How to Use Substack to Document Your Journey

This was a guest post I wrote that was originally published on

After deciding to write a memoir, I completely changed my mind about wanting to grow my following. By “following,” I’m referring to an email subscriber list of your audience.

For years, I posted on my blogs without any concern for growing subscriber lists or sharing on social media. I’d reason, I’m a storyteller, not some brand. Just the thought of wanting an audience felt . . . vain. But let’s be real, my resistance to growing my audience was fear-based. I was afraid of the trolls and judgment of what people would say, or not say.

Silence is a form of rejection, isn’t it? 

But the conviction of wanting to write this memoir was real—I felt it in my bones. I quickly learned that publishers are a hard sell, especially for unknown memoir writers who aren’t celebrities. Since I fall into this category, I needed to come up with a marketing plan for how to sell my memoir.

This is where a following comes into play. 

If you think about it, this makes sense from a business standpoint—publishers are mitigating their risk. They want to invest in someone who can sell books

So, picture this. You’re done with your manuscript and submitting your proposals to publishers. Or perhaps you’ve decided to go the self-publishing route. Either way, it took you years to get to this point, and during that time, you managed to grow your following and your email subscriber list is now 20,000 strong. This is your audience, the folks who are engaged and would be interested in buying your book. 

I can’t tell you how much it pains me to talk to other authors who tell me they worked on a book, and self-published it on Amazon, only to sell virtually zero copies.  

Mistakes and Assumptions

Let’s start with some mistakes I made when I first attempted to build an email subscriber list. These are valuable mistakes that give you food for thought when you’re searching for the best ways to grow your own audience. 

Remember when I said I was posting on my blogs for years without growing a following? I had two websites—one for professional stuff and the other for travel. Because I had these websites, I assumed I was ahead of the game. I could use them to build a subscriber list, right? (Spoiler alert: Wrong.)

Without giving it a lot of thought, I upgraded my professional blog on WordPress to one that costs $300 a year. I did this because WordPress requires plug-ins to activate the email subscribe feature. 

I thought, This is great! I can build a subscriber list with a pop-up that appears when visitors land on my site. 

But then I remembered, my biggest issue was traffic to my blog—I had virtually none. Without eyeballs on the site, I couldn’t even come up with a way to entice people to subscribe. 

It all felt really overwhelming and honestly, I didn’t feel like figuring out how to grow subscribers and traffic. I decided not to use my blog to try to grow my subscribers. 

Who Is Your Ideal Audience?

Besides the traffic problem, I also needed to figure out what I would write. How would it provide value for my audience? Hang on, who is my audience? 

I felt deflated, but it was also a good moment to pause and take a step back. I thought about why my blogs, which served different purposes, wouldn’t work to grow subscribers. One was about my freelance writing career while the other was about traveling. Neither one of those would be a good fit for the new following I needed to build, which centered on my book. I asked myself, who would buy my book? I imagined them to be, well, like me—bookworms, memoir enthusiasts, and writers. 

Pro Tip: Spend quality time determining your target audience. Your book is not for everyone, so you need to make sure you know exactly who your book will reach.

Enjoy the Journey

As an avid reader of blogs and listener of podcasts, I noticed much of the content revolves around the success of those who already did the hard part and now they’re telling us about it. But what about documenting the journey in real-time and sharing the arc of transformation from pupa to butterfly?

It all started to make sense. I’d delight my audience in the steps I took to improve my craft, such as how to insert conflict in every scene and make them emotional or discuss which online writing classes helped me most. 

I’d dish about the latest memoirs I can’t stop thinking about, the best podcasts, and writing groups that improved my ability to write furiously from just a one-word prompt. 

I’d write about the process and how much I’m enjoying it (or not—let’s be real, writing isn’t always puppies and rainbows!). 

Pro Tip: Documenting the process is the best way to authentically grow an engaged audience. Get your community involved in the behind-the-scenes process of being a writer.

Find out why I chose Substack over the other platforms, and read the rest here.