Substack Grow: Launching paid subscriptions

This is the fifth in a series of six posts designed to share the essential knowledge writers need to go independent on Substack.

This resource aims to help you pin down your strategy for launching paid subscriptions. 

The transition from free to paid subscriptions is one of the biggest moments in any independent writer’s journey. We encourage you to treat it as such. The best launches are not just one moment or one day, but a series of efforts that drive a wave of excitement, attention, and subscriptions to your work.

Revisit your publication strategy

The first Substack Grow sessions addressed the importance of setting goals for your Substack and defining your publication strategy. Writers should get clear on these elements because your goals and strategies should inform tactical decisions, such as how you execute your paid launch. 

Before launching paid subscriptions, revisit these key questions: 

  • Knowing your readers: Who does your writing bring together? Why will people rally around your writing?

  • Differentiating your writing: What about your voice, format, and content is different from other writing? 

  • Refining your content strategy: What will you publish for paying readers? What will you publish for free readers?

Use your answers to these questions to inform your launch announcement, how you set prices for your publication, and how you craft a promotions plan. 

Crafting a launch announcement post

The announcement is the post that you’ll link to when promoting your launch. It should communicate your story, motivation, and goals to readers, offering context that will determine whether or not readers will choose to pay for your work. 

Your announcement post should make your intentions crystal clear. A winning formula has three main parts:

  1. "I have big news to share": Be bold about the fact that you’re going paid - don’t bury the lede! Tell your readers up front that you’re launching paid subscriptions. 

  2. "This is why it’s important": Spotlight the mission of your publication. Then, explain why paid subscriptions matter to you, whether it’s about valuing independent journalism, providing you the financial security to pursue your passion, or helping you invest in high-quality reporting.

  3. "Here is what you will be supporting": While we believe the majority of your work should remain free, list clearly what paid subscribers will receive. Benefits might include weekly bonus content, the ability to participate in a reader community, and, of course, your gratitude!

Intercalation Station launched paid subscription in conjunction with their one year anniversary on Substack. What stands out is how clearly they call out that they have big news to share.  

In addition to these three elements, your announcement post should include:

  • An eye-catching thumbnail image for social media

  • Multiple subscribe buttons

You may also want to add:

  • Publishing schedule

  • Explanation of price tiers

  • Personal background story

  • Reader testimonials

In an announcement, you’ll be communicating a lot of information so formatting matters. Revisit our resource on building a home for your publication for insights on how to make the post easy to navigate and understand for readers.

For inspiration, check out announcement post examples from Press Run (politics), Virginia Sole-Smith (health), Front Month (finance), Action Cookbook (food), and Intercalation Station (science). 

Price your publication

On Substack there are three pricing tiers you can offer readers: monthly, annual, and founding member tiers. How much you charge for your newsletter depends on what you write about and who your readers are.

Monthly pricing

Good writing is valuable, yet a lot of writers underprice themselves. On Substack, we have a $5 monthly minimum to encourage writers to charge more than they think they’re worth.

Across the top ten categories on Substack, writers in eight out of ten categories are most commonly priced at $5 a month. The outliers are Crypto and Finance, often pricing at $10 a month or more. If you’re writing a newsletter in a topic where your subscribers might treat your newsletter as a business expense, you can make a case to charge more. 

Annual pricing

Writers often set their annual price at a discount to encourage more readers to choose the annual subscription. For example, most Substacks that cost $5/month will discount the annual price to $50/year instead of $60/year.

This increases your recurring revenue in the long run: the portion of readers who cancel their paid subscription is much lower when you charge once a year versus once a month.

Founding member pricing

The “founding member” option allows readers to pay more than the listed price as an extra show of support, similar to a donation. Set this price at whatever you’d like, as long as it’s higher than your regular price. 

In return for their early support, consider offering bonus perks for founding members, such as one-on-one calls with you, branded merchandise, or book copies.

Read more: Can I customize my subscription benefits?

Set up payments

Once you’ve decided on your pricing, make sure to connect Stripe, set up your pricing tiers, and list the subscriber benefits in your Settings page. These subscription options will show up on your publication’s Subscribe page, as pictured in the examples below.

Read more: How do I set up my Stripe account to start receiving payments?

Plan and promote your launch

When you launch, aspire to make a splash. The best launches are not just one moment or one day, but an entire launch week.

Draft a series of launch posts

We recommend posting and promoting daily for the first 3-7 days after launch. You’ll get new subscribers every time you post, and you can preview the kind of content that you’ll be putting behind the paywall. 

Prepare this first week of posts before you share a public launch announcement. Try experimenting with new formats and see what resonates with subscribers. You can mix longer essays with shorter posts like voice memos, threads, Q&As, and recommendation roundups. For example, Jeff Tweedy did a great job of varying up his first week’s posts.

Promote your launch everywhere

A paid Substack launch is no time to be shy. You will be at the mercy of social media algorithms: after posting once, most of your followers still won’t have seen your announcement. Yet it’s essential that your existing supporters know about your paid launch. These passionate supporters have the potential to become key ongoing advocates and supporters of your writing. 

Here are some key steps to take when promoting a paid launch:

  • Draft social media posts linking to your announcement for all your platforms. Here is an example tweet thread from Front Month and a video from Christopher Curtis.

  • Tell a trusted circle of friends, press, and influencers in advance. Pull out all your favors to encourage them to share your launch posts.

  • Make sure your Substack is prominently linked in your website, social media bios, and email signature.

  • Engage with supporters throughout launch week. Say thank you, retweet praise, and keep sharing your work!

To put these ideas into practice, we’ve created a workbook for you to plan your launch. 

Download Workbook

Don’t use Google Sheets? Download the excel version.

Relaunching to existing readers

Even if you’ve had paid subscriptions turned on for a while, you can still “relaunch” to readers to remind them why this project is important to you and encourage them to subscribe.

This can be a dedicated post positioned as a welcome to new readers, to celebrate key junctures like a publishing anniversary or a subscriber milestone, or to announce a new content line, such as a podcast or advice column, for paid subscribers. 

Examples of successful relaunches include Isaac Saul from Tangle’s note on quitting his job to pursue Substack full-time and The Dispatch’s “Why I’m Here” note, which was paired with a discount campaign.

Above all, embrace experimentation

This is your journey, your plan, and your writing. Don’t be afraid of trying tactics that we didn’t mention, but you believe will better suit your readership and your goals.

We do encourage you, however, to take to heart a quote by Donna Tartt:

"No fun for the writer, no fun for the reader." ― Donna Tartt

What’s true about writing is true about promoting. While it’s important to prepare for a launch, it’s also important to have fun while you’re doing it. If you are having fun promoting your writing, people will perceive that joy.

Health check

Before launching, run through this checklist to ensure that your Substack site is presentation ready and the best representation of who you are and why you write. 

  • Set up your Substack site

  • Write your About page (more guidance here) and include

    • What this publication is about

    • What you offer to free and paid subscribers

    • Publishing schedule and pricing

    • Personal bio with an image or graphic element

    • Subscribe buttons

Some inspiration: Check out Letters from Tuscany and Maybe Baby’s about pages.

This post is the fifth in a series of six posts that will share the essential knowledge writers need to go independent on Substack. Check out the first four posts: “Start by setting goals,” “Developing a publication strategy,” “Building a home for your publication,” and “Growing your free list.