A million years ago (in 2019), Claire Landsbaum wrote a piece for Vanity Fair titled, “We’re at Peak Newsletter, And I Feel Fine.”
In it she explores how “everyone seems to have a Tiny Letter or Substack.”
Little did she know that a global pandemic would usher in yet another wave of newsletters as writers launched them to kill time in quarantine, or as a means of making some extra income, or even as replacements for full-time jobs they lost or left.
Are there too many newsletters? (Spoiler: No!)
Many more people have started newsletters since that article was published. Some might say 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 endless newsletters for writers. Every writer has something a little different to offer, and there are billions of readers out there who might be drawn to what only you can offer. And when writers reach readers, great things can happen. Newsletters are one more way to do that.
I started my newsletter, One More Question, in March of 2020, just a few months after leaving my full-time editing job and several weeks after we were all told to stay at home, indefinitely.
I started it to inspire and motivate other writers to keep writing. I also did it for me. And honestly, launching a newsletter in peak newsletter times has been one of the best decisions I’ve made this year.
6 reasons you should start a newsletter
If you’re a writer who has wondered whether you, too, should hop on the newsletter train—I’m here to say yes. You probably should.
Here’s why you should consider starting a newsletter.
1. It’s easy to get started
I had a blog for many years that required all kinds of upkeep. I was constantly tweaking the design of my WordPress site, trying to figure out plugins, editing photos and working on strategies to reach more readers to then hopefully reach 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. Sounds like a lot of work.
The thing is, it’s really not. I use Substack, which in recent years has become a go-to platform for anyone who wants to launch and eventually monetize a newsletter, because they make it so simple to set up various tiers of paid and unpaid subscriptions.
I didn’t have to design a site. I didn’t have to make anything pretty. I just started writing.
Now of course, there are still significant barriers to building a big enough audience to get paid for that writing. There are impressive Substack success stories out there, like Emily Atkin’s Heated newsletter, which now earns her more money than she made while working as a staff writer at The New Republic. It’s 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 it might never produce significant income.
But it’s so easy to get started and there are many 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 struggle with productivity. The news is distracting, your kids are distracting, the existential dread of the whole year is distracting. And while we should all be extra nice to ourselves during this time of colliding crises and inevitable doom scrolling, we still need to work.
I find that productivity begets productivity, and forcing yourself to write can be a really helpful way to keep writing more.
When I started my newsletter, only a handful of people were opening it. But I told that handful of people I would publish something every Tuesday and I stuck to that promise. Even if it meant getting up at 5 a.m. on Tuesday to make it happen, I didn’t want to let my subscribers down. As my list grew, and I saw that people actually wanted to read my words on a regular basis, so did my commitment to showing up every week and writing something I thought they all might enjoy.
My newsletter became this peaceful little garden in the landscape of online distractions where I could take my time and nurture my words. I saw my work reaching people, and it reminded me that I have something special to share with readers. It feels good to do that every single week.
3. Your newsletter is a home for your voice
We’ve all had an editor cut a line that we loved. Editors generally know what they’re doing and those cuts and changes are for good reason. But writers should all have a place where their message and their voice is exactly as they intended it to be.
Your newsletter can be that place.
And sure, it might be a little less polished than an article you publish with an editor or the copy you deliver for a client. But through your newsletter, you don’t have to consider anyone’s brand but your own. That freedom to write in your own voice can make that voice stronger. Your newsletter can be a safe place to explore and take risks for that voice.
4. You’ll build credibility
Whether you write about writing, gardening, climate change or comedy, your newsletter is an opportunity to establish your credibility in something.
And you don’t need an editor or a client to approve the topics you want to focus on. You can just write about the thing you love and share it with other people who care about that thing, too.
When it comes time to write about that topic elsewhere, you’ll have a whole library of samples to share your expertise, your passion, and your unique angle on whatever it is your newsletter covers. This can be valuable in a job search, in pitching, and in building your brand as a writer.
5. Nobody can take your newsletter away
We’ve all lost a lot in the last year. Over 11,000 journalists in newsrooms lost their jobs. Magazines shuttered and layoffs piled high. Freelance writers lost clients and paychecks as everyone tightened their budgets.
But if you build something yourself, it can’t be taken away.
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 is a place for your work that won’t go anywhere. (Just make sure to back up those posts because publishing 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 who would be willing to pay for my work, and it motivated me to keep at it.
I continued offering more and more value and working hard to give my subscribers the kind of advice and support I wish I’d had when I first started writing professionally.
Need some inspiration to help you get started? Here are some newsletters for writers we recommend.