You’ve started a new publication and you’ve made it yours. Now it’s time to spread the word! Here’s some advice on getting your first 100 signups.
Tell your friends, coworkers, and acquaintances that you’ve started a newsletter. It’s okay to email them from your personal email to let them know. Be sure to include a link for them to subscribe if they choose. Bring it up in conversation, over lunch, and whenever you meet someone new.
Link to your publication everywhere you can. Make yourself discoverable to increase the chances that a stranger will stumble upon your work. Add your Substack URL to your email signature, personal website, and bio on Twitter, Instagram, etc.
Post on Twitter (or Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc) about starting a newsletter and ask your followers to subscribe. Pin a tweet about it to the top of your Twitter feed. Tell them what it’s about and why you think they’d like it. As you publish new posts, keep sharing your excerpts and insights.
From other Substack writers:
“My first 100 subscribers were all friends. I'd send them a note saying, "hey, I send an email that I think you'll dig." I'd add them to the list, and pretty quickly after getting a couple of my emails I'd get a "LOVE THIS!" response. To this day, the one-by-one approach has been my most successful!” Shelby Erickson, #CoolShit
“I tweet about my Substack at least once a day. Not always direct links to the 'stack, or anything so obvious, but "hey, my dad thought the thing I wrote was ridiculous" or "wow you guys really liked this issue". And I make sure to tweet a lot about my normal life or politics or my usual "beat" so people don't get really sick of me plugging my stuff all the time.” Jaya Sundaresh, JAYA TIME
“Surprisingly, LinkedIn was a huge source of subscribers. I didn't realize how many connections I had.” Sam Becker, Not Pretty, Not Rich
Pick a regular writing schedule and stick to it. Whether daily, weekly, biweekly, monthly, quarterly, or annually, the important part is being consistent. Don’t worry if you’re not sure what to say yet. Getting into a rhythm will help you find your voice and feel more confident sharing your publication. As new visitors come across your publication, they’re more likely to sign up when they see that you’re active.
Let your personality shine through. The best part about writing for a subscriber audience is that your readers are there to hear how you think. So be yourself! Even if you’re writing about a narrow topic, don’t be afraid to give it your own personal spin. It will make your writing more memorable and more likely to be shared.
Keep all your content free. At this stage, you’re still trying to increase the chances that new readers will discover your writing. Even if you intend to launch a paid publication eventually, if you’re still building an audience, focus on building your free email list first. It will be much easier when you do go paid.
From other Substack writers:
“I've made sure to publish regular posts, and then post links to each issue on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram. On Twitter, I tag writers whose work I'm promoting and their pubs so they're aware of it. I include the link to the newsletter in my Twitter and LinkedIn profiles, and my email signature.” Vesna Jaksic Lowe, Immigrant Strong
“For Endless Metrics, my first 30 were just friends who I asked pretty simply “oh I’m starting this new project would love to get your thoughts or insight and if you hate it or it’s annoying then it’s easy to unsubscribe!” The rest have come from hitting on certain topics that resonated more broadly and brought in a lot of new readers.” Luke Makai, Endless Metrics
Tap into other people’s audiences
At this point, you’ve tapped your immediate network and written a bunch of posts you’re proud of. Now spread the word to people you don’t know.
Ask your friends with big audiences to share your newsletter. You’re more likely to get a positive response if you give them something that’s relevant to their followers and that they’ll feel good about sharing. Perhaps it’s a specific post that covers a topic they care about deeply.
If you don’t know anyone with a big following, try cold emailing or DMing someone you admire whose audience overlaps with yours, and ask them a thoughtful question. Briefly introduce yourself by saying you write your-dot-substack-dot-com, or just link to your Substack from your email signature. Chances are, they’ll get curious and click through. This also works if you’re interacting with interesting people on social media (make sure your Substack URL is in your bio). Don’t be spammy! If you’re genuinely thoughtful and curious, people will dig deeper on their own.
Tell people when you write about them. People like to read about themselves. If you write about someone with an audience, tag them in your tweets or posts. Aim for people who are a little bit more well-known than you. Write something substantive instead of just name-dropping, so they’re excited to read, share, and respond.
Go to events, meetups, conferences, dinner parties attended by your target audience. If you write about knitting, go to a knitting group. If you write about soccer, go to a soccer club. When you RSVP to an event, list your Substack URL as your affiliation and add it to your nametag. If you have a great conversation with someone at the event, mention your publication and perhaps even gently suggest they check it out.
Try to get a few big hits. Write high-quality content that stands a chance at getting picked up by other websites, people with big audiences, or press outlets that match your target audience. There’s no magic formula for doing this, but one big hit can bring you thousands of new readers.
From other Substack writers:
“My third article blew up when the Globe and Mail (Canada's biggest newspaper) featured it. I bugged the personal finance writer for the Globe on Twitter and it worked!” Jacob Jackson, The Leanhouse Effect
“My Foreign Bodies audience is interested in immigrant policy and mental health, so I reached out to immigration reporters and advocates, plus organizations involved in mental health stigma reduction. I asked if they would want to be added to the listserv and instead of asking them to sign up, if they showed interest, I manually added their preferred emails.” Fiza Pirani, Foreign Bodies
It can take time to build your email list, but the value of your list compounds over time. With each new person who subscribes, you increase your chances of those people telling their friends about it and getting that many more readers and signups. Be patient and keep at it!
For more suggestions from other Substack writers, check out this discussion thread on our blog, Abigail Koffler’s tips for growing your audience without a big social media following, as well as how Delia Cai of Deez Links got her first 2,000+ signups.
Quotes have been lightly edited for readability.