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8-21-23 Meetup Recording and Recap

We gathered small but we talked big

Greetings, Fictionistas!

For those of you who missed our live meetup last Monday, we have immortalized our chatty selves in the above recording. Grab some popcorn and watch us take on comments, Notes, followers, trolls, and some questionable transparency in our Substack profiles. 👀

Too busy to watch the video?

Scroll forth for an intense bullet point recap of the discussion.

white and red plastic packs

Do you want to get more comments?

Sure. We all do.

Here are some thoughts and suggestions, crowd-sourced from the meeting’s participants, on how to encourage more robust discussion around your posts.

  • Ask pointed questions at the end of your posts to guide discussion.

  • Consider writing on a topic that is already of interest to a lot of people.

    • Start a thread to help solve a shared problem in the community – like … how do I get more comments on my Substack? 🙂

  • Request feedback.

    • Be sure you REALLY want feedback first and be specific about what you’re looking for. A request for “general” feedback can be overwhelming.

  • Accept that some people might be shy about publicly commenting and remember comments aren’t the only way people can engage with your work.

    • Consider ALL the ways you receive feedback from readers: private emails, Notes and restacks, in person feedback from family and friends, likes, comments, RECOMMENDATIONS!!! Add it all up to get the best picture of how your work is being received.

  • Remind your readers about leaving comments or reaching out by email.

    • Make it easy for them to take that step.

    • Use the “leave a comment” button.

    • Invite them to email you – and provide your email address in the post because some of your readers only use the app and don’t have the option to hit “reply.”

  • Nonfiction posts often get more comments than fiction posts. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  • Be the commenter in other’s posts that you want to see in your own. Build supportive engagement through reciprocity!

  • Be patient! Building a network of reliable commenters takes time.

  • Trust that people are engaging even if you can’t “see” them engaging.

  • Make sure your comment settings don’t default to “paid subscribers” or “no one” before you publish!

  • Ask yourself why you want more comments? What specifically are you looking for? Praise, constructive criticism, discussion, reader reflection? Tell your readers what you want and make it easy for them to deliver it!

Do you have any additional thoughts or suggestions for fostering fruitful comment threads with your readers? 

Leave a comment

What to do about negative comments on posts or Notes.

  • Irrelevant or spammy comments? Ignore, hide or delete.

  • Understand that some negative commentary is part of writing on a public platform.

  • Writing about controversial topics is more likely to invite differing opinions, which may appear negative.

  • Ask yourself if a negative comment is an opportunity for meaningful discussion!

  • Be cautious about shutting people down (blocking, etc.) just because they disagree with you.

    • A “block” prevents a Substacker from subscribing to or engaging with your publication, and ALSO prevents them from engaging with any publication that you contribute to. Like Fictionistas, for example.

    • Reserve blocks (and reporting) for serious troublemakers and trolls.

Guys, I think we’re being followed …

The second half of the hour, we delved into Substack’s new “followers” campaign which took us deeper into Notes territory which led to some legitimate concerns about privacy. Read on to get fired up!

What we think about followers so far:

  • Some of us are getting followers that seem out of step with our publication audience and/or have bot-like qualities.

  • Followers are NOT subscribers!

    • This is creating some confusion for people.

    • It’s out of line with Substack’s claim that we as writers “own” our audience.

    • The addition of followers on Notes is essentially creating two audiences for writers. One they can take with them if they choose to leave Substack. And one they can’t. 🤔

  • The “follow” option is a middle ground for readers. They can see what you’re up to, in a sense, but they don’t have to commit to subscribing to your publication.

    • Is this what we want as writers on the platform?

    • Would we prefer the original model of building an audience that will follow us anywhere? 

Is Notes turning into Twitter? And do we WANT that?

Many of us have noticed changes in our Notes feeds since the introduction of followers.

  • “Likes” are driving the feed.

  • Substack’s bestsellers are in the forefront.

  • Posts loop frequently, making it harder to reach fresh content.

  • Some are concerned about moderation, privacy, and algorithm challenges as Notes becomes more of a Twitter clone.

  • Notes started out as a space for writers and their subscribers. It’s widening to include a much larger pool of users, which will have pros and cons.

  • Is a Twitter clone something Substack, as a platform, even needs?

On the flip side!

  • Notes is still working for many people!

  • Substack seems to be making adjustment as complaints roll in over changes.

  • Fingers crossed they continue to work out the kinks and stay ahead of issues.

Your subscriber list is showing. Did you know?

Most of us didn’t either!!!

Thanks to

for bringing this little privacy snafu to our attention. Turns out, a complete list of your subscribers can be seen by anyone viewing your profile on Substack. To see what he means, click on any Substack writer’s profile. Click on the banner noting the number of subscribers they have, and you will get a complete list of profiles that are subscribed to that Substack!

We discussed at length the breach of privacy here for individuals who subscribe to publications thinking their decision to do so is confidential. Because why wouldn’t you? Or maybe, for any number of reasons, you don’t want the world to know that you subscribe to a certain publication. Well, they do! Unless you take the necessary steps to keep your profile from appearing on those lists. 

Here are the steps:

  1. Go to your profile’s edit page.

  2. Scroll down to the ‘Reads’ section.

  3. Uncheck the lists you don’t want to appear in as a subscriber.

You’ll remain subscribed, but your name will now be hidden in the list of subscribers for the Substacks you unchecked.

We also considered the possibility that this kind of transparency leaves us open to spam and targeted marketing. A concern we agreed is worth bringing up at Substack’s next Office Hours. If this issue concerns you, we hope you’ll join us there so we can make more noise about it.

Clearly, the hot button topic for our meetups continues to be Notes and how the social media aspects of Substack are changing the publishing landscape for its writers. Add to that our budding concerns about privacy, and there’s plenty of room for further discussion.

If any questions or thoughts arise from this post, please drop them in the comments. Or consider bringing them up in tomorrow’s Fictionista’s Office Hours thread!

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Thanks for reading this whirlwind recap of what was a very fun and engaging time last week. If you watch the video and want to attach faces to publications, here’s a list of the visible attendees and their Substacks.

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Virtual Meetups
Save-the-dates and recording/recap posts for our ongoing virtual meetups.
Meg Oolders