The newsletter How I’d Fix Atlanta (HIFA) has made a name for itself as a collective journal of grievances — and solutions — for Atlanta, by Atlantans. 

Since 2022, the newsletter has published 14 essays (and counting), the first 10 of which comprise “season one.” The essays each dive into a problem and solution for the city — i.e., how the writer would fix Atlanta —  and each one is written by a guest writer from the city.

Austin Ray, creator of the fee newsletter,  gets writers from a variety of places, in whatever way feels right. Sometimes he reaches  out to writers off of even a Tweet he feels could be expanded upon in an essay, other times having writers reach out to him with an idea. As long as the final product makes sense,, he’s flexible.

 “I ask someone to pitch ideas, someone pitches me an idea, or I have a specific request for a writer. But I’m open to whatever so long as the ideas are good,” Ray said. Ray said the idea came to him naturally after being in the Atlanta writer’s scene for some time and having amassed a list of writers around the city.

“One day, I opened the file, which was just a long list of Atlanta writers I admire, and started thinking about what I could do with them,” Ray said. “That led to thinking about my relationship with Atlanta, a city I love so dearly but one that also suffers from a weird mix of boosterism and complacency. From there, I started wondering how we might make things better.”

After running the idea by trusted colleagues and receiving positive feedback, Ray launched the now-popular series in February 2022 and began publishing the essays online. 

Once HIFA had momentum, Ray knew it was time to compile the essays into a book or magazine of some sort — a “zine,” as Ray referred to it. 

“In the case of the zine, I had gotten more Venmo donations from readers than I needed, so I decided to use that money to make something that felt like a logical extension of the newsletters,” Ray said.

Moreover, the zine felt like a way to memorialize the series with something tangible so that it had life beyond the internet.

After a week, Ray said, HIFA sold out of the 250 initial copies ordered. Ray is now considering a second print, along with event opportunities. If that wasn’t enough, the idea has been so successful that he can now pay writers completely through donations and sponsorship instead of out of pocket — and at better rates, too.

“What started as a humble project I was paying for out of pocket at $250 per essay has become a reader and sponsor-funded project that now pays writers $500 per essay,” Ray said. “Every dollar that comes in from reader donations, sponsors, or zine sales goes back into the series—whether that’s writer fees, stickers, zines, events, etc. I don’t keep a dime for myself. I’m so proud of our little socialist publishing experiment.” 

Evidently, Atlanta showed an appetite for the series — which made for happier writers, too.

“When we started, I just wanted to see if it was possible to get people to pay for something like this: A project that gives writers a decent amount of money to write about something they deeply care about,” said Ray, a professional writer himself for the last couple decades.

He said it was often a choice between writing something he was passionate about for free or writing something he didn’t care about to pay the bills — so the success of HIFA means that much more.

“HIFA aims to be the opposite of all that, and to accomplish that first goal of getting it paid for and continually raising the writer’s fee [from $250 to the current $500] is astounding to me,” Ray said.

It’s why the space feels so authentic and inviting to writers, according to Ray. Writers can write about their passion within the niche and not have to worry about newsworthiness, appealing to demographics or appeasing sponsors.

“We’ve written about everything from bike infrastructure to wildflowers, food truck regulations to libraries,” Ray said.

Looking ahead

Ray says in the future, he is hoping to hold some events to thank all the supporters and encourage conversations around the topics covered in the series.

“These ideas we publish… they’re fun, they’re necessary, they’re ambitious, maybe some of them are even impossible. But we won’t know for sure until we get enough people talking about them and generating more of them and ultimately demanding some real change,” Ray said.

Ray credits LinkedIn and NextDoor — two sites where he prompted the zines — for so many new readers learning about the series.

As of June, HIFA is wrapping up the first half of Season Two, with a return and second half scheduled for August.

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