A Field Guide for Creative Writers on Substack
The art of the literary newsletter
You can’t just start a Substack. I mean, you can—and I think every novelist, memoirist, short story writer, and essayist should—but it’s more likely to succeed if you approach the literary newsletter as a genre and Substack as a very specific type of platform.
Substack is a tiny miracle—or a major one. It offers writers a subscription model pay structure that gives us agency in a way that hasn’t existed in my lifetime. (Note: I do not work for Substack and receive no compensation for saying this—though I wish I did.)
Some (if not many) creative writers mistakenly think Okay, I’ll start a Substack, post my ______ (fill in the blank: serial novel or memoir, musings, essays, short stories), get a bunch of paid subscribers, and make money. Unless you already have a huge following, that may not work. Plus, “getting subscribers” isn’t the only—or even the best—way Substack can serve creative writers.
Creative writers are presented with different challenges than journalists and mainstream (not in a bad way) nonfiction writers face. For starters, the public isn’t used to 1) fiction and literary nonfiction arriving as email in their inboxes and 2) paying for it, especially when it’s by a non-celebrity author.
You can get around this by creating a literary newsletter, which is a genre all its own. We might call it LitStack (thank you,for coining that! brilliant!) or Bookstack or just an amazing opportunity.
For your literary newsletter to succeed, it really (really) helps to be clear about a few things:
your artistic and career goals and how your Substack can help you achieve them (there’s more to life than just subscribers),
the topic and focus of your Substack (it can’t just be short stories or a serialized novel or “musings” or even “writing prompts”), and
your readers and how to connect with and/or provide a service for them (the best Substacks offer something tangible-ish, which is why people pay for them).
In the meantime, I bring you the first small step to creating your Substack.
Your perfect Substack (the first small step)
Here’s the truth: unless you define what you want, you’ll always feel like a failure. If you compulsively check your subscriber graph and numbers and likes and restacks without knowing what “success” is for you, defeat and discouragement will be your constant companion. Having a specific goal beyond “subscribers” will save you from 1) feeling frustrated, 2) doubting your work, and 3) quitting when Substack is very much a long game.
Creative writers can use Substack as a means to many ends. I encourage you to move beyond the obvious and understand that there are at least five ways to use Substack to further your monetary and artistic goals:
Build a Substack empire with thousands of paid subscribers that serves as your primary income source (the obvious choice)
Generate a large email list—free or paid subscribers—to sell past and future books (traditionally or independently published)
Have a side gig that gives you extra money
Serialize a novel or memoir to get the attention of an agent or (if your book is already with your agent) editors
Sandbox a potentially award-winning or bestselling work of fiction or nonfiction
(Yes, yes, all of these options fall prey to the traditional trappings of capitalist and egoistic success, but let’s just assume that artistic freedom, serving others, and excelling at your craft come first. Then what?)
Really. Go pick one. You can change it later. (But don’t.) Your first quick response is usually the most honest.
The one you choose will determine
what you publish (don’t assume it should be only fiction or essays),
the frequency you publish, and
how you work.
Each goal demands
a different approach,
amount of publicity,
time commitment, and
mental and emotional outlook.
✨ Invest in yourself and your Substack! Commit to one year with my guidance and get the discounted annual subscription. You, your writing, and your career are worth it.
Book a meeting with Sarah Fay
People spend years flailing around on Substack, feeling frustrated or overwhelmed, not understanding the platform, following bad advice, and not seeing real growth.
⇢ The way to succeed is through personalized guidance based on the advice Substack gave me—helping you see how your gifts, talents, and expertise will work best on the platform.
These meetings are the quickest, most effective way to attract subscribers, generate income, and create an email list of loyal subscribers.
📈 What you can expect
My clients have
doubled and tripled their subscribers,
substantially increased their revenue,
built a community of readers,
seen real engagement, and
been chosen as Featured Substacks—the pinnacle of quality on the platform.
My mission is to help everyone use this amazing platform to create the opportunities and careers they want.
You can’t find this level of mentoring, attention, and expertise anywhere else.