How to promote your book on Substack
Nothing sells books like a great Substack. Read top tips from writers at all stages of the publishing process
For many authors, Substack is the most efficient and powerful way to promote their upcoming and published books. There’s nothing that drives sales like email—it’s a direct line of connection to your most passionate supporters.
For new and unpublished authors, Substack can also be the best tool for building your profile while your book is out on submission to agents and editors.
Here, new and seasoned authors with published books or deals share their top tips on how Substack can be used for the promotional leg of any publishing journey—from landing a book deal to promotions.
Create a space for your book’s readers
As the release date for writer’s debut novel, Banyan Moon (HarperCollins, June 2023), approaches, she wanted to find a way to connect more directly with her readers.
“[Subscribers] were so graciously excited to learn more about the book. But it was important to me that my newsletter also offer content apart from preorder links, to provide as much value to readers as possible,” she says. “When I started, I began with the idea of the space I hoped to build: one founded on curiosity, empathy, and real warmth. It’s been a natural fit between the topics I chose to explore in my newsletter (motherhood, gender, cultural inheritance) and the very same topics within my book. I approach each post with a sense of joy and genuine interest, and I hope that comes through with readers, who can expect the same from Banyan Moon.”
Debut novelistalso started his Substack to coincide with his new book Please Report Your Bug Here’s (Holt, January 2023) release.
“A lot of writers I know send out a big email to everyone they know in the weeks before their book comes out,” Josh says. “The point of this email is to make sure people know about the book and buy a copy if they think it sounds interesting. I started Early Days a week or so before sending out that big email and included a link to the newsletter asking people to subscribe if they wanted to keep hearing from me. So as far as timing goes, that’s one very practical reason.
“But the bigger reason is that I wanted a new, more intimate space where I could talk to people about my book. Before Substack, I primarily used Twitter and Instagram, and I found myself wanting to break through the restrictions those platforms impose. In other words, I wanted a space where I could talk directly to potential readers of my book outside of the noise of an algorithmic content stream. Over the years I’ve become less confident that the people who might be interested in what I have to say are actually seeing it. When I write a newsletter, I know people will receive it in their inbox. I can’t say the same about a tweet or an Instagram post or Story.”
I wanted a space where I could talk directly to potential readers of my book outside of the noise of an algorithmic content stream.
In some cases, editors and publishers will get in touch with authors after discovering their writing on Substack., who writes , told us he was approached by Little Brown, and his book Sort Your Head Out is due out next week.
Share your writing process
“I use Substack to talk about the process of writing, and what’s been difficult or surprised me along the way. Writing is a mysterious process, so it’s been good to lift the lid on that,” says. Lucy’s debut nonfiction book on disability and womanhood, The View From Down Here (DK, September 2023 release), is in the writing stage. Lucy shared a post with her subscribers to her Substack of the same name about how difficult she was finding the work of penning a chapter on motherhood. “One of the best responses I had was to that piece, on why I chose to do it despite it being hard. A lot of people say they enjoy how I write so they are looking forward to the book.”
Read more: One sentence at a time
Whenannounced his forthcoming book Breaducation on his Substack, , he said the newsletter would be a “scratchpad and laboratory” for writing the book. “My plan is to use the newsletter to “workshop” some of the recipes, essays, and photographs it will contain,” Andrew says, adding that the book wouldn’t exist without its incubation period on Substack.
“I wouldn’t have landed a book deal without the audience for my work that I was able to grow within my Substack newsletter. And—equally importantly—the faith in my own voice that writing for Wordloaf week-in, week-out allowed me to generate. I’ve been kicking around the idea of a bread book for a long time, but only after years of writing about bread on the newsletter did I come to see that it was something that might be of real value to others.”has a whole section on his Substack dedicated to sharing his writing process while he works on his 13th book. His posts on procrastination and an interview with a book designer are a couple of examples. Biographer Ruth Franklin shares outtakes from her research on historical figures.
Take readers on your publishing journey was scouted by an editor through her Substack, . Her new book of the same name will be published in early 2024 by PA Press. Along with her newsletter’s regular posts, Valorie gives readers updates on the book, reminding them of the journey they’ve been on together so far and where the manuscript is in the publishing process. She says readers were “emailing me back saying: This is great, so excited for you!
“Throughout the whole saga, people have been really interested in the actual process of writing and publishing a book, so I get a lot of questions. Those update posts were born out of trying to answer them.” Valorie says she will continue to bring readers along for the ride: “I’m planning another behind-the-scenes peek as my next deadline looms, as well as doing an ask-me-anything in the near future. I think there’s a ton of information out there about how to publish fiction, but there’s less about how nonfiction books come to be. Yet the process is very different! So I want to answer people’s questions as much as I can.”
Thao Thai promoted her debut novel in a post showcasing its new cover art. While she can’t know how much that impacted preorders, she heard from readers that it did.
“It was a wonderful moment where I was able to share directly with readers about the cover journey, which is different for every author and remains obscure to many outside the publishing world. There’s such power in having a long-form space to communicate with the readers interested in your book. It’s special and sacred to me as an author. In the near future, I plan to publish chapter excerpts, AMAs about the writing life, and bonus content about the characters and inspiration for the book.”
There are plenty of examples from other authors taking readers deeper into the world of traditional publishing.
- posted an excerpt of the audio recording for his novel and an exclusive interview with the voice actor.
- recently interviewed his literary agent, Clare Alexander, live for paying subscribers.
- discussed the cover design process with her readers.
- did a cover reveal for her subscribers.
- posted a timeline to her subscribers of how her latest book is making its way into the world.
Get creative in how you market the book
After hinting to subscribers ofabout his new book, posted an announcement telling the story of all the things the book was nearly called before he finally found the right title: At Work in the Ruins (published February 9 by Chelsea Green). The post included details of how to preorder copies and Dougald’s U.K. book tour schedule.
“When you write to tell your readers about your book, treat this as the same kind of work as writing the book itself. Don’t feel like you’re meant to switch into another gear and produce marketing copy,” Dougald advises other writers. “Apply the same creativity and conviction and care that you did to writing the opening of the first chapter, and let your words sing.” He also plans to show readers an opening passage of the book that was cut in the final edit and pinpoint other books that were published as he was writing that made his possible.
Read more: About this book I’ve written
For writers worried about mixing marketing their book with regular content, Thao says it can be useful to consider your intentions: “I think the investment has to be authentic. Readers are savvy and can tell when you’re posting something to check off a marketing quota versus when you’re writing about a topic out of genuine enthusiasm. That relationship between a writer and a reader—whether it’s in a book or a newsletter post—is a sacred one.”
Here are more examples of how writers on Substack are marketing their books:
- shared ways readers can support her book in her announcement post and created a separate book launch publication.
- offers short teasers and excerpts from her new book, ANNA, to subscribers of her Substack, .
- created competitions and giveaways for subscribers to receive copies of his cookbooks.
- has a dedicated books section on her Substack that appears on her homepage.
Serialize your next book on Substack’s first novel, Johnny Ruin, was published with Unbound in 2019. But traditional publishing, including receiving many rejections and the slowness of going from deal to release, left Dan “burned-out and bummed-out.”
“I didn’t write for years afterwards,” he says. “I left London, survived an apocalypse, got married, and had a son. Sometimes you just need four to five years off.”
Dan landed on a new idea but couldn’t wait the years required to see it published via traditional routes. He says, “If I wait any longer, I might be 45 before I publish new work. So I thought, Why not publish it as I write it? Why not let people read it now? Let them decide if it’s worth reading. Let them see it develop. I set up a Substack and got writing. This was mid-November 2022. Chapter one went out January 1, 2023.”
Plenty of other authors have experimented with serializing their work on Substack, from’s The Other Cheek to ’s Sea of Stories. , who writes , recently described his decision to move from traditional publishing to sharing his new work in serialized form on Substack. He wrote:
Assuming you have a book contract (more on that below), the most consistently shared downside with the book publishing process is just how long it takes. Books have publishing seasons, so you don’t just publish when you’re done. There are many steps that often seem rather mechanical but take very long. By and large, there is a good deal of hurry up and wait. For software people, publishing a book is the ultimate waterfall process, where the incremental gains after the words are written seem rather minimal.
Read more: Writing (Serializing) a Book on Substack
For Dan, the response from readers ofhas been positive:
“My short-term goal was 100 subscribers before the first chapter went out, which I reached, so everything after that has been a bonus. This project is about getting me writing again. I want to have a finished manuscript by the end of 2023. My readers are keeping me honest on that.”
But, as with all works in progress, it requires rising above self-doubt. For Dan, it’s never going to be easy:
“Creative work of any kind involves risk. Creativity is risk. You can’t do creative work and play it safe. That’s the whole game. Writing is a risk. Traditional publishing is a risk. Serializing your novel on Substack, same deal. Your work might suck. You might not find a publisher. You might not find an audience. Either way, there’s risk involved. It’s all a gamble. It all takes guts. You have to be prepared to fail. Which makes publishing of any kind a mix of bravery and madness. So take as many risks as you can handle. Swing big, aim high, and forget the rules. If taking a risk for you means traditional publishing, then great. Go for it. Work hard and keep going. If risk means baring your soul to a single subscriber and never making a penny—perfect. Godspeed. Punch a hole in their inbox.”
Top tips for book authors on Substack
“Don’t be shy about self-promotion. Media publishing relies on putting yourself out there. It can be a bit cringe. But you can find it cringe and do it anyway.” —, whose Substack is . Lucy’s book The View From Down Here will be published with DK in September 2023.
“Don’t write something just to ‘get your name out there.’ Write something because it matters. Write something because you think it will speak to another person in a meaningful way. Every time someone opens and engages with our newsletters, it’s a gift of their time, and one writers can’t take for granted.” —, who writes . Thao’s book Banyan Moon will be published in June 2023 by HarperCollins.
“Books don’t come from fairy realms, and neither does good writing. Everyone has to practice and work at it and fail a lot. I know that overnight success is the dream and that my story sort of even sounds like that, but Unruly Figures was not my first project that I thought deserved to be a book. It was my 23rd or something. So write a lot, publish as much as you can, and try not to be discouraged when things flop. Most things flop—you’re in good company, really.” —who writes the newsletter . Her book Unruly Figures is due out in early 2024.
“Read a lot, and write what you want without thinking too hard about whether it will sell.” —, who writes . Josh’s book Please Report Your Bug Here was published in January 2023 by Holt.
“Try to lean into your individual combination of passion, expertise, and voice without a goal in mind other than putting yourself out into the world. Only by letting it all hang out will you discover whether or not a book is worth pursuing.”—who writes . Andrew’s book Breaducation will be published by Ten Speed Press in Fall 2025.
“When you write to tell your readers about your book, treat this as the same kind of work as writing the book itself. Don’t feel like you’re meant to switch into another gear and produce marketing copy. Apply the same creativity and conviction and care that you did to writing the opening of the first chapter, and let your words sing.” —, whose Substack is . Dougald’s book At Work in the Ruins will be published in February 2023 by Chelsea Green.
“You have to be prepared to fail. Which makes publishing of any kind a mix of bravery and madness. So take as many risks as you can handle. Swing big, aim high, and forget the rules.” —, who writes on Substack.
Are you publishing a book and sharing the process with your Substack subscribers? Do you have an upcoming book you want to shout out? What ways have you been promoting your book that other writers should consider too? Share details in the comments!
How to promote your book on Substack