Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk has inked a deal with Substack to publish a serialized novel and exclusive content through the platform. Palahniuk aims to divide the newsletter into free and paid editions. In the free edition, the author will offer a short and long piece, tentatively to be delivered twice a week, with its contents ranging from short fiction to essays and potential student showcases. The paid portion will serialize a new novel, Greener Pastures, over the course of 52 weekly newsletters.
“I had originally sold [Greener Pastures] to Hachette,” explained Palahniuk. “They were kind enough to give it back to me as long as I promised them another book.”
Greener Pastures was initially intended to be a YA novel, Palahniuk said. “People were telling me you could not be too dark for YA, and that YA was the new place for the darkest fiction. But it got really super dark, and it got really super profane.”
The novel centers around a series of suicides at a high school, where the smartest kids in the school seemingly die by suicide. It turns out, however, that the students were all contacted by a mysterious online service called “Greener Pastures,” which had been keeping a tab on the kids all their lives, monitoring their test scores and the like. Those selected by the service are asked to leave their entire lives and families behind, never to let anyone know of their destination.
“It’s an auction platform where kids can auction themselves to the richest, most powerful people in the world,” Palahniuk explained. “You know, aristocratic dynasties. Elon Musk kind of people. And these kids conceivably could sell themselves for a couple billion dollars, but that would basically decide their destiny.”
In addition to the novel, Palahniuk wants to use the platform to publish short stories he has been unable to place in traditional venues. “There's almost no market for it anymore,” Palahniuk said of his brand of short fiction. “There's no glossies like Playboy that would buy a really edgy upsetting story anymore.”
Palahniuk joins a steadily-increasing number of authors, including Salman Rushdie, who have made the decision to work with Substack to publish their own work. One reason for that is the pay structure.
“There are two ways of payment: One was to take a really hefty percentage of the revenue from the subscriptions, and the other was to take it in advance,” Palahniuk explained. “They offered me an advance that was comparable to what I was getting from Hachette for the book.” Palahniuk opted for the advance; that money, he said, will go toward funding his new Portland-based community project, Study Hall.
“[During the pandemic] I've been teaching,” Palahniuk said, explaining how Study Hall was conceived. “I got together with Chelsea Cain, who's another Portland writer, to teach in an abandoned movie theater. I also sponsored a night there where writers could just come in and write in a communal space for four or five hours in silence. It’s awesome.”
By using the funds from his Substack, Palahniuk hopes to expand Study Hall into its own location, ideally with a sustainable financial model so that the program could be replicated in other cities.
“Writing is lonely work,” Palahniuk said. “But people just come [into Study Hall], they don't pay anything. They get an incredible amount of work done and they’ll work until you throw them out. It's wonderful.”
Hachette has already expressed interest in publishing Greener Pastures in “book form” after Palahniuk completes the serialization, Palahniuk said. However, “I would only do that if I added a significant amount to the book,” he added. “So I wasn't just selling the same thing twice.”
Palahniuk sees Substack as an evolution of mass-market magazines of the past, such as Scribner’s or Colliers, and offers an exciting way to reach his audience. Though not a substitute for traditional publishing, Palahniuk describes it as a “frontier town.”
“A lot of people get to crash and burn,” warns Palahniuk. “And not like it. But I am a completely structured person. I already have a bazillion articles and a billion ideas in the pipeline.”