6666 tips on how I reached 6666 subscribers on Substack
ok i haven't gotten there yet but I will soon you gotta believe me i'm 5 away but my son is crying so i gotta get him up even tho he refuses to subscribe in spite of KNOWING dada only needs 5 more wtf
First, a confession. I made a deal with the devil. Well, my lawyers made the deal with the devil's lawyers, but who’s counting? Besides the devil’s lawyers who bill aggressively. Seriously, the amount of back and forth was frankly hellacious.
Also, the Devil doesn't use email -- 'that’s some shit that's too evil even for me' he once told me over froyo- so everything had to get sent back and forth by carrier dragon.
Anyways – the deal was that when I hit 6666 free subs, I'd be free ON ONE CONDITION. That I share 6666 tips of what I've learned so far with you all. So, here goes.
two quick announcements:
I’m helping people with their writing and substack ‘growth’ - reach out if you’re interested: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Season One: I’m (not??) The Best starts next Tue — it will be a few months of me writing essays all about competition and my obsession with being the best. I’ll be raising prices from $5 to $7 / month, so if you wanna lock in a better price I’d subscribe now lol.
6666 tips on how to grow your substack without ever needing to make a deal with the devil
1. No one cares about your Substack
This is good news. Now, you can stop freaking out about every single little decision you try to make about your newsletter. I have spent entire days in a sweaty panic worried sick - like actually sick with the lil thermo in my mouth - about things like:
a. How many times a week should I post?
b. How long should each post be?
c. Am I charging enough? Should I charge at all?
d. Will my readers hate me if I release videos of my twin brother Brad C. Onversion explaining how to get huge on Substack?
In my mind, the answers are:
a. Maybe 2? Or is that too many? 1? Maybe three times but some of them are part of a different 'section' that people can subscribe or unsubscribe to?
b. Under the 10 minute mark. Ideally seven, but maybe also longer like 13 but not too long and maybe just actually like 1 minute. I can take screenshots of some big blocks of text to make the length seem less.
c. I have to charge a lot but maybe nothing? Growth!
But the real answers are:
a. doesn't matter
b. doesn't matter
c. yea but doesn't matter how much
d. not really!
Here’s the likely truth: the average BAT reader most certainly does not wake up and think, "Ah I wonder what's going on with Both Are True today? I am concerned about BAT and will worry about it more than about my job and kids and the fungus on my toe."
Your readers will go days - WEEKS - without thinking about your newsletter even once. Your baseline in their minds is between neutral and a mild to high-key 'yay.
When they see your newsletter, it might make them happy, but not seeing your newsletter won't make them sad.
No one is thinking about you as much as you're thinking about you, and the same goes for your work. I spend zero time thinking about MY FAVORITE ARTISTS in the world unless something new of theirs comes out. And even then, I'll enjoy the hell out of it and continue on my day's agenda of worrying about shit like my own newsletter.
This is liberating! This is good! This is the best. The writing exists to help people, entertain them, or whatever. And it can do all those things. But if that writing isn't there, or is weird or doesn't achieve those goals, no one will care! Which brings me to my next tip.
2. Your audience is on your side, and they're going to give you the benefit of the doubt
Whenever I'm writing something, the stakes feel super high. I'm talking ‘T-Bone on the top floor of a hotel elevator’ high. If I don't pull this off perfectly – which I won't because I suck – then everyone will realize just how dumb of a potato I am and unsubscribe post haste. In fact, everyone's already waiting for a reason to unsubscribe, but they don't want to make me feel bad so they're gonna wait till I release this absolute stinkbomb so that they can leave without guilt.
But this isn't true. This assumes your audience hates you, and they don't. They like you! They might even love your work. They're not idiots and they have no reason to read your stuff other than because they enjoy it. They're not doing it to make sure you don't feel bad!
Trust that your audience is there with you, on the ride. If you fuck up, they're not gonna bail (and if they do, they weren't real ones anyways.)
So get loose. Get liminal. Get lazy and lax and have some lox cuz babe it’s breakfast time and it’s a party.
3. Treat your audience like they're geniuses:
Last one of my "audience trilogy." Don't dumb shit down for your audience. In improv we were taught to play to the top of your intelligence. This meant to improvise under the conditions that your audience is smart as hell and can figure stuff out, go on big leaps with you, and get your weird references – or, if they don't, be totally cool with it. Trust them and they will trust you back. Because they are geniuses. Actually. And they'll know if you think otherwise. And they'll beat you up after the show. With their eyes.
Make sure to write short pieces, like if you do a list never have it be more than 4 items.
Bounce back from failure quickly and don't even make a big deal of it just move on.
Just a quick heads up about this list – it is NOT going as planned and I want to just say that is 100% the fault of my parents and how they raised me.
Blame your parents for everything.
Never blatantly advertise for your own substack when sharing tips do NOT tell people to subscribe to Both Are True because you have a new season coming out soon in a week like why would you do that?
Check to make sure the computer can even handle a list that goes up to 6666 like has a computer ever even tried that before?
11. Be an idiot:
Be willing to look stupid, unless your Substack is about like, financial crypto advice in which case you already look like an idiot.
Make unnecessary digs at the crypto bro community even though you know that with just a couple left turns instead of rights on this windy road of life you'd bleed ETH you Dogeboi you.
Make friends with the ghost: Literally I don't have anything here I just loved that title but this next one will be good promise.
14. Make friends with other writers (who are not ghosts):
I've written about this before but I'm gonna do it again because literally who cares. Writing is a solitary act except instead of playing Solitaire, you’re stringing words together that will, if you’re lucky, enter the brains of a few other people and make them go ‘huh’ or ‘ok?’ or ‘aw’.
And that’s not even getting into the whole ‘writers are now little brands’ bullshit here on Substack. It’s hell and that’s before you sign any deal with the devil.
So having friends helps. Reach out to people whose work you like. Comment on their stuff. do ‘collabs’ like you’re musicians writing the chorus to each other’s songs. Have meetups, irl or on zoom. Share your woes and realize, as in just about every facet of life, that you’re not the only one. You never are.
I’d be nowhere fast without my weekly calls with, one of my best friends in the whole world who I now get to talk to every week under the auspices of us both figuring out our substacks (which we do!). And also big ups to the confabs which is a writer’s group I made with , , and – they listen to my bullshit and care about me like I’m family and that means more and more the longer I think about it dang.
15. Break the rules -
Write pieces longer than the run time of Oppenheimer who cares. Misspel stuff and make a mockery of anything that smells of import. Export culture. Add things into your lists that make no sense. But no matter when, get a little metal with it.
16. Hire people to help you if you can, barter services if you can’t:
Number 15 reminded me of two people who have been integral in helping me build this Substack. It’s important to have help, whether the support of your pals or someone you pay. I was lucky enough to have a wee bit of revenue coming into the Substack that I could and I wanna shout them both out here.is a Substack whisperer:
The title of ‘producer’ fits her perfectly because, in the case of both are true, she not only was responsible for most of BAT’s growth including but not limited to launching my paid offering (which I was terrified to do beforehand), but she also handles with ease and aplomb the parts of a collaboration that are impossible to quantify, yet have far and away meant the most to me and my career as a writer: she saw potential in BAT and believed in me, she understood – and still understands, we’re still working together – what I’m trying to do on both a post to post level and with the Substack as a whole, she has kept me from my own worst instincts, she reads each piece of mine before it goes out and helps me talk through the pieces – it’s in those conversations that we often figure out what the piece is actually about, and she has saved me from many a dive into self-loathing despair. And this only covers the legal things. She’s also committed unspeakable crimes in the name of BAT (they were unrelated but she for some reason screamed, “this is for both are true” when doing the crimes so I guess now I’m implicated?)
Erin is actually starting to offer creative consultation calls for Substackers so you could probably hire her if you want!
- about Erin
Madeline Friend is a friend of the BAT, an editor of the soul:
Madeline was one of BAT’s earliest superfans. In fact, I think she was the first. She’d comment on posts when NO ONE ELSE did and she wouldn’t just comment once she’d comment like seven times per post. And when I asked if anyone wanted to help me, she was the first to reach out and said “I wanna help edit” to which I said yes duh plz. Then she asked me a very important question: “Alex, how do I edit your stuff when it’s chaotic and things are spelled weird and not capitalized and the punctuation is messy and, ya know, all the other 101 rules of writing are sometimes broken and sometimes not etc?”
Answering that question helped me understand my writing so much better. I told Madeline that, when it’s working right, there is an order to the chaos of the writing. An intentionality. If it’s just sloppy bad writing or lack of punctuation, that sucks. It’s messy and bad. But if it feels earned, either because of the way it exists inside of a given sentence or because of the piece as a whole or for some other magical reason that no one can really understand, then more power to you.
17. Write a good welcome email
Whenever someone signs up for your newsletter, they get a welcome e-mail. You can customize this email and I strongly recommend it. I’ve gotten a whopping 437 responses to my welcome email. That’s 6% of people! Here’s what I say in mine feel free to steal it just change the name or else you’ll promote Both Are True actually don’t change the name.
The subject line is prob the most important part of this. I could write 5000 words on why I think this one works so well, but who the hell has the time.
Subject Line: Your Both Are True Welcome Packet (response sorta needed)
Hello, new BAThead - My name is Alex and I have a hard time being serious so I write funny articles about things that mean a lot to me, which is, according to therapists, “a good coping strategy.”
I have 3 publicly stated goals with this newsletter:
to make you laugh and make you feel
to get to know you, the person reading this
to experiment and create outside of the social media ecosystem which was rotting my soul lol
Who r u ?
I genuinely love getting to know the people who have subscribed to Both Are True. It would be amazing if you could take 30 seconds to this and reply with:
Who you are
One awesome thing you’re reading / watching / listening to?
The first thought that comes to mind after reading this last question?
Hit reply and say hi! (I respond to every email, but it might take me a lil bit)
18. Send surveys to your subscribers:
A lot of what I did was based on this article byin perhaps the best named substck of all time, .
19. Embrace the rerun:
Reruns are posts you posted a year ago that only 13 people saw. Repost em and now all your new subscribers can read them! And don't even make a big deal of it, no explanation, nothing, just repost!
Any of your readers that matter won't care and anyone that cares doesn't matter.
20. Use Notes:
Here's a whole interview I did w Legendary Co-Founder of Substack and the best man at my third wedding, Hamish Mackenzer aka.
21. Be honest:
Ugh I hate this one I'm gonna hurl my computer at a tree but honestly (alex no), it's true. Much like pornos, mr. senator, I know the truth when I see it. I know when someone is going through something because they are not hiding behind the ideas of what they think they are supposed to be acting like. I can feel it and so can you and so can the audience because they are MENSA geniuses remember? I was thinking about this idea today at the playground (with my son, not solo never solo), and I’d like to amend this slightly: there is no such thing as ‘truth’ that exists outside of time. But you can capture the truth of a particular moment – how it is inside of the writing that you’re doing. How you feel as you write it. Which brings me to…
22. Tell people what's actually going on:
I work with clients now (wow big deal reach out if you're interested). In almost every session, some version of this happens:first, they tell me about their work, which is interesting and unique and an all around 'heck ya.' Then they tell me what's getting in the way of their work – their problems which are real and interesting and clearly having a negative impact. Then they ask, 'how do I get past my woes and get to whoa?' They literally all say that exact phrase which is weird but hey, America am I right??
Then I say, "what if you wrote about that?"
About the thing that's in your way? About what's stopping you from writing the thing you want to write?
"Cuz that's the truth, right?" I say, hating myself because I say this too often now and anything you say enough times that it could become a catchphrase or chapter title in your self-hell boo.
"But…I don't know, I guess I didn't think it'd be interesting?"
23. Everything is interesting if you believe it so:
I'm eating a carrot right now. A baby carrot. Chewing it into tiny pieces all I taste is water, like every bite releases all this water into my mouth and then I'm wondering if carrots have any taste at all? I remember the roasted carrots we made the other night which I loved but when I think about it now those mostly tasted like burnt and maybe some olive oil but surely carrots have a taste I just don't even know how you would describe it besides wet crunchy stuff. Ok I'm gonna bite one more carrot. I even took off my headphones so I could really become immersed in the carrot but all I could focus on was how loudly I was chewing it like a fuckin trash compactor inside my skull is this how chewing always works?
Resist the urge to 'show off' by writing about baby carrots for a paragraph no one wants that good god why would you do that it sucks delete it.
Figure out how to delete stuff before publishing.
Reuse jokes you've used in past posts especially the ‘how do i delete stuff’ joke that one kills.
Interrupt the self-hate every so often to remind yourself and your readers that you're doing okay actually and have a great life with an amazing wife and kid, not to make anyone jealous but just to show that there can be two things that are true at the same time its almost as if
both are true.
Realize you're only 0.43% of the way through this list.
Remind people that season one which starts on October 10th is gonna be so good - a whole season of essays all about one topic - competition and my unending need to be THE BEST — more info here.
31. There are no shortcuts:
This isn't a computer keyboard. You can't just find a sneaky lil Control + Alt + B + A + N + G + E + R and auto generate a banger that blows everyone's minds. You also can't trick people or weasel them into anything. Provide value and they will pay. Or learn one incriminating secret about each of them and threaten to release it on the Nightly News unless they pay. Both work.
But providing genuine value to people is hard. So my mind wants to figure out shortcuts. "What can I do that will make people think that becoming a paid subscriber is a no brainer!" I could do more comment sections for paid subs. I could release more paid only content. I could create AI videos for the next five people who sign up. Ok that last one worked really well actually but besides that one. God forbid 'growth hacks.' I've tried. They don't work! Not really. Or, if they do, they'll bring in one or two new subscribers. But when I write something that for whatever reason actually resonates with people (this is rare), the paid subscribers come a-callin.
Whenever I try to outsmart the system (read: outsmart my audience), it doesn't feel good and it doesn't work. And they can tell. And I can tell that they can tell. The vibes are off. And what is a newsletter if not a vibe? There's an energy that readers can feel when you give of yourself and expect nothing in return. This engenders a natural want in people to support your work, if they like it. But if you TRY REALLY HARD to convince them, yuck. They might still do it, for pity or otherwise, but the vibes will be off and it's hard to turn the vibes back on since there's no switch for it at home despot.
And there's no way to reverse engineer success: trying to figure out what worked and recreating it is a surefire way to make stinker ass work.
32. There is one shortcut:
Publicly proclaim that you are againstand everything he stands for. The man is an artist, sure — a con artist. He has an accent, but which one? Anyone else notice how it changes by the day? In a world full of unknowns, one thing is certain: Snowden is the human embodiment of a sneeze. When he appears everyone says ‘god bless you’ because they are worried about him and, even though we all know god is dead, still we ask for god to bless Snowden because we know nothing less will help. Remember Adam and Eve? There was a snake who convinced them to eat the apple? That was Mike Sowden. The cause of our fall from grace, he is enemy number one.
Find someone in life with whom you can goof and banter like— I love the guy and am genuinely looking forward to destroying his reputation in the years to come.
34 thru 6663: Ask if people want more of this?
I'm considering doing a way deeper dive into the last 18 months of my writing that focuses on all of the stuff I've learned, big and small, for how to grow the newsletter, create community within it, etc. I'd also share all the data of which posts performed best, etc. This would include an AMA with people about Substack growth. I'd make this available to paid subscribers and also just accessible on Gumroad or something for $15. If you're interested like actually interested in this and would pay, can you email me at email@example.com and say so? I’ll work on it if people are interested but otherwise I won’t!
Celebrate the fact that, besides The Snowden Offensive, there are no shortcuts, not really. That the slog of this, the one reader at a time 'growth' of this, is part of what makes it beautiful. Because it feels real. Relationships made as if in real life, slowly, over time, a trust that builds and blooms and helps everyone involved feel just a little bit less alone.
Whoa you can just type in a number and it starts the list off there! Wow.
I love y'all. Seriously. Thank you for trusting me with your time and for how much you all give back to this community. I describe it often as a mid-sized party in a small-sized room which, don't worry, will never change. We're just becoming a large-size party in a mid-sized room? Idk. The vibes are good, don't worry.
#0: Remind people that writing is how writers make money and that if they can support that writing, they oughta consider doing so!
#0-Also: Remind everyone that if they can’t afford a subscription but would like one, to please for gods sake email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will give you a comp (free paid sub) no questions asked I swear to you.
6667. (BONUS): Include a comments section at the end of your post
Woof that was a lot! Any tips stand out to you as ‘dang v useful’ or ‘v annoying’?
I low key hate posts like this bc its like ‘wow nice u have success and so its easy to attribute all the dumb stuff you’ve done to that success. How do you feel about these sorts of posts? Useful or a mega yuck?
What’s the biggest thing you’re trying to figure out with your substack?
What’s a good thing in your life that has nothing to do with the internet?
Again, thank you to all you readers. This doesn’t exist without y’all. Or it does but its sad and ya know what, this - here, now - is not sad. it is happy it is good it is alive it makes me feel something that I believe is the opposite or worthless. Not worthy but ‘of worth’ and that? well that’s pretty fucking cool.