If you are a writer hoping to develop your author platform or prepare for a book launch, newsletters are still a primary channel you should consider using. The reasons are the same now as they were years ago: a newsletter list gives you direct access to the people most likely to support your work. This is also how you encourage those people to take meaningful actions such as pre-ordering your book, posting a review for it, helping you identify book clubs, telling a friend, etc.
I’ve always appreciated how a newsletter aligns so well with what writers do… which is… um… write. It’s not a TikTok dance, it’s not a viral video, a clever meme, or so much else that confounds many writers.
Just write. Then send it to folks who asked to hear from you. In a nutshell, that’s a newsletter. With writers I work with, I’ve found it helpful if they think of it less as a NEWS-letter, and more as a letter to a friend. There is a lot we can discuss here, but to sum up my recommendations:
- Have an email newsletter.
- Start it way before you think you need to.
- Don’t worry about how many subscribers you have. Mine started with 9, all of whom I asked permission from in person.
- Send it weekly. (I know, I know, many of you will guffaw at this.)
- Focus each newsletter on one thing.
- Just consider how you can share something meaningful, authentic, helpful, or inspiring to your readers each week.
Recently, there has been a new newsletter service out there that has been really powerful for many writers I’m working with. It’s called Substack. In many ways, it is trendy to the point where people say, “Sign up for my Substack” instead of “Sign up for my newsletter.” But Substack is doing thing differently than many other newsletter services I have used. These are the results I have seen for writers I’m working with:
- They get more subscribers more quickly
- They earn more money from their newsletter
I don’t often talk about trendy tools here because I like focusing on the foundational elements of what it means to conduct what I call Human-Centered Marketing. But I think Substack is worth paying attention to. Here’s why:
- Substack encourages email list growth through word of mouth marketing.
- Substack has a huge focus on helping you to get paid for your writing.
- Substack makes it easy to connect a blog to a newsletter and vice versa.
I’ll note: I don’t use Substack for my own newsletter. And everything I write here is simply because I find it interesting. I’m not an affiliate or anything. Just do a web search for “Substack” to find it. I have quite a few clients who are using Substack, and I’ve set some up them up on it from scratch. This has given me a wonderful inside look at it from a variety of different authors and audiences.
Let’s dig into some specifics about why I find Substack interesting:
Newsletter List Growth
When you first sign up for Substack, one of the first things it asks is this: “Why not tell your friends about your Substack.” Which is very different than “SHARE ON SOCIAL” or “IMPORT YOUR LIST” messaging I remember from other newsletter services.
But the truly powerful thing Substack does to help you grow subscribers is to encourage Substack writers to recommend other newsletters. So what happens is if I sign up for a newsletter from an author on Substack, just after I complete the process, it will show me a list of several other Substack newsletters that the author themselves is recommending. Then with just a mouse click, I can subscribe to those as well.
This is just one example of how Substack encourages writers to share each others’ newsletters within their network. That is the heart of word of mouth marketing, which is really how any newsletter finds growth in subscribers.
For many writers, they don’t start a newsletter with the goal of getting paid directly from it. In fact, they may be hesitant that sending a newsletter at all might annoy people. But Substack has normalized this idea that one can get paid for their newsletter. How it works is this: you can have a free version of your newsletter, then a second paid tier. Often the price is around $5 per month for someone to join the paid tier.
Substack makes it easy to offer exclusive content and features that only the paid subscribers will receive. But much like Patreon, I find that many people will opt for the paid version simply because they want to support the writer, not because they are weighing an exchange of value for “exclusive” content.
Are there potential downsides to Substack? Yep. And they include the reasons I haven’t moved my newsletter over to Substack — at least not yet. They include:
- Not as much freedom as I would like to customize the template for your newsletter. I prefer my newsletters to be flush left, and look as basic as possible. Even though Substack newsletters do indeed have a very simple design, they are not exactly the feel that I want for mine.
- I believe all of your posts (newsletters) also need to appear on what Substack calls your Publication page, which is basically a public blog. I like the ability to curate this more, having more nuanced control of what appears where.
- I don’t love the idea that my Publication page will live on their servers. I know, there are ways around this, but I have a website I’ve sent people to for more than 12 years, and I like the fact that I own my website Plenty of people use Substack as their website, which solves a huge problem for them. But it’s not for me.
Of course, I will continue to be looking into Substack and using it with clients, because it is a very powerful tool.
Do you “need” a newsletter? Nope. Are you missing out if you aren’t using Substack? Nope. As with everything I share here, all of these suggestions are choices that you get to make. I simply want to encourage you to be proactive about sharing your voice.