Kickstarting a community on Substack
For a publisher getting started with a passion project
If you’re gearing up to share your writing, podcast, or videos on Substack, here are a few steps to consider to create a great home for your work.
This guide is designed for new publishers who see Substack as a tool to build an audience around their ideas or share creative projects. If your goal is to launch a business with paid subscriptions on Substack, go here.
Download a PDF copy here:
Step 1: Customize your publication
There are a few pages and emails that you should customize to communicate all the important things about your publication. All of these adjustments can be made on your Settings page.
Your logo should be square, at least 256 x 256 pixels, with a transparent background. It’s small, more like an avatar, so aim for clear, crisp lines and not too much detail. Extend this logo aesthetic to your cover photo on your welcome page and wordmark on the top of your publication home page. Canva or Looka are great free tools to create visual elements. Learn more.
The About page tells new readers who you are, what you write about, and why they should subscribe. It’s a place to concisely show off your writing voice and style, plus establish credibility with your readers. Learn more.
When someone signs up for your list, they’ll receive this email welcoming them and setting the stage. Use this space to highlight posts from your archive, solicit a direct reply from your new subscriber to introduce themself, and explain to readers how to download the Substack app to read your publication on the go. Learn more.
You can personalize the color, layout, and font styles for your publication. Learn more.
On creating an aesthetic for your publication
“I collaborate with an artist who creates a unique illustration for each post. This creates an aesthetic for the entire newsletter, which in turn makes everything look more professional, which in turn builds the reader’s faith that you’re going to lead them somewhere interesting.
There’s all sorts of ways to create an aesthetic without having an artist collaborator, though, for example using black-and-white photographs, or cartoons, or old paintings, or frames from movies.”
Step 2: Find your first subscribers
It’s time to spread the word and find your first subscribers! Here are some steps to consider as you find your first readers.
Link to your publication everywhere
Add your Substack URL to your email signature, personal website, and social media bios. On social media, pin a post about your Substack.
Add Subscribe buttons to your first posts
In your first post—and every post!—use buttons and email headers and footers to ask readers to comment and share. Be sure you have a subscribe buttons in the top quarter of your post. These buttons can empower existing readers to take action and help your work travel further. Learn more.
Connect to Twitter
We’ll send an email to Substack readers who follow you on Twitter when you publish your first post. Learn more.
Email your closest supporters
Don’t be shy. Personally email or text a link to your first post to friends, coworkers, and acquaintances with a note that you’ve started a Substack.
Post on social media
Post on social media—Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok, or YouTube—when you start your Substack and whenever you publish new posts.
Build your network
Find someone whose work you admire and write a short (no more than 3-5 sentences) cold email or DM. Introduce yourself and tell them why you admire their work. No need to make a specific ask on your first contact, just start a conversation. Learn more.
Tagging your publication with keywords helps others discover your writing from search. You can add up to three tags and change them at any time. Learn more.
Join the Substack writer community
Writers are invited to come together in a discussion thread hosted On Substack every Thursday. We answer questions about Substack and, on the first Thursday of every month, writers share what they’ve been reading and inspired by recently at Shoutout Thread. Learn more.
On cold outreach
“Be unafraid of reaching out to people you think might be interested in reading. This could be people you know personally or people you follow on Twitter. If you believe they would enjoy your newsletter, why not reach out and tell them? Don’t be glib about it; just tell them in your own words why you are reaching out.”
Step 3: Keep growing
There is a strong correlation between posting frequency and publication growth. If you want to keep growing, you’ve got to keep going with your writing and invest in collaborations with other Substack writers.
Publish consistently—ideally weekly
Each new post you publish gives existing readers a reason to share your work and new readers a signal that they might bump into. Our data team recommends targeting one post a week as a benchmark if you want to grow your audience. The format type doesn’t matter as much as this consistency. Your weekly post doesn’t have to be a lengthy essay; it could be a short post, an audio note, or a discussion thread. Learn more.
Turn on Recommendations
Endorsing and being endorsed by Substack writers you love, using Recommendations, is the most powerful tool for growth on Substack. This human-powered system helps writers suggest other writers to their readers via the subscribe flow, on their home pages, and in automated emails. Writers who make a recommendation are three times as likely to be recommended in return. Learn more.
Collaborate with other writers
Guest posts, guest features, Q&As, and interviews can help you tap into new audiences. Collaborations not only encourage the discovery of great writing but are an opportunity for writers to form connections in a pursuit that can feel solitary at times. Learn more.
On spreading the word
“Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson tweeted about [my Substack] four separate times. It’s not something that I could’ve ever expected, but I had taken the extra step of sharing my article on him and tagging him on Twitter. Who knew that he actually paid attention to his notifications?
Anyway, it reminds me of this great quote by David Perell: ‘Every article is a serendipity vehicle.’ You never know whose eyes your work will land in front of. The only thing you can control is taking that extra step of sending it to or tagging the right people in hopes of maximizing your luck.”
Great writing is valuable
Consider turning on paid subscriptions. Writers have found success with a variety of approaches, including offering everything for free and putting everything behind a paywall. Your true fans will be excited to support your work, even if they don’t get anything extra. Learn more.
Have questions about getting started? Join us on Thursdays at Office Hours.
Download a PDF copy of our guide to kickstarting a community:
Kickstarting a community on Substack