Grow: How word spread fast about The Hotshot Wake Up
The Grow interview series is designed to share the nuts and bolts of how writers have gone independent and grown their audiences on Substack. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
We interviewed Tim Casperson, the writer behind The Hotshot Wake Up, who worked as a wildfire firefighter for 12 years before starting his Substack. Tim talks about filling a void in his industry, speaking to those on the front line, and hosting a podcast on Substack.
What’s your Substack about?
The Hotshot Wake Up educates folks on the diverse wildfire issues around the world and helps them understand the lives of wildland firefighters from our view. I provide real-time intel for firefighters and the public, plus offer workouts and mental health tips for people in stressful working environments.
Who reads your Substack?
My readers and listeners are quite diverse.
A large chunk of my audience is wildland firefighters around the globe. I know readers from every crew in the nation, all the way from folks in the D.C. office to people who help run the fire camps. I also have firefighters from Canada, Argentina, Portugal, Spain, Germany, and Australia say they are avid listeners and readers, as well as their family members.
The other subsections of my audience include:
Landowners who want to stay up to date on wildfires in their area
Environmentalists, for projects and policy updates
Industry professionals, such as aviation companies and fire-retardant companies
A lot of folks in the media follow along too
Read more: Get specific about who your readers are
What’s your content strategy?
I publish 4-5 times a week. This includes two podcasts.
Monday: I put out a Monday-morning workout geared toward active people and folks who enjoy the outdoors.
Tuesday: I have my midweek-brief podcast covering current events and other topics from the outdoor and wildfire world.
Wednesday or Thursday: On these days, you might see an article involving stories that occurred throughout my career, breaking news, or a discussion of my opinions on wildfire events.
Friday: I share my weekly wildfire-update podcast, which covers actual wildfires happening during the week, plus other news and events.
Weekends: You may see a healthy recipe.
Growth by numbers
Started publishing online: I have been active in the wildfire world for over a decade. I have an Instagram covering current wildfires and providing comic relief for firefighters, but it was only active for a short period before I started the Substack. I knew there was a void in the industry for a knowledgeable voice with experience, so I decided to take the leap and start on Substack.
Started Substack: January 2022
Launched paid subscriptions: I launched paid subscriptions a few weeks after starting because folks were asking how they could support what I was doing.
Free subscribers: 5,700
Paid subscribers: 1,440
Meaningful growth moments
Start on Substack. There was a lot of confusion about policy happening at the beginning of the year in the wildfire world. A lot of folks were frustrated with what was happening. At this point, the forest service admitted they had lost more than 40% of their workforce in the past 2.5 years. Morale was low, so I decided to try to change that with starting the Substack.
Covering important, evolving news. There was a congressional testimony happening with the Bureau of Land Management in the forest service, which I covered extensively. We covered the federal mandates, which was a very contentious issue during this period.
Beginning of fire season. This is when a lot of folks start their fire season. Once everybody was in that mode, word of mouth spread fast about what I was doing with the Substack. It even surprised me how fast it spread.
Today. In the next three to six months, the goal is to continue to spread the message of what’s happening in the wildfire world and educate people from the view of the folks on the ground.
My writing and podcast have opened up a lot of doors, quite surprisingly, actually. Universities have asked me to come speak to their forestry and wildfire students, industry-leading companies have asked me to attend events they put on, and more.
I knew there was a void in the industry for a knowledgeable voice with experience, so I decided to take the leap and start on Substack.
What’s the sharpest insight you can offer other writers about growing a Substack publication?
My advice to someone who wants to start a podcast is to just do it. Substack made it easy to upload my recorded shows onto the platform. Folks seem to enjoy having it delivered directly into their inbox, then logging on to their podcast site of choice.
I didn’t consciously make the decision for my podcast to have a radio style, but it evolved that way. My grandfather was a CBS radio host in his day. He had a very successful career in it. So I guess it’s in my genes.
A common issue is folks don’t like the way they sound when they listen back. Ignore that. People have been listening to you your entire life.
Read more: Podcasting on Substack 101
What advice have you received about growing your publication that didn’t prove to be helpful?
There’s a lot of folks saying cater to your audience, but the audience will find you if you’re passionate about your topic. Grind. Write about what you like. Write about what you find interesting.
There’s a lot of folks saying cater to your audience, but the audience will find you if you’re passionate about your topic.
What has been a meaningful moment for the growth of your publication?
Folks told me I should consider ads because of the popularity of the show. They thought I was leaving money on the table, which I probably am. My podcast is still 100% ad-free. I believe this adds to the authenticity of what I do. I do it because I care about it.
Fill a void. Tim identified a void in his industry and seized the opportunity to become a voice in a space he knew about. In continuing to show up on this topic, he’s established himself with a trusting audience.
Podcasting can be simple. Podcasting has created another rich way for Tim to connect directly with his email list. While it can be intimidating to share your voice, Tim urges anyone curious to just start.
Allow readers to support your work. A few weeks after starting his Substack, Tim had readers asking how they could support it. Paid subscriptions created a seamless way for readers to support him.
What questions do you have for Tim that we didn’t ask? Leave them in the comments!
To read more from this series on growing your publication, see our interviews with Marlee Grace, Gergely Orosz, Anne Kadet, Category Pirates, BowTiedBull, Justin Gage, Noah Smith, Carissa Potter, Jørgen Veisdal, Anne Byrn, Nishant Jain, Michael Fritzell, Glenn Loury, Erik Hoel, Jessica DeFino, Mike Sowden, Elizabeth Held, Jonathan Nunn, Polina Pompliano, Michael Williams, Judd Legum, and Caroline Chambers.
Grow: How word spread fast about The Hotshot Wake Up