Substack for beginners: The what, why, and how

What is a substack newsletter and how to start your own substack publication

The social media landscape is evolving at a blistering pace — algorithms are constantly changing, new features are rolled out at a fast clip, you’re constantly bombarded with advertisements, promoted posts, and toxic rhetoric on apps like Twitter. As if that wasn’t enough, you now have to figure out NFTs and the metaverse, and this new thing called Substack that everyone seems to suddenly be talking about.

Take a deep breath, and let me tell you all about what Substack is and how you can use the platform.

What is Substack?

At its core, Substack is a newsletter provider that makes it very easy for writers to get paid for their writing. But there is so much more to it than that!

What is Substack?

Since its launch in 2017, Substack has unveiled multiple features to make the writing and publishing process much easier and more seamless. And unlike other social media companies that roll out features regardless of backlash {I’m looking at you, Instagram Reels}, Substack is building out the platform based on direct feedback from writers.

Over the years, Substack has added a ton of new features to its core newsletter platform, including the ability to host podcasts and share videos. The team at Substack has worked on SEO under the hood to improve how posts are indexed on Google. They’ve added some additional ways to allow writers to personalize their Substack websites and segment their audience. And they recently launched Substack Notes, which is a Twitter-like feature but completely unlike Twitter. For one, there are no character limits. For another, there is no toxicity — people are generally polite and helpful.

So now that you know what Substack is, let’s look at how it works.

How does Substack work?

The main focus of Substack is to help writers to regain their creative, editorial, and financial freedom, so they are not beholden to the whims of the editorial desk or to the algorithms that power social media and even SEO.

Substack makes SEO super simple

Substack makes it super simple for writers to do what they do best — write — and to seamlessly share that writing directly with their subscribers. It also gives writers total control over their writing and subscribers, which means you can export your subscriber list and your writing and take it with you wherever you go.

In addition, Substack makes it very easy for writers to turn on paid subscriptions if they want to, and to manage what they would like to make available to everyone for free, and what content to put behind a paywall.

In recent years, Substack has also added the ability for writers to publish podcasts and share videos with their subscribers, which makes it quite an all-rounded platform for writers and creatives of all stripes.

If all of this sounds really interesting and you’re wondering if you can start writing on Substack too, the answer is a resounding yes!

Who can use Substack?

The short answer: any creator from any field with an audience of any size — or even no audience — can use Substack.

Substack may have started as a platform for journalists and writers, but it quickly attracted creators of all stripes. There are some heavy-weights on the platform, including journalists Matt Taibbi, Bari Weiss, and Rana Ayyub; and prominent authors like Margaret Atwood, George Saunders, and Salman Rushdie. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll find a variety of very interesting voices and completely {or relatively} unknown names thriving here too.


Here are a few examples:

  • Fog Chaser sends out a new original instrumental song every month, along with photographs, poetry, and more.
  • Lisa Olivera sends out a weekly newsletter that “explores what it’s like to be a person.”
  • Helen Redfern’s Substack explores confidence, age and creativity in an online world.
  • The Poetry Journals is published by a writer and mother exploring poetry as a way of life.

As you can see, Substack is home to a wide variety of writing and interests. And there’s no reason why you cannot write there too! Ready to start your own Substack publication?

How to start writing on Substack?

It takes just a few simple steps to start writing on Substack.

  1. Create an account: Go to Substack, click on Start Writing, enter your email address and create your account.
  2. Set up your profile: This is where you can add a photograph, put in your name and write a few words about yourself.
  3. Create your publication: This is where you choose a name for your Substack newsletter {don’t worry, you can change it at any time} and URL {which you ideally will not change}, and write a one-line description to tell prospective readers what your newsletter is about.
  4. Import your mailing list: If you’re importing your newsletter subscribers from traditional newsletter providers like MailChimp, Convertkit or FloDesk, or from a platform like Patreon, you can easily import your mailing list to your new Substack publication. If you don’t have a mailing list, you can skip this step.
  5. Add subscribers manually: You can add the emails of your family or friends on this screen, so they will hear from you when you’re ready to publish your first post.
  6. Follow some Substack accounts: Select your areas of interest on the next screen that pops up, and Substack will recommend some newsletters in those areas that you can start to follow. You can skip this step, if you wish.
  7. Create a post: You’ll find a default Coming Soon post already created for you. You can simply click on the three dots and change the text, so people who find your publication know what they can expect from you.

And you’re all set-up! You can head over to your dashboard to write your very first newsletter.

Simple, right?


Some frequently asked questions on Substack

Do Substack writers make money?

Simple answer: Yes! Once you turn on paid subscriptions, you can ask your newsletter readers to upgrade. Substack takes a 10% cut from your earnings, giving you the bulk of the money.

But there is space for a more nuanced discussion around making money on Substack, and I have a lot of thoughts around this! You can expect a post in the coming weeks, and of course, I will link it here too.

Is it free to use Substack?

It certainly is! Writing on Substack is completely free. There are no limits on the number of subscribers you can have or how many newsletters you publish each month. You can also create multiple publications! Once you turn on paid, Substack takes a 10% cut.

As a reader, you can read Substack posts for free. You choose which publications to subscribe to, and you don’t have to upgrade to a paid subscription if you don’t want to. Most writers with paid subscriptions have regularly scheduled free posts too. When you choose to upgrade your subscription, you will be charged monthly or annually, depending on what you choose.

Most publications start at $5 a month.

Is Substack good for beginners?

The short answer is a resounding yes! I’ve been using Substack since 2020, and it’s super simple to use. The writing interface is clean and simple, and you don’t have to worry about anything except writing and publishing your posts. Things like optimizing images, SEO, hosting, keeping track of payments — all of that is handled by Substack, so you can simply focus on writing and publishing.


Is Substack better than blogging?

I think this one is up for debate. I’m not quitting my blog, BUT I do have 3 Substack publications! You could argue that a lot of those newsletters could very easily live on my blog, and you may be right. But I chose to host them on Substack for very specific reasons, which is probably better discussed in a separate post!

Personally, though, I like Substack because it makes it easy to write; I don’t have to worry about SEO; and the stats aren’t very prominent, so I don’t go into a spiral of measuring my worth against random metrics.

Having said that, I am still working my around figuring out what kind of content will stay here, on my blog, and what I will move over to Substack, especially since I have started a new artists’ community there.

You will have to decide for yourself depending on your own goals with a blog — or if you do not have a blog! — which platform is best for you.

Check out my Substack publications!

Take a look at my Substack publications, and subscribe to the ones that match your interest!

A simple newsletter-style Substack publication that I use to send out new and full moon tarot spreads

A Substack newsletter for book lovers along with the occasional discussion thread.

A robust Substack publication, newsletter + community space for artists & creatives.

I hope that you found this post informative. If you have any questions about Substack, let me know in the comments!

Posted in Substack.

I’m an artist and art educator, podcaster, tarot reader, and writer. I share my discoveries along the path to inspire you to live a more creative, soul-centered life. Receive my love letters for more of my musings on life and creativity. P.S. I love Instagram - join me there?

Leave a Reply