Looking On My Work, And Despairing

Ty Schalter
8 min readOct 4, 2021


I love roller coasters, but I hate free-fall rides — and whenever anybody asks me why, I have a pat answer:

I won’t get on board anything where catastrophic failure is indistinguishable from normal operation until it’s too late.

And yet, I participate in the digital-media economy. Curious! I am very intelligent.

Carlos Watson is very intelligent, too; just ask him (or any of the glowing media profiles that have been written about the OZY.com founder over the years). Way back in 2015, OZY became one of Silicon Valley’s digital-media darlings; Watson made headlines in more traditional outlets because he named his site and company after what appeared to be a total misreading of the poem “Ozymandias.”

This week, the desert came for the king:

OZY had a lot going for it that its contemporaries didn’t: senior leadership that wasn’t all white guys, a lack of baggage around its founders and origin, and a business model based on attracting traffic with interesting articles (as opposed to, “Step 1: Make Videos, Step 3: Profit.”)

The problem was, OZY’s articles never attracted much traffic. As The New York Times revealed this week, OZY culminated a six-year string of getting funding based on fake traffic numbers and lying to people with having a co-founder impersonate a YouTube exec during a meeting with Goldman Sachs.

What’s depressing about all this isn’t that Watson and the rest of the OZY gang made it so huge by faking it for so long. It’s that nobody could tell, because the digital-media economy is itself fake.

Since the earliest days of the World Wide Web, everyone has instinctually known that online advertising impressions don’t make much of an impression. But it was the only way for anyone make money during a digital age where everyone believed “information wants to be free,” so advertisers duly paid for ads they knew wouldn’t deliver in exchange for getting in on this whole new Online fad.

Today, the ad-tech duopoly sucks gazillions of dollars out of the media economy by serving kajillions of ads that neither generate a worthwhile number of sales for the buyers, nor a sufficient amount of revenue for the sellers. It’s fake clicks measured by fake ad tech, which is then fooled into generating even faker numbers until real dollars come in. OZY couldn’t even generate enough fake numbers! They had to lie!

Just as the “pivot to video” felt like an obvious red herring — nobody watches five-minute informational videos, so how can churning out pro-caliber five-minute informational videos make money — OZY’s claims of having more traffic than lots of sites you’d heard of never held up. Most people can count on one hand (or zero hands) the number of times they’ve read, or even seen, an actual ozy dot com article.

But faking it well enough was indistinguishable from making it. And as Exavier Pope pointed out on Twitter, if Goldman Sachs hadn’t seen through the Fake YouTube Exec gambit, everyone at OZY would have been set for life — and those gleaming profiles would have kept coming, and we never would have heard about any of this.

How are people supposed to build their careers in an industry where the money’s made up, and the leaders don’t matter?

Everything Awesome

“The Simpsons,” and especially The Simpsons as a monocultural phenomenon, are so old that even the memes about thirty-something college professors trying to relate to their students with Simpsons references the students don’t get are, themselves, several years old.

But as Marshall wrote, young webcomic artists are doing incredible things with Simpsons fan projects, going places the show won’t dare — and in the process, somehow feeling much truer to the show’s original spirit.

Brisbin, who I’m pretty sure I followed because she voiced a character in Final Fantasy VII Remake, just nailed so many of the cartoon voices she did for this Twitter video. And a zillion extra points for the period cosplay (the Aughties outfit drew as big a laugh from me as anything else).

The full YouTube video is definitely worth your time:

I’ve been reading webcomics for as long as webcomics have been a thing. The Big, Important ideas early webcomics artists struggled with in the late 90’s presaged so many of the exact same debates around distribution and monetization and ethics and audience and tech and accessibility and artistic validity that journalists and authors had a decade later. And the decade after that. And, sheesh, are still having a decade after that. I’ve been following the scene all along, even if nearly half of my saved “Comics” tabs bring up projects that haven’t updated in years.

So I was thrilled when October Gale hipped me to Paranatural, a teen slice-o’-life comic that immediately goes off the ghost-train rails, brilliantly engaging with, skewering (and yet somehow still embracing), every trope you might expect to encounter along the way. Every time you think you know what beat or line or gag is coming next, Morrison surprises and delights you.

But like many longtime comic artists, Morrison has been trying to cope with/heal drawing injuries, despite needing to crank out art at a pace and quality that keeps the audience around. The latest update is an experiment I think will pay off: telling the story in illustrated prose rather than full comic pages.

Like every geeky SFF writer, I’ve played with the idea of writing comics. In fact, one of the biggest laughs I’ve ever gotten was at a con, when I asked a panel of artists what mistakes prose writers typically make when first trying to write comics. *tugs collar, hisses*

Morrison’s going the other way around — but these first stabs at it show a TON of promise. I really encourage everyone to start at the beginning and read Paranatural all the way through; it’s absolutely delightful (even the Ugly Duckling early phase every comic goes through).

Telling aspiring writers “the secrets” of the publishing industry is its own cottage industry, with countless people who don’t have much of a track record offering to unlock the gatekeepers’ gates for you, you undiscovered genius, you.

Blades has actually pulled back the curtain on how publishing works in this one, with absolutely crucial truths for anyone trying to break in — and it’s not just me, undiscovered genius aspiring novelist, saying so. Check out all the actual industry insiders who agree!


Instead of the putting the usual “rest of the story” Part II of the blog post before a closing #TyNoWriPro update, this week’s #TyNoWriPro is the rest of the story.

What novel-writing and digital media and venture capital all have in common is faking it until you make it.

Great journalists have been Twitter must-follows for as long as there’s been Twitter, but clever Tweeters with an aspirational “journalist” in their bios have been wag-the-dogging their way into writing gigs for nearly as long.

There might be a parasitic cottage industry built on harvesting money from wannabe writers, but some wannabe writers have also managed to Fiverr and Amazon their way into something very much like an actual career as a working author.

Likewise, scammy vanity presses and “schmagents” have been around as long as there’s been mass-market publishing and literary agents. But even though my mailbox is currently getting stuffed full of kickass new books by brilliant debut authors, even the people who are actually in the real professional business of bookmaking seem to be struggling to do their actual jobs in a way that feels new.

“The publishing machine is overloaded,” Blades wrote in the last Awesome link, and that’s true in the best of times. But after six or so years of trying to break into the world of professional fiction writing, with quite a few friends in the industry, every phase of what’s already a slow and mysterious process seems to be getting a lot slower. Like, when countless people in the business are tweeting about ordering Christmas-gift books now because nobody knows when the printers will have enough paper, something is wrong.

Already-egregious lag times on every phase of the process are getting significantly laggier. Publishers are splitting already-meager advances into so many pieces over such a long time they’re not even technically “advances” anymore. Agents are asking authors to write their own marketing plans. Authors are begging publishers to at least just publicly acknowledge their book exists:

Making it worse for everyone is a toxic culture clash: The online writers’ culture of constant positivity and support for each other around the process of writing books, meeting the publishing industry’s culture of never telling anyone what’s really going on.

Admittedly, the latter has changed a lot, even since I started trying to get published. Plenty of agents and other industry pros have side gigs making content to guide newbies through the many mysteries and unwritten rules of processes that, in any other industry, would just be there to learn for anyone who cared to know.

Even so, processes built a hundred years ago to handle countless randos blind-mailing paper manuscripts to Manhattanite tastemakers make less and less sense when A) everyone involved in the process now follows each other on Twitter, and B) everyone involved in the process is spending too much time hustling to actually perform their role in the process.

This problem became clear to me last year. An online gripe about how Patrick Rothfuss has taken a decade to write the final book of his Kingkiller trilogy inspired fans to rush his defense, affirming an author’s right to take as long as they need, and assuring all the haters and doubters that it was going to be awesome.

And then his editor jumped in, in a since-locked post, effectively saying no, actually, as far as I can tell he hasn’t written a word in nine years, I gave up a long time ago and you should, too.

To repeat myself:

I won’t get on board anything where catastrophic failure is indistinguishable from normal operation until it’s too late.

To be clear, I am not in any way giving up on CODEX 17, A&A, or becoming a traditionally published novelist.

What I am doing is reminding everyone that I have a dayjob, telling everyone that I had a Dayjob Emergency last week, and it turned into a solid freaking week of Dayjob Emergency, and everything else I do got put on hold as a result.

I had to ask my editor at FiveThirtyEight for more time to file this piece on Matthew Stafford and the Los Angeles Rams. You’re reading this newsletter Friday afternoon instead of Thursday morning. I still owe Pickwatch my weekly column. The exploratory writing on A&A I told you two weeks ago I’d do last week? And last week I’d do this week? Nope, didn’t do it this week either.

Man, I’d love to be a full-time writer again. I’d love to do all the journalism and features writing I want, do all the fun blogging I want, and write. freaking. novels, all while having the comfort and security of knowing I’ll have the money to pay all my monthly bills as they come due.

But that’s not a reality for me right now. What’s more, I’m not sure that having the security and resources to just do their job in bookmaking is a reality for all but a very few people professionally involved in making books. I think the industry would be better and kinder for everyone involved if more people would just be real about it.



Ty Schalter

Professional writer & talker (@FiveThirtyEight, etc.). Sports things & nerd stuff. Rather cleverer than most men; mistakes correspondingly huger. He/him.