Money On The Table: Why Start a Substack Blog

If you don’t have a Substack blog, you are probably leaving money on the table. Right now I can think of a dozen people who I follow/read (not famous people) online who are not on Substack, but who could benefit. In terms of passive income with high upside potential should the blog be a success and negligible downside (time spent writing and on promotion), it’s hard to beat. $500/month in subscriptions (approx. 100-110 subscribers, which is doable) is $5,000/year after factoring in Substack’s 10% cut, which is the same as a 4% annual pre-tax return on a $125,000 rental property.

Meanwhile, people who invested in Bitcoin two years ago probably made far less or are underwater. This shows the power of the integral: steady, accumulated income can be superior to the swings and losses of speculation. Developing apps is also possibly lucrative, but potentially way more expensive and time consuming and less likely to go viral compared to blog posts. There is always going to be a market for interesting commentary; the world does not need or want yet another productivity app.

Why Substack? Because it’s easy to set up, free, has a whitelisted domain that is less likely to filtered as spam, and a social network of other Substack writers and readers, such as through the Substack app. But also, importantly, Substack automates the email subscription and payment processing aspect of it, too. It takes 5-10 minutes to set it up and begin writing.

Most writing guides suck and are written by people who either don’t write, lucked into success, or are making unsupported suppositions based on hunches. This guide is based on actual empirical evidence from someone who spent a lot of time reading blogs and seeing what works and what doesn’t. Here are my tips:

1. Modesty is not a virtue. In the ‘about me’ page, describe any prestigious, noteworthy achievements or accomplishments, and periodically refence them in your articles. If you have a degree, even just a BA, mention it. If you worked at a good job, such as on Wall Street or in tech, mention that. [1] Same if you have any special skills or talents that have earned you acclaim. (But it has to be good, and you will know if you are good. Your 7-minute mile or your summer Apple Store internship will not cut it.) This may seem self-absorbed, but it helps establish credibility and authority as someone who is worth following out of otherwise thousands of other blogs. Occasionally devote an entire article around your specific accomplishment or area expertise to help build credibility. This is what Freddie deBoer does when he talks about weightlifting or his PhD in education.

2. The anecdotal is king. Some say content is king, but specifically it’s anecdotal evidence. Some people have the mistaken assumption that you need tons of data like what Nate Silver does to be credible, but this is what #1 accomplishes. Personal stories and first-hand accounts are easier to write, more enjoyable to read, and probably more persuasive. A good formula is anecdotal evidence, plus some stats to back it up, maybe a link to a study.

3. Don’t pull punches. Be opinionated. Use charged language if necessary, but don’t cross into hyperbole. Substack is much less inclined to ban compared to Medium or other platforms for being politically incorrect.

4. Alternate between writing opinionated political articles, with fact-based or observational apolitical articles. Share the opinionated political articles on Twitter and Facebook (afik, there have been no reports of either site banning Substack domains), and the apolitical articles elsewhere. This is because some sites, such as Reddit, may frown upon overly opinionated content, especially content from a right-of-center perspective. Also, the apolitical articles help build credibility.

5. 400-500 words/article, or about 4 paragraphs, twice a week is ideal. The first paragraph, which can be just a sentence, introduces the problem, observation, or topic. Keep the style direct and simple. You don’t need to copy Moldbug. The rest is the anecdotal evidence and commentary, with maybe a little data. Wrap it up with the conclusion, which can also be as short as a sentence. It does not have to be anything close to dissertation length, although that would not hurt either. It’s just that shorter articles take considerably less time to write and edit compared to longer ones, and can still be successful.

[1] It’s better, from what I have observed, to use your real name, but anonymity may work too, but it will cost you some credibility. But for obvious reasons some may prefer to be anonymous.

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