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At year’s end: Writer reflections on publication milestones
Takeaways from one year of publishing on Substack, and more.
With a new year around the corner, it’s a time for many to pause and reflect on the year that was.
In the spirit of looking back and processing lessons learned, we bring you a selection of recent milestone reflection posts from the writers behind The Intrinsic Perspective, Arizona Agenda, Afternoon Dreams, Garbage Day, Personal Brand Brief, and Hot Singles. (See our first installment of this series here.)
Please join us in congratulating everyone who’s achieved a milestone that’s meaningful to them—including writing your way to the end of 2021. From all of us at Substack, a very happy New Year to you and yours.
Did we miss a good milestone reflection post? Share the link in the comments.
Erik Hoel of The Intrinsic Perspective, a publication that bridges the sciences and humanities with essayistic forays into a variety of subjects, offered a recent 2021 retrospective with advice for other writers:
One takeaway: Find an aesthetic.
Erik writes that “online writers need to enlarge a reader’s pool of faith by looking professional,” both by ensuring your writing is grammatically correct and consistent, and by choosing good images for headlining posts. “This is a thorny problem, and one I particularly struggled with in early days.”
One takeaway: Consistency matters more than viral hits.
“One viral story doesn’t make or break a publication,” they observed. “In fact, the spikes in new traffic those stories brought in didn’t produce a huge spike of subscribers. Instead, what seems to work is consistently asking people to pay for their subscription in our morning emails, and steady reporting detailing how government works (and doesn’t).”
Artist and writer Hima Batavia, whose publication Afternoon Dreams serves as a personal journal, wrote a milestone post reflecting on what she’s learned over one year of writing, from starting out with “no clear direction for the newsletter, no big dreams, and no long-term plan,” to feeling “more grounded in my capabilities, my voice, and the nature of this space”:
One takeaway: Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
When she first started her publication, she says that “the critical part of my brain was relentless, and in the 8-10 hours it took me to write a post, at least a third of the time was spent managing the internal drama.” Since then, she’s learned the right approach to unblock herself: “It is important to me to show up and write in integrity, but I think of the newsletter more as a place to process, rather than to share polished and perfected work. That might change, but right now it works and I love it.”
Ryan Broderick of Garbage Day, a Substack about internet goings-on, shared his analysis and findings from the full year’s data on his publication, including tidbits like “the perfect Garbage Day post has 8.3 different stories in it and a subject line of 38.8 characters”:
One takeaway: Sales work.
“There were three big subscription spikes for Garbage Day this year and, unfortunately for anyone looking for some kind of magical secret for financial success, all three were tied to things beyond what I was writing in the newsletter,” Ryan writes. “The biggest subscription spike of the year came after I announced I was joining the Sidechannel Discord network. The other two were when I offered coupons. People fucking love coupons.”
Joel Hansen of Personal Brand Brief, a Substack about how to start and grow a personal brand, also celebrated a one-year milestone, this time with a reflection post that offered three main lessons from the past year:
One takeaway: Listen to your audience.
“Understand what they expect from you and deliver upon it,” he writes, adding that it’s important to “respect their time and make your content worth their time. Writing concisely and saying more in less has become my guiding light for the coming year.”
Finally, for those wondering less about strategic successes than romantic ones, Randa Sakallah of New York dating publication Hot Singles wrapped up a year in the matchmaking game with a post highlighting how 2021’s slate of singles fared in the dating game:
One takeaway: Dating is … dating. Out of 55 hot singles profiled, there resulted 45 first dates, 15 first kisses, six flings, and one power couple.
Are you reflecting on a milestone in the life of your Substack publication, and writing about what you’ve learned? Send us a note about it at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll consider it for a future milestone post roundup (just make sure your post is available to free subscribers). We’re most interested in writing that shares strategic insights and advice that might be helpful to other Substack writers.