18 episodes

Conversations with writers who have earned their independence. Created by Substack—the simplest way for a writer to start a paid newsletter.

on.substack.com

The Substack Podcast Nadia

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    • 3.7, 7 Ratings

Conversations with writers who have earned their independence. Created by Substack—the simplest way for a writer to start a paid newsletter.

on.substack.com

    How Delia Cai grew Deez Links from zero to 2,000+ signups

    How Delia Cai grew Deez Links from zero to 2,000+ signups

    We invited Delia Cai, author of Deez Links, to speak to an audience of Substack writers in New York about how she grew her newsletter to 2,700 signups. Delia started her daily media newsletter as an intern at Atlantic Media.

    This transcript has been lightly edited for readability. You can also check out the slides from Delia’s talk..

    Takeaways

    Be your newsletter’s wingman. Talk it up to everyone.

    Borrow other people’s audiences to reach new readers.

    Build credibility by getting other people to write about you.

    Why Delia started a newsletter

    I write a newsletter called Deez Links. It’s basically a daily-ish media newsletter that sends you a link to something worth reading, tied to the larger media industry.

    I started Deez Links four years ago, when I was just out of college. I had an internship at Atlantic Media that was cool, and not cool, in that I spent all of my time just reading news about the industry, and I was writing corporate memos. It was cool because I was learning a lot about digital media, but I was also just sitting in a cubicle all day, not interacting with other humans. 

    This was 2015, 2016, around when newsletters like Today in Tabs and Ann Friedman's newsletter were getting a lot of hype. I was reading those and I was like, “This is so cool. I want to try to do this. I want to try to write in some kind of outlet that isn't just in corporate memo speak and maybe I can just do this for my friends and it will just be a funny thing that I do during the work day.”

    So I started Deez Links. It was on TinyLetter. I made the logo in three seconds in MS Paint. It was an extremely lo-fi situation.

    I sent it out to my friends, friends from college, and friends that I worked with and I was just like, “I'm going to do this every day. Let me know if this is interesting.” I had no real aspirations for it other than just getting in the practice of writing about something every day.

    Deez Links grew to about 500 subscribers by 2018, which was fine. It was mostly people that I'd met on the internet, or just people that I knew personally. Then I moved it to Substack in 2018, and since then it's gone through this amazing growth trajectory to where I had 700 subscribers and got a shout-out in New York Magazine and Vanity Fair. We're also doing this merch store which is really cool, which has taught me a lot already about ecommerce and supply chains.

    Deez Links was mostly people that I'd met on the internet, or just people that I knew personally. Then I moved it to Substack in 2018, and since then it's gone through this amazing growth trajectory to where I had 700 subscribers and got a shout-out in New York Magazine and Vanity Fair.

    Looking back over those four years, it seems like there's this very calculated path to growing the newsletter, and I have to be totally honest and admit there was not. I was just bumbling along. This was my passion project. I just tried a bunch of things, so I’ll share with you the three buckets of things that have worked out for me.

    Be your newsletter’s wingman

    So the first one is super obvious. It's just to be your newsletter's wingman.

    I think the really wonderful thing about newsletters is they're so personal. They're tied to you and your name most of the time. Bring it up to your friends, your work friends, while applying for a job. I put my newsletter in my resume. And I was like, “I don't know if this is work appropriate, but this is what I got.”

    When you start a newsletter, you may not have a lot of cred to go off of. You don't have a built-in audience unless you're already a writer on other platforms, and I didn't have that. I was just out of college.

    Your first 500 subscribers are going to be the people who are just naturally invested in you, your friends and your mom. So you should make your newsletter an extension of yourself and bring it up all th

    • 16 min
    How Emily Atkin turned her climate change newsletter into a six-figure income

    How Emily Atkin turned her climate change newsletter into a six-figure income

    We invited Emily Atkin, author of Heated, to talk to an audience of Substack writers in New York about how she successfully launched paid subscriptions. Emily left her job at The New Republic to start Heated, which offers original reporting and analysis on the climate crisis. Her newsletter is now her full-time job, bringing in six figures of revenue.

    This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.

    Takeaways

    Focus on building your free signup list first.

    Announce a paid launch date.

    Offer a discount for early birds.

    Every day during your launch week, give people a different reason to subscribe.

    A day before your first paid post, make a final pitch.

    I write a newsletter called Heated. It’s been in existence for five months now, and it’s going well. It’s my full-time endeavor.

    Being able to make a living off my writing has always been my dream since I was in college and I took my first journalism class. Eight years and a lot of failures later, Substack provided me with a platform to be able to succeed. It’s honestly allowed me to achieve my dream. I make more money now than I had at any salaried journalism job.

    I make more money now than I had at any salaried journalism job.

    I’m going to talk about how to grow your free newsletter into a paid newsletter. At this point, you’ll already have had a newsletter for a while. You’ll have enough subscribers that you think you can convert some to paying. You’re ready to go.

    I’m going to share the tactics I used. You can adapt these however you like. I only launched my paid newsletter a little over two months ago, and I’m already in the six-figures range. I’m not a genius; I just followed a formula.

    Make your newsletter free for as long as you can

    Step one is to make a free newsletter, and make it original. Make it consistent. I think consistency is really important; that’s something I’ve heard from a lot of my subscribers. I have a little over 20,000 signups on my free list and a little over 2,000 on my paid list, including subscriptions I’ve given away.

    Give your newsletter away for free for as long as you possibly can. Especially if it’s getting a lot of traction off the bat, and people are like, “I would like to pay you for this. Can I pay you for it?” Don’t let them. Hold on for as long as you possibly can, because almost all the paid subscriptions you’ll get will be conversions from your free list.

    People don’t just sign up and pay. They want free content first, so they can decide if they want to pay. From my analysis, the average amount of time that people take to convert from free to the paid list is about a month, although I don't have much data yet.

    Give your newsletter away for free for as long as you possibly can. People don’t just sign up and pay. They want free content first.

    Foster your community. Make people want to pay for your stuff. Market your newsletter in a way that will almost make you uncomfortable, because it sounds like you're just talking and promoting yourself all the time.

    Announce you’re going paid

    So you've done all that, and you're ready to launch your paid subscription. Don't just put a paywall up. Give your readers at least a week's notice.

    I write my newsletter four days a week, Monday through Thursday. So, two weeks before I put up a paywall, I said, “Okay, guys. Now's the time. It's been three months. Next week, I'm going to give you the ability to pay.”

    I wrote that on the bottom of a Thursday newsletter, the last one of the week. I told my readers that I've written this newsletter for free because I wanted to demonstrate its value first. I said that next week, I’ll start accepting payments, and I'll announce the rates then, but it’ll still be free all of next week.

    Once you turn on payments on Substack, the format changes. You unlock the ability to write preambles to

    • 22 min
    How Walt Hickey of Numlock News expanded to multiple newsletters

    How Walt Hickey of Numlock News expanded to multiple newsletters

    We invited Walt Hickey, author of Numlock News, to share with an audience of Substack writers in New York how he thinks about spinning off multiple newsletters for fun and profit. Walt started off with Numlock News – where he writes about the numbers behind the news – then added paid subscriptions, an Oscar Awards supplement, and a book club.

    This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.

    Takeaways

    Multiple newsletters are a lightweight way to experiment with new ideas.

    Use your main newsletter to create spin-offs, so you never have to deal with the “zero subscriber” problem again.

    Get creative with your paid subscriptions. You don’t just have to send one free and one paid post. Depending on your topic, you might consider publishing paid content during a peak season, quarterly in-depth reports, or more.

    I run a newsletter called Numlock. It’s a daily morning newsletter about the numbers inside the news.

    I started it after working at FiveThirtyEight for about five years, where I’d started a newsletter called Significant Digits. As a guy with a math-y background, I realized that my biggest liability as a person in journalism was that I needed to get better at writing, and doing something every day was a really effective way of practicing.

    I really enjoyed writing that newsletter, and then it hit a point where the scuttlebutt was that FiveThirtyEight was going to be sold. I looked at where Sig Dig was and realized there was more value in there than we were currently unlocking. The open rate was great. People enjoyed receiving it. In building the case for why FiveThirtyEight should keep me, I actually built the case for why I should leave and start my own newsletter. I did that, and it's been great.

    How he started multiple newsletters

    My main newsletter is Numlock, it’s my bread and butter. It’s what I've been doing for more than two years now. I have a product that I think is good, and that my audience thinks is good. As a result, I have a good “in” with people who enjoy reading my work. If I were to describe Numlock in Uber-for-pizza terms, what I think of is, “It's Good Morning America for nerdier folks.”

    This being Substack, at a certain point, it came time to monetize, so I launched a Sunday edition. For $5 a month, I talk to either a writer who wrote a really cool story that I put in the main newsletter, or I talk to an author who's got a good book out. This is a really fun way to add value.

    If you think about traditional media ecosystems like late night shows, there’s a reason they have written jokes in the beginning and then an interview at the end. It’s because interviews are easy to book, and people tend to like them a lot. It’s a nice way to have something that’s less work than the newsletter itself, but gives people more insight into the stories that we find.

    But I’ve also started a couple of other spin-off newsletters, one of which is the Numlock Awards Supplement.

    I’m a culture writer, and I love predicting the Oscars using math. It's a good time. I started about two years ago and wanted to keep doing it. I think we learn a lot about ourselves, and how we can predict things, through this institution that is very obscure. It's a fun little puzzle.

    So I started a pop-up award season newsletter. It runs from November-ish, or whenever I feel like starting it, until Oscar night and the week after. It's a nice opportunity to talk about a thing I'm really passionate about, but not have to throw it at my traditional people who just want to watch Good Morning America and never talk to me again.

    That spawned another idea. I love engaging with audiences, and discussion threads are such a cool feature that Substack has built. I wanted a way to tap into that without compelling people who just enjoyed the passive nature of newsletters to participate.

    So I thought, a

    • 15 min
    A growth masterclass with Judd Legum of Popular Information

    A growth masterclass with Judd Legum of Popular Information

    Of all the writers who use Substack, no one is as good at promoting their newsletter as Judd Legum, publisher of Popular Information. Judd was previously the editor-in-chief of ThinkProgress and has also been a political campaign researcher and lawyer. I convinced him to join me on a special pop-up episode of the Substack Podcast to share his advice on how to run a one-man newsletter business, build an audience, and turn Twitter to your advantage.

    Below, I’ve summarized some of the key takeaways. Enjoy!

    —Hamish

    Play to your strengths

    “When I’ve been able to leverage my skill as a researcher and then turn it around and put it out in the newsletter and help inform people in a deeper way about something they care about – whether that’s been the corporate donations to Cindy Hyde-Smith or Steve King, or whether that’s been really diving in deep to the election fraud issues in North Carolina, or some of the more recent stuff I’ve done about Facebook ads or the corporate contributions to some of these politicians pushing abortion bans in the United States – that’s what the audience really responds to. And so knowing that, I try to look at what’s going on the news and see where is there a topic that I can research further and pull out stuff that’s really new. That’s information that people didn’t have and I think that’s what people value and are willing to pay for.”

    People pay to feel empowered

    “From what I’ve heard from my paid subscribers, it’s just that they really want to support this kind of journalism, and they feel good about it when I do that kind of work. They feel empowered and they feel more informed and so that’s what’s motivated them. And that’s something I didn’t anticipate either. I thought it was really just the paywall that motivates people and the fact that you were withholding content, but I think for most people that’s not it.”

    Sell value instead of volume

    “Most people do not want more email. So if the only thing you have to offer them is, ‘Hey, subscribe to this newsletter and you’ll get some more email,’ that’s not that compelling. But if you can create a different value proposition where you can say, ‘Look, I’m creating the kind of writing that you can’t find anywhere else and I need you to be a part of this and to support this work if you value it,’ then I think that people get into that. And they want to get it four times a week, but it’s not necessarily the idea of getting it four times a week that is going to be the motivating factor.”

    Why he spent the first three months publishing everything for free

    “I thought that if I could get people in the door and show them what I could do with their support, that maybe people would go for it. And I think that’s largely what happened, because that’s still been my best little, you know, two-week period, was right when I turned on the paid subscriptions and the people who had been receiving it during that free period were given an opportunity to switch over.”

    The importance of free content

    “If you think of it from a business perspective, because this is a little business that you start – it’s a newsletter but it’s also a business – the free content is by far the most important content for your business. Because one, it’s something that anyone can read and it can help grow your free list. And two, it’s what gets sent to your total mailing list and gives you an opportunity to convert people.”

    If you don’t self-promote, you won’t get a promotion

    “I think probably the easiest mistake is just to think that, ‘Oh, I’m just going to write and put it out there and we’ll just see what happens.’ I can tell you, nothing will happen. You’ve got to really work on it... If you’re trying to earn a living doing it, you’ve got to work on it. And in addit

    • 40 min
    #012 – Media critic Jesse Brown on the secrets behind Canadaland's crowdfunded success

    #012 – Media critic Jesse Brown on the secrets behind Canadaland's crowdfunded success

    Canadian journalist and media critic Jesse Brown is well known in his home country for big media scoops and uncompromising commentary. These days, he’s creating a name for himself as a media entrepreneur, too. With his latest venture, Canadaland, the former columnist has created a podcast network funded by its audience through Patreon.

    In this interview, we discuss Brown’s colorful career, his surprise side success from cofounding a startup that many years later was acquired by Snapchat, and why he thinks every journalism student should start a newsletter and charge for their work.

    Brown is a sharp media thinker and digital media expert. I thoroughly enjoyed this conversation and think you will too.

    —Hamish

    Click here to listen in your favorite podcast app

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    • 53 min
    Introducing Substack for audio

    Introducing Substack for audio

    Today, we’re moving into paid podcasts with the launch of a tool for audio publishing. The first Substack publisher to use the tool is Anthony Pompliano, who is launching a daily podcast for Off the Chain that will be available to his paying subscribers.

    We’ve always believed that one of the great benefits of Substack is that you can subscribe to a person. That power is intensified when you can actually hear that person’s voice.

    Subscription podcasting through Substack works in the same way as publishing newsletters. Once the feature is enabled, you can create an audio post that is just like a normal post and can go out to everyone or only to subscribers. After receiving the post by email or accessing it on the web, subscribers can listen to the audio through the Substack web player. (Try it by listening to our special announcement episode right here in this post.)

    It used to be that the web-player experience for audio wasn’t great. In iOS, for instance, audio that was playing from a browser wouldn’t keep playing once you switched apps or turned off the screen. These days, however, the web-player experience for audio is good, with persistent playback and controls that are accessible from the lock screen. With the Substack player, you can speed up the audio, too, so if you like to listen at 2x you’ll be well looked after. We may soon add the ability to add a private feed of episodes to podcast players, but we like the web solution for now. (Give us your feedback, etc.)

    We also like email being the distribution channel. When you are constantly bombarded by tweets, push notifications, and updates, receiving an email that gives you a direct link to a podcast episode just feels... sane. Plus, email is a decentralized system that avoids depending on platforms that may or may not be interested in helping you build a subscription business through a direct relationship with your audience.

    Anthony has been doing amazing work with Off the Chain, so we’re thrilled that he’s pioneering this feature for us. The new podcast, Off the Chain Daily, will feature episodes of 10 minutes or less that discuss the hot issues of the day in crypto. Listening to an episode feels like receiving a personal audio-letter from a highly knowledgeable friend. It’s a great format and one that we hope many other Substack publishers will use in the future.

    Substack’s audio feature is in private beta, but we’ll be rolling it out to more people over the coming weeks and months. If you’d like to get your name on the invitation list, please fill out this application form.

    Get full access to Substack Blog at on.substack.com/subscribe

    • 6 min

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