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Getting started: How three writers found their own paths

In conversation with Emma Gannon, Leyla Kazim, and Poorna Bell

, Substack’s Head of Writer Partnerships in the U.K., brought together , , and to discuss what brought them to Substack and how they’ve grown and built a community here. Over the course of an hour, they share stories of highs, lows, and lessons along the way. At the end, the writers in attendance on Zoom ask questions of the panelists. Below, we share a few of the highlights.


Leyla on experimenting

One of the great things about Substack is there are so many tools that will meet any different way you might want to communicate, so it’s a real hotbed for experimentation. 

Emma on owning your community

I’ve had people’s email addresses all throughout my career, and I’ve known the power of a newsletter for quite some time. But for me, it was the community that I was missing. I’d get loads of replies to my newsletter, and I found that overwhelming because I didn’t want to email people. I wanted a hub where we could all talk to each other. That’s the thing I’ve realized: maybe people want to talk to me, but they really want to talk to each other. What I am doing is curating, connecting, and bringing like-minded and brilliant people together.

Poorna on focus vs. niche

For me, the compass and guiding point in what I write about are the issues that I care about, the things that I want to explore, the things that I want to be playful with and poetic in my writing about, versus looking at other people’s accounts and going, “Oh, well, we have an overlap.”

Leyla on finding your first 100 subscribers

Everyone has a community. The way I got to my first 100 paid subscribers was by emailing people, direct emails. I read this tip on someone else’s Substack, and they said the most successful way they got paid subscribers was not sending a group email but taking the time to send one email to everyone you know.

Emma on losing subscribers

Don’t be afraid of losing subscribers. I think the whole kind of gist of this call has been sort of: write what you want, follow your gut, and be creative in your own way. So if you see a dip, don’t worry, keep going. It really isn’t linear. 

Poorna on writing what you want to read

Write the thing that you would want to read, with the compassion and tone that you would want if someone were writing about you. I think that the Substacks I’ve been most drawn to have been the ones that are so unique and keyed into that person. I would think about what it is that you want to read rather than how clever people are going to think you are.

About the panelists

is the author of six award-winning books and host of the Ctrl Alt Delete podcast. She’s been blogging since 2009. In her first 18 months on Substack writing The Hyphen, she started earning six figures.

is a BBC presenter, writer, and journalist. A Day Well Spent is her Substack about seeking pathways to more purposeful living. In her first six months on Substack, she has grown to hundreds of paid subscribers.

is an award-winning author and journalist and the former executive editor of the Huffington Post. She has published four books and is working on a new novel that will be out next year. As I Was Saying is her new Substack where she shares her views on love, career, fitness, and body image. 

For more stories and advice to help you get started on Substack, visit our getting started guide and read more writer stories: On Substack

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