I’ve been looking at the statistics for my Substack and thinking about the best way to connect with new readers. I’ve noticed a pattern. The more frequently I post and comment on Substack the more people subscribe to my newsletter.
In some ways this is really exciting because if visibility and discoverability are able to be influenced by how active I am on the platform then it gives writers a lever. There’s direct action they can take to help new people to find and consider their work. Want more subscribers? Write more posts. Comment on other people’s posts. The more frequently you touch this app the more discoverable you become. That is both a good and a bad thing.
It’s kind of obvious when you think about it. I believe there’s probably a very delineated series of events that lead to discovery. Here’s how I imagine the roadmap goes:
A Substack author spends a few seconds writing a comment on someone else’s post. It’s something that’s sincere and has meaning. Maybe it’s a reply to someone else’s comment, but it’s relevant to the conversation and adds something real to the topic.
The people who read that comment will look at the writer’s profile.
Assuming the writer’s profile blurb is interesting, they’ll take a look at the newsletter.
Once they are on the page for the newsletter the first thing they’ll notice is how active that writer is.
The second thing they’ll notice is whether any of the topics the writer covers appeals to them.
If some of the topics are appealing, they’ll actually open one of the articles and evaluate the quality of the writing and the information shared.
I don’t think the next step is a subscription… unless the articles are just amazing. The next step is probably that this potential reader simply moves on about their day.
This isn’t a bad thing. It just means that you haven’t convinced them yet. It also means that you’re now on their radar. The next time they encounter your name or see someone recommend, mention, or cross post one of your articles, it moves you that much closer to gaining a new subscriber. Once there’s a comfort level and familiarity with your content they may very well pull the trigger and click that Subscribe button.
IF the nature of discoverability as I’ve described it is true, then it creates an opportunity for missteps. I say this because of the nature of newsletters and e-mail in general.
Most authors follow a predictable pattern. Readers come to expect newsletters to show up on specific days. They grow familiar with the established schedule. If that schedule suddenly changes from this known cadence, the author runs the risk of having people decide that it’s too much.
How much is too much will vary from writer to writer. It’s like asking how much salt to put on a steak. There are some general guidelines, but ultimately everyone’s taste is different.
Substack does offer an option that may help mitigate the issue. Writers can choose to publish directly to the app and website and not send out an e-mail. I can see ways that this would be useful and perhaps even innovative because it allows you to post material that is worth talking about, but isn’t quite developed enough to merit a full post. Of course, iOS users also have the Chat function which offers the same use case.
I’ve always sent my newsletters out to e-mail subscribers, but I’m curious to find out how publishing to the app only would affect open rates. I’d like to experiment with this in future posts to see how well they are received. If I do, I’ll let you know my results.
Anyone reading this via e-mail may want to consider downloading and using the app. It really is a good experience and even offers a great RSS reader. I’ve come to prefer it to receiving updates by e-mail.
Talk to Me
If you post to Substack and have experimented with making posts that didn’t go out to e-mail, I hope you’ll share your insights in the comments. Additionally, if you have any thoughts about discovery, I’d love to hear them. This is your chance to leave that thoughtful comment that will act as an introduction for one of your future subscribers.
Thanks for readingIf this is your first time here, I hope you'll consider checking out past articles or subscribing to receive future ones.
One of the things I learned during the Substack fellowship is that it’s better to post weekly at 1,000 words per essay, than it is to write a 2,000 word essay every two weeks, for exactly the reasons you mentioned. The more people hear from you, the more they have an opportunity to share or pay for your work, and that makes other people discover it. Because of this I changed my format from writing really long essays, to dicing them up into smaller parts! It’s the same research, but instead of one article I have three!
Hi John, great food for thought. I currently publish 4x per week, sometimes more for special events:
Mondays: interview with someone from my part of Canada (Atlantic Canada); occasionally I will write something about one aspect of the region
Tuesdays: interview with another Substack writer or other creative person; in a pinch I will link to someone else's interview that I've enjoyed and want to share
Wednesdays: this is always reserved for my original writing, no set length but pieces often exceed 1000 words
Fridays: I repost links of what I've published during the week, plus links to other posts that I found interesting
Four days/week is a lot but I only have to focus on one original essay or piece of writing per week this way (of course there's plenty of background work for the other publication days...)
And yes, I do try to read other newsletters and blogs (a few dozen) and comment where it makes sense to do so, including some paid subscriptions where I am able to interact with some folks that I might not otherwise be able to. So, yes, it can lead to a lot of time spent elsewhere but it has helped me win over a number of subscribers.
But the priority is the publication schedule, which I post in my About section. Which means that I'm trying to work at least 1 - 2 weeks ahead to stay on schedule.
I don't know if it's all sustainable long term or if I'll have to cut back a bit in the future but for now it seems to be working. My subscriber numbers are significantly higher than I expected to have at this point and I've certainly put the work into it.
I don't necessarily recommend following my publishing strategy but I do enjoy it.
Hope this is helpful!