. It can be a lot to maintain two separate things, and it's common for one of them to turn into a "ghost"-town (accidental pun).
Ghost simplifies how we can “write in public.” It has distribution baked into your digital home. When you upload an essay or a weekly update to your site, you can control how it gets shared with your audience segments.
Moving forward, all my writing lives on my Ghost website– my essays, my (perhaps) weekly updates, and my logs. As soon as it's published on my site, my subscribers on Dean's List will find it in their inbox. Simple.
Ghost lets you add "email-only" content boxes to your website posts. This is a game-changer. It let's me add a pre-amble– a "hello note"– to anything published on my site. So even though it's an "essay"– the personal and timely opener makes it feel like an "newsletter."
I used to think Ghost was crazy complicated. It's not. I thought I had to manually set up a self-hosted instance, hack the terminal, edit .ini files, and do all sorts of things that would cause me a headache. Turns out, for $9/mo, Ghost takes care of the technical ruckus. All you have to do is pick a template, name it, write a bio, pick a color– and boom, straight to the content. It's a 5-minute setup.
It takes 5 minutes to set up a Ghost website, and it cuts the pain of having separate homes for your essays and your newsletters.
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