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Can You Succeed on Substack Without an Audience?

Can You Succeed on Substack Without an Audience?

Substack has emerged as a popular platform for writers to create and monetize their newsletters. However, one question that often arises is whether it is possible to succeed on Substack without already having an audience. The short answer is yes, it is possible, but it requires a strategic approach and consistent effort.

One of the benefits of starting a Substack newsletter is the ability to build an audience from scratch. While having an existing audience can certainly help, it is not a requirement for success on the platform. By creating valuable content, promoting it through social media and other channels, and engaging with readers, writers can attract new subscribers and grow their following over time. It may take longer to build an audience without an existing platform, but it is certainly possible.

To succeed on Substack without an existing audience, it is important to have a clear niche and target audience. This allows writers to create content that resonates with readers and differentiate themselves from other newsletters. Additionally, consistency is key. Regularly publishing high-quality content and engaging with readers helps build trust and loyalty, which can lead to increased subscribers and revenue. With the right approach and effort, writers can succeed on Substack even without an existing audience.

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Building an Audience

Starting from Scratch

For creators starting from scratch, building an audience on Substack can be a daunting task. However, there are a few strategies that can help. First, it’s important to craft a memorable identity by choosing a newsletter name that resonates with potential subscribers. The How to Choose Your Substack Newsletter Name guide offers tips and strategies for picking the perfect name.

Once you have a name, it’s important to consistently create high-quality content that aligns with your niche. This will help attract and retain subscribers. Additionally, creators can use social media and other online communities to promote their newsletter and engage with potential subscribers.

Leveraging Existing Networks

For creators who already have an existing network, leveraging that network can be a powerful way to build an audience on Substack. This can include reaching out to friends, family, and colleagues to encourage them to subscribe and share your newsletter with their own networks.

Another strategy is to offer group discounts to incentivize group subscriptions. The How to Add a Group Discount on Substack guide offers step-by-step instructions for setting up group discounts on Substack.

Finally, creators can use Substack special offers to reward loyal readers with custom discounts or offer new subscribers bonus incentives. The Substack Special Offers guide offers tips and strategies for using special offers to build and retain your audience.

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Success Stories

Successful Writers Without Initial Audience

Substack is a platform that allows writers to monetize their content by publishing newsletters. While it may seem daunting to start a newsletter without an initial audience, there are success stories of writers who have done just that. One such writer is Judd Legum, who started his newsletter Popular Information on Substack with no prior audience. Legum’s newsletter focuses on politics and has gained over 200,000 subscribers since its inception in 2018.

Another writer who found success on Substack without an initial audience is Casey Newton. Newton started his newsletter Platformer in 2020, which focuses on the intersection of technology and society. Despite starting from scratch, Newton’s newsletter has gained a significant following and has been praised for its in-depth analysis and reporting.

Successful Writers With Initial Audience

While it is possible to find success on Substack without an initial audience, having a pre-existing following can certainly help. One example of a successful writer who had an initial audience is David Perell. Perell is a writer and podcaster who has been building his audience for years through his blog and social media presence. When he started his newsletter on Substack, he already had a significant following, which helped him gain traction quickly.

Another writer who had a pre-existing following is Anne Helen Petersen. Petersen is a writer and academic who had a large following on Twitter before starting her newsletter Culture Study on Substack. Petersen’s newsletter focuses on pop culture and has been praised for its thoughtful analysis and unique perspective.

Overall, while having an initial audience can certainly help, it is not a requirement for success on Substack. With hard work, dedication, and quality content, writers can build an audience from scratch and find success on the platform.

Strategies for Success

Success on Substack is not guaranteed, but there are strategies that can increase your chances of building a successful newsletter and growing your audience. Here are a few key tactics to consider:

Content Creation

Creating high-quality content is the foundation of a successful Substack newsletter. To stand out from the crowd, focus on producing original, valuable, and engaging content that resonates with your target audience. Consider the following tips:

  • Find your niche: Identify a specific topic or area of expertise that you are passionate about and that aligns with your audience’s interests.
  • Provide value: Offer unique insights, perspectives, or information that your audience can’t find elsewhere.
  • Be authentic: Write in your own voice and share personal stories or experiences that connect with your readers.
  • Make it visually appealing: Use images, videos, and other multimedia to enhance your content and make it more engaging.

Audience Engagement

Engaging with your audience is crucial for building a loyal following and growing your subscriber base. Consider the following tips:

  • Encourage feedback: Ask your readers for feedback, suggestions, or questions, and respond to them in a timely and thoughtful manner.
  • Foster a sense of community: Create opportunities for your readers to connect with each other, such as through a private Facebook group or Discord server.
  • Offer exclusive content: Provide your subscribers with exclusive content, such as early access to articles, behind-the-scenes glimpses, or special offers.
  • Collaborate with others: Partner with other writers, influencers, or brands to expand your reach and offer your readers new perspectives.


Consistency is key for building trust and establishing a loyal audience. Consider the following tips:

  • Set a schedule: Decide on a regular publishing schedule that works for you and your audience, whether it’s daily, weekly, or monthly.
  • Stick to your schedule: Make a commitment to publish on a consistent basis, even if it means sacrificing other activities or hobbies.
  • Be reliable: Deliver on your promises and meet your readers’ expectations for quality and frequency of content.
  • Experiment and evolve: Continually experiment with new formats, topics, or styles to keep your newsletter fresh and engaging.


Building a successful Substack newsletter takes time and persistence. Consider the following tips:

  • Be patient: It may take months or even years to build a sizable audience, so don’t get discouraged if your growth is slow at first.
  • Learn from your mistakes: Analyze your metrics and feedback to identify areas for improvement and adjust your approach accordingly.
  • Keep learning: Continually educate yourself on best practices, industry trends, and new tools or features that can enhance your newsletter.
  • Stay motivated: Remember why you started your newsletter in the first place and stay committed to your goals and vision.

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Challenges and Solutions

Challenges in Building an Audience

Building an audience from scratch on Substack can be a daunting task. One of the biggest challenges is getting people to actually subscribe to your newsletter. Without an established audience, it can be difficult to get your content in front of the right people. Another challenge is standing out in a crowded market. There are many newsletters on Substack, and you need to find a way to differentiate yourself and provide value to your readers.

Overcoming Challenges

One solution to building an audience on Substack is to focus on search engine optimization (SEO). By optimizing your content for search engines, you can increase your visibility and attract new subscribers. This involves researching and using relevant keywords in your headlines and content, as well as optimizing your metadata and images. Another solution is to leverage social media to promote your newsletter. By sharing your content on platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn, you can reach a wider audience and drive traffic to your Substack page.

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The Role of Luck and Timing

Substack success stories often make it seem like anyone can make it big on the platform. However, luck and timing play a significant role in determining a writer’s success on Substack.

For example, a writer may start a newsletter on a topic that suddenly becomes popular, leading to a surge in subscribers and revenue. Conversely, a writer may start a newsletter on a topic that quickly loses relevance, leading to a decline in subscribers and revenue.

Luck also plays a role in getting noticed by Substack’s algorithm, which can feature newsletters on its homepage and recommend them to readers. The algorithm is not entirely transparent, and a writer may need some luck to get noticed and recommended by the algorithm.

Timing is also crucial. A writer who starts a newsletter on a topic that is already saturated may find it challenging to stand out and attract subscribers. On the other hand, a writer who starts a newsletter on a niche topic that is just starting to gain popularity may have a better chance of success.

In conclusion, while hard work and dedication are essential for success on Substack, luck and timing also play a significant role. Writers who understand this and are willing to adapt to changing trends and topics may have a better chance of succeeding on the platform.

The Future of Substack

Substack has been making waves in the publishing industry since its launch in 2017. The platform has attracted a growing number of writers, journalists, and content creators who are looking for an alternative to traditional media outlets. With its user-friendly interface, flexible subscription model, and attractive revenue-sharing scheme, Substack has become a popular choice for writers who want to monetize their content and build their own audience.

Looking ahead, Substack’s future seems bright. The company has raised millions of dollars in funding, and it has been expanding its offerings beyond newsletters. In recent years, Substack has launched features like podcasts, discussion forums, and paid courses, which have helped to diversify its revenue streams and attract a wider range of creators.

However, Substack is not without its challenges. The platform has faced criticism for its lack of diversity, as many of its top earners are white men. Additionally, Substack has been accused of promoting controversial and harmful content, as some writers have used the platform to spread misinformation or hate speech.

Despite these challenges, Substack’s founders remain optimistic about the platform’s future. They see Substack as an “alternate universe on the internet,” where writers can connect directly with their audiences and build sustainable careers. As more people turn to digital media for news and entertainment, Substack is well-positioned to capitalize on this trend and become a major player in the industry.

In conclusion, Substack’s future looks bright, but the platform will need to address its challenges and continue to innovate if it wants to stay ahead of the competition. With its focus on empowering creators and building sustainable careers, Substack has the potential to revolutionize the media industry and provide a new model for content creation and distribution.