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Posting consistently: Setting goals for your publication
Define what success looks like to you and what you can uniquely offer readers
In part one of our series on building an editorial strategy, we look at how setting goals in line with your version of success is the key first step to making a writing habit. Visit the full series.
Are you a writer who is romantically in love with your writing, or are you a writer who really enjoys writing and you would like to make a living out of it? Because they’re two different things, and they don’t need to be in conflict with each other. But for sure, if you don’t treat your writing like a business, then you should forgo the expectation that writing beautifully will make you money. –
Listen on: Doomberg is willing to make some big calls
Substack writers who set out to make a living from doing what they love need to think in part like entrepreneurs, setting a clear strategic vision and goals.
At some point in the nascent years of your publication’s growth, this will mean taking time to think about what success means to you, where you’d like your publication to be in three to five years, and what tactics you could follow to get there. For many writers, this is the first key step, a shift from writing sporadically to getting into a writing habit with a clear focus.
Goal-setting doesn’t need to be complicated. It can start on a scratch piece of paper on your desk.
This post will lead you through a goal setting exercise and at the end, challenges you to make your goals concrete.
First, ask yourself: Why do you want to write on Substack?
There are a wide range of reasons to create a publication. Getting clear on your personal motivations can help you shape goals to get started, grow, and earn money for your work. Consider whether you are…
Writing to earn an income: Then understanding who your audience is and why they value your writing is essential. Are you a subject-matter expert who does a job for your audience? Do you provide a public service that people are willing to pitch in for? Or do you help people connect with other like-minded individuals? Knowing who your audience is and why they value your work will help you answer the question of what to offer them.
Writing to grow an audience: Then, much like writers who want to earn an income, understanding who your audience is will help you grow. If right now, growth is more important than earning an income, you might spend more time thinking about where your audience is spending time now. Ask yourself: What can I uniquely offer? What do people want? And where do those two things overlap? You might optimize what you create to be sharable in different spaces where your potential audience spends their time.
Writing to build community: Then, again, understanding your who and why are the first questions to ask. If a community is a group of people who continually come together around something they care about, then create a rhythm that your subscribers can show up for and engage with.
Writing for fun: Then your most important audience is yourself—what is it that will bring you joy? Create constraints so you can experiment and write on your own terms.
For the first 18 months, my newsletter was more of a side gig for me both mentally and financially. I invested a lot of time in it, but I didn’t stick to a regular schedule and my posts weren’t always rigorously reported. In August 2022, I decided to make the newsletter a priority. […] I very quickly saw a return on my investment and have since tripled my paid subscriptions.has morphed into “Wow, I’m actually earning some money here” territory. —
Read on: How Melinda Wenner Moyer’s Substack helped sell 25,000 copies of her book
Keep your reader in mind
Great strategies for writing often begin with understanding who your audience is, even if it’s just yourself to start. Aligning what motivates you with what readers will help set you up for success.
Our friends at, a publication and podcast about the nuts and bolts of community building, encourage you to ask two deceptively simple questions:
Who does your writing bring together?
Why will people rally around your writing?
Newsletters, like other subscription-based media, perform best when they’re highly targeted to your readership. If you’re writing for everybody, you’re writing for nobody.
Ask yourself: Who are my most important readers? What are they like? And of those, who brings the energy now?
Describe this group of people in one or two sentences.
Include the key traits they bring as readers (e.g. relevant skills, interests, experiences, or backgrounds).
Now that you know your “who,” ask yourself: Why will readers return to my writing? Jot down your answers to these questions:
What does this group of readers need more of?
What’s the change they desire?
What’s the problem they could solve together?
If you need help, consider some of these reasons why readers might rally around a publication:
Examples of publications with a clear who & why
Why: Skill development. Improve as a storyteller (also, fandom of a beloved professor and writer).
Who: Software engineers and managers
Why: Guidance. Navigating big tech and high-growth startups.
Who: “People who are pissed off about the climate crisis”
Why: Collective impact. Staying informed so that readers can take action.
Hung Up by
Who: People interested in pop culture
Why: Fun. Hunter’s writing makes readers laugh.
Make your goals concrete
To cement your goals and intentions, put them down on paper. Here are a few exercises you might consider:
Pen a future milestone post. Some writers share a yearly review of how they are stacking up against their self-made goals in milestone posts. Write the post you hope to publish a year from today talking about your success.
Add a number. Self-defined metrics can be a valuable way to look back and measure your success later. Keep these numbers realistic, and be prepared to alter them later if you find you didn’t quite hit them.
Refresh your publication description. When you start your Substack, you also write your About page and one-line bio. This can be a great time to define your goals, put a number on what success looks like for you, and begin planning how to get there. You can come back to refresh these elements once you’ve met your goals, too.
Over to you! Have you set your publication goals recently? What did you find challenging or exciting about the process? If you did one of the exercises above, please share it with us on Notes:
This post is the first in a series of three posts on building an editorial strategy to underpin a consistent writing habit. Check back here tomorrow for the second post on formats.