Substack for authors


  1. Thanks for this–you make interesting points. I am a fiction writing non-techie getting ready to launch a Substack. This idea is probably way more complicated than worth it but out of curiosity–Is there any merit to using Substack for blog posts and then including a link “for more content click here” that directs to my website? With the idea of this being you get the benefits of Substack but then also some traffic to your website (if people do actually click through)? My Substack will be interviews with authors so probably easy enough to split content into Substack and website.

    1. That’s a great question, Kristen. If you include a link to more content on your site, it needs to be something related to that issue’s topic, and it needs to be helpful to your subscribers. A generic link to your books or about page, for example, won’t generate much traffic. But more information on that subject? Yes, a few might click through!

      The downside of using Substack in your case is that you will, of course, encourage the authors you interview to share the link to your newsletter issue that features them. When they do, all that traffic will go to Substack, not your website. Plus, all that great content could contribute to your site’s SEO, but won’t.

      Sorry to be a Debbie Downer on this topic, especially since I understand Substack’s appeal.


  2. Sandra I think you may be wrong although I agree that you should not join substack to monetize your newsletter.
    1. you can repurpose your Substack content on to your website blog
    2. everyone says you should have a welcome sequence etc but I find those very annoying when I get them and many people who use regular email services admit that they don’t set it up or have a lot of trouble with that and other automations.
    3. It’s nice to use someone’s first name but it’s also kind of creepy when they don’t know you
    4. You can archive all your substack content and subscribers by downloading it to your own computer.
    5. You can have both! There is even an automated way to do that with Zapier.
    6. I think you are talking to the naysayers. Maybe talk to some people who are successfully using Substack for their mailing lists and book launches.
    7. One Substacker who I follow went off Substack for just the reasons you mention. In six months she was back on Substack because she missed the community.
    Justs my “two cents”! By the way I did not find it easy to set up Substack and am still learning the fie points.

    1. Thanks, Lora! All good points. A few thoughts…

      1. You can repurpose to your own site, yes, but most won’t want to do that extra work. In addition, putting the newsletter content on your own site won’t help your SEO when Google sees duplicate content and decides to select the Substack version in search engine results. It will direct traffic to one of the two sources, not both — and will that be the big, powerful, well-trafficked and well-known Substack, or will it be an author’s website?
      2. True. I didn’t want to figure any of that out myself, so I paid someone to do it.
      3. It’s said that everyone’s favorite word is their name.
      4. Is that archiving and downloading automatic? If not, again, many aren’t going to be aware of the option and even if they are, they aren’t going to go to the trouble. In my experience — and I realize this doesn’t necessarily apply to “everyone” — authors want to do as little as possible with newsletter creation and distribution. “Extra” steps aren’t going to happen.
      5. You can have both what? I didn’t quite understand that. And again, Zapier is third-party software and setting it up properly is just as easy or difficult as setting up a welcome sequence. Not gonna happen for most.
      6. I didn’t speak to any naysayers. I’ve been talking to authors about this for quite a while, and they’re all people who use and like Substack. I haven’t talked to anyone who said, “I ditched it, and here’s why.”
      7. Community and email subscriber base growth are so different. If the community she missed helps her subscriber base grow steadily, I can see why that would draw her back. But if she’s working just as hard to attract subscribers, there are other places to find community. (But I do get the appeal of that.)

      You haven’t convinced me that I’m wrong, but I enjoyed considering your valid observations!


  3. I’m so glad you wrote this post! I have benefited from blogging for over a decade and it’s helped me get thousands of organic visitors every month. I recently wondered what to do with my poetry which is so different from my other content. A coach recommended substack and I was tempted — ‘It’s so easy” and “everyone’s doing it” being the refrain as you said. Luckily, I have not put in the time to set it up. Now I am convinced that is NOT the platform for my poetry.

    1. Lisa, you are definitely Exhibit A for why housing your content on your own site makes the most sense.

      Are you thinking of sharing your poetry via email?


  4. Hi Sandy. Really appreciate your thoughts on Substack, as I haven’t spent much time investigating it (yet), but I’ve heard mostly positive things and have read one or two offerings (unpaid). You addressed several points I had rolling around in the back of my head. Plus, I appreciated the other commenters’ input. All good points to consider, and perhaps my favorite: “I always recommend learning as much as possible about a tactic and its options before making a choice.” For what will serve each person’s goal best. Thanks so much!

    1. You’re welcome, Carolyn! I love the comments on this one, too. We all have so much to learn from each other!


    1. It does, Lisa. All of my newsletter opt-in forms on my site and on dedicated email opt-in landing pages that are part of are connected to ConvertKit’s email marketing system/process.

      But I’m not sure if that addresses what you’re asking about.


  5. I’ve had a newsletter for 7 years, relying on organic growth from CTAs in the back matter of my books, reader magnets, occasional newsletter swaps and optin forms on my website.

    Thinking I could reach many more readers, I decided to duplicate my newsletter content on Substack for free and see if the platform’s recommendations feature led to at least the same rate of growth as my regular newsletter.

    What I found is that unless you play the Substack game by “restacking” other newsletters, commenting and otherwise using Substack’s social media features, plus have a helpful “stack” that solves problems or teaches, your Substack newsletter is not going to get much traction. Yes, it’s easy to set up a Substack and send out content but that is just the start. My jury is out if this juice is worth the squeeze of learning another social media platform.

    1. Carmen, this is SO interesting. Thanks! Juat a few hours ago, one of my Facebook group members posted that she likes the community/social media-ish component of Substack and uses that to generate subscribers. I replied that my readers have given me the clear impression that they don’t need another online community demanding engagement from them — they’re already overwhelmed by those they’re using now. You’ve just further validated that point.

      For authors specifically, I’m wondering about the quality of those subscribers resulting from this near-gamification of subscriber acquisition. Are they the right people? Are they going to stick around? Are they going to engage with the writer/publisher? I don’t know.

      Thanks for sharing your experience and insights. They’re really helpful.


  6. I agree, Sandra, Substack is appealing for its simplicity and having both blog + newsletter in one tool … and that’s exactly why I feel authors should be wary. It’s definitely better than not doing anything (!) but for serious authors who intend to build a viable income with their books, the extra flexibility from other tools (not to mention keeping your content on your own site for SEO) I believe are worth the “trouble”.
    You’re quite right, ConvertKit is rolling out comparable features fast, and I believe them when they say their mission is to help creators earn a living.
    And my preferred website platform, Squarespace, just introduced a way to monetize a blog, for the lucky minority who have an audience that is excited to pay for it. (As you say, that’s the exception, not the rule!). So yes, other providers are paying attention.
    A note on SEO, most authors don’t realize that if they cross-publish something that’s already on another website, they need to set something called a “canonical link” so that Google doesn’t suspect plagiarism and penalize you. In most website tools, it’s not hard to do, but few people seem to know that it’s necessary.

    1. Thanks for sharing that, Pauline. Your opinion carries a lot of weight with me. I knew I’d get pushback on this, and I have, so I appreciate that you took the time to validate my perspective. Regarding duplicate content, after reading a blog post by a writer who posts the same content on his site, LinkedIn, and Medium, I asked about the SEO impact of this. He said that Google would show the link for the first place it appeared. He didn’t mention a canonical link. It sounds like what he’s saying isn’t quite correct. What do you think?


  7. Hi Sandra, You’ve recommended so many good products, that this one stands out, but I understand the reason why.
    My side of this is, that I’ve watched this prolific author’s Substack activities from the free side. I haven’t spent a dime, but have chosen to read monthly newsletters that I like. No money involved. But I haven’t joined Substack and that’s because I didn’t quite understand the process nor my gain in doing so. That’s because I’m still building my first 100 subscribers and doing so by Substack doesn’t make sense to me. So I’m in agreement with you and your focus on joining.

    I just do want to add, on the other hand, that Russell Nohelty’s writing is fascinating, he’s very knowledgeable about the world of publishing, both online and print, and he gives away a ton of information with every newsletter. My beef with him, is that he sends more than just monthly. And, not a beef, but he’s not in my genre and his style is intellectual, making it less valuable at times. I just want to stand up for the guy, who’s paid a lot of dues in the world of business ups&downs and has good advice in certain areas.

    I love Sandra Beckwith’s style and her invaluable contributions to authors like moi who have many questions that only you (and Russell and others too) can provide.

    Many thanks Sandra and bless you and yours.

    1. Thanks so much, Ruby! I appreciate that vote of confidence. I subscribe to a couple of Substack newsletters, too, and some are great while others are just navel-gazing. One thing I’ve noticed on most, though, is that they don’t take advantage of (1) paragraph breaks and (2) subheads. There are just gigantic blocks of text that are hard to read. That alone is enough to make me unsubscribe, even if the content is interesting.


  8. I nixed Substack from the get go. It didn’t meet my needs and like you said, it is someone else’s platform, not yours. And I have unsubscribed from everyone who has gone the pay route. I will not pay for content that is similar to everyone else’s. With the proliferation of courses, paid content, etc, I’m done. I will not spend money on someone I don’t know for one, and unless I know your history and if you aren’t an established teacher, I’ll nix your courses too.

    My time is limited. I’m not going to do a substack that doesn’t do what I need it to do. I’d rather pay a bit extra for that website and then the domain name that someone can’t take from me unless I forget to pay for it.

    1. Great feedback, Barbara — thanks! What I especially appreciate about your comment is how it shows that you’ve been thoughtful about the process. You’ve become educated about your options, and made the right decision for YOU and your goals. I have to admit I worry about the authors who told me they’re using Substack because “everyone else is.”

      Thanks for weighing in!


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