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Featured Substack: Diamond-Michael Scott's 'Black Books, Black Minds'
Featured Substack: Diamond-Michael Scott's 'Black Books, Black Minds'
There’s so much wisdom in this interview with the amazing. Michael is an independent journalist, global book influencer, and founder of the “Great Books, Great Minds” brand of Substack publications. A voracious reader and book critic, Michael’s aim is to ignite a new world of community, connection, and conversation one book at a time.
That’s kind of putting it mildly. Michael is a force here—one of those people whose love of reading is contagious.
He has five Substacks, but I chose one: “Black Books, Black Minds.” I would have liked to dive into all of them, but my goal is to focus on one Substack at a time.1
That said, check out all of Michael’s Substacks:, , , and .
Interview highlights include how he’s used his Substack to build his intellectual capital and become known as an expert, how his Substack has grown, and his payment strategy.
What is your Substack about in one sentence each?
Esoteric Black History Perspectives.
What made you start a Substack?
HA! I have five now, all primarily centered around my love of non-fiction books. So it’s interesting that you asked that question.
My oldest Substack, which also has my largest base of subscribers, is “Great Books, Great Minds” which commenced in January 2020 shortly before the start of the pandemic. With an aim to ignite community, connection, and conversation, one book at a time, it is now growing by leaps and bounds.
Following that is “Black Books, Black Minds,” which I began writing and curating on the heels of the racial justice movement following George Floyd’s murder. I launched it in part due to so many of my vanilla brothas and sistas asking about books that would help them better understand the Black experience.
When did you start on Substack and why?
As I mentioned above, I started my first Substack in January of 2020 just before the pandemic. At the time of the lockdowns (…while living in Denver), I was assisting an author with his marketing and branding efforts. Shortly thereafter, I accepted a part-time senior editor role with a new blockchain and crypto publication, a move that provided me with a much-needed infusion of money amid my increasingly dire pandemic-driven financial situation. In June of 2022, with both of those projects having run their course, it was an opportunity for me to take an ambitious leap into Substack full-time.
In terms of why I started my Substack, I simply saw it as a way to build my own platform of intellectual capital without having to be beholden to the strictures of a traditional publication. The platform seemed to match well with one of my core values which is freedom. So I set it up and just hit the accelerator.
How long did it take for you to see real growth?
[Me laughing] Oddly, just in the past month or so. After months of questioning why my subscriber count was so low given the time, energy, and attention I’d exerted, new subscribers started coming in like a tidal wave. It was like a light switch suddenly came on. While I have a few conjectures on what fueled this, it’s still a bit of a mystery.
Over time I’ve seen some interesting trends. In the time I’ve been writing “Black Books, Black Minds (since 2021), I haven’t had a single unsubscribe. Maybe that’s telling me something.
Who do you write for? Who are your readers?
Honestly, 80 percent of what I write is for myself and 20 percent is for the readers. Reading books for me is like a constant trapeze act where I’m swinging from bar to bar (i.e. book to book) examining some existential curiosity about the human condition.
For me, Substack in many ways serves as a forum (akin to a Greek agora) where I can fuel conversation, community, and connection with fellow book lovers across the world.
To this point, I see books as the honey nectar currency of human connection. So my readers are those who not only love good books but want to digest them, discuss them, apply them, and debate them. It’s a collection of folks composed of book authors, academics, students, business professionals, retirees, and others from all stripes of life who love exploring non-fiction reads.
What does your Substack offer in terms of value?
In terms of delivering value, I view my Substack as an ignition switch for igniting community, connection, and conversation, one book at a time. Amid our ever-changing world, I believe we need to become lifelong critical thinkers and informed citizens. As I see it, there is no better way to achieve this than through active engagement with the books that we read.
My greatest joy is exposing my subscribers to books that may not otherwise be on their radar screen. I love it when people chime in the comment section to say that one of the articles I wrote influenced them to purchase a book that was featured. And several of my posts in both Notes and LinkedIn have led to meaningful connections being built between fellow book lovers.
Finally, let me also say this — Given my disdain for articles that give you only half of the enchilada before you have to pony up some money to gain full access, I use the NPR model of delivering lots of free content to drive paid member supporters. In other words, instead of using a paywall, I have what I call a member supporter option at $6/month or $60/year, which is growing in popularity.
How does your Substack take us to a place no other Substack does?
It’s the shock value I deliver. I want readers to see my newsletter in their inbox and think, What is he crazily writing about now? And what could be next? For me, my Substack is about the element of surprise, intrigue, and mystery.
What significant change or changes have you made (design, content strategy, etc.) in the past three months?
Because a few of my readers shared with me that they would like to hear more of my own stories and thought leadership related to a particular book, I have been focusing more on the latter form of content.
I’ve also made peace with the marketing aspect of my Substack by integrating it into my mission of fostering connection, community, and conversation around books. This strategy is tied to a common narrative I’m noticing, namely, that over 50% of my paid subscribers are folks whom I’ve had either a direct text, face-to-face, or voice-to-voice conversation with. That’s encouraging because building deep connections with humanity is what I believe I do better than anyone on the entire planet.
What advice would you give a writer who’s struggling on Substack?
Yes, it’s easy to become discouraged. But my mantra has always been that “things are not falling apart, they’re falling together.” With that, I believe it is important to recognize that success on Substack is typically a long game. So if you are struggling, I encourage you to experiment and just have fun with the platform. Most of all, try to avoid comparing yourself with others. Just focus your attention on delivering value in every encounter you have with your Substack community and watch the momentum begin to build.
About the Writers at Work feature
Once a month, Writers at Work features and interviews a Substack writer who’s doing impressive work on the platform and actively growing, refining, and improving their Substack. The goal is to inspire you, give you ideas for your own Substack, and offer you the opportunity to hear how other Substack writers have tackled the platform. Learn more about how writers are chosen for this feature:
Book a meeting
I love helping writers stop flailing around on Substack and not getting traction. The guidance I provide in these 30-minute Zoom meetings helps you get subscribers, produce your best work, and achieve your professional goals. It’s based entirely on the advice I received from Substack. Book here:
As Substack told me, when you have multiple Substacks, you compete against yourself, but Michael does multiple Substacks very well.