How to make money with Substack

The rumors are true. It is possible to make good money as a Substack newsletter writer. The top writers are making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Many more are making tens of thousands a year. And thousands just publish for free to build their mailing lists and have a direct relationship with their audience.

That doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to make a fortune. Or that it won’t be hard work. But there has never been a better time to be a writer who likes being paid by their readers. You can get started on Substack in minutes, with zero upfront costs.

There are some general principles to keep in mind.

  1. Mailing list size matters. Your paying subscriber base will always be a portion of your overall mailing list. We frequently see that about 10% of people on a Substack mailing list will pay to subscribe, provided you’re consistently publishing high-quality content that readers like. Build your list accordingly.

  2. Your price depends on your audience. If you’re publishing in the professional category, where subscribers can justify the subscription as a company expense, you should charge $10/month and up. If you’re publishing in the personal interest category, the right price is probably closer to $5/month. (Keep in mind that, on top of Substack’s 10% cut, there are credit card transaction fees, usually 2.9% plus 30 cents a transaction.)

  3. It’s a numbers game – but the numbers don’t have to be huge. To make $50,000 a year in the personal interest category, you’d need about 1,000 paying subscribers, so you should aim to get 10,000 people on your mailing list. (You can cut the number in half if you’re in the professional category and can therefore charge more.)

  4. You should make your best work free. Free posts are your best marketing. They demonstrate your voice, worldview, and quality of thought to the world. People who fall in love with your free work will be happy to pay to hear more from you. The content you then publish for paying subscribers can be more conversational, intimate, and in the weeds.

Below are three models for making money on Substack. In each case, high-quality free content is fundamental to the success of the whole enterprise. But please keep in mind that the below scenarios are hypotheticals. Your mileage may vary.

All-in: Make Substack your living

Suggested publishing volume:
  • 1 free post per week

  • 2–3 subscriber-only posts per week

Recommended roll-out:
  • Announce that you’re starting a newsletter, share your homepage URL

  • Extended introductory period (2–4 months) during which all content is free

  • Build up to a paid launch date (read our advice on how to go paid)

  • Once paid subscriptions are introduced, switch to 1 paid/3 free posts per week schedule for 2–4 weeks

  • Ultimately settle on 1 free/3 paid posts per week schedule

Who’s doing it well?

Side gig: Supplement your existing income

Suggested publishing volume:
  • 1 free post per week

  • 1–3 subscriber-only posts per week

Recommended roll-out:
  • Announce that you’re starting a newsletter, share your homepage URL

  • Introductory period of 2–4 weeks during which all content is free

  • Build up to a paid launch date

  • Keep publishing great free content and plan to grow your list over time. One day you might make it into the “all-in” category.

Who’s doing it well?

Future-proof your writing career: Build a mailing list

Suggested publishing volume:
  • At least 1 post per week

Recommended roll-out:
  • Announce that you’re starting a newsletter, share your homepage URL

  • Don’t overthink it – just start writing!

  • Tell people you might add paid subscriptions one day

Who’s doing it well?

Got questions? Feedback? Leave it all in the comments!

Photo by Fabian Blank on Unsplash