The best Substack newsletters cover a diverse range of topics from politics to the arts. In this article, we explore the platform and interview its cofounder.
Substack is a platform that helps writers and content creators use an email subscription newsletter platform to convert their subscribers into paying customers.
Substack offers a content management system (CMS) designed to publish newsletters to your mailing list, integrate payments with Stripe, and host a website with free and subscriber-only content.
Using the Substack platform makes free or paid newsletter publishing simple, with the intent being to increase your audience and increasing subscription income.
- What is Substack And How Does It Work?
- The Best Substack Newsletters
- 1. Luke O’Neil – Welcome to Hell World
- 2. Anna Codrea-Rado – The Professional Freelancer
- 3. Flow State
- 4. Anthony Pompliano – The Pomp Letter
- 5. Daily Writing Habits
- 6. Insight
- 7. Sara Bessey's Field Notes
- 8. Tangle
- 9. 100% Unfinished by Bryan Collins
- Best Substack Newsletters: Final Thoughts
- How Substack Newsletters Make Money for Writers with Cofounder Hamish McKenzie
- Best Substack Newsletters: FAQs
What is Substack And How Does It Work?
Substack is an email newsletter platform for writers, journalists and content creators.
It was created to help independent creators monetize their work by producing newsletters.
Newsletter owners can directly sell Substack subscriptions to the audience, rather than a writer running ads on their website or relying on freelance writing gigs.
Substack helps create and maintain a website, offers a payment option to manage subscriptions, creates a funnel that lets readers have some free content and restricts the rest so they will then subscribe to read it.
The bonus of Substack newsletters is that creators don’t need to be tech-savvy. You also don't need to worry about social media, plugins or any technical tools associated with blogging.
It is easy to use, and there’s plenty of tools to help the newsletter writers get up and running.
Writers can use it for free to share their work with readers. If you decide to launch a paid newsletter, Substack charges a 10% commission on paid subscribers.
Substack CEO Chris Best says,
“The goal is to allow writers and creators to run their own personal media empire.”
This now includes podcasts, too, as of February 2019.
Substack also offers a mentorship program that is 8 weeks long. Selected Substack writers join in a series of private virtual sessions that look at the creative process, community building, and working to monetize the writers’ work.
The Best Substack Newsletters
1. Luke O’Neil – Welcome to Hell World
Topic: Culture and Politics
Luke O’Neil launched this newsletter in 2018 to share his reporting and essays on various topics. They are all tied together through the theme of the world, transforming into “a pit of despair.”
He writes to tell stories beyond the traditional news and faces the troubles of the world head-on rather than sugar-coating them. Using Substack, O’Neil can bypass the traditional news reporting and write freely to tell about what he sees as important in a failing world.
O’Neil has over 1100 paid subscribers out of his 7000 total and he now has a deal to turn his writings into a published book.
2. Anna Codrea-Rado – The Professional Freelancer
Topic: Business, culture and technology
Anna Codrea-Rado is a journalist and podcaster who started this publication to document her journey after losing her job.
It then morphed into a community for freelancers who work to help and support each other as they aim to make a lucrative living being self-employed. The newsletter is funded by readers and offers tools to help make freelance work doable.
Once you subscribe, you will get a newsletter every week that is full of advice about freelancing.
This newsletter also includes work opportunities that include a database of currently accepting work, a private Slack group and directory, and in-depth resources to increase income and clients.
There are also opportunities to attend member-only events that present star freelancers and regular AMA with the author Anna.
3. Flow State
This is a unique musical based Substack newsletter.
Flow State sends 2 hours of music out every day at 3 am. This time has been chosen, so it is available for those who are heading out to work. The 3 am time slot hits the subscriber's inbox in time for the beginning of their workday. These tracks help curate a state of creative flow while at work.
Subscribers also get access to a Tuesday podcast mix along with their private Spotify playlists. These playlists alone have 300+ hours of focus music.
These writers are self-financed and do not take any outside money or ad revenue. 1% of their income is designated for removing C02 from the atmosphere.
Flow State highlights the work of 1 or 2 artists and offers context about their work.
No algorithms are helping the team make these musical selections. It's just people offering recommendations to others.
Flow State takes subscribers' suggestions on musical focus into account and will alter their newsletter recommendations and mixes based on some of those ideas.
4. Anthony Pompliano – The Pomp Letter
Topic: Investment and cryptocurrency
This newsletter goes out to over 35,000 people who want to understand and learn about Bitcoin, crypto, and other assets in the digital world.
Along with a daily newsletter to investors with relevant and up to date content, Pompliano comments on industry trends and analysis.
Subscribers get early access to podcasts, episode transcripts and show comprehensive notes. These notes allow the subscriber to read at their own pace and detail all the topics, ideas, and projects that The Pomp Letter features.
Knowledge is power, and that is the focus of this newsletter. Investing in personal knowledge and education can only benefit the investor. Understanding investment and business trends will set an investor on a comfortable path.
5. Daily Writing Habits
This is a relatively new entry onto Substack. It's by personal development guru and author Nicolas Cole who bills himself as “the number one writer on the internet”!
Whether that's true or not is open to debate. However, he offers an engaging combination of writing advice, riffs about online business and his life as entrepreneur. He sends a broadcast each day to paid subscribers too.
Topic: news and current affairs
This newsletter by sociologist Zeynep Tufekc covers how technology interacts with the fabric of society. It addresses topics like the US elections, Donald Trump and COVID-19.
It's a good example of how journalists and writers from other disciplines can use this platform.
7. Sara Bessey's Field Notes
This newsletter by author Sarah Bessey includes essays and thoughts about religion, the work and books she's read. She also combines personal stories with insights from her faith and offers a paid version of her newsletter.
Topic: US politics and commentary
This newsletter by Isaac Saul bills itself as an independent publication about US politics, with commentary. The author doesn't claim a left or right bias.
He criticized and praised various Donald Trump policies during 2019 and 2020, although he took exception to the events of December 2020. It's a good alternative to Welcome to Hell World!, if US politics is your thing.
9. 100% Unfinished by Bryan Collins
Topic: Essays about parenting
Inspired by the above newsletters, I set up 100% Unfinished on Substack as a way of sharing short essays about my life as Dad of three kids. I also sent subscribers emails about work topics like creativity and productivity.
Over time, I discovered the best Substack newsletter focus on one topic and not many. So I moved work content about work and creativity to my personal brand. You can still subscribe to my Substack newsletter if you fancy colour parenting essays.
Tip: If you're starting a newsletter, pick one topic and write to one ideal reader.
Best Substack Newsletters: Final Thoughts
Writers don’t always have a forum where they can write with unbiased candor about topics they are passionate about.
The beauty of Substack newsletters is that it has created a venue for writers to build a relationship with readers, without worrying about ads or technical tools.
Substack provides a useful content management system (CMS) designed to publish newsletters, integrated payment, and a website that is for content.
The newsletters above have used Substack successfully and not only gained thousands of subscribers but brought in money as well.
Substack has made the creation of paid or free newsletter simple, helping to increase subscriber base and income. Interested? Our guide explains how to start a newsletter.
Thinking of starting a newsletter?
How Substack Newsletters Make Money for Writers with Cofounder Hamish McKenzie
The internet is a noisy place for writers. If you want to build a relationship with readers and earn more from your creative work, consider starting a newsletter.
Substack is an example of a popular service that you can try.
I recently interviewed co-founder and COO Hamish McKenzie, one of Substack's founders. In this interview, he explains:
- Why newsletters are a great way of earning more money as a writer (Find out more about this in my Forbes article here)
- Why your first newsletter starts with an ideal reader
- How to build a relationship with readers and fans
- What it takes to grow a newsletter that people will pay for
Best Substack Newsletters: FAQs
Is Substack free?
Substack is free for writers and newsletters owners to use. However, if you turn on paid subscriptions, they take 10% of what subscribers pay.
How much can you make on Substack?
Maths is your friend. If you attract 1000 subscribers and convert 5% at $5 per month, you can expect to earn $250 per month. If you convert 1000 subscribers from a much larger list at the same rate, you can expect to earn $5000 a month. Maths is your friend.
Luke O'Neill earns over $100000 per year from Welcome to Hell World! However, he is a high-profile writer. It's hard to make money on Substack without an audience or some online marketing skills.
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