886 Comments

Hey all,

Great to see those returning again today and some new faces too! Thanks for all that shared feedback on media assets and other things they have noticed in the product recently, we're sharing with the rest of the team.

Our team is signing off today. We will be back next week.

See you then,

Katie, Jasmine, Sachin, Ben, James, Aaron, Ngoc-Quyen, Emmad, and Reid

Expand full comment

Katie,

How may I contact Substack Tech guys? I send out my newsletter, but the email is never sent/received, and I did set it for emails.

Thank you!

DL Mullan

A Novelist Idea Newsletter

Expand full comment

Thanks, Katie, to you and the rest of the Substack team. I had a couple of my questions answered today. I always appreciate how attentive and proactive you all are. Have a great end to your week!

Expand full comment

Thanks! Have a great week!

Expand full comment

As always, thanks for what you all do. We're having fun out here. :)

Expand full comment

You got that right, Mike!

Even reading a thank you for comments I made feels good and you are one of those who tends to do that

Expand full comment

How much is a paid subscription to sub stack app!

Expand full comment

It's been a "slow" couple of weeks for Release and Gather in terms of views/new subscribers. I lost two subscribers, which I wish I hadn't noticed because it was a downer (I have notifications for that turned off, but when you have a small subscriber base, *you know*). I've told myself this newsletter is not about numbers, but I think it's just in us to want to see it reach more people. Pressing on, though!

Expand full comment

I feel this hard. I just started on Substack, but it took me about 2 minutes to start feeling the pang of jealousy over others' successes who are in my same lane. I was a "mommy blogger" back in the early 2000s, and writing on Substack has surprisingly resurfaced all the fraudy feelings and FOMO I experienced back then. Something I've been trying to keep top of mind comes from an episode of American Idol several years ago... Some kid wanted to sing an original song during Hollywood Week and the voice coach talked her out of it, saying that her untested song would be competing with everyone else singing the greats, like Adele or Harry Styles. I've noticed there are a lot of writers on Substack who have previously published and come with an already-intact following. I am starting from scratch, having convinced 30 friends on Facebook to sign up. Nobody else knows my name. I've established other goals for this space besides the numbers (tho numbers are included), so I have a variety of levers I can dial to feel a sense of accomplishment. Anyhow, hang in there.

Expand full comment

My first few newsletters went out to an audience of 4 people. It's crazy looking back at those days. I came onto substack with no previous following.

I've also been writing consistently on this platform to see more newsletters than I could count, come and go. Most people will not stick with their writing for longer than three months. The ones that do, start to build steady growth. Readers who come to you will look back on your consistent history and think you're someone they can depend on.

It feels good to know that it's possible to attract a following with consistent good work.

Expand full comment

I think you are right about the three months. I’m six months in and going strong, adding 3-8 subs daily. But I have about 4400 followers on Medium and I added a blurb at the end of my daily articles there pitching my newsletter. That really changed things. I write for writers and Medium is full of them so it was a natural audience. But sticking to it worked these and it is working here now. It takes time to build momentum.

Expand full comment

Hey Cole thanks for these encouraging words. Asides from being consistent, how did you get people to see your newsletter? Does Substack have built in discoverability like Instagram, or do you have to actively promote it on other platforms?

Expand full comment

Yes, substack has its own discoverability. There are a few really strong pieces it offers. Occasionally it seems to just send your newsletter out to people with a substack account. I'm not quite sure how this is curated, but this drives a lot of the slow growth over time that many writers see.

The true power comes from the recommendations feature. Having a few people in your subject area recommending you gives you a few cool features.

1. you'll be able to use blurbs. If you look at my home page, here ( colenoble.substack.com/welcome ) you can see that I've selected testimonials from other writers to display on my home page. It's a nice way to give yourself a boost in credibility.

2. One-click subscribing. If someone signs up for your newsletter, they'll also be asked if they'd like to sign up for any or all of the publications you recommend. It's super easy for them to opt in, if it's clear these other newsletters are on a related subject.

Substack also does "featured publications." If you see anyone running around with yellow badges on their publication logo, that's why. On their homepage, substack cycles through different newsletters to showcase to new people landing on the site. I got featured back in February. I don't know how substack picks who gets featured, but I'm fairly confident they want you to be writing consistently for a while, first.

Grinding feels really crappy in the beginning. But it gets better over time. It took me 5 months to crack 100 subscribers. I hit 200 subscribers within 5 more weeks. Growth isn't linear. The bigger your subscriber pool, the better chance you have of a hit that brings you in a lot of people.

You will also want to share off platform. I've had the best luck sharing articles in Facebook groups related to the topics I write about. Just don't be spammy. Participate in the group when you're not sharing.

Best of luck!

Expand full comment

Stick with it. I’ve been writing for over a year (although only just moved to substack) and my subs keep on reading. Even if they don’t always comment. I can see they are opening and clicking on links. And that keeps me going. As well as the thought that I just want to do this so I have to make it work!

Expand full comment

I love the reminder that consistency builds trust with your readers, both current and potential. Thanks for that.

Expand full comment

I think getting lost in the numbers is unhelpful. For me, for example, I can’t really enjoy reaching a milestone, e.g. 300 subscribers, because a new one, e.g. 1000 subscribers, immediately appears. It’s the hedonic treadmill. We adapt to the new circumstances and long for something new and better. To keep going I think it’s necessary to focus on your personal reasons for writing and let that be enough. Never compare yourself to others, just be happy that it’s possible to gain wide acclaim—and maybe one day your newsletter will be recognized—but in the meantime it has to be ok, and enough, to just write for yourself.

Expand full comment
Comment deleted
Expand full comment

Yes, it's a bit difficult to avoid, but you can try to ignore the "stats" and the posts promoting other writers and just focus on your writing—if you find writing and sharing with others is intrinsically rewarding.

I find some of the posts about how other writers gained more readers to be instructive and helpful, and I've implemented as much as I can from them. For example, I created a profile on Hacker News because a few featured writers mentioned getting a boost from being listed there, and one day the same happened to me, which another Substack writer wrote about:

https://pau1.substack.com/p/how-to-grow-your-newsletter-with

But focusing on getting more readers is tangential, and a distraction from writing, which most writers obviously don't want to do. This, marketing / self-promotion, is a very different skill that may even feel inauthentic to many writers. But if we are being truthful, it is more rewarding to get more readers and more engagement. I think building a community of readers, an audience, is the ultimate goal for most writers. And realistically that's unlikely to happen without the marketing etc. Many brilliant writers, artists, creators, etc. work in obscurity, so being great is no guarantee of being discovered by an audience.

Expand full comment

Absolutely relatable. My list started with me signing up my wife & kids, and adding my work email for good measure.

Expand full comment

"Hey Kevin Jr.."

"Yeah, Dad?"

"Want those concert tickets for this weekend's show?"

"Yes!"

"Then sign up for my music newsletter. What's your Gmail ID again?"

"o_o"

Expand full comment

Haha the work email! I did that on my mailchimp!

Expand full comment

I'm in a similar boat! It's definitely discouraging to set growth goals knowing that so many successful writers come in big audiences and are already established.

I started with 8 ( a few close friends and family) and I'm now up to almost 70 after 3 months of weekly posts.

I'm increasing to 2 posts a week so I hope that helps!

Expand full comment

Increasing the frequency of your posts will increase the chance of any one piece being picked up and discovered. But it's also not the magic success button. There's something to be said for anticipation.

Check out Fog Chaser's newsletter. He uploads once a month and his engagement is through the roof. A new publication is an event that people eagerly wait for.

https://fogchaser.substack.com/p/wingbeat?r=nzp2a&s=r&utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=web

Expand full comment

Excellent advice. More of a good thing is not necessarily a good thing.

Expand full comment

Fair point. I'm definitely someone that eagerly waits for those to show up!

Expand full comment

My feeling about things I have done, and continue to do, is not that the world is out to get me, but rather, that the world in general does not care. For my substack, I am pretty much at the moment offering my subs for free, and also allowing free commenting as I want to establish a community and a following. As I bring in more unpaid members I will add value by adding exclusive content.

Worse comes to worst, it is a place for me to express myself and experiment. If I keep trying new things, something is bound to work and resonate.

Expand full comment

Hey Jen -- keep on keeping on.

A post I posted on this theme might be a boon for you. Check it out: t.ly/QAtX

Expand full comment

Ahh yes the impending critical voices of FOMO & imposter syndrome. Unfortunately, these emotions will keep coming up until you face it.

This is all coming from an empathetic place. Anyone with the courage to go outside of their comfort zone is going to feel a sense of these emotions. It's because you care & you want to make the most of this. That's truly amazing :)

Truth is, these emotions will keep coming up if you're focused on the outcome, comparing yourself to others, or ruminating in the past (I should've & could've done xyz).

I'd like to softly invite you to see what it feels like to be in the present moment & do your best with what you have. Who you were & what you experienced decades ago is going to be different now. HELL, yesterday is different today.

Maximize on what you currently have, make the most of it.

If your mind wanders to any thought with "should" in it, that's the voice of expectations, criticism, & judgment. Do you want to feed into those?

Expand full comment

Good word. I'm definitely experiencing the FOMO and Imposter Syndrome differently now. It still pops up, but I don't entertain it like I used to. I'm much more confident in my own abilities after 20 years of life and learning. It's why I've set other goals beside just the numbers.

Expand full comment

I just wrote a little bit about "impostor syndrome." My perspective is "fake it till you make it!" and be kind to yourself while you're in the process of growing:

https://moviewise.substack.com/p/fake-it-till-you-make-it

Expand full comment

In a way, losing subscribers is a good thing, because you know in fact you are writing to those who want to hear from you. I'd rather speak to a gathering of 7 people who are interested and attentive than to 50 wherein 43 are not paying attention (-:

Expand full comment

I agree Eli. I’ve lost 79 subscribers but have gained over 500 in the past four months or so. And I’m up to nearly 70 paid subscribers. Just doing the work with a big toothy grin and allowing things to unfold as they may.

Expand full comment

You're inspirational! Have you been doing anything outside of writing to attract new subscribers?

Expand full comment

Crazily enough, I lay a book out on the table where I’m seated at one of the Denver area coffeehouses I frequent. Because my Substack is about books, it works like a charm. People just can’t resist the temptation to inquire about a book I’m reading. When they ask me what I do, I tell ‘em that “I read and write about books for a living.” Draws them right in as a free subscriber. A growing number are now converting to paid.

Expand full comment

Having experience in email marketing for ecommerce brands, losing subscribers isn't considered "bad" or "good". It's just a metric of data that we consider when aligning back with our goals.

If the goal is volume of subscribers, focus on acquisition aka opt-in forms. In this scenario, losing followers could be considered a metric to consider. Then you just ask, "where are followers dropping off? is it one week after they subscribed or a few months?"

If the goal is quality of subscribers, focus on content & personalization. losing followers = scraping the list of unengaged and therefore unqualified followers. It's natural selection in your favor.

Expand full comment

Amen from a recovering SalesForce SME :)

Expand full comment

100% agree with you. But even knowing that, it can still sting.

Expand full comment

Good point!

Expand full comment

Are you showing up according to schedule and posting content that's true to your lived experience or niche? Are you engaging with your readers in a respectful and timely manner? Then you are doing everything and more that is expected of you. An email list is an evolving entity: people will come and people will go. If you enriched the time they were on your newsletter in any capacity, that's a win. Don't be afraid of people leaving, and likewise, let people go if they aren't engaging.

Expand full comment

This is a great reminder Nikhil for everyone in here. I wanted to expand on this. All we can do is our best & if our best doesn't receive the outcome we want, there are only two options: be okay with the best we've got OR ask for feedback.

Expand full comment

There is a third option, and that is attempt to find out where your subscribers are hanging out, if not on substack, and find them there.

Expand full comment

Definitely been there, Holly. It's been a rough couple weeks for me on this front (only, in addition to free unsubs, I've had a handful of paid unsubs too, which is a special little jab in the heart).

It's really not about numbers. I know it's hard to truly believe that, but keep repeating it to yourself and remember that the world needs your specific voice, perspective, and talent. No one else can do exactly what you're doing or write exactly what you're writing. Feel the feels, be gentle with yourself, and keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Expand full comment

Thanks, Sarah. It's good (but not good!) to know this happens to everyone. Your newsletter is one I absolutely love. I know that in some seasons maybe people just don't have time to read or don't have the funds to spend on every newsletter they adore. I know it still feels personal. : (

Expand full comment

I've had a couple kindly people "donate" subscription funds. A few times now, I've had people tell me they are unsub'ing for financial reasons...so I comp them for 6 ms. using these donated funds (though I've simply done it on my own, too). After the 6 ms. they re-subscribe. All times, to date, they've been very grateful for the continued subscription. It's worthwhile to do this, and keep them on board. I know how it is, I've been there :( So I feel I'm ending up with some really solid paid folks in this way. Lifers, I hope!

Expand full comment

it sounds like you really care about your readers. you're listening to their feedback & making adjustments :)

Expand full comment

it's only natural that it feels personal bc you're putting yourself out there & bc people aren't recognizing you, it could feel like your worth is being questioned.

normalize this experience now bc its not going to go away. how can you separate your character from external circumstances like this?

can you find a way to be intrinsically motivated & feel fulfilled from writing alone?

if your goal is to grow the count of your readers, can you find out how to do that without jeopardizing how you feel about yourself?

Expand full comment

You definitely need to turn off the subscriber loss notification. Make rules about yourself about when you can check in on your subscribers. Otherwise you'll lose your mind.

You do have to think about it like paying a cost to send out an edition. I usually lose 2 subscribers every time I send. It happens. Sometimes you have inactive people on your list, and your email is going to be the nudge they needed to unsubscribe. Use this as your motivation to focus on writing the best content possible.

Expand full comment

Bingo. This.

(And once you get to a certain size, every newsletter will trigger a flurry of email-disableds, and sometimes a few paid unsubs. I doubt it can be avoided. Nobody's THAT good. It's just about whether your growth curve is upwards or downwards over the month. *That's* the figure to respond to / panic about!)

Expand full comment

I have 2 subscribers who are inactive. They signed up, viewed a few posts, and then never viewed or opened my newsletter. One got sent 15 and the other 8. I don't know why people sign up and then don't do anything.

Expand full comment

What ESP are they using? I ask because I seem to have a lot of readers that use Hey and Proton, and I get zero stats from either. Yet, I know they're reading regularly, because they respond to posts, comment on threads, etc..

Expand full comment

Turning off that unsubscribe notification is essential!

Expand full comment

Thanks, Cole. I've had the unsubscribe notification turned off from the beginning because I know how much it can sting. I just happened to notice on the actual subscriber page, which I keep checking because I am *so very close to 100*--I know, I need to stop. :D

Expand full comment

Hey Holly, this will sound like a platitude, but make sure you're always writing for yourself first. That will keep you motivated and energized. I turned off unsub notifications and resist the urge to look at subscriber numbers as much as possible. It just distracts you from writing, which is the real goal. Keep fighting the good fight!

Expand full comment

This reminds me of that scene in Forrest Gump where Jenny asks Forrest what he is going to be when he grows up. He asks in return "Aren't I going to be me?"

There really is no escaping it.

Expand full comment

I love this, and honestly it feels like it leads to better results anyway. When I write something that I am just so excited to write about, when I let it just pour onto the page without much thought for how "well" it will do, I tend to get a lot of commentary and discussion on those posts, which is what I want anyway! I would much rather have an active and engaged community of a couple hundred than a totally disinterested community of tens of thousands.

Expand full comment

Love this Mikala - in my latest post (just shared today) I speak about how the pressure to perform or see engagement can kill all creativity

Expand full comment

So true Amran. I do not regret writing ONLY FOR MYSELF for a long time. Now, I just view good stats and bad stats as a learning experience. I find it intriguing that people cannot just do that and not care about the statistics. I only have 80 subscribers but never chose to just blast my email list (500+ people) or my Twitter. I find the folks that join seem to stick. I get about 150 opens per day and my open fraction remains stable at 70% +/- I genuinely believe, at least for me, the organic, mostly on Substack growth is satisfying and sustainable. The only instance I suffered on statistics are when people close to me unsubscribed b/c of politics.

Expand full comment

"...writing for yourself first." Thanks, Amran! I'm going to write that on an index card and post it on my laptop. That's the whole point of it. And if readers join my journey along the way and follow along, great!

Expand full comment

Trust me, I remind myself all the time too!

Expand full comment

Agreed. I turned off unsub notifications - it is a downer for me, but check the subscriber numbers - probably too much - that number encourages me to keep going doing what I love - to write.

Expand full comment

Amran, this is a broken skill for anyone in any industry. If you can master intrinsic motivation, no external circumstance can derail your progress.

Expand full comment

Ooh. Good idea. Turn off unsubs notifications [goes to do that immediately].

Expand full comment

Keep it up, Holly. I was also going towards some rough patches when I started my newsletter, feeling nobody cares. How can it be that no one sees what I see?! Well, it so happens that we all have have a unique superpower to handle stress. We just need to "edit" the negative ending of that story we keep telling ourselves and replace it with a more hopeful outcome. Keep sharing your downsides along the way, as you can see many people here are going through the same journey.

Expand full comment

This reminds me of a scene from "What About Bob" where he considers people who don't care about him as just "temporarily out of order"

https://i.pinimg.com/originals/2c/ff/64/2cff64c00f0ec4a3b8fc3a04a6886ff4.jpg

Expand full comment

I think it has been slow for everyone these past few weeks, including me. Keep your head up!

Expand full comment

My newsletter had a real summer slump in terms of growth speed. I think my target audience (outdoors) was probably out busy doing stuff.

Expand full comment

I noticed the same thing but I am surprised that it is across multiple platforms. Would be cool to see if Substack has any seasonality data for the platform overall. With school and college starting back up, wouldn't be surprised if that keeps a lot of people find their summer substack time is greatly diminished. I'll have to consider the possible seasonality element--i've been gathering data for SUBtember and noticed things were down and I have to explore all the options and not just "Is it something I said?!"

Expand full comment

I've been thinking the same. I'm making a mental note that maybe September will be a good month for a writing break should I decide to do that in the future.

Expand full comment

I've been noticing a similar phenomenon in my own subscriber stats. Growth continues but at a slower pace and I've experienced some unsubscribes as well.

FWIW, your Substack is one of my favorites and I always appreciate it when I see you interacting on mine.

Expand full comment

Thanks, Mark--yours is one I read nearly every post. Maybe it's a busy/stressful season for people and they don't have as much time to read these days? Let's go with that! I'm sure we'll see more growth soon enough.

Expand full comment

it could be the season or it could be time to consider if your audience has changed. Where are you leading people to your newsletter? Are you using social media to lead people into your newsletter? Are you using a website?

Expand full comment

Every time I send out an email I get 2-3 unsubscribes but that's just the way it is and I'm learning not to care. If they aren't interested them sod 'em. I also do this thing regularly to keep my list clean. So every few months I delete people who haven't opened any emails from me ever.

Expand full comment

I did this too at first, but then I read that Substack can't track activity from some email clients. I might consider reaching out directly before purging anyone...

Expand full comment

Ok thanks for the heads up on that

Expand full comment

While just an opinion, the viability of worrying about some unsubscribes against a small subscriber base (that's me) sounds like somethhing you cannot control. I think that if a frequent commenter unsubscribed, I might take it hard. Since this dialog I've taken a look at a couple of your posts. You need not worry.

Expand full comment

Thanks, Mark. I agree--it's silly to concern myself with it. I think it would be helpful to know if the unsubscriber was a frequent reader/commenter. But I'm not sure if I would want Substack to tell me who it was that unsubscribed. I'm just going to stay in my lane and keep writing. Thanks again for the encouragement!

Expand full comment

There are many advantages of retirement. I have dipped my toe in grabbing statistics for ez insights in Google Sheets. I do it ONLY when I am responding to comments so the commitment in some ways is no time at all. Glad to share if you are interested. For me I originally wanted to manage my music links which I include in each post in case there is ever an inquiry over digitall rights managment (DRM). Like spreadsheets are want to do, I started out just tracking my music, then my posts and eventually subscriber statistics. It is largely automated and gives me a sense of a metric that matterrs to me. I have a percentage of my subscribers who open a given post. My path to about 80 subscribers has been slow and stead and that is cool. What I have been trying to keep to is 70% opens. I am not sure why that matters to me but it does :)

Since I could NEVER do this posting without music I decided to create a little spreadsheet of my past music and stuff I just like. It is fun after putting the work in to have 200+ songs on my Substack "playlist"...just a silly obsession :)

I commited to myself to just let it be once I reach that artificial threshold of 100 subscribers. My sense is if they are engaged, it will just snowball from there. Blind faith I guess.

Expand full comment

Hello Holly. For me I started on Substack b/c someone was moving their primary output from Twitter. I was more than willing. Soon thereafter, I started writing a Newsletter and did not actively promote it even to my friends and acquaintances, only the small group in my creative writing group. I came to try and discover the joy of writing. It is hard to resist when people unsubscribe. I now have a modest following but find for me the organic growth of finding someone you enjoy and just start reading them. My subscriber base grows modestly and I resist the comparison game. I promise myself the dream is to write a historical fiction novel and the Newsletter, for now, can just be the venue to learn the craft of writing. For that, I now conclude I need at least a core group that does more than read or like but becomes willing to criticize. I am not sure this is relevant to you but I have come to scan your writing b/c of your input elsewhere. I will take another look at Release and Gather. Mine is https://markdolan.substack.com and is titled "Why Living Today Rocks".

Expand full comment

Thanks for this, Mark. My reason for joining was similar--I wanted to force myself into the habit of writing most days. Release and Gather has done that for me, so it's a win! I just have to keep reminding myself (or have others remind me!). I'll check out your space. I'm learning that I can subscribe to a lot of interesting newsletters and be okay with not being able to read every post. But some days I run across one that is just what I needed for the season. That's the beauty of so many writers on this platform.

Expand full comment

Well put. I am a browser and only a very small handful of must reads. I will circle back as I don't remember details of your writing yet. What I know is that we share an appreciation for Cafe Anne I believe. Join that large club I think.

Expand full comment

Cafe Anne is GOLD. She must have a bazillion subscribers!

Expand full comment

Indeed. The positivity and embracing of the range of human behavior is awesome. So many Substacks can be "tribal" and reinforcing. Not what I need or want right now. Writing about what inspires you seems the antidote for me as I want to write a historical fiction novel in retirement and already have an outline. I need the repetitions and reading something like the Cafe is fantastic to instill style and flow.

Expand full comment

Haha I was so happy to see the two of you connecting on this thread because I enjoy you both so much, and then I get to the end and you’re talking about me! So funny. Made my day!

Expand full comment

It's also important to consider that some newsletter topics are inherently easier to grow on certain platforms. Controversy-based things spread extremely quickly. If you're a bombastic drama-monger, it's easy to start explosive exchanges on social media that generate massive amounts of clicks.

Of course, Substack's MO has always been that people may be willing to click on rage-based content, but they're less willing to pay for it. Also volatile topics make for fickle communities that leave the second you post something that they don't like.

Expand full comment

I don't want to operate this way. I steer away from the conspiracy theories and drama, because it doesn't bring about a good end. Yet, these days even simple disagreement can be convoluted as "hate speech."

"No, I just don't like broccoli. I have nothing against broccoli, don't want to destroy all broccoli, just am not with the texture and taste of broccoli."

Expand full comment

Holly just wanted to thank you for this! I’ve seen a major slowdown (along with a lot of unsubscribes too) these past few weeks. Hearing I’m not alone, and reading the thoughtful comments in the discussion provoked by your post really helped me tonight!

Expand full comment

If CAFE ANNE had unsubscribes, it's definitely not us (it's them!). :)

Expand full comment

I think after Labor Day, people try a bunch of new "resolutions". They also are frantic as for some it is back to school. It is good people have two periods per year for resolutions since they rarely last long anyhow :) I would expect when you show off how much you've grown the rubber band ball the crowds will be back!!!

Expand full comment

Hold that last thought! A newly revived buzz-phrase from a Hemingway novel, “Gradually, then suddenly,” applies to our mutual endeavors. I have a “Hockey Stick Graph” meme from my old Blogger effort that people in early recovery have found encouraging.

My short-term memory is measured in nano-seconds as I pass through my 80th year on the planet, but if it isn’t posted yet, I will do that tonight *without fail*. Even if I don’t think it is *perfect* yet. Like a lot of addicts, I am an insecure megalomaniac.

I think that as a result of Substack’s efforts to help us “grow” we are getting a lot of “window shoppers,” who just wanted to see what we are “selling.” Like a younger brother told me about applying for jobs at a low-point in my work life, “It is a numbers game. Employers have different needs. It isn’t about “you” as a candidate, but just that someone else had some particular trait, education or experience that was just what they think they need. Just keep putting yourself out there and at some point, you will be that person, for someone.”

Cold comfort with a new wife and new grandchild to support, but press on I did. All of a sudden, two agencies offered me a job at the same time. I played them off against each other, “A offered me $X…” and then, “B countered with…” After a few rounds of that, I figured I better pull the trigger, before they both hired someone else.

I made the right choice on many levels and worked for 21-years before retiring and staying in this town that I was “Just passing through…” for another nine years, so far.

In the meantime, you are an interesting person with a wide range of interests and useful values. You also have a knack for putting ideas in ways that make me grin. Or even chuckle. And honest enough to let me know when you are quoting Vonnegut, when I missed the footnote. And anyway, you have this compulsion to write.

It has been said that 80% of success, is just showing up!

Expand full comment

Thanks, Pete! Your comments always brighten my day. Alas, I must leave the discussion and get back to my day job for a meeting, but I will for sure come back to re-read this comment and all it's treasures!

Expand full comment

Thanks holly! Your appreciation always brightens my day!

Expand full comment

Yes, those unsubscribes sting. I am trying SO hard to not look at the numbers all the time.

Expand full comment

I have tried to think of my newsletter as an access ticket for myself. Telling people I write an outdoor newsletter generally allows me to get credentialed to cover really cool things that I want to experience myself, in person. I share that with my readers. Even if no one paid me, or subscribed, in the end, I'd still be having these great experiences with exciting people.

Expand full comment

say it with me, external metrics such as unsubscribes don't determine your worth!!!

Expand full comment

At the same time, external metrics are an indicator over time. If I find that what I do doesn't resonate with anyone, shouldn't it be my goal to also communicate and connect with them? I'm not saying completely revamp yourself, but at least get an idea of what else is out there. And then you can risk/reward possible choices.

Let's say that in the real world, you find yourself to be without friends. While friends don't determine your worth, they can be an indicator that perhaps you haveen't properly shown them, their worth. Still, I could be barking mad.

Expand full comment

Not mad at all. Your worth shouldn't be compromised but if your goal is to grow & learn, you have to research, test things out, ask for feedback. you can do all of those growth driven actions without ever compromising your worth bc in this case, you're questioning your skills and skills can always be improved.

Expand full comment

Hi everyone. I'm about to commit the awful sin of copying & pasting something I wrote in a previous comment on another Office Hours (so if you arrange to have me burnt at the stake, I fully understand):

Here's an idea I've put into action that you could steal if you think it might work for you.

I've been working in seasons of maybe 10-ish weeks of stuff, with a clear beginning and end. This has been helping me enormously in three ways:

- refreshing what I'm doing by having a few different themes for each season, within the overarching focus of the newsletter (in my case, the science of curiosity, awe & wonder). New season = new themes, new niche audiences to try to get the attention of, new stuff for me to learn & write about, etc.

- gives me a proper break occasionally! I'm always running a bit behind because of other writing commitments and a between-season break gives me a chance to get a little ahead of myself again and just...not write? (Just occasionally, not-writing is super nice.)

- getting new paid subscribers! At the end of the season I sing & dance about the benefits of a paid subscription, just to my free list, giving it a proper push with time-limited discounts and everything. So if you work in seasons, it'd allow you to have maybe 3 or 4 chances every year to push for paid subscriptions and solely focus your time & energy around that goal for around a week. And each time you can experiment with a slightly different way to attract them in, with different types of writing, different offers etc....

None of this is original & new. It's what podcasters, NPR, Netflix shows etc have been doing for ages in many different ways. But it's working well for my newsletter, so I thought it might work for yours too. Please adapt/steal wildly from me if you like the sound of it!

Expand full comment

Totally into this idea. As someone who has MANY interests (and a hard time sticking to things long-term) it feels super refreshing. Stick to one topic and a deadline and then that's it. I also heard of this idea from another writer recently, too. Repetition makes me think it's telling me something...

Expand full comment

Mike has the Substack Knowledge.

Expand full comment

Mike has no knowledge, being something of an idiot, but thanks Mark anyway. ;)

Expand full comment

You are totally underselling yourself!

Expand full comment

In British terms, that was reckless self-promotion! You should see what we're like when we self-deprecate *properly*....

Expand full comment

I’ve been so shy about asking because to be honest, you support for the love of the work. Is that good enough? Depends on the person. I have felt validated in people’s support not to lean so much on paid only posts, but still figuring things out.

Expand full comment

This is really great. You have inspired me at some point to write to my readers using the headline, "My NPR Moment." I think that will lead to opening of the email and perhaps, if my pitch is good, to conversions. Thanks!

Expand full comment

I'll have to think about this. I'm committed to the Grillmaster method of low-and-slow growth, but in my experiment with self promotion I have gathered some data that indicates I need to change things up to start more of a conversation. Other newsletters do almost weekly themes with a set-up, exploration, and satisfaction of some topic, and I find that's a great tool for a "conversational layup". They feed readers what they want them to talk about (set up) and then talk about it (exploration) and finally have some closing thoughts (satisfaction). Whether it's one week, one month (like I am considering), or 10 weeks as you do, I think the principle is sound.

Do you get any feedback from paid subscribers about what pushed them over the edge? Do they subscribe because they support you and your project, or do they subscribe because they see your paid content as a value-add worth the dollars? Said more simply: Is there any indication that they are they subscribing to *you* or instead to *your content*? Does the distinction matter, I wonder?

Just thinking about mixing up my own content and your comment gave me some ideas and questions to ponder! Thank you for that!

Expand full comment

>>"Do they subscribe because they support you and your project, or do they subscribe because they see your paid content as a value-add worth the dollars?"

All of the above, I reckon! Some people seem to be on board simply because they want to see the kind of work I'm doing, even if they don't (yet) have the time to read it. It's really a spectrum of motivations - so I'm trying to not presume there's one driving factor at work.

I'm also committed to an 80/20 policy, where I'm giving away 80% of what I do. I very much agree with Substack's advice that the bulk & the best of your work should be bouncing round the internet for free. But that 20% can be just as deep & interesting too! (Right now, I have a season-within-a-season going on just for paid subscribers, on how geology affects human behaviour.)

Expand full comment

Great thoughts--thank you for this!

Expand full comment

I know you weren't asking me, but I think most people pay because they support you in general, and not for any value adds you might be putting out there. The only exception might be if you're writing serialized fiction. In my case a few were people already reading my writing on Medium, and another was someone I met during a writing cohort.

Expand full comment

Excellent advice, Mike. Please repeat as often as you'd like!

Expand full comment

What are you offering in your paid subscription? New to Substack but have had my newsletter for years.

Expand full comment

Honestly, I'm still trying to work that out! But right now it's access to a storytelling course, (soon to be) chapters from a book I'm writing, and every season of my newsletter, a kind of mini-season with its own topic, only visible for people behind the paywall. I'm also experimenting with 1-1 video calls for paid subscribers, and....whatever I can think up next, or steal from folk much smarter than me.

The way I see it: as long as it's *something*, and as long as that something is worth getting for the people who enjoy the rest of the newsletter. But also, it has to be a practical workload. Adding 20% extra to what I've been doing feels doable. But promising I'm doubling my output, or something like that? That's the road to burnout and ruin. (And anyway, as Kevin said in another comment, a fair amount of folk *don't want* more stuff, they just want to champion and support the work you're already doing. The % who want that will vary from writer to writer, but - it's a thing. So we shouldn't feel like we need to start working two full newsletter jobs.)

Expand full comment

Hey Mike!

Couple of things:

1. Just headed over to your newsletter and, asides from loving your topic of curiosity, it also really inspired me to see your growth. I have (for a very long time, maybe since the age of 9) had this amorphous far-in-the-future dream that I can earn a living from writing, and I'm starting to feel like that may not be quite so amorphous.

2. I then made my way over to Twitter because my curiosity (lol!) demanded that I find out what the viral tweet was, and I am mind blown by the idea of the Zanclean Megaflood! I'm still going to read your piece on that, but just from the twitter thread it immediately brought to mind the legends of Atlantis and its destruction.

Thank you for sharing tips on how you've made Substack work for you, and I look forward to reading more of your work!

Expand full comment

Good to note about the 3-4 times yr call for paid... I've been trying to limit that, but this gives it a natural rhythm with what you are doing. I'm finding that super-low-key, BRIEF captions with the sub button work.

All good info--thank you!

Expand full comment

I love this, Mike! I love the structure the seasonality provides and the clarity having themes allows- both for you to write, but also for the readers to know what niche they can cozy into.

I'm committing to a bi-weekly schedule for the rest of the year- both for structure and to give myself a chance to catch up a bit (since I'm also usually running behind). But, since I write so much about tv and film, I'm going to explore how seasonality could work next year.

Thanks for the refreshed suggestion!

Expand full comment

My pleasure, Tami! And since you write about TV - "a season about a season" has a nice ring. A deep dive into how a hugely impactful season of a show you love got made, beginning to end? That'd be a grand story to read...

Expand full comment

Ooooh- a season about a season. That's so fun! Wheels are spinning...

Expand full comment

Thanks for the idea, Mike!

Expand full comment

Good morning, writers! Here's a little encouragement from one small newsletter to all of you! Do you ever find yourself playing the comparison game? Watching from afar while other writers seem to do better than you or have more than you? It's SUCH an easy trap to fall into, and it can seriously rob you of both your creative verve and your joy! Here's what I hope we can all remember (myself included!): our creative paths are unique and uniquely our own for a reason. Each unique road, each set of risings and fallings is ours because it will make us into the writers WE need to be! Someone out there needs to read the writing that only we--with our unique journey behind us--can offer, so DON'T STOP! Write for you, write for them, and don't give up!! 🌿

Expand full comment

Listen to her, she knows what she is saying! Thank you. You never know who will be affected by what you write. It may just change someone's life.

Expand full comment

Such encouraging words! I haven’t fallen into any traps like that here yet I wonder if it’s because Substack isn’t set up against vanity metics like social media is?! 👩🏽‍💻

Expand full comment

So happy you take the time to spell this out for us. Most of us instinctively know what you're saying is true, but seeing it in writing and put so well is one extra step toward *believing* it. I hope all the positive energy you put out there is being paid back in kind, S.E. :)

Expand full comment

Grazie

Gracias

Merci

Thank you

Expand full comment

Hello all! my name is Bih and I write Food for Thought which I launched last year. I just want to thank you for the encouragement and ask if you have any advise as it pertains to writing. I feel like as a writer I tend to lecture to my audience rather than talk to my audience. Does anyone have any tips on that? Other than that I'm really proud of the work I release on my newsletter but feedback is always helpful.

Expand full comment

As always, thank you for your wise words, your kindness and your positive energy, S.E.!

Expand full comment

Learn from others - be yourself.

Expand full comment

You *always* bring the encouragement, S.E., and I needed it today more than ever. Thank you!

Expand full comment

Thanks once again S.E.

Expand full comment

The media assets are amazing. I've pretty much abandoned the IG account I set up for my newsletter, but this has me thinking twice about that decision. Thank you! (And thank you for continuing to come up with new ways to make Substacking -- including self-promotion -- easier in a variety of different ways.)

Expand full comment

Curious - do you have a personal IG that you use? And if so, why did you set up another account for your newsletter?

Expand full comment

I do. I set up another account because I didn't want my newsletter followers overlapping with my personal ones. Of course, some people DO overlap -- the people who know me in both ways -- but I really wanted to be able to shamelessly promote my newsletter without feeling like I was spamming my high school boyfriend and my first cousin once removed and my boss 😂 Like, there's me, and then there's my newsletter, you know? Two separate IGs.

Expand full comment

I like your style, Sarah.......an IG OG!😊

Expand full comment

I deleted my personal Instagram (I no longer felt like sharing every element of my life/being so distracted) but hung onto the newsletter-focused IG account. I haven't been using it much, because it feels like such a huge task to build a following there, and everything is about video now. I do want to consider how I can just use it for fun and enjoy it, not see it as homework to do.

Expand full comment

My personal IG account has merged with my new (four month old) Substacking identity. I spent the summer running an experiment to see if more followers would translate to more substack traffic. I'm up about 800 followers and 50 click-throughs but have zero new subscriptions. Posting every other day with about 20% of the posts as direct advertisement for my newsletter to avoid spamminess. I'm just not sure if I should press on bc it's been a short time (2 newsletter cycles) or start thinking about a new strategy

Expand full comment

I've said it before, Sarah....I'll say it again: I think we're on the cusp of being the unheard-of "online auction site? HUH?" late-'90s to becoming the everybody's-doing-it eBay of the early-2000s! Strap yourself in! One day we'll all look back on these "Golly, how do I reach more people?" threads, and will be too busy writing (and fielding subscriptions!) to even have these threads!😲👀😁👍

Expand full comment

I don't know if you're right, Brad, but my imagination is working overtime right now, thinking ahead, deciding I should probably give up on ever winning an Oscar or a Pulitzer and just concentrate on Substack's glory days.

I'd better live long enough to be a part of it. I'm going to be pissed if I don't. 😠

Expand full comment

I lived thru the eBay surge, starting as I did, selling my 2,000-unit LP collection and attendant promo items and autographs from about '97 thru 2008 or so.

Plus, my observations of that growth was measured in number of sitcoms whose writers mentioned eBay in the late '90s (none) to the sudden "normalization" of eBay as a less-than-subtle signal to viewers by hordes of sitcom writers that this was a hip show!

Plus, I have it on good authority (namely Katie's....hi, Katie!)🤗that she's planning on having you be a major part of the 'Stack brand in the very near future!😉👍

Expand full comment

I love your stories, Brad, but don't you be joshing me now! (Hi Katie!)

Expand full comment

The dream, right? 😉

Expand full comment

Preeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-cisely!😊

Expand full comment

Great point!

Expand full comment

You have great taste in writing!!😉

Expand full comment

I agree--I have not been using social media at all, but these media assets are tempting me...

Expand full comment

I have been off FB family of products for 12 years. My only SM is to auto-post on Twitter since I schedule all my posts in advance anyhow. I don't think it generates much traffic and I do have a background and understanding of SEO, Email campaign management.

I am sure it might generate eyeballs for prolific users.

Expand full comment

I think that the platform largely depends on what you write about. I run an outdoor newsletter. The outdoor community seems totally dead on twitter. Some of the biggest names in mountaineering have followings similar to mine, and get zero engagement.

You need to think about where your community hangs out.

Expand full comment

Holly, my POV: I was NEVER on SM for the last coupla decades everyone and their grandmas were; mainly because I had nothing, really, to say, and didn't need a place to say it! But, 2 Augusts ago ('21), I got 'em all, mainly just to tub-thump my 'Stack ramblings! Yes, I'm just that much of a show-biz ho!!!

(Warning: All humility flies out the window at this point): Even when I was covering the Houston Astros for 5 years on an all-sports web site (The Runner Sports) from '15-'20, I WAS NOT ON SOCIAL MEDIA, but, regardless, I was the top monthly page-view getter on a staff of 85 (all, I'm guessing, were plastered all over SM) for well over a year!! So, A) it's all about what and how you write, and B) I'm discovering my reach is exceeding my grasp on 'Stack when I post my links on SM sites!

In short, GO NUTS, HOLLY!!!

Expand full comment

Hahahah! Loved all of this, Brad (even your...ahem...absence of humility). I work in technology and had been on social media (a lot) for years (like since the inception of FB). I decided to take a break because of the way it negatively impacted my psyche. I've thought about going back just to tout my 'stack, but I also kind of like that most of my readers are complete strangers. Lots to think about, and I'll bear in mind your 2 cents because--clearly you know a thing or two, right??

Expand full comment

I probably won't go back to FB; I just can't do it. But I more or less live on twitter. Using lists, and blocking one's time make for a much more pleasant experience.

Expand full comment

I came up with an extremely effective Facebook ad campaign and it's gotten me absolutely nothing. I was able to build up almost 1500 followers of my newsletter's Facebook page. But Facebook wants to charge me money to get my posts seen by my own subscribers.

Not worth your time.

Expand full comment

I'm a terrible time-blocker. :) I block it...and it melts into a puddle about 1/4 in!

Expand full comment

I have to set an obnoxious alarm. Otherwise I'm there for hours.

Expand full comment

Well, I hear ya. I was on Twitter most of this past year under another "alias," and got spun up into ranting, too. My current re-boot there is nothing but a place to house my new posts! So, it's all in how you approach, but to my mind, it's worth having it out there if you can reel in your (and my!) temptations to interact with hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing! I say give it a shot! And, to answer your last question, Holly.......................(chuckle).....Clearly!😉

Expand full comment

I'm also a social avoider. It is helpful to have an option though for IG, (which is the only platform I'm signed up to and use very sporadically.)

Expand full comment

Definitely easier for those of us that might not have a taste for promotion.

Expand full comment

I'm trying to be more intentional with my IG posts (so only posting if I have something that really matters) but being way more active on my IG stories. This new feature will be great for my stories, if that makes sense.

Expand full comment

Yes, my first thought was Stories, too.

Expand full comment

My next post is going out tomorrow. I still have to finish it, but am already curious about what I am going to get! Glad to hear such a positive note on this new feature.

Expand full comment

I feel the same way. And I have been using carousels to showcase the photos that didn’t make the cut for the featured photo.

Expand full comment

I just noticed it this week and love it! My only suggestion is the ability to choose text colors because sometimes it competes with the photo. I thought I had just missed it before so, thank you Sarah Miller, for mentioning it!

Expand full comment
Comment deleted
Expand full comment

At the top of this post.

Expand full comment

You can read the details at the top of this thread. Substack describes it better than I could.

Expand full comment

I'm writing a Substack about a friendship that I had in late elementary school from 1975-1978. Georg and I have had very little contact in 45 years. Yesterday I called him on the phone and we talked for an hour. By the end of the conversation, we both expressed an interest in rekindling our friendship.

This wouldn't have happened without the deadline that my weekly Substack offers me. This connection means so much more than those damn analytics/numbers that I check too often.

Free yourself from the numbers... call an old friend. :). Hal

Expand full comment

That sounds wonderful. 😊

Expand full comment

Very cool. People aren't numbers. Efficiency is not a human value, it's a machine value. Even a readership of one is worth it, if it's the right one.

Expand full comment

I totally agree that focussing on the analytics/numbers can be counterproductive. I'm working on limiting how often I check.

Expand full comment

That's so incredible! I've also been thinking of messaging someone who may or may not be my second cousin that I only met once and we spent a week hanging out, 17 years ago when we were 12. (I even wrote about it recently https://open.substack.com/pub/tootah/p/they-say-you-cant-choose-family?r=j286f&utm_medium=ios&utm_campaign=post )

How did you start that conversation with someone you had no contact with for so long?

Expand full comment

It was easy. We were friends again within minutes. We talked all about our adventures as kids

Expand full comment

I did it! I messaged her and it was so much easier than I thought it was going to be. I wanted to let you know because I was definitely thinking of you the substack stranger in a similar situation when mustering up my courage!

Expand full comment

Hi everyone. This is the first time I have had chance to join in here.

My Substack is Roland's Travels https://www.rolandmillward.com

I retire at the end of the month from full-time employment and am looking forward to taking my Substack forward and start paid subscriptions very soon.

Expand full comment

Welcome to retirement, Roland....an early greeting, I know! You'll find it's easier than it may seem to wrap your time and energies around your 'Stack. It sounds like you travel, so hopefully, your writing can happen more easily and time-efficiently while you're actually traveling! Have fun, and again, welcome!!😎👍

Expand full comment

Thank you Brad. Lots in planning right now so I can hit the ground running.

Expand full comment

Don't say "hit the ground," Roland, to a retiree! You've got a month, but I thought I'd just let you in on a little tip!!! Me and the ground hardly get along (and, yes, I meant that pun)!😊

Expand full comment

I will try to keep it as a saying and not a reality! 😂😂😂

Expand full comment

Congrats on your retirement from FT employment and retiring /to/ a life of traveling & writing.

Expand full comment

As a recent retiree from full-time, welcome to the pack.

Expand full comment

Thank you Mark. I have a growing to-do list for my Substack.

Expand full comment

Good luck embarking on this exciting journey. We are all behind you :)

Expand full comment
Comment deleted
Expand full comment

I have just subscribed to your Substack. Looks interesting :-)

Expand full comment

Oh! I'm excited about the media assets. I've been trying to get back to posting more often on Instagram and this will be so helpful.

I don't have any writing questions, just an unexpected report. So,