On Personal Failures, Plans and Trying to Make a Living

I’m looking at crowdfunding as a way to help me make a living. Firstly, I’ll explain why and then I’ll consider some of the options briefly, soliciting the thoughts of readers.

Basically, since around October last year, I’ve been pursuing a two-track strategy of:

1)      Seeking to make money via freelance work, principally writing; and
2)      Applying for proper full-time/part-time jobs to try and get myself a sustainable income, some security and visibility.

The blunt truth is that I’ve failed.

1) The book

Despite doing rather well, so I’m told, and getting excellent reviews and reader responses, the impact of The Tribe sales on my bank account have been negligible for the work put in. Almost all sales proceeds go to Amazon, the publisher and others. This isn’t unexpected. Indeed in some ways the book has done better than I’d hoped. But still – publishing books isn’t of itself a way to make a living unless you are one of the lucky/very good few.

2) Freelance writing

I’ve found it difficult to break into normal media in a satisfactory manner. Understandably, publishers have their priorities, interests and procedures which you are subject to as a writer. Also, they do not always treat freelancers well. In fact, in general my experience of the publishing/media world has been one in which a promise made is generally followed by a promise broken – no doubt rarely out of malice but rather out of inattention and pressure/other priorities. And that is those who respond. Most don’t. 

My impression is that there is only space for a handful of people to make a living in this environment and I’m not one of them. Indeed I’m far from sure I want to be.

My reason for saying that partly lies in the nature of the comment piece. I’ve developed the impression that its general purpose is to say what the publisher wants said and, beyond that, to say what the publisher’s readers want to be said: to match its output to their desires in some sort of accessible, engaging manner, to please them and help them go about their political lives (in the wider sense of the term ‘political’).

I don’t see much wrong with that. It’s a valuable service. In any case this is the world we live in.

However, it doesn’t much align to what I’m interested in doing. I’m interested in pushing the boundaries a little: specifically by employing existential analysis* to explain how things work, as I do for large parts of my book.

This sort of approach means using language in sometimes unfamiliar ways which don't always suit the short space you have to make an argument. It sometimes leads up blind allies and can degenerate into dense waffle. Editors understandably don’t like this and typically demand re-writing or turn it into rationalistic language and therefore lose the point of it. It doesn’t always come off. However, as I think I have shown in The Tribe, existential analysis has considerable power to show how social and political life works in a new light. I don’t want to drop it to get published. Indeed I think the main point of me getting published is to employ it, even if it can be a bit annoying to read sometimes.

3) Applying for jobs

From around a year of applying for full-time and part-time jobs, no one has seen fit to employ me despite a host of applications to be anything from a bookshop assistant to postman to reporter and/or editor and all sorts in between; both part-time and full-time, in private, public and charity sectors (the former has been notably more responsive, but not responsive enough; the latter two have not been responsive at all).

4) This blog and social media

As a consequence of the desire to actually get paid for my work, I’ve largely left this blog alone over the past year. Indeed, as time has gone by I’ve been writing hardly anything for publication except on Twitter. I tweet a lot (perhaps too much) and I’m constantly working on ideas that I sometimes share there, but I’ve got to face the facts – it isn’t getting me anywhere. Sufficient possibilities are not opening up. I’m neither pursuing something I think worthwhile in a direction that might end up somewhere productive, nor getting paid enough to make a living.

5) Crowdfunding my work?

I’m under no illusions I would generate the thousands of dollars per month that some popular ‘creators’ make on Patreon for example. However I need to try something. Despite my modest successes, the lack of possibilities and rewards have been demoralising at times, as well as creating obvious financial difficulties. I need to find some sort of way to make a contribution to this world while maintaining a decent degree of security and visibility.

The Patreon model provides an income to ‘creators’ via patrons pledging a certain amount per month in return for certain exclusive benefits. I’m new to studying this, but my instinct is that I would be interested in raising lump sums as well or instead – whether in return for commitments or not. I’m also not sure about offering ‘exclusive content’. I’m more inclined towards, for example, pledging to write articles answering questions put up by contributors.

The British site Crowdfunder meanwhile raises lump sums, but for specific projects. I would like to develop a proposal for a second book, but would only consider this if I’m confident I have enough money to live on, something that is a long way off. This book would likely be on the subject of The Progressive Society: a critique of progressive hegemony, for which I have quite highly developed thoughts in my documents.

My initial thoughts are leaning towards raising money in return for writing a lot more on here, then possibly with view to a second book, if successful. This is the basic situation – but I haven’t seen an obviously suitable platform to do it by from my initial explorations.

If you have any thoughts you think worth sharing (and especially if you might want to contribute), feel free to comment here, email me on bencobley93@gmail.com or contact me on Twitter (@bencobley).

*By 'existential analysis' I mean examining the relations between people and things and the world as a whole. The most obvious way of relating is through language. Most serious analysis takes the use of language at face value, critiquing what is said based on how accurate it is. This is good and necessary. I do it like anyone else. However it misses the point of much discourse, which is not to reveal truths about the world but to make political alliances, to show group affiliation, to maximise the group's power and minimising that of opponents. I would say even most serious critique is engaged in this sort of thing at some level, including my own. Existential analysis of the sort that I use in The Tribe can help to tease it out.  


  1. If you're looking for a patreon alternative, take a look at https://www.subscribestar.com/ . It has a similar model but tends to be far more supportive of free speech.

  2. Disappointing to hear about your difficulties.

    Regarding crowd-funded work, could you make some podcasts / have live discussions with other interesting people? I mean, Sargon of Akkad was making a mint for pumping out fairly obvious critiques of PC madness. As I'm sure you know, this kind of content has to be fairly regular however in order to maintain your base of support. But of course it would lead to building up a satisfying body of (visual) work to look back on in the future.

    Regarding paid work to tide you over, how about teaching English as a foreign language? It's fun, easy to get into and can be as professional as you want to make it. Plenty of options for travel too. I would happy to share contacts with you if you were interested.

    Makes you think though, doesn't it? If a very well educated guy like you can't get work, how are other less gifted people getting on? Of course, it could be that your qualifications go against you in certain fields but nonetheless, I think your case illustrates the negligence of the Left in not only turning a blind eye to the mass importation of surplus labour but positively encouraging it based on a very high risk demographic strategy.

    All the best

    1. Thanks Phil. I'm instinctively not keen on making podcasts on my lonesome. I see a lot of people who are a lot more well known than me doing it. It doesn't bring in any income and will cost quite a lot (for me, relatively) to do and to arrange (these things take a lot more time than you think). I also don't like talking just for the sake of it.

      TEFL is an option I haven't considered actually and could be one to go after. I'm also thinking about re-training into a *proper* career in which people get paid for doing work.

    2. I understand.

      If you are planning on training for a proper career and there are significant costs involved, EFL could be a way to raise those funds since you can save quite a lot of money teaching in the Middle East or China for a year or two (£15k to £20k p.a. and upwards).

      If you fancied giving teaching English a whirl, my recommendation would be to get a CELTA certificate first. It costs about a grand and takes a month to do. This is far superior to these ''120 hour online courses'' you see advertised everywhere.


      Once you've got that, the world's your oyster and it really can be a very fun, creative job which is less demanding than being a school teacher.


  3. Hi Ben

    Sorry to hear about your issues. Do you live in an area with decent employment prospects?

    I note you mentioned TEFL. I've met several creative/ intellectual type people who find that East Asian TEFL work really suits them. You have pretty interesting, pretty low hours of work (possibly 25 hours a week), can get free housing and plenty of time to study, research etc. You do need to be a bit careful about firewalls in the countries.

  4. What you have been experiencing the past few months sounds dispiriting. I greatly admire your work and I hope that you can find a way to continue it that includes economic security.

    Re: model of crowdfunding. I am not familiar enough with the costs/benefits of the main options. Suffice to say, I would make a contribution(s) via whichever model you select.

    Your mention of re-training, gives me an opening to suggest a path that occurred to me when I read your message: a PhD program, perhaps in sociology.
    Your domains of inquiry fall into those of social science for sure.
    We are both well aware that social justice activism and thinking permeates most social science faculties, bar economics perhaps. Clearly, you would want to select a program that minimized your interaction with such people. NB: On the other hand, you could also approach those interactions as a researcher on a field trip collecting primary data ;-)

    Perhaps I am excessively optimistic, but I think it likely you could find a scholar who finds your thinking and proposed research intriguing and promising. As I understand it in UK PhD programs, identifying an individual faculty member with whom you would like to work, who agrees to supervise your dissertation is part of the admissions process. Perhaps you have already read a paper or book by someone who you could consider?

    If you can find a suitable faculty mentor & a not-too-social-justice-activism dominated department, I think you might find it quite worthwhile.
    If your book project could be converted into a thesis project (why not?!), then you could end up with a useful credential at the end of it. You may even find it rewarding to become part of a new scholarly community/friendship network.

    Perhaps you could talk it over with thoughtful people who are very familiar with academia & PhD programs in the UK. The first person that comes to my mind is Frank Furedi - he could doubtless advise especially re sociology. Eric Kaufmann perhaps could offer insight regarding political science programs.

    Obviously, this path is costly. And you may have many good reasons to consider it a nonstarter. Still I thought it worth tossing out there.

    I should mention that our research interests overlap rather a lot. I have been working on my own for 2+ years, and several times have thought… I wish I could enter a PhD program or at least find some way to connect to scholars working in and around my topics. I am quite well connected in *other* areas (e.g. health policy, development, international relations) and I already have a PhD (econ). It's entirely possible I am doing a bit of projecting of my frustrations and my to-do-options on to yours.

    Whichever path you take, I wish you the very best.

  5. Hi, your condition is very close to me, I am also in the search for "a way to contribute to this world, while maintaining a decent degree of security and visibility." I'm glad I found your blog. I will take into account the tips of more experienced people.


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