How Substack writers can collaborate to grow
Writers collaborating with and cross-promoting one another have been the key to discovery on the internet since its inception, notably in the blogosphere, where writers’ blogrolls helped unearth niche communities and build bonds of trust between writers.
The Substack network is deeply influenced by that ethos. Some of the most powerful ways to grow your Substack are the human-powered tools we’ve built that help writers suggest other writers to their readers via the subscribe flow, on their home pages and profiles, and in their emails.
None of these tools require the writer to be marketing-savvy, and none rely on clickbait or gimmicky packaging, but writers are using them to drive 40% of all free subscriptions and 12% of paid subscriptions across the Substack network.
To celebrate our new Letter project, which brings two writers into conversation over a series of “letters” exchanged on Substack, we thought we’d revisit the tools, new and old, that Substack offers to collaborate with fellow writers and expand your reach.
Host your own Letter exchange
The most strategic approach for growing your publication is to work with other writers, podcasters, and publishers who have some overlap; for example, someone who writes on the same topic but has a different angle from your work, and thus a slightly different audience. One way to pitch a guest post with another writer is to suggest a letter exchange about a topic that intrigues you both.
We’ve found that six posts, with each writer responsible for three correspondences, allows enough space and time for rich debate.
Once you’ve agreed to do a letter exchange with another writer, here are the next steps to iron out.
Pick a topic. What question do you wish to address in the conversation? Picking a question where you might not agree with another writer can lead to more interesting conversations.
Name the series. The job of the series name, or title, is simple: to make people want to read your exchange. Think of your title as the hook to stop people in their busyness. A good title is brief. After you write it once, try chopping it in half again before you hit publish. For example,and titled their exchange On Free Speech and Cancel Culture. Each exchange they hosted uses the title “On Free Speech and Cancel Culture” followed by the number of the letter.
Decide on a cadence. We recommend one letter per week from each writer; for example, one writer shares on Mondays and the other responds on Thursdays for three weeks. Agree on who will write the opening letter and who will have the last word.
Write your letters. To help readers understand the letter concept and orient themselves within the conversation, each title should include the letter number. Posts should include a short introduction and an embed of the preceding post in the conversation.
New & Improved: Guest posts
Any writer on or off Substack can be added as the guest author of a post. Simply click the “+” sign under the post title and type in the guest writer’s email to invite them to be a collaborator. The guest author’s byline will display prominently at the top or bottom of the post, shining a spotlight on them so that readers can learn more about their work via their writer profile and easily subscribe to their publication.
Guest posts take all different styles and forms. Here are some of the latest collaborations we’ve spotted.
While on maternity leave, cook and authorinvited friends to share their recipes on her publication, What To Cook When You Don't Feel Like Cooking. shared her butternut squash salad recipe, and cooked up a tortilla scramble.
Investigative journalistinvited climate change writer Michael Thomas to cover the fossil fuel industry on Popular Information.
Culture criticinvited emerging writer to publish an essay called My Fistulous Body as part of a rotating series on The Audacity.
- wrote an analysis of Louise Penny’s use of poetry, wrote an essay on a favorite Gamache adventure, and wrote about a favorite character from the books.
The authors behind Common Sense byinvited to write a post about her family bakery’s experience with controversy in a small Ohio college town.
New: Podcast guests
You can use the guest-post tools in a podcast episode post to point listeners to your podcast guest’s profile or publication. If your guest loved the conversation, you can also encourage them to cross-post the episode to their own subscribers on Substack.
Learn more: How can I add a guest author to a post?
Cross-posting provides a seamless way to share another publication’s post with your audience. You can add your commentary to introduce the post and then share it directly with your audience via email.
Writer and editorreposted the latest episode of The Active Voice, where she received a shoutout from .
You might use cross-posts to share a post or podcast you were featured in or were the guest author of, to amplify a post or podcast episode that resonates with you, or to celebrate the announcement of a writer you love who’s starting a Substack.
Mentions enable writers to easily promote other writers who are publishing interesting work. Simply search and tag writers and publications within the Substack network from the editor using the “@” key. The writer will be notified when they are mentioned.
Authorused a mention to tell the delightful story of how illustrator serendipitously created a new logo for Subtle Maneuvers after a conversation in Chat.
Anytime you are talking about another writer, podcaster, or publication on Substack, mentions are an easy tool to highlight their work and help your readers get to know them. Plus, the mentioned writer will be notified and maybe inclined to share your work too.
You can even mention readers and honor their contributions to your work. Food writerthanks reader for his gummy bear flavor suggestion, which inspired his latest post. Fellow readers can hover over the mention to discover other great publications.
Who are you dreaming of collaborating with? Let us know in the comments, and perhaps you’ll even find your next collaborator there.