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Goodbye Algorithm! Why Recommendations Are The Future of Getting Paid Writing Online

  • 8 min read

The recommendation engines from ConvertKit, Beehiiv, and Substack are mind-blowing.

Writers and creators have long been at the mercy of social media platforms and their algorithms.

The algo giveth. The algo taketh away!


I used to be a travel blogger on Instagram… I know some things.

Platforms such as Instagram or Medium dictate our content by incentivizing specific stories, slashing our earnings, and limiting our reach with one simple algorithm change, limiting our reach.

I even know from fellow writers that their work gets heavily moderated, even to the extent of editing (without letting them know), shadow-banning it, or removing it, while also withholding our audience’s most precious good… their email addresses!


In my recent interview with Anne Bonfert, I talked about how she grew from zero to 180,000 followers.

However, her subscriber count is still at a low level. She’s happy to have her own email list. That’s why a few days ago, I wrote a story for New Writers Welcome in which I explained why you can forget Medium’s subscriber feature.

But Anne knows that we live in a time where everything’s different than before. Anne is thinking about monetizing her newsletter and asking her followers to become her subscribers.

Quick math… let’s say Anne charges $7 per month for her newsletter and 100 people would want to read her content. That’s $8,400 annualized recurring income (ARR).

She wouldn’t be the first.

Recently Ossiana Tepfenhart started monetizing her audience of 18K on Medium and now has already 100 paying members.

Another example is my friend Karen Cherry. She earns more than $12,000 with her newsletter.

What do these examples show us?

We’re no longer dependent on social media to cultivate an audience.

It’s a significant shift, though it doesn’t imply abandoning social media.

Instead, it’s about not being reliant on an algorithm and the Medium Gods.

Here’s why:

Growing as a writer now hinges on recommendations, an essential yet often overlooked aspect.

Without readers, a writer’s career can’t flourish.

We need a constant influx of new readers to sustain our work and livelihood. I bet one-fifth of travel blogger Anne Bonfert's 180K followers aren’t active on Medium anymore.

So no matter if you’re employed and working for an international company as a manager or if you have a small business, are a solopreneur, or have your own personal brand, the common advice is: “Build your email list”.

As a marketer and part-time writer, I know it’s not as simple as it sounds

Traditionally, writers had to produce compelling content to expand an email list.

In addition, they had to engage in somewhat aggressive online marketing tactics to persuade readers to respond to calls-to-action (CTA’s) for lead magnets on landing pages.

Lead magnets are things you’re giving away for free, for instance, free templates or eBooks to get email addresses in return.

This process is challenging and not every writer excels at it — especially those who don’t want to sound salesy or hate self-promotion.

In April 2022, I discovered a trend known as newsletter recommendations. The platform that kicked it off was Substack.

This concept involves writers promoting each other’s newsletters to organically grow their email lists.

The recommendation model is a way to combine our efforts as writers and creators.

Here’s a straightforward explanation of how it works:

  • The traditional method involves asking another writer to plug your newsletter into theirs.
  • It’s typically a brief mention, like recommending a particular edition of someone’s publication.
  • While simple, this approach does require some manual coordination.

The effectiveness of the original newsletter recommendation method wasn’t very high.

However, a significant discovery was made: the most opportune moment to encourage someone to subscribe to a newsletter is while they are subscribing to another one.

3 platforms you need to know

Three newsletter platforms have addressed this issue by introducing a recommendation feature:

  1. Substack
  2. Beehiiv
  3. ConvertKit

Using any of these platforms simplifies the process

They come equipped with a discovery section, allowing you to find and recommend other writers who share similar topics. If they reciprocate, it benefits both parties.

ConvertKit recently introduced this feature (which mimics Substack’s) and it’s impressive.

What sets it apart is the detailed analytics it provides, making it easier to connect with other creators.

Discover feature by ConvertKit when searching for writers

So, I recommended ConvertKits Creator Network to my hubby Patrick God who is a full-time software developer and part-time YouTuber.

Patrick God ConvertKit Creator Network

About one month ago he started, here are the results so far:

Patrick God ConvertKit Creator Network
Patrick God ConvertKit Creator Network

He gained about 2,000 new subscribers via recommendations within one month!

Amazing, right?

Here’s how the Creator Network operates:

  • When a reader enters their email address on your landing page to subscribe to your email list, after the subscription process is complete and the reader is successfully onboarded, an additional screen appears…
Patrick God ConvertKit Creator Network

This feature automatically selects all of your recommendations by default.

This simplifies the process for readers, allowing them to subscribe to multiple email lists in bulk, rather than having to do so individually.

One of the biggest challenges for readers is discovering new material to read.

In the absence of features like this, they are often at the mercy of flawed algorithms that bombard them with things they don’t want to consume.

It’s far more efficient to say:

“Hey reader, you enjoy Patrick God’s work? Fantastic. Here are three other writers he suggests you check out.”

The likelihood that these suggestions will be more relevant and valuable for the reader’s interests is significantly higher than the often biased recommendations of an algorithm.

And Patrick’s creator friends likely take care in making these recommendations because:

  1. They aim to grow his email list through mutual recommendations.
  2. Their reputation as a creator is at stake.

Therefore, smart creators conscientiously choose which newsletters to recommend, creating a beneficial situation for everyone involved.

How to monetize your email list

You may think:

Kristina, now you explained one platform, ConvertKit and its Creator Network. You’re using Substack where you can offer paid subscriptions. How about ConvertKit. How does your hubby make money?

There are two options. He could offer a premium newsletter and make it paid, as on Substack.

The other option is to sell something. In regard to ConvertKit, I’d recommend going this route.

If you want to go with Substack, I’d recommend going paid at some point and then offering a service or a product people can buy from you.

I hear you say:

“Kristina… your hubby is a YouTuber with 50K subscribers who is teaching others to code on YouTube, I’m just a small creator, what should I sell? What is marketable?”

Here’s my answer:

It varies. You might choose the traditional route, write a book about a topic you love or have the most expertise in, and sell it via Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing).

There’s also the option to charge for one-on-one coaching, templates, etc., or earn money with affiliate marketing (not my cup of tea, to be honest. But if you want to do it, almost every tool or service out there has a referral program).

Trust me!

Gathering an audience is the challenging part while selling something of value is comparatively easier.

A key indicator for generating income is to identify your most popular content online (for instance on Medium) and create a product or service around it.

For instance, one of my student’s most popular articles is about a healthy diet. She could provide coaching or create an online course about it.

Another student loves to write about aging. She could write a memoir, share pages in her newsletter, and promote her book.

There are thousands of opportunities out there for you!

Final Takeaways

I hope my article helps you see that social media (Instagram, Medium, Vocal, NewsBreak, etc.) isn’t the primary focus for us writers and creators anymore.

It’s beneficial, but now it’s optional.

And for those who dislike self-promotion on social media, you no longer need to rely on it. You don’t need a lead magnet to attract your audience (it can be a nice add-on though).

With platforms such as ConvertKit, you can automate your audience growth.

Collaborate with other creators via a recommendation exchange. Then, leverage that to add some nice extra money to your bank account and gain more freedom.

Trust me, the recommendation engine is really powerful!

It’s a game-changer for us writers and creators.

Do you have your own mailing list? Which platform do you use or would like to use? Which other writers would you recommend?

Check out my interview with Anne Bonfert to understand why a social media following isn’t the end-all-be-all:

Want to get started writing on Substack and monetize your writing with a paid subscription? Check out my series.

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