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Don’t start a year. Start a Substack.
is the Head of Publisher Relations here at Substack. You can read more of Sophia’s writing on Substack here.
If our paths have crossed in real life, chances are at some point I tried to convince you to start a Substack. It may have happened over a coffee or a nightcap, a steak, a flight, a concert, an art exhibit, an intermediate-level Pilates class, or when you were innocently taking out the trash. I am not one to pursue thrills, but if I ever jumped out of an airplane, by the time I hit the ground I would have likely shouted at the instructor, “You should do a Substack about this!”
It is part of my job to introduce Substack to writers, of course, and established ones at that. For them, Substack is a no-brainer: a platform created by writers for writers that keeps evolving with their best interests in mind. A space that gives them Freedom: creative, financial, artistic. The freedom to write for themselves. I approach even the famous ones with easy confidence because in the two years I have worked at Substack I have seen every single one of them–be they journalists, poets, novelists, academics, or even filmmakers–fall in love with this tool. The most common phrase my colleagues and I hear when we speak with writers is: “Substack changed my life.” And that puts more fire in my belly than parachuting ever could.
One of my favorite Substack stories from this past year is that of the “Hoarse Whisperer,” (Mike), a man who had built quite a following on Twitter under this pseudonym through quips, opinions, and observations, but who did not dare call himself a writer until he “jumped off a cliff” one day and started a Substack with a little help from his young son:
I confessed all of that to him.
I told him that I didn’t know what I wanted to do or how to even figure it out. I sort of rambled about how I felt at loose ends…
He asked some probing questions about what I thought the possibilities might be. I mentioned writing and then hemmed, hawed, qualified, and disclaimed it with all of the reasons that probably couldn’t work.
He said “Dad, if you want to be a writer, go be a writer…”
I sort of looked down, ready to reflexively explain why it wasn’t that easy when he added, “…but go do it.”
I understand why it took Mike so long to get there. There is something immodest, a little crazy, about admitting you’re a writer. You wake up every day to face a world geared to dissuade you from it.
What Substack offers is an invitation: come do it.
What will you write about? Who cares. You can write about the moon, you can write about the desert, or just desserts. You can write about TV shows, coffee, makeup, your wife and her mean sister, poetry or gossip, about that secret, doomed affair. You can write about your expertise, your philosophy, or business, you can write about things only a few people will understand. You would think known writers with large audiences have it easy here, but the pressure to succeed is felt more among them. The stakes are low if you are not at all known. There is no audience to lose, only one to gain. And gain you will. Perhaps when you start your only subscribers will be your best friend, your lonely neighbor, and your aunt–who can’t even read English. And then, one day, a fourth subscriber will roll in, a total stranger. That person will be there just to read you.
This reminds me of something Greek poet George Seferis said in his Paris Review interview:
“This situation of not having a very large audience has something good in it, too. I mean, that it educates you in a certain way: not to consider that great audiences are the most important reward on this earth. I consider that even if I have three people who read me, I mean really read me, it is enough.”
When I talk about Substack I often use the word “intimate.” The posts that Substack writers send to their subscribers–whether they go out to tens or thousands of them–feel like private correspondence. A direct line to one’s audience has obvious benefits, and freedom is one of them, but to me what makes the bond here between writer and reader so powerful is the attention they warrant each other. A subscription is a mutual pledge. Your subscribers read you, really read you, and you will continue to write just for them. That is what a paid subscription is, by the way, not a transaction but an act of love1.
Mike, by the way, went on to become a “Substack bestseller,” with thousands of paying subscribers.
More took the leap like him in 2022:started a Substack; so did , , , and ; writes about politics and chickens, broadcasts radio on his; quit his job at Tufts to write his Substack full-time, while is now able to support her family of four thanks to hers.
The vast majority of our successful writers were readers of other Substacks first. So if you are reading this, the chances are already in your favor. I will give you the same magical advice I give to all writers at the end of a long call:
Don’t overthink it. Start a Substack.
I will meet you when you land.
Starting a Substack has never been easier. You can sign up on the web here, or simply start posting directly in our iOS app:
The Substack Pledge
We solemnly swear:
Ownership. You will always own your mailing list, subscriber payment information, and intellectual property. If you decide to leave us, you’ll take it all with you.
A direct relationship with readers. Algorithms shouldn’t decide who sees your work. On Substack, you control the relationship with your readers and the community you create with them through the Chat and comments.
Audience growth. More than 40% of all new free subscriptions and 12% of paid subscriptions to Substacks now come from within our network.
Simple, easy-to-use tools. Zero tech knowledge is required to write on Substack. We take care of everything except the hard part (the writing itself).
A better financial model. No one likes to see ads, and very few independent writers can earn a reasonable income from them. The ad model demands that writers attract 40,000 page views every day to earn just $1,000 a month. With Substack, a steady base of 1,000 subscribers paying $5 each month earns you $60,000 per year. Estimate your earnings here.
Don’t take our word for it.
Here’s, , , , , and on their Substacks.
Starting a Substack has never been easier.
You can sign up on the web here:
Or simply start posting in our iOS app:
Unless you are writing about finance. Then it is an act of love and capitalism.