A million years ago (in 2019) Claire Landsbaum wrote a piece for Vanity Fair titled “We’re at Peak Newsletter, and I’m feeling great. ”
She explores how “everyone seems to have a lowercase letter or sub-stack”. Little did she know that a global pandemic would spark a new wave of newsletters as writers launched them to kill time in quarantine, or as a way to earn extra income, or even to replace the full-time jobs they have. lost or left.
Are there too many newsletters today? (Spoiler: No!)
Many more people have started newsletters since this article was published. Some might say that there are too many newsletters these days. But we would never say there are too many books or too many articles. Likewise, I believe there is room for infinity newsletters for writers. Every writer has something a little different to offer, and there are billions of readers who might be drawn to what you can offer. And when writers reach readers, great things can happen. Newsletters are another way to do this.
I started my newsletter, One last question, in March 2020, just a few months after quitting my full-time publishing job and several weeks after we were all told to stay home, indefinitely. I started my newsletter to inspire and motivate other writers to keep writing. I also did it for me. And honestly, launching a newsletter at peak times has been one of the best decisions I’ve made this year.
6 reasons why you should start a newsletter
If you’re a writer who’s wondered if you too should get on the newsletter train – I’m here to say yes. You probably should.
1. It’s really easy to get started
I had a blog for many years that needed all kinds of maintenance. I was constantly tweaking the design of my WordPress site, trying to find plugins, editing photos and working on strategies to reach more readers and then hopefully reach out to sponsors who were interested in paying me to reach those readers.
So when a friend suggested I start a newsletter, I thought – oof, no thanks. Seems like a lot of work to me.
The point is, it really isn’t. I use Substack, which in recent years has become a essential platform for all those who wish to launch and possibly monetize a newsletterbecause they simplify setting up different levels of paid and unpaid subscriptions.
I didn’t have to design a site. I had nothing pretty to do. I just started to write.
Now, of course, there are still significant barriers to creating an audience large enough to get paid for this writing. There are some awesome success stories in Substack, like Emily Atkin’s Heated newsletter, which now earned him more money which she did while working as an editor at The New Republic. It’s much easier for writers who already have a loyal readership to launch a newsletter and bring those readers to a new platform. For the rest of us, it takes time and might never generate that much income.
But it’s so easy to get started and there are plenty of reasons worth starting one that have nothing to do with the money you might (or might not) make …
2. It forces you to write regularly
A lot of us have been having serious productivity issues lately. The news is fun, your kids are fun, the existential fear all year round is fun. And while we should all be very kind to ourselves during this time of conflicting crises and inevitable scrolling, we still have to work. I find that productivity breeds productivity, and forcing yourself to write can be a really useful way to keep writing more.
When I started my newsletter, only a handful of people opened it. But I told this handful of people that I would post something every Tuesday and I kept that promise. Even though that meant waking up at 5am on Tuesday to make it happen, I didn’t want to drop my subscribers. As my list grew and I saw that people actually wanted to read my words on a regular basis, my commitment to introduce myself each week and write something that I thought they all might like too.
My newsletter became that peaceful little garden in the online entertainment landscape where I could take my time and feed my words. I saw my work touch people and it reminded me that I had something special to share with readers. It feels good to do this every week.
3. Your newsletter is a hotbed for your voice
We’ve all had an editor who cut a line that we liked. Editors usually know what they’re doing and these cuts and changes are for good reason. But writers should all have a place where their message and voice are exactly what they wanted.
Your newsletter can be that place.
And of course, it can be a little less polished than an article you publish with an editor or the copy you deliver to a client. But through your newsletter, you don’t have to consider someone’s brand other than your own. This freedom to write in your own voice can make that voice louder. Your newsletter can be a safe place to explore and take risks for that voice.
4. You will gain credibility
Whether you are writing about writing, gardening, climate change, or comedy, your newsletter is an opportunity to establish your credibility by Something.
And you don’t need an editor or client to approve the topics you want to focus on. You can just write about what you like and share it with other people who care about that thing too.
When it comes time to write about this topic elsewhere, you’ll have a whole library of samples to share your expertise, passion, and unique angle on everything your newsletter covers. This can be useful in a job search, in promoting and in building your brand as a writer.
5. No one can take away your newsletter
We’ve all lost a lot lately. More than 11,000 editorial journalists have lost their jobs. Magazines closed and layoffs piled up. Freelance writers have lost clients and paychecks as everyone squeezed their budgets.
But if you build something yourself, it cannot be removed.
If you build something that people will pay for, it can turn into a steady stream of reliable income. Even if you don’t charge for your newsletter, it’s a place for your work that won’t get you anywhere. (Just make sure to save these posts as the posting platforms can fail us.)
6. You can monetize your newsletter, but you don’t have to
After about three months of writing for free, I started charging $ 5 / month for full access to my newsletter. At first, only a handful of subscribers upgraded. But I was honored that anyone would be willing to pay for my work, and that motivated me to keep going.
I continued to deliver more and more value and work hard to give my followers the kind of advice and support that I wished I had when I started writing professionally.