Using Substack

What is Substack and Should You Use it as a Writer?

Last Updated on by Michael Brockbank

The Internet is full of places where a writer can grow an audience while generating a bit of income. Today, we’ll look at Substack and determine whether it’s right for you as a creator. Though, I often always side with personal branding of any kind.

If you can find an outlet where you can reach a wider audience as a creator, it works to your advantage. It’s all about getting your name out there as a writer, blogger, or author.

Not to mention that a lot of people enjoy newsletters in their inbox.

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What is Substack and How Can it Help You?

Substack is a newsletter writing platform that you can use to grow subscriptions and build an audience. Using your email list, you can choose to keep the content free or monetize different elements depending on your specific needs.

For example, you can offer free advice for your industry or niche. Then, you can offer paid subscriptions for more in-depth content to further engage your audience.

Some authors will go so far as to write short or serial stories on Substack for a low monthly fee.

You are given a customizable website to show your content, so you don’t have to purely rely on email subscriptions. However, the layout is considerably basic when compared to platforms like WordPress.

Although readers can go directly to your Substack, the primary method of delivery is email. So, it’s better to think of the platform as more of a newsletter than a standalone content management system like Medium or Vocal.

As such, Substack can easily replace various plugins and email delivery systems such as MailChimp, SendFox, or ConverKit.

This is quite helpful for those of you with blogs who don’t want to add extra plugins. It can quickly eat up resources.

At the end of the day, Substack is a newsletter platform that helps you get content out to your target audience while creating a method of monetization.

What Can You Expect from Substack?

Although Substack is essentially a newsletter platform, it does have the potential to help you expand your audience. While I think it would be better served as an extension of something you’ve already created, it is possible to generate interest just from the emails alone.

With that being said, let’s take a look at some of the things that stood out to me the most in Substack.

Basic Web Presence

Customizable Substack Home Page

After creating your Substack account, you can begin customizing a basic “web page” that you can use to promote your content. You can change the colors, accents, fonts, and even add links to your other online platforms.

In my case, I created a link back to WriterSanctuary.

All of this will run off of a branded subdomain that you chose during setup. For instance, my Substack is

Your basic web page will have all of the primary elements of a blog, such as editing the About or creating a new page. You can also add tags, links, or sections.

Each section can have a unique newsletter for different topics that people can subscribe to separately. So, if you cover a wide range of niches, you can break them down from your primary Substack.

SEO Potential from Substack

According to Substack, it is possible to optimize your content for search engine optimization. That would imply that your posts are searchable through sites like Google.

However, I have yet to come across a post that was from Substack itself. But that could simply be the result of what I have searched in the past.

To see if SEO is really an option for Substack, I’ll have to crank out something that I know would rank well. And yes, that means there is a new experiment on the horizon.

Of course, this would probably only affect content that isn’t behind a paywalled subscription.

In any case, you can edit your SEO title, description, and image elements from Substack to improve results.

Stats and Reports

Stats and Reporting

Substack provides its own stats and reporting system for your newsletter subscriptions and basic website. You have access to things like traffic (obviously), emails, pledges, and network – which shows what percentage of subscribers came within the Substack platform.

One aspect I’d like to point out is how the system will also show the top sources of where your traffic is originating. This can be helpful as it will demonstrate where you might want to double down in terms of marketing.

So, you can determine if people are subscribing more often from your blog or from social media sharing such as Facebook or Instagram.

For beginners, the stats and reports provided may be all that you’ll need to help cultivate a strong audience.

Google Analytics 4 Integration

Although the data collected by Substack could be useful, it’s hard to ignore the sheer power of Google Analytics. And yes, you can connect GA4 to your Substack site quite easily.

All you’ll need is to create the new element in GA4 and then paste the tracking code within your Substack.

Google Analytics can provide a slew of information far beyond what Substack is capable of providing. That’s probably why the integration is available and easy to create.

With GA4, you can view deeper analytical data for the content as well as the Substack itself. This can open all kinds of doors to creating a content strategy perfect for your audience.

Audio and Video Embedding

Adding Audio and Video

If you’re interested in sharing podcasts or videos, Substack gives you the ability to easily add them to your posts. Just click on the icon and you can choose to upload or record directly from your computer.

You can also create a completely new section for your podcasts aside from your regular Substack. This means you can provide a free newsletter while monetizing the podcast with paid subscriptions.

Or, you can flip it by providing a paid newsletter with a free podcast. In this case, you can use the same podcast file you use for Spotify to expand your audience reach.

Regardless of your needs, you have access to text, audio, and video styles of content. Not to mention that Substack allows you to record directly to the system from your device.

This is somewhat convenient for those who don’t have the software for creating audio or video files. However, in my experience, online recording platforms like this tend to be a bit glitchy.

Uses Stripe for Paid Subscriptions

Substack uses Stripe to process subscription payments. And while Stripe does have some interesting features, this is a bit of a drawback for me. Mostly because everything I do online is through PayPal.

I’ve had a PayPal business debit card for a VERY long time.

On the upside, connecting Stripe isn’t all that difficult, and you can set up what days the money is put into your bank account. Overall, it’s not a terrible platform. The fees are comparable to many others and Stripe has a lot of interesting management features.

Yet, if you process a recurring payment from a monthly subscription, Stripe does tack on an extra 0.5% fee.

Social Media for Writers Through Notes?

From what I can tell, the Notes section of Substack is more reminiscent of something you’d see on Twitter or Threads. It’s a social feed for other creators or readers to interact with one another.

Apparently, it works relatively well from mobile devices without throwing in ads every four posts.

You can easily switch from Home and Subscribed feeds depending on what content you want to read from others. The only drawback is that the desktop version only shows posts from the previous 30 days.

That means you’re unable to scroll too far back to find comments from others.

However, if you click on the creator’s name, you can scroll through their entire feed of posts or Notes.

To be perfectly honest, I’m not 100% sure what Notes are primarily used for. It looks as though most creators simply use them to promote their posts.

Live Chats with Subscribers?

One feature that I am excited to try out is being able to host live chat sessions with subscribers. Although I tend to do this more with the YouTube live streams on Mondays, it is a nice feature for a more focused audience.

Luckily, Substack introduced Chat from desktop platforms in March of 2023. Before, it was purely for mobile devices. Considering how a lot of writers prefer not to use mobile technology for creating content, this was a nice bonus.

I know that I would never write from a phone or tablet.

In this regard, live chat puts Substack above a lot of different platforms on the Internet.

Subscriber Referral Program

Substack Subscriber Referrals

Never underestimate the value of word-of-mouth advertising. In this case, Substack allows creators to reward referrals in a variety of ways.

Currently, you can add up to three tiers of rewards all with varying requirements and rewards. For instance, you can give away a free eBook to anyone that helps generate 5 subscribers.

This is perhaps one of my favorite marketing elements of Substack. Especially if you provide exceptional quality to your audience. Then, they would be more than willing to share your account with others.

The reason why referrals work so well is because it gives you a chance to reach an audience who may not know you even exist. Of course, that’s true with just about any kind of advertising.

But referral rewards usually have a much greater return on investment than most other marketing methods. If you offer a paid subscription, that one person reaching the referral tier could generate four to five times more than what you would have made selling the eBook.

That’s merely an example as your reward programs will surely be tailored for your target audience.

Substack’s Cut and Stripe Fees

Although Substack is free to create your account and start sharing, you are subject to a 10% fee from paid subscriptions. This is in addition to the fees charged by Stripe.

So, if you have an $8 tier for subscriptions, you’ll actually make about $6.51 after all of the fees.

When compared to other platforms like Buy Me a Coffee, which only charges 5%, it’s a bit more expensive. That additional 5% adds up after a while.

You’ll have to compare features and functionality if you’re worried about losing too much in fees when other platforms exist that are cheaper.

Pledges Before Subscriptions

Not everyone wants to start immediately charging a subscription fee. This is when you can activate “Pledges” to appear on your posts.

Pledges are essentially promises from your subscribers that they would agree to pay a subscription fee should you decide to enable one on Substack.

This can give you an idea of how many people would be willing to pay for that subscription. They won’t be charged until you decide to activate the feature.

This is also when separate Substacks are useful. You can set up one for free newsletters and create another for the more in-depth content I mentioned earlier.

Embedding Substack Signup Forms

Substack gives you plenty of ways to promote your newsletter and page. This includes using an embedded form to collect subscriptions from other platforms.

For example, you can copy and paste the embed code directly from Substack and easily paste it into a WordPress website.

Here is what the embed looks like in real-time. Keep in mind that I customized how it appears from Substack, such as the teal background.

It is possible to use the embedded snippet as a sidebar widget. If you look at this website, you can see that I added it to the right sidebar by using an HTML widget and pasting the code into WordPress.

It’s just an easy addition that could result in people subscribing to your Substack from virtually any website where you can add HTML.


  • Completely free to use.
  • Able to create various sections for different types of paid content.
  • Live chatting with supporters.
  • Easy to share and market the newsletter.
  • Lots of customization options for engagement.


  • Fees can add up for payment processing.
  • Navigation is a bit wonky.
  • Creates a lot of new tabs when exploring.

Marketing Your Substack Page

One of the benefits of using Substack is that it’s easy to market. That is as long as you put in the effort to do so.

A few ways you can get your newsletter out to the masses include:

  • Embedding your newsletter into your blog.
    As I did above, embedding the link and pic is actually quite easy, especially in WordPress.
  • Share your Substack regularly on social media.
    A lot of writers and developers will add their Substack page to their social profiles or share it as a post.
  • Using website popups for visitors.
    If you have an active blog, adding popups with a link to your newsletter can grow your email list.
  • Adding the link to email signatures.
    If you send a lot of email messages, you could add the link to the bottom of your default message signature.
  • Set it as a default link in YouTube video descriptions.
    If you have a YouTube channel, you can set default descriptions. You might as well add the link to your Substack.

Essentially, anywhere you can add the link from Substack is going to benefit growth. Well, as long as you’re not being spammy. You don’t want to slap it up anywhere on the Internet.

The best course of action is to add the link to sites and comment sections that are relevant to your newsletter’s niche and audience.

If your newsletter is about writing books, you wouldn’t want to promote it on a blog that covers keto recipes unless that’s what your book is about.

Would I Recommend Using Substack?

I am a bit on the fence about using Substack. It’s an interesting platform for creating newsletters and email marketing. However, I do something similar already through the use of Buy Me a Coffee.

Technically, Substack and membership platforms are quite a bit different in terms of functionality. But I still email all of my subscribers and members on a regular basis.

If you don’t have a membership platform such as BMC, Ko-fi, or Patreon, then Substack would probably make a great addition. As it doesn’t cost you anything to create an account or send emails, it’s still a very cost-effective method for marketing.

That is until you set up subscription fees for special content. In that case, there are cheaper alternatives to using Substack. As I mentioned earlier, you can do something similar with Buy Me a Coffee while paying half of the fees.

Nonetheless, I know of a lot of authors and writers who have had a great deal of success using Substack. In fact, a lot of A-list celebrities use Substack to keep their audience engaged.

Personally, I’m going to give it a try for a bit and see if it’s something I can incorporate. Though, the content I post on Substack will probably be much different than what I do for Buy Me a Coffee.

After all, I don’t want people to subscribe to both and get the same content.

What Is Your Favorite Writing Platform?

The Internet is full of platforms for writing just about any type of content you can think of. The best part is that you can monetize just about any kind of writing with the right platform.

I’m actually looking forward to seeing what I can do with Substack. The hardest part is differentiating it from everything else I provide.

What platforms do you use to write and do you make money from them?

Michael Brockbank
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