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26 Growth Lessons from 26 Substack Writers
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Taking a break from the regularly scheduled programming… today let’s dive into the topic of Substack growth.
- writes, which has 282 paid subscribers each paying $8.50 per month. He writes about futurism, quantum computing, startups, emerging technology trends, venture Capital and investing trends, and breaking news in business.
His growth tip:
"Leverage the Peer recommendation engine of recommendations and writer referrals on both Substack and beehiiv - you want as many Newsletter Creators recommending you as possible with the best in your niche recommending you in a reciprocal manner. Manage that mini-game as if your growth depended on it. This is because reciprocity validation is lead-gen growth with human feedback that is taking over from the algorithms. This is the key prime mover and the compounding factor of Newsletter growth."
- writes, which has hundreds of paid subscribers paying $29.99 per month. SemiAnalysis is a boutique semiconductor research and consulting firm specializing in the semiconductor supply chain from chemical inputs to fabs to design IP and strategy.
Note that the y-axis here is cut off — he was reluctant to provide me the exact number of subscribers, but he is listed in the top 5 technology substacks by revenue, so it is fair to assume at least a few hundred.
His growth tip:
“Don't write to cater to audiences you think will subscribe. Write content you think is amazing and the subscribers will come. Paywall every post, partially, but keep as much of those paywalled posts free as you can. My rule of thumb is usually 75% free, 25% free. It keeps free growing and paid too, in lockstep. Sometimes I do more paywalled or less.”
- writeswhich has 5,993 paid subscribers at $10 per month. Astral Codex Ten is a blog focused on reasoning, science, psychiatry, medicine, ethics, genetics, AI, economics and politics.
For the first 2 writers on this list, I obtained their chart by reaching out to them and politely asking for it. Scott Alexander, in contrast, posted this article showing his progress:
If I had to guess what his advice is, it would be “be a famous blogger before you start Substack.”
- writes, which has 12,595 paid subscribers paying $8 per month. That translates into a gross income of roughly 1.2 million USD. Slow Boring is a newsletter on the substantive, tactical, and strategic aspects of American politics and public policy.
I reached out for growth tips, but did not receive a response. As you can see above, I obtained his chart from a public tweet.
If I had to guess what his growth advice is, it is to be consistent. Yglesias has been blogging every day for 20+ years. He has certainly paid his dues.
- writeswhich has 957 paid subscribers, each paying $12 per month. Every Thursday he publishes ~2000 words on making great software, working with people, and personal growth.
His growth tip:
“1) write more — I went from weekly to twice a week and growth increased a lot 2) leverage recommendations — reach out to other similar newsletters to swap recommendations, cross-post editions, and in general do more work together 3) use ads! – twitter ads work well for me, but so do other channels (I am told) like facebook, tiktok, or quora.”
- writeswhich costs $6 per month. This is a newsletter written in Spanish, focused on business in Mexico.
I did not speak to him directly, but he posted his chart on IndieHackers which shows that he has 1,038 paid subscribers. Or at least, he did have that many subscribers. This chart is 2 years out of date, so presumably it is higher now.
- writeswhich has almost 7,000 subscribers paying $9.99 per month. Noahpinion is mostly about economics, but sometimes about other stuff like technology, geopolitics, and culture.
He wrote an entire post elaborating on his growth strategy:
- writes, which has 3,323 subscribers each paying $5 per month. He is a Marxist "of an old-school variety" who writes about media criticism and critiques of progressive pathologies.
This chart is 1 or 2 years out of date, and he did not respond when I reached out, so presumably it is higher now, but at the time he was making $182,894 gross income.
I obtained this chart from:
- writesand has 480 subscribers paying $14.99 per month. Apricitas is the Latin word for sunshine and sunniness. It’s a name that embodies the ethos of this blog: positivity, optimism, and a commitment to seeking truth through evidence.
Politano wrote an entire article describing his growth journey:
- , with 941 subscribers paying $12 per month. This is a daily political insider newsletter for political outsiders, run by two longtime local journalists.
They wrote an entire article about their growth journey: A Substack-funded local news publication’s founders talk candidly about how things are going.
- writeswith 83 paid subscribers at $12 per month. The purpose of this newsletter is "to document my journey buying, growing and selling Micro-SaaS products."
This chart is slightly out of date.
- writes, with 181,567 free subscribers and an unknown amount of paid subscribers -- but we know that at least 10,000 of them are paying $15/month, since he has a blue checkmark. This is the #1 technology newsletter on Substack, and is highly relevant for software engineers and engineering managers, useful for those working in tech.
He wrote an entire post elaborating on his growth strategy, where he says:
“Respect the time of readers. There is no shortage of fluffy writing that says very little with a lot of words. And every day, there are more and more newsletters, blogs, and content out there. Write about something interesting and do this in a concise way. Make it easy for readers to digest what you intend to get across: may this be using short sentences, images, or clever formatting of the text.”
- writes, with 250,000+ free subscribers and an unknown amount of paid subscribers. Every week, he tackles reader questions about product, growth, career growth, and anything else that’s stressing you out at the office.
Most of his growth comes from the Substack network effect.
- writes , "Une newsletter sur la finance, l'économie et les cryptos avec une approche plus pratique que théorique."
“Price is : 6€/month, 60€/year Revenue paid (yearly) : around 250K€ Revenue sponsorships (yearly) : around 150K€
Main « hacks »: A lot of transparency and build in public Highly differentiated from other newsletters (branding, tone of voice, etc.). Good content to increase word of mouth.”
- writes , with 700 paid subscribers at $5 per month. He is "a writer and editor at Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture and a senior fellow at the American Principles Project. I publish original writing and analysis on this Substack that you won’t find anywhere else."
He just hit 700 paid subscribers.
He told me:
“My main thing, what I offer to readers, is quality over quantity. I think it takes longer to grow that way but the foundation will ultimately be stronger. I've also made it a point to communicate that explicitly with my readers: I do not believe in content for the sake of content.”
Michael Fritzell writeswhich has 282 paid subscribers, each paying $34.90 per month. Asian Century Stocks is a newsletter providing financial journalism for companies and stocks in the Asia-Pacific.
His growth tip:
“My number one growth tip is to find the places online or offline where your target audience hangs out. And then make yourself known to those individuals. For finance-related Substacks, you might want to contact journalists at Bloomberg or CNBC. For tech-related Substacks, perhaps you'll want to market yourself on Reddit or Hacker News. It all depends on where your target audience hangs out.”
- writes, with just over 1,000 paid subscribers at $5.99 each. MatchQuarters brings you the latest in football trends right to your mailbox.
His growth tip:
“My advice is to consistently add value to your work; have a purpose. My purpose is to make the complex game of football simple and to give coaches and fans the ability to grow in their knowledge of the game.”
- writes, with nearly 150 paid subscribers at $35/month. This is a daily newsletter covering thoughts on market conditions from the perspective of a Professional Trader.
His growth tip:
“Find a community of like minded influencers in your niche. Interact with them daily and boost the growth of everyone. Not only will you gain traffic but will have many more perspectives for content. This makes the journey far more enjoyable and can improve your content significantly. My way to connect with others has been through Twitter.”
- writes , "The best Colorado Avalanche/NHL coverage and analysis, and other musings." He has 394 paid subscribers at $5 per month.
“I had a built-in advantage to many others, with a 28 year history of covering the same team for other outlets. But my growth strategy has always been: write from the heart, try to be different from the conventional wisdom and be as authentic from behind the keyboard as possible.”
- writes , a newsletter about market commentary, investment ideas and more. He has 198 paid subscribers at £25 per month.
He told me:
“My biggest bursts of unpaid subscriptions have come when other writers recommend my letter, or when I write something that catches a nerve and the article gets shared a lot. Plugging the letter on other publications and on podcasts also helps too. But to be honest I'm hopeless at marketing and I do very little to shill the letter. I just produce content as well as I can. I think you can send out too many articles if you're not careful. I try to send no more than two per week. My best period for getting paid subscribers was in the late winter and spring of 2022 when metals were doing really well. Second half of 2022 was horrible for those markets and understandably subscriptions dropped off. Markets have turned a bit in our favour again so subscriptions have picked up. I need to write a letter that is more resistant to downturns in commodities prices I've found the a good technique of getting people to go paid to put something that readers really want to know, a valuable bit of information, after the paywall. Many convert simply because they want to know that bit of information.”
- writes , a community celebrating all things pasta-making and -eating, with recipes. Make ravioli, make friends! She has nearly 200 paid subscribers at $6 per month.
“In terms of tips, my focus as I've eased into Substack has been quality over quantity. I'm planning to increase my post cadence this year, but because pasta-making is such a labor of love, I put a lot of time and energy into each recipe, including step-by-step images and videos so readers feel confident when cooking at home. I want to make sure you learn something new every time you read my newsletter. I also think having a niche has always served me well--people know exactly what to expect when they subscribe to my newsletter.”
- writes , a unique perspective on bitcoin and altcoins from a top crypto writer. He has 764 each paying $22 per month.
Hilariously, his subscriber chart mirrors the Bitcoin price almost perfectly.
“Say something others aren’t saying in a voice that’s authentic. With so many amazing creators and stellar newsletters competing for your readers’ time, you either need to do “better” work than they do or deliver something different so readers appreciate your unique or special talents. I took the latter path. Also, publish on free platforms like Medium or websites that cater readers in your particular niche. Along with recommendations from other Substack newsletter, that helps grow your audience.”
- writes , which is "one of the longest running blogs about the future since 2006." He just shifted this blog to Substack a couple of months ago, and already has 121 paid subscribers at $5/month or $50/year.
His growth tips:
Write a great column once a week for all subscribers. People will sample you for free before they become paid subscribers
Offer extra stuff for paid and more on top of that for Founding Members. Since I write books, speak and advise about the future, I brought that into the two levels. Paid subscribers get four things that free subscribers do not get: ability to read all posts, the ability to comment, a free one of my Books as a downloadable PDF every year and the opportunity to participate in my monthly virtual book clubs. Founding members get all that paid subs do PLUS two signed print books mailed a year [within continental US] and two 30-minute phone or Zoom calls a year to discuss what they want to discuss about the future
Recommend other Substack writers
Cross-post with other writers whose posts you like or are aligned with what your audience is getting from you
Send a personal email to every paid or Founding Member subscript. Thank them, ask them how they found my newsletter, and ask what interests them about the future.
- writes , a newsletter teaching you how to learn and contribute to the web3 data ecosystem. This newsletter began just 2 months ago, and already has 1,283 free subscribers.
“The biggest tip is to choose a niche and try and build up a mix of content that's a mix of easy to read + interesting and harder to read + useful. I also built up my Twitter first, since its easier to build a following here and then launch on other sources (Twitter discovery > anything else because it's more likely big accounts will retweet or engage with you).”
- is written by yours truly. I have 172 paid subscribers at $6.99 per month.
If I could offer one tip that nobody has said yet, it would be… have thick skin. Here are my new paid subscribers (blue & green bars) compared to my unsubscribes (red & orange bars).
When you are a new writer, every unsubscribe is going to sting.
It will feel like the end of the world.
But they aren’t going to stop unsubscribing; churn is just part of the game.
With thousands of subscribers, everything you write is going to piss off *someone*, especially when you write about politics.
You need to put your head down, believe in yourself, keep putting out content that you believe in, and trust that new subscribers will more than replace the old subscribers.
If you are thinking about starting a Substack, feel free to use my referral code:
Finally, you should subscribe towho writes . Today was his first day on Substack, and he has just written his first article!
He doesn’t have any subscribers yet, so show him some love.
The lesson here is that you will never grow your Substack unless you just start writing.
Many people dream of writing, but most are paralyzed by indecision and fear.
All you need to do is start.