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Perspective, Part III: Two Years on the Trail
Looking back on two years along the trail building this outdoor publication as a serious voice in the community, with a glimpse ahead at the future
READ ME FIRST, SERIOUSLY
There’s a super eloquent essay below — but here’s a quick version if you’re in a rush:
2 year anniversary
Outdoor writing fun // not hitting goals
Want to write fiction too
Created second publication
If you do nothing else here today, please at least click this button and go sign up for Cole’s Chapters. It’s fiction, by me. If you find my writing here engaging, I think you’ll love it.
Here’s the full sell, and rationale:
Are You Sure You Know Where We’re Going?
Two years ago, I pressed publish for the first time. The piece I’d written was called perspective, and it went to my test email account. No one else. To this date, it has been read by fewer than 100 people. (For context, my essays now go to an email list just shy of 1600 subscribers, reaching 40,000 site visits in the past month.)
A year later, I published a sequel piece by the same name, read by hundreds. I reflected on the changing nature of my work. I’d just cranked out a few mega-hits. I thought I was onto something, and would start to see the explosive growth I’d been working toward.
Then I dealt with one of the most personally brutal years I can remember. I’ve already shared a lot about what happened in a recent piece — “Turning over a new leaf.” I have no desire to expand on it here, I’ve written as much on the subject as I can stand.
Instead, I’d like to revisit an idea first hatched in an older piece, “That’s not Your Path, but it Sure Looks Like it.” If you want to go back and refresh your memory, click here.
The short version is: sometimes the trail you’re on doesn’t lead where you thought.
My Goal had Always been Selling Books
I first came to Substack out of frustration with the state of the publishing world. After shopping a few short stories around for months, I started noticing a pattern among agents, and in submission criteria. I couldn’t tell whether they disliked my stories, or just the characteristics of the person who wrote them.
Likewise, I saw the withered state of outdoor journalism and thought I could do better. I didn’t know where the trail lead. But after walking it for years, I can tell you for sure where it doesn’t.
I’ve always treated Cole’s Climb like a second job, typically spending about 15-20 hours per week on writing, editing, research, shoots, and promotions. Don’t even get me started on the documentary. I’ve still spent more time making it than viewers have watching it, and that’s not because it’s unpopular.
To date, I’ve had incredible experiences as a direct result of running Cole’s Climb. But I’ve never made a cent off my work. I do believe that with focused effort, this publication could become a staple in the outdoor space.
My piece on the 2022 CFI trail data indexed #3 in Google search results, and racked up more than 30,000 page views. I have great sources, but getting scoops like that on my beat requires this to be my only job. I don’t know if I have the strength to reach the end of this trail right now; and I certainly can’t afford to do it for free.
I also feel I’ve put my dreams of fiction writing on hold for too long. I’ve seen the success possible on Substack, which is why I’m launching Cole’s Chapters as a clear extension of my brand as an adventure writer.
Cole’s Chapters continues the kind of storytelling style I employ here; If you find yourself transported to the mountain by my essays, I’m sure you’ll like my prose as well. It would mean the world to me if you’d subscribe.
Cole’s Climb isn’t going anywhere. I still have much to say about the outdoors. But for now, my main priority will be shifting to this new venture, and trying to publish my first book by year’s end.
It’s been incredible walking this trail together, even if it doesn’t lead where I thought it would. Thank you for an incredible two years together.