If you want to grow, publishing consistently matters. But, that doesn’t mean that every week you have to write a showstopping, long form essay. Substack is a place for so much more with community tools, podcasts, audio embeds, and video in addition to text-based posts.
Writers and creators have imagined a number of formats that are lighter lift, engaging, and provide value to their subscribers. Here are some inspiring formats we’ve seen lately:
What formats have you experimented with on Substack? What’s worked and what hasn’t? Share a link to your post—or one from a writer you admire—and walk us through your strategy, plus how your subscribers responded.
Our team will answer questions and share insights with you in the threads today from 10 a.m.–11 a.m. PDT / 1 p.m.–2 p.m. EDT. Go back to today’s Office Hours hub to explore other threads.
I really like that idea of having a voicemail line for subscribers to ask questions. That's some really creative thinking!
I love these examples! Makes me want to get back on camera again and do some video/audio content -- I think I might!
The power of this platform is awesome, and allows so much room for creativity and exploration.
I started my Substack using a curation style, sharing links in detailed bullets. Slowly I started adding commentary and news oriented stories. As I’ve home the main topic of my newsletter, I’m now using a mixed format, part creation, part curation, and I’ve found some success with that.
I think now I need to hone the topic a bit more in order to provide a guarantee to my readers that they know what to expect from each edition.
Like many writers, I have the perfect face for sitting behind a keyboard, well out of eyeshot.
I've currently got 3 formats on the go:
1) Principles - free form learnings on the future of careers.
2) Discussions - co-written pieces on future of work or self-mastery
3) Diaries - monthly reflections on everything I've learnt in my own career
I always add in a mid-journey image or two as well and am starting to get closer to an art style for the publication. Have seen a big up-tick in subs (+37 in the last month to 616 total free), which I think is driven a lot by co-written pieces, recommendations and posting on Linkedin!
Happy to answer any qs if you have any 🙏🏼
On Cosmographia I write the Moleskine Notebooks every week where I explore a particular place by looking at it through a painting, poem, an old map, a literature excerpt, and photography.
Simple 5 section format but allows for such a wide variety of stories
I once needed a break from writing, but I didn’t want to skip a week, so I ended up posting a list of things I decluttered off my piano. 😂 It was a surprisingly big hit, and it taught me that I don’t always have to take myself so seriously.
There was also the time I wrote about actual posts I made to my local Buy Nothing Facebook group.
For context, I normally write personal essays.
One of my favorite formats is still Fog Chaser. Original song with tons of cool content surrounding it!
I switch between bi-weekly essays and then every four or five posts or so do a 'Neurodivergent Recommendations' post for books or podcasts because it's so hard to find good writing/podcasts, among all the autistic misinformation and hysteria out there. It's been good to mix it up so far! https://autcasts.substack.com/p/autcasts-recommends-neurodivergent
A while back I made a post that was almost entirely pictures—a set of AI-generated visuals to correspond with the lyrics to Radiohead's song "Fitter Happier." I got a lot of compliments about it from readers; maybe one day I will try it again! https://www.ruins.blog/p/fitter-happier-illustrated
I love these examples! Hosting other writers for simple interviews has worked really well for me (and I hope for them). People love to meet a new face. Examples: https://valorieclark.substack.com/s/interviews
I also send out weekly writing prompts, and sometimes people even write a litlte story and send it back. https://valorieclark.substack.com/s/stories
I also send out a weekly round-up of historical news stories with very short summaries about what the news story is about. These never go behind a paywall, but my last few paid subscribers have converted from one of these posts! https://unrulyfigures.substack.com/p/unruly-history-in-the-news-30
I have now fixed the format and content of two weekly posts that I send to free subscribers:
1. A quick tip type format with a short blurb and a link to a long-form article from the archive. This is also a good way to repurpose old content. See an example here https://naveenagarwalphd.substack.com/p/quick-tip-lessons-from-recalls
2. A "interview" type article where I add an audio recording and key highlights from a weekly LinkedIn audio event. See an example here https://naveenagarwalphd.substack.com/p/collaboration-is-the-secret-sauce-for-riskmgmt
This allows me to prepare and schedule content in advance so I have time to focus on marketing and premium content.
My plan for paid subscribers is to offer weekly premium post (e.g. case study with deep insights) and a monthly live webinar. I plan to record the webinar and share later as an embedded video in another post.
Open to new ideas and suggestions from you all!
I've recently realised that writing and posting consistently is quite the challenge for me, especially when having to juggle other commitments.
These sound like a great way to solve this problem, thanks!
I currently do a mix of audio posts and long form writing. My Substack explores archetypal studies, inner work, and Jungian/depth psychology. I'm looking for ideas from the community of how to get creative with these 2 formats.
Here's what I do currently:
* Audio - Read a passage from a book and discuss it, live reflections and interpretations of dreams and their symbols, live tarot readings, interview another creator (this is new, but I hope to do it more)
* Writing - These tend to fall into two styles, guides/how-to's (working with the shadow or developing a dreamwork practice) or personal reflections woven with educational insights.
Would love to hear how others are continuing to explore new ways of creating content.
Oh I love the idea of a voicemail line! I've been throwing around the idea of a Poetry Hotline and this is in the arena. Maybe...
I use custom drawn art from my graphic novel that is the basis for my Substack, its unique and people seem to enjoy it.
I write a food newsletter that is mainly memoir focussed but includes recipes I've developed. Recently I made my first video recipe. It got a great response because (I think) I tried to keep the same humour and feel as my written work. https://www.recoveringlinecook.com/p/a-recipe-for-pineapple-weed-meringue
I suppose my weekly format is more traditional.
Each edition starts with new writing on a particular topic, followed by two bulleted lists of curated content.
I’m experimenting with short art videos. This was the first one that I posted; it had a good response. https://shinjinim.substack.com/p/create-an-art-journal-page-with-me
I also share links to art challenges & interesting articles related to art & creativity once a month. This month, I featured a few articles that I enjoyed on Substack https://shinjinim.substack.com/p/creative-explorations-vol-2
I’m a fairly new publisher on Substack and I love these suggestions for “lightening the lift” of regular publishing — especially during these summer months when I really need a break. By the time I finished reading these great comments, I’d drafted a link round up of what to read if you’re interested in old age and aging - ! Curated from my perspective of somewhere BETWEEN rah rah we can stop aging with miracle powders & supplements (er, no we can’t ) and the positive things that old age brings (perspective, wisdom, emotional stability). Stay tuned and thank you.
I think that what works on Substack very much depends on the TYPE of site. My Slouching Towards Bethlehem https://grahamcunningham.substack.com/ would not suit posting too often. I post always very readable (and illustrated) essays of reflections on the political Zeitgeist of the 21st century West. The kind of people who gravitate to my site would not want to be bombarded on a daily basis. I do understand however that for other types of subject matter, what works best may be very different. Substack is a fantastic platform but I don't think it yet pays enough attention to how different Substacks have different needs.
I set up a Milestones page for us to celebrate our creative achievements and cheer each other on. ✨ I love shouting them out at drawing sessions. It’s so inspiring to see all the amazing work being done everyday in the community!
Some formats I really admire are M.E. Rothwell's Cosmographia (https://www.merothwell.com/) and Amy Hoppock's Smaller and Deeper (https://amyhoppock.substack.com/), both of which have amassed solid archives of content following a format that suits their theme.
Embedded voiceovers from Sherman Alexie and James Don BlueWolf have inspired me to try reading some of my posts aloud, so that's on my agenda in the next month or so.
S.E. Reid of Talebones gave me the format to use for a friendly contest, with folks posting links to their pages in the comments of the contest page.
Here's how my contest looked at the end: https://open.substack.com/pub/enchantedinamerica/p/the-enchanted-book-contest-enter?r=1mk0zn&utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=web
For a crowd-sourced monthly digest of enchanting Substacks, I ask people to tag me in a Note when they read anything enchanting on Substack. I include links to the nominators as well as the nominees. Hopefully, this adds visibility and community for lots of small Substacks. The second "Enchanted Forest" monthly digest is due to post Saturday. It includes posts I never would have known about except for the crowd-sourced feature, so that's working well. The first issue is here: https://open.substack.com/pub/enchantedinamerica/p/introducing-the-enchanted-forest?r=1mk0zn&utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=web
While I typically end up with personal essay style posts, a couple of weeks ago I did a list of "Songs that make me cry" after finding myself near tears in the car with the kids while listening to a beloved singer/songwriter from my childhood: https://pronetohyperbole.substack.com/p/songs-that-make-me-cry
I haven’t posted it yet but part of my theme is “introvert's outreach.” I suspect as writers here most of us can relate to this as exactly what we’re doing on this platform. A short, easy, and community-connective post I’m working on is a set of 10 “introvert questions for creatives”. I would love to hear from other introverts who might want to answer the questions in a guest post. I’ll do this monthly or more if it becomes compelling to people. Hit me up if this sounds relevant/fun to you! Thanks!
Thank you for a bunch of inpsiring formats! Makes it a great place for cross discovery!
Hello, Substackers. I'm looking for feedback on an idea I'm calling the "Writer's Room." The idea is that I would let the subscribers into early drafts of my posts as beta readers, commenters, and since mine is a humor publication, givers of feedback on whether the jokes are landing or not.
Has anyone tried something like this before? If so, how did you solicit comments on your posts? Was it necessary to go off-site, say with a link to Google Docs, or could this be accomplished within Substack?
When I become famous and have 50,000 subscribers, I'll do podcasts and all sorts of fun things...for now, I slog onwards with short-form essays twice a week on evergreen topics...because my peeps want this...I serve my peeps...I need raving fans for my book launch...I am not Robert Reich and that is OK...
Just wanted to give massive props to SE Reid at TaleBones (linked below) she had a great format for sharing serials and short stories.
She’s honestly the writer who most inspired me to start my own collection, www.coleschapters.com
On Sundays we share fun photos from our camera rolls in a chat thread. I love seeing what everyone’s pets have been up to! 😺🤳
I'm inspired by @juliasweeney to do a video rant. She is charming and funny. I would have to find my improv chops as I left them in LA decades ago.
All these ideas sound so cool, but I'm occupied enough with writing every week and then remembering to put in page breaks and things. I'm older than a lot of you and I know that's no excuse, but I just wouldn't know where to start with most of this stuff. 😵💫
Really need to dig deep into these comments. I'm looking ahead to going paid, but not sure how much more than my current output I can write.
Oh I love seeing these ideas! I played with the idea of a monthly reflection that goes along with my Friday Reflections, but I didn't think about doing it in another format that wasn't just writing!
Thinking video, or maybe even an audio post? Hmm...
I currently write a long form almanac style newsletter twice a month with some additional audio content for paid subscribers. I have a launch planned later this month to add weekly short form written and video content. The type of content is secret for now 😃
https://katiestack.substack.com/ and https://bethspencer.substack.com/ have awesome drawing sessions I love the co-working space format, and these really lead to productivity, but these drawing sessions take it a step further, they are like gym workouts for artist
Love this thread! I’ve been having a lot of fun with the voiceovers at Wild Cozy Free - I do a mix of long form essays and poem/songs - which are written out in the body of the text, but sung in the voiceover. Here’s this week’s https://wildcozyfree.substack.com/p/storybook-undone
<3 <3 <3
Oh -and I don't know if this counts: I'm currently writing a webserial on substack and one of the things I've done is create an info page for the series which also functions as a episode/chapter index page with links (embeds) to each published chapter. https://tonyarmoore.substack.com/p/the-lore-of-hegira
These are all great examples! I’ve been thinking a lot about new formats since going paid. I’ve started community discussion threads and a weekly listicle for paid subscribers so far. I’ve got an idea for an interview series with other parents to share their lives experiences of parenthood—it would be a challenge to get running but I’d like to think readers would find it beneficial!
Interested to hear what kind of content formats other people went for when they chose to go paid or up the amount of content they produced!
But ... why there is no category called "video" or movies" or .... I don't know ... VHS??? :)
These are great examples. As an educator, I am thinking of creating a roundup of my favorite websites for free online curriculum, or free educational videos. Thank you so much!
May I gift myself a shoutout as a newbie here? :-)
I just cherish infographics to summarize data-based stories!
A voicemail line. That’s interesting. I wonder how it’s going.
About a month ago I started sending out a cartoon to my subscribers every Friday, called B.A.D. I hand-draw it using black ballpoint and scan it in. It's a complete departure but also a weird return to the cartoon drawings I did in my teens.
I can honestly say that without Substack I would never have done this. Hey, two months I didn't plan on doing this! Now, I love planning my oddball drawing.
I feel my newsletters have made me braver and able to be more experimental. 😀
Less is often more!
My latest on How Life Imitates Golf
“Life is a game full of unwritten rules, vague boundaries, and differing philosophies. Framed this way, it resembles what Mark Twain sardonically dubbed “a good walk spoiled” — golf…
Below are eighteen life lessons from the beautiful game.
It’s impossible to play without the right tools.
You can play alone but it’s more fun with a group.
It’s a lot harder than it looks.
It’s enjoyed by old and young alike.
There are no mulligans—every shot counts.”
Read more: https://www.whitenoise.email/p/how-life-imitates-golf
I currently host Ask an Editor discussion threads where I answer writing, editing, editorial wayfinding questions. Much of the time they're in the context of Substack newsletters, but folks are also tapping at longform essays and manuscript/book questions, too.
The last one was about crafting a "spontaneous writing pitch" for sharing about your writing in public spaces.
So far, I’m just keeping it nice and simple: two 800-1000 word writing takes. But it’s cool to see people getting super creative!
I've experimented with a few different content formats — including long form confessional writing and round-ups – and so far my curated round-ups have received the most engagement. I think this is because they contain useful tips and inspiring ideas, as in the recent travel guide below.
I like the idea of bullets and maybe if I find the courage video or audio content...anyone got any tips for taking the first step?
I’m currently still growing into a format; my newsletter is roughly a ‘meeting agenda’ of my things of note from the week, but I definitely still have kinks to work out. A lot of the ideas in this thread are great inspiration and I’ll definitely be experimenting more!
(Of course, j also welcome feedback or insights- my newsletter is still relatively new!)