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Milestone roundup: Meet the writers celebrating new breakthroughs on Substack
Takeaways from anniversaries of publishing on Substack, and more
Writers from, , , , , , , , and share insights that every Substacker could benefit from, from exploring ideas for his new book alongside an engaged readership to readers affirming they want to double down on the niche and writing on how gained its first 1,000 subscribers.
Creators Jules and John never expected, “an outgrowth” of their Twitter account, to reach 100 signups in one month. They broke through that ceiling in the first two days and, two years on, are looking at a mailing list of more than 10,000 and figuring out the next growth milestone. What started as an experiment (“Can we write about this stuff at greater length, in a more ambitious and permanent way? Will anyone care?”) has turned into a job.
Key takeaway: For the creator duo, the continual surprise is that their readers want longreads on more nuanced topics. This will allow them to prepare in-depth research and bring on collaborators for future topics.
We still struggle to process these numbers. The thing is, we see our newsletter as niche. We cover animation from around the world and across time, with a focus on hidden stories. But people took an interest. We try to honor that interest by digging ever deeper—ordering rare books from shops in Croatia, tracking down out-of-print Japanese DVDs, wiring money to the Czech Film Archive for a collection of magazine articles.
On the third anniversary of, writer reflects on the “lovely, flexible vehicle” the newsletter turned out to be. As well as a way to explore nagging creative ideas, it’s also the “perfect complement” to writing a book.
Key takeaway: Having engaged and present readers has, for Mason, become a constant source of encouragement, and even helped overcome bouts of creative block.
I have never before written for such an engaged and present audience, and it’s been kind of a revelation. I don’t want to disappoint you! That has proved an unbeatable motivator, and a fun challenge. (And a generative one, too. Several times I have gotten ideas for future issues from the back-and-forth in the comments section.) I have always been suspicious of people who say they “enjoy” writing ... but I enjoy writing this newsletter?
Read more: Three years of Subtle Maneuvers
On International Women’s Day in 2021,started their newsletter . Two years and 31 biographies of medieval women later, Florence celebrates a community of 32,000 readers they never imagined.
Key takeaway: Florence uses the anniversary moment to remind readers of their extensive archive of biographies, which they plan to draw from the vaults of every month into the future.
Over the next few months you can look forward to a newsletter revisiting the life of one of our previous subjects with exciting new discoveries, an exploration of women’s book culture in early medieval England, an interview with Dr Eleanor Janega about her excellent new book The Once and Future Sex, a guest post about the life of a fascinating queen from across the sea, and much more.
Read more: TWO YEARS of Ælfgif-who?!
On the four-year anniversary of her newsletter, literary agentfeels she has uprooted and overturned almost every corner of the publishing industry in , from query letters to the second book. But, she says, new readers sign up and want to start from the beginning, so in the next year she plans to revisit her advice in ways that all authors should care about.
Key takeaway: Make use of your archive, which is always in your newsletter masthead, to help new subscribers catch up.
The fourth anniversary of this newsletter passed. FOURTH! FOUR YEARS! I mean, I am nothing if not dedicated to a bit, so I’m not wholly surprised we’re still going here. I have much more trouble quitting things than I do starting things. But also, I like this place. I like talking about writing and books and publishing. I like answering your questions. I like that I’ve trained you not to email me when you see typos (thank you, from the bottom of my dyslexic heart). I like using Mr. ¯\(ツ)/¯ to explain why publishing is what it is.
So I’m going to keep doing all of that.
Read more: Four Years of Agents & Books
Started by two stock investors more than a year ago,went paid on its first anniversary. With their sights set on making the publication a full-time gig, its anonymous writers outlined what’s included in the paid offering and reflected on the first year of writing the newsletter, including how it sharpened their analysis and kept their investing biases in check.
Key takeaway: StockOpine helped its writers achieve greater quality by putting their thinking in front of different types of investors.
Analyzing and writing about stocks is a dream job. It allows you to express your thinking process in detail, to learn about new industries, to share your own perspective on how you see things, to meet people across the globe, and most importantly to help you identify stocks that can generate superior returns.
Read more: A New Chapter for StockOpine
In 2019a, a local journalist of 20 years, was looking for the next step in his career. As celebrates its fourth anniversary, he looks back at key choices made, including his initial decision to start a Substack as a business, and how he converted as much as 20% of subscribers to paid by offering readers something they value. Here, Tony reflects on how he got to his first 1,000 readers—a number he has since far surpassed.
Key takeaway: By taking an entrepreneurial approach, Tony and his team were able to grow into a business and become the change they wanted to see in the world.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t have 1,000 friends—so this was more than people reading as a favor to me. I was producing information that people wanted. That was a critical first step. But how do you turn that into a business?
At times, running a business like this one has felt like one of those old “Choose Your Own Adventure” books: Do you raise money and expand quickly, or grow gradually (known as “bootstrapping”)? Do you incorporate as a nonprofit business or a for-profit business? Where do you turn for revenue, and how much do you charge?
Read more: Unfrozen caveman journalist
On the second anniversary of, music writer shares how she took her newsletter to a new level by trying (and learning about) longform interviews, creating a paid segment in the form of Currently, and appreciating the importance of discourse with her readers.
Key takeaway: Launching the paid section of Record Store allowed writer Amaya Lim to get to the heart of her newsletter.
Before Record Store, I was collecting hordes of information about music and art and filing it away in the “useless interests” category of my brain, where it took up space but did not provide a lot of meaning or fulfillment. Now this newsletter has hundreds of subscribers that read my artful regurgitations of said useless interests, like OK Go music videos or that one time The National performed “Sorrow” for six hours in an art gallery.
Read more: Special: two years of Record Store
Whenquit his job as an economist to pursue his dream of writing for a living, he started by trying to write a second edition of his book. But one chapter was lodged in his brain and was three times longer than the others, so he started a newsletter focusing on its subject matter: the cost of carbon. Thus was born. Twelve months on, 150 posts and 1,600 subscribers later, he’s glad he did.
Key takeaway: Substack’s recommendation feature (launched in April 2022) was vital in turbocharging the growth of Carbon Risk in subscriber numbers.
Rather than carry on with writing the book, only for readers to see the fruits of my labour several months or more later, I decided to experiment and launch a Substack newsletter instead. With a newsletter I would have a platform to tell readers about carbon markets’ place in the world, how I envisaged it in the future, and how investors and other market participants could benefit.
Read more: Celebrating one year of Carbon Risk 🎂
In response to reaching 100 posts with his poetry newsletter, celebrates by responding to readers with little poems in the comments section. Readers have been a key motivating factor for the weekly posts, and that, Punit says, has been “more gratifying than any achievement.”
Key takeaway: Starting a newsletter for his poems allowed writer Punit Thakkar to be more grounded and present.
I started writing poetry as a way to capture the lost poems of my childhood that had a catchy meter, fun rhyming schemes, and were really memorable as a result. With each passing week, I have found myself thinking about concepts and topics I would hardly think about otherwise. I have become more introspective, less pensive, and more grounded in reality. I have made new friends. I have rediscovered myself again and again. This is magical.
Read more: When magic happens
Did we miss a good milestone reflection post? Share the link, or tell us what you’re celebrating, in the comments.