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From Zero to 96 Paid Subscribers on Substack (Within 3 Months)

  • 8 min read

SERIES: HOW TO START WRITING ON SUBSTACK

People are paying you to get your twist on things. They are paying you for being you.

In her recent masterclass, Top Writer Sinem Guenel shared that her most successful video on YouTube is the one where she compared “Substack with Medium”.

In fact, that’s also a question I get asked a lot.

The most important difference is that on Substack, you own your audience — your subscribers. You could take them with you wherever you like to go. On Substack, your subscribers pay you. There is no algorithm. Substack sends your emails right into your subscribers’s inboxes. That’s it.

On Medium, you only “rent” your followers. The follower count is often a vanity metric. In addition, you’re one of hundreds of thousands of writers people pay for. Plus, the algo giveth. The algo taketh. You can’t rely on any Medium Partner Program earnings.

As Ossiana Tepfenhart (whose recent algorithm shift and earnings calculation update left her vulnerable) sums up the current state of Medium:

“A lot of opaque behavior, no transparency, people being paid pennies, and a Boost system that’s basically totally randomized.”

GIPHY

That’s why Substack is in everybody’s mouth and many (seasoned) Medium writers also start sharing their stories on Substack — even legend Tim Denning.

But what’s the buzz all about?

In my Substack series, I’m answering questions I received from the Medium community about starting a newsletter on Substack.

Today we want to talk about the benefits of Substack in comparison to Medium and what can happen if you (as a Medium writer) enable the paid button on Substack.

Compared to other newsletter services such as the more traditional ConvertKit (which Medium CEO Tony Stubblebine is a fan of), starting and growing an email list is free.

You can get started for free, and publish for free for as long as you want.

At the same time, you can offer your newsletter issues for free. You don’t have to get paid but you can.

Often people don’t feel ready to make their stories eligible to earn money (I’m no exception)

Angelina Radulovic felt this way when starting on Substack:

“I know, many would say: you have a paid option and you can keep the content exclusive, and that’s true. But that way, you block your growth.

I still have a small community and didn’t feel like I wanted to charge them before they fell in love with my writing.”

However, there are other Medium writers who want to earn a full-time income (and also have to earn it to make ends meet) such as Ossiana (although Medium’s CEO repeatedly said Medium isn’t a platform to earn a full-time income).

“These are people who deserve full-time income because they don’t just write well. They put their souls into their writing. Their writing is so beautifully human and talks about things many people won’t or don’t”, says Ossiana.

When I interviewed Michelle Teheux (I guess this will be one of the last stories where I mention you, Michelle ^^ except you want more promotion ^^) and asked her about her favorite writers, she dropped Ossiana’s name.

“I seek out my favorite writers. The algorithm doesn’t always get them to me — sometimes I have to type their names into the search bar to find them. I like a variety. I read Ossiana Tepfenhart even though her life is 180 degrees from mine, because, like Shannon, she’s willing to invite us into her world. I don’t have any friends IRL like Ossiana. I learn about a different world from her”, Michelle said.

What’s so special about Ossiana?

photo credit Ossiana Tepfenhart

This is how Ossiana describes herself:

“I’m a weirdo who loves to write. Deal with it.”

Ossiana worked as a porn journalist. “In that field, it is illegal to advertise through typical routes. You can get banned on social media in a heartbeat. So, you have to get creative”, shares Ossiana if you read her newsletter.

On Medium she writes about her life, life lessons, dating, living in a man’s world, and many more unconventional stuff.

She’s pretty successful with 18K followers and nice earnings (which she calls her golden handcuffs) on Medium.

Three months ago, Ossiana joined Substack as a result of the writer's revolt. “Medium has decided to gaslight writers, slash payouts, and put a stranglehold on their earnings via a “Boost” program that has forced many full-time Medium writers to say goodbye to the platform.

It’s not a secret by any means of the word. Many writers, myself included, wrote open letters explaining why we are quitting Medium — or why, in my case, we’re trying to quit but have golden handcuffs holding us back.

I don’t think I need to tell anyone that Medium has slashed earnings and views once more. This has been awful. In fact, I still don’t know how I’ll make rent next month at this rate. I’m applying to jobs everywhere. It sucks.”

One of her ideas was to join Substack to have another algorithm-free income stream and quit Medium

Luckily, she decided to stay on Medium but also put a lot of effort into Substack to see where it takes her.

“I swear, it sometimes feels like I’ve added nitro to my social media game as of late. Medium’s collapse played hell with my income, which is pretty nightmarish when you think about how much I was already struggling.

I could wax poetic about how I’ve gotten shadowbanned, but the truth is that I’ve moved on.…” she shared on Substack together with the announcement that she’s about to reach 100 (!) paid subscribers.

screenshot Substack, Ossiana Tepfenhart

See?

You don’t have a HUGE subscriber base on Substack to earn a decent amount of money that helps you make ends meet.

If you want to become a paying subscriber to get the Osianna twist on things, you have to pay $5 per month or $47 p.a.

screenshot Substack, Ossiana Tepfenhart

Quick math: 96 x $47 = $8.415 ARR (annual recurring revenue)

This means that Ossiana already earns around $8.000 with her own newsletter space which is huge!

It’s recurring income. That’s what sets Substack or Patreon…

screenshot Patreon member; Patrick God

…apart from Medium. You can earn recurring income from people who want to read more from you. They love your content. You’re not one of the millions on a platform you’re paying a subscription for. There’s no algorithm.

It’s all about you being YOU and producing content that your audience loves

Ossiana found a way that made writing engaging and meaningful for her.

Professional diversification in the most risk-averse manner possible.

She’s still writing on Medium but is also creating original content for her “true fans” on Substack.

I still remember hearing a story from her about dating in a man’s world. Male readers on Medium were super thankful for her perspective on the dating world and also tipped her for her writing.

Tipping is nice, but Ossiana has to pay her rent!

Recurring income rules and really helps creators continue doing what they and their audience love.

Any questions?

I’ll soon interview Ossiana…

screenshot Substack comment by Ossiana Tepfenhart

So please share your questions in the comments and I’ll ask her your questions in our interview for my YouTube channel where I recently interviewed 6-figure writers Sinem Guenel and Zulie Rane or Ariel Meadow Stallings who is responsible for the Boost Program on Medium.

Let’s conclude this story with Ossiana:

“You are absolutely, positively worthy regardless of what the Boost system on Medium suggests.”

Any questions about (getting paid on) Substack? Share your questions with me so I can ask them Ossiana during our interview!

For more about Substack, check out my Substack series:

I also started my “Substack for Beginners series” on YouTube with tutorials:

Subscribe to my Substack newsletter for more news, interviews, webinars, and resources about monetizing your writing, winning freelance clients, and growing your audience.

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