33 Comments

Thank you for this informative read, Brian. It’s given me a lot to think about in terms of enhancing my own Substack. Creating a publishing schedule and figuring out whether to go paid or not have been two of my biggest quandaries. It feels like I’ve gotten the schedule down at this point, but I’m still pondering whether to go paid or not. I am leaning toward the fourth option that you’ve mentioned here.

Thanks again for your insight, Brian! I’m happy our paths have crossed.

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Thanks Justin! I feel the same way about the paid models. If I ever went paid I would start with charitable giving. In the future we can always add extras as well. That way existing free subscribers are still getting what they have been while new subscribers are enticed with a little more. I'm happy our paths have crossed as well -- I'm looking forward to seeing your Substack grow!

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Yes, exactly! It makes most sense for me, too - if I decide to go down that road. Thanks so much, and likewise! I always look forward to reading your work.

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So so helpful! Thanks for sharing. Email archived, post saved. I know I'll be coming back to this.

I think I'll struggle with length. I'll have to experiment. My episodes are sitting around 5,000 words each....

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I am planning on trying something a little different with the paid model. I like the idea of giving some content free with all access to paid subscribers. I'm starting with a serial anthology where I use a frame story to connect the short story collection. So free subscribers will be the short stories alone while paid subscribers will be able to learn how they all tie together. No idea if it'll work, but I'll excited to try!

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That's a great idea! Thanks for sharing 👍

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Oh, so how did that work? I have a similar story that I'm starting to form now.

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Yeah, the story length is always a hard one to figure out, but if you set expectations with new subscribers early on they may not care. I'm pretty sure I have one or two early stories around 4000 words, but I now set a cap for myself at 2500. Part of that is because if I submit it for publication elsewhere first that tends to be a desirable length. If it's declined I then publish to my Substack.

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Great tip. Thanks!

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If you don't load your email with pictures, 5000 is perfectly fine. The only time I hit the limit was when I reached 7500 words and that was with two images. To be safe, I now aim not to go over 7k.

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Great to know, thank you!

I like to sit down and read short stories all the way through, usually. I can see a 7500 limit with that in mind

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Jun 28, 2022Liked by Jackie Dana

This is a great resource for fiction newsletter writers. Well done!

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Thanks Geoffrey! I hope a lot of fellow Fictionistas find value in it.

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Jun 28, 2022Liked by Jackie Dana

Thanks, Brian! Great tips. I'm seriously considering a move from Patreon to Substack. This will definitely help me structure my offerings.

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You're welcome! I've found that unless you're really invested in offering a multi-tier structure that Substack can do what you want. Even with Patreon the extras are typically via other services so it's more the convenience of having different payment processing structures. Video is often on YouTube via a private link, or community tier offerings are handled through Discord. You can price very specific add-ons through Patreon, but at that point I would personally use a shop setup like Big Cartel. It depends on what you think the majority of your supporters would find convenient and that wouldn't be to much of a burden to run.

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I shifted over from Patreon to Substack and it’s immediately shown the benefits. I find the lingering problem with Patreon remains this idea that the platform is more about the person behind the work than the work itself. As far as fiction writing goes, Substack has been a welcome breath of fresh air insofar as I haven’t had to commodify -- or really even motion--my own personality as part of the allure

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Good piece, Brian. I'm always amazed how many folks don't bother to change the About page. Was the first thing I did before I launched. Glad you talked about this because I believe it's one of the more important tools you have at your disposal as a Substack author.

Another trick I use (though I'll admit I stole it from a non-fiction writer lol) is that I made a somewhat similar post to the About page that I pinned to my main section, but which is more about the content than about me. So it presents what I do and provides links to some of my more popular and personal favorite stories. This can be very useful when you start having a lot of content, as new readers could get overwhelmed by the amount of material. This way you can "guide them." And you can extend this guiding by adding links (not too many, I usually go for 2 or 3) at the end of each story, recommending other stories that are similar to the one the person just read. I've been testing this for a while, and it works.

Also, regarding story length, I've been able to send stories up to 7000 words without hitting gmail's limit. This was with a header image and, IIRC, one BookFunnel banner. Keep in mind that images will have a more significant impact on your email's size, so the less images you have and the more text you can send. Consequently, the more images you have and the shorter your text will need to be. As always, experiment and send yourself test emails, as suggested in the above article.

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That's some great feedback, Alex! I love the idea about pinning that page to your main section. It's almost like taking a Best Of and making it something unique. Adding your favorites, but then favorites from readers, or something like that. You could even link off to other published works with online publishers if you have them. For the story length the images definitely make a difference and that's a great point. One thing I realize is with audiences it can depend on if they are voracious readers or not. I could get through 7000 words in a week, but if I got behind in my reading for any reason the idea of knowing there were 20k words ahead of me I might just skip the most recent email and come back later. Of course that's primarily for short stories. For a serialized novel your readers may enjoy having more at a time. Thanks again for the feedback!

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Aside from watching for that 7k limit because of gmail, I really don't worry about length and let the story take whatever space it needs to be told. In the end, I don't notice a big difference in engagement. Heck, if anything, some of my longest pieces have turned out to be my more popular ones. I feel like if a story is compelling enough and hooks the reader in, he'll keep going regardless of length. So I just don't worry about it ;)

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Great post Brian , concise and informative 🙏🏼as someone who wrote for two years with Patreon and fiddled with length, I really think that fiction writers should be aware of what 1000+ words looks like to anyone reading an email, even (or maybe especially) fiction fans. Nobody likes to have a crowded inbox, and the same applies to length of email (long emails usually engender some baseline form of anxiety and flagging for reading later). That’s just my two cents, but short pieces or chapters have proven most successful for me so far.

Re paywalls, I tend to paywall halfway through a 800-1000 word chapter in the novellas I’m serializing, which gives people a chance to see behind the curtain of the paywall without feeling totally blocked out. If we fiction writers aren’t willing to be advocates for writing as something more than a hobby, the gods know nobody else will be. It doesn’t mean we should paywall everything, but I do believe even a single paid subscriber changes the way serious writers can (and should) think about their work

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Thanks Samuel! Also, thanks for the feedback on Patreon. It's important to see other writers find success on Substack that have tried out other avenues and can offer feedback. Regarding being paid I agree that being paid changes how we view ourselves and our writing. It almost forces us to raise our standards and our own personal expectations. That's why one of my goals this year is to be paid to publish a piece of fiction via an established outlet. It doesn't make me any more or less of a writer, but it does provide a confidence boost and pushes me to rise to the challenge.

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Brian, good actionable tips. Thanks.

Driving traffic from other sites to get noticed helps but is hard to do because you're not really solving a problem as product marketers do. Plus fiction writers are not marketers (in general).

Still, most writers just want to write and don't want or feel the need to market. It's the artistic mentality. In the online world, if no one knows you exist, you don't exist in their minds.

Right or wrong, good or bad, it's the truth.

Thanks, Brian.

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Thanks David! This is one reason why I'm attempting publication on multiple outlets in order to drive traffic back to my Substack. Like you mentioned, we're not really solving a problem and it's really about entertainment value. If they like one of my stories elsewhere, then there is a chance they'll like the hundreds of stories I'm writing on Substack :)

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Thanks for sharing this info! Definitely some food for thought as I continue to move forward with my own writing and how I want to shape the future of what I am building.

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Thanks Ryan! Good luck on your comic adventures. I think the way you're approaching it is smart. Before I was writing I was doing a lot of art and I let the hobby fund itself. In the end when I stopped I pretty much broke even and met lots of great people in the process 👍

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That's phenomenal. That's the best way to have an expensive hobby lol. Thanks for the reply!

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There are excellent and handy ideas here.

I can't tell you how many times I've written, deleted, and rewritten the "About" section of my Substack profile. Not to mention how many hours I've spent trying to find the perfect photo for a story.

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Thanks Bill! I feel your pain on the photos. I spent an hour trying to find the right photo for my next short story 😃

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Super tips! bookmarked it! Thank you, Brian. Going off now to read Future Thief, too!

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Thanks for the article, Brian. I was indeed wondering about length. A lot my stories are under 2500 words, but I do have some longer ones too. I just started on Substack and am posting only shorter works for now. I may get to a point where longer ones get included as well. We'll see.

As for paid, I'd likely do the #4 route, but that's a ways off. I figure I need 6 months of once a week to get an idea of how it's going.

Thanks again and all the best.

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Glad you enjoyed it, Victor. I send once a week, consistently, with my Dear Reader segments every other Sunday, and I find that I get a good readership open rate with that frequency and story size. I think if I sent only one story every two weeks, I could probably get away with longer, but it really depends on the audience. Getting a sense of what your readers prefer does take some time. I wish you the best of luck!

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Thanks so much for generously providing this information, Brian. I'm an absolute beginner on Substack and really appreciate any and all advice.

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I'm spending so much time trying to figure this out. From social media to my experience on Medium and Wattpad -- what to post? how often to post? length? engagement? So many questions. Great post here that can maybe help me work through those question -- how does having a newsletter differ from writing a blog? How does frequency of posting in a newsletter differ from posting on social media? I think I'm beginning to realize there are differences there, and it's not all just the same. Strategy is something I've been trying to work on for a while now, but I just keep writing instead because I have a million writing projects. Appreciate the thoughtful and detailed post -- you've given me some things to consider, and more importantly, maybe a little perspective.

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