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author

For my part, BookFunnel has been the most consistent way of finding new readers. I've done this via a range of book promos, mostly a small sample of Tales from the Triverse. Over the last two years, these promos have brought in 68% of my total free subscriber base. BookFunnel magnets are far more effective than any other form of paid advertising, I've found.

Where it gets interesting is that outside of BookFunnel, only 2% of my subscribers are new to Substack. A whopping 30% of the rest of my subscribers have come via Substack features of some sort, or have already had Substack accounts.

I strongly suspect that the BookFunnel audience is here for the fiction (primarily), while the Substack audience is here for the non-fiction/tips stuff (primarily).

I cross-post fiction chapters to Wattpad and Royal Road, but haven't seen much traction in either of those. Wattpad in particular seems like a dead end these days, at least for this book. It's also exceedingly difficult to actually drag readers from those platforms and convert them to newsletter subscribers (understandably, as they provide walled reading gardens).

Sharing to social media used to be far more important but feels increasingly like shouting into the void. Looking at the last couple of months, Instagram has become by far the most useful platform in terms of getting people to click through - but it's still peanuts. Interestingly, Twitter used to be much more useful but has dropped off significantly this year - hard to tell whether this is a direct result of Muskification, or my own growing disinterest.

Google itself ranks quite highly in my traffic report, which is interesting. That definitely didn't used to be the case, but it suggests that Substack content it starting to rank more usefully.. Perhaps my tips/advice posts are starting to register. There's a definite increase to search traffic at the start of 2023 - nothing massive, but notable.

Anyway, that's me. I hope we can all pick up some useful tips in the discussion. Looking forward to reading what you all do!

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author

Oh, I nearly forgot about the simplest and most rewarding way to find new readers: take part in the Substack writing community. Read and comment on other people's work, join the office hours sessions, be part of Fictionistas and so on...a great way to meet people, and it always brings in new subscribers. :)

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Taking part in the Substack community has been massively helpful for me, too. I think where a lot of Substack writers fail is with engaging on other Substacks. They tend to stay insular, and even worse, lock off comments to their 10-20 paid subscribers, effectively shunning new engagement

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author

I locked comments on my fiction chapters for the longest time, but recently turned all that off. It's all been a bit of an experiment, but with that particular one I'd rather have an engaged and vocal readership at this point. Makes the writing and the reading more fun - and I'm fairly confident that will lead to more paid subs down the road anyways.

The key thing for me is that engaging with other writers and the Substack community doesn't feel onerous, or like a marketing tickbox exercise. Most of the time it feels like my tribe anyway - people that I'd want to talk to anyway, whether it be at the pub or a writing convention or anything else. It just happens that Substack is the connecting thread in this case.

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Totally agree. In my view, engagement is one of the biggest factors for a successful publication.

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Totally agree, Simon and the bonus is that it also feels good to participate in community

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Very much appreciate the insight and info from this comment. Thank you. I got BookFunnel and StoryOrigin to promote my latest YA indie novel (different from my substack, under my real name - see https://storyoriginapp.com/universalbooklinks/3edb01ae-723e-11ed-abba-7fe348a56d25) then used SO loads and neglected BF, because SO is so intuitive (and fun!) and has a fantastic automated system for soliciting advanced reviews. I highly recommend StoryOrigin. This comment has reminded me that I need to get back to BookFunnel and investigate it properly too, though. While SO is much better designed and way easier to use, IMO, it seems that at least currently way more people are on BF so it has a way bigger reach. Thanks.

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author

I've never used SO! I should take a look, thanks for the prompt. :)

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I've actually been thinking of moving away from bookfunnel to SO. There's doesn't seem to be many in my genre (horror) on there.

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I wouldn't say that I've seen much horror on SO. I haven't been looking, though! I stand by my previous comment, though: BookFunnel seems currently to have way bigger reach, but SO is far slicker and better designed (the developer Evan really brings a personal touch too) and the advanced review copy automation really is magic.

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I might just pause the BF and try SO and then compare. I totally get what you mean about the reach.

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I am going to check out SO and Book funnel now. Thank you so much.

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Hi Simon,

I too worry about the fact that most of my new subscribers are already on Substack. In fact, when you click on their profile they often already subscribe to 20+ substacks! Does this diminish the fact they have now subscribed to you? Not sure.

Does it suggest that Substack is becoming saturated? Maybe Recommendation features have become too good and that this will now real a plateau where 50 subscriptions per person is probably enough!

What do you think of Notes? Is this going to help spread the word? In the last two days I've probably gained ten subscribers from Notes. Just posting regularly on there. So maybe that new features is going to be the key?

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author

I love Notes! Had no idea it was even coming until it dropped, and I'm surprised at a) how mature it already feels, despite some rough edges b) how interesting and useful the Home feed is c) the generally lovely vibe and d) how it's driven a lot of new subscribers my way.

So, yes, if I was writing my thoughts again, I'd definitely add Notes to the list. It'll be interesting to see how it develops - could easily go the way of other social media platforms if it isn't handled very delicately.

Someone I read earlier (can't remember who or I'd cite) noted that the thing about the internet is that it's really big, and there are lots of people in the world. Saturation of the Substack audience I can see being a thing, but there'll always be new readers to find elsewhere who might like your stuff and have no inkling or interest in Substack as a wider platform.

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LOL "Muskification" ... very interesting your observations about the socialsphere. I've always had such a tough time getting into Twitter, or Facebook. I do like the community on LinkedIn. I value personal connections, deeper connections, and dare I say it, actual friendships that you can form online. I certainly have, and it's very rewarding.

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Do you find readers on LinkedIn, Birgitte? And if so, do you write fiction?

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I write both fiction and non fiction. For my Substack, readers find me here and also on Linkedin but more here, I'd say. I'm sure if I spent the time on other platforms, mthat would drive additional readers—perhaps in due time. I still haven't figured out how to quantum-scale time, or slow the Earth's spin. 😜

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I hear that. Time is the limiter, and if it isn't a person doesn't really want to have the breakthrough.

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May 16, 2023·edited May 16, 2023Liked by Simon K Jones

Question: BookFunnel does not directly integrate with substack, right? So, how do you sign people up to your substack from BF? Do you automagically sign them up to a different mailing list, and/or take their email addresses and sign them up to your substack yourself, or do you have a link to your substack in your reader magnet(s) or your non-substack welcome email which readers have to follow themselves? Or all of the above? Asking for a friend...not! However you do this, I think this is part of the genius of your model because BF is very good for finding readers, but your newsletter is full of content and actual fiction, rather than just promotional fluff, so you are potentially hooking readers more directly into your *product* with your magnet(s), rather than just getting them onto a generic advertising mailing list. I might reach out to BF and StoryOrigin and see if the developers will add substack integration to them, as automated sign-ups to substack via a BF/SO reader magnet promotion would streamline such a process even further.

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author

Sorry, missed this. It doesn't integrate, no. I collect emails within BookFunnel, and then import into Substack as a CSV periodically.

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Twitter has brought me many readers over the past year, but it also cost me countless 8-hour days. I treated it like a job from March of 2022 to July of 2022, and as full-time jobs, it found me only a half-dozen paying opportunities.

I don't want to be the guy who gets all capitalist, but paying readers are my focus, because they ensure I can keep this work alive, and so far, I've struggled to find them without first paying for them. Facebook ads have worked well for me and nothing else, but lest I do look like a capitalist, I've found friends and colleagues in many of the ways you mentioned.

Reading engaging Substacks publications like Terry Freedman, William Gray, Michael Mohr and others have taught me new writing rhetoric and encouraged me. Tweeting with people like Rich Hosek, Heather O'Brien, and Juliette Willows has helped me find a place.

My podcast has reached further than I ever would have expected (though ironically not a fraction as far as I still hope it will!). I am tempted to use BookFunnel for promotion. It's already where I keep my ebooks and audiobooks. Thanks, Simon for starting this conversation.

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Apr 21, 2023Liked by Simon K Jones

So, as far as book funnel, what are you seeing as far as cost vs effectiveness? You spend $1 to get $1.50 in sales or what?

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author

I've used BookFunnel to grow the newsletter readership, so it's a long-term game. There are different types of BookFunnel promo, and I've focused on newsletter promos. It's definitely helped grow the newsletter, and while there's certainly going to be some churn there, there is retention as well. Sales promos I've only dipped a toe into (and not very successfully).

The missing piece for me is less about book sales and more about converting free subscribers to paid subscribers. If I can get that to work more effectively, then the BookFunnel equation changes a lot. At the moment, my conversions are pretty low, so that's where I really need to focus my efforts.

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Ah. I haven't started writing on Substack yet, I am pretty much focused on book writing (a few too many contracts to focus on much else). So I am looking out for 'how to get people to see your book' kind of platforms, which hopefully will result in sales etc. Although as I am retired, I also just enjoy people having read my books :)

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Von, sorry for two separate comments. If you are looking for book promo, have a glance at AMMO Foundations by Steve Pieper. It works, but you pay. Kind of what I said in my above comment, once you get the ads working well.

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Von, if I could even get $1.01 for ever $1 spent, I'd pump every dollar I had into that machine. If you know a reliable place to gain 1% reliably, I want to go there. That would lead me to infinite growth, and I would soon bee quite famous.

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Ah, the law of diminishing returns!

Obviously the whole reason why we have advertising is because people on average spend less on the advertising than they make on the sales. But that doesn't mean you can merely spend money on advertising :)

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I've found Twitter to be almost useless but wondered if it was me, because some substack writers still rate it highly, and LinkedIn too

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Twitter was my bread and butter for all of 2022. I got my only paid opportunities to write and promote from Twitter, and yet, I'm transitioning away from it now because the labor cost to make it work is too great to work.

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I think of it as the input-output ratio. It doesn't seem cost-effective to me. I still tweet, but probably not enough to make any difference.

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author

Exactly. Over the last couple of years the input-output ratio on Twitter has dropped catastrophically. It happened to Facebook several years earlier. Both used to be either very useful, very interesting, or a bit of both.

Substack, on the other hand, is the other way around at the moment. The reward-to-effort ratio is remarkable. Notes seems to have supercharged all of it, as well.

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I agree. I was thinking at first that because I don't have a megaload of subscribers, the stories of people subscribing in their droves because they saw a Note wouldn't' apply in my case, but there has been a steady stream, or trickle. And so far nobody has flamed me, which is always a bonus!

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Since I don’t use social media at all anymore, it’s an old school challenge: write as well as I can, engage with other writers (for example, by commenting when appropriate), pray, and wait.

I was in a band in the 70s, and we would say, “The world will hear us, even if it has to be one at a time.”

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Apr 11, 2023Liked by Simon K Jones

This is the most important thing to keep in mind. Do your best, constantly strive to do better, and then just engage naturally with people you respect until the world starts to take notice. I'll always prefer somebody share a piece of mine with an audience that will appreciate it than a hundred people share my piece on a hundred irrelevant platforms where nobody cares what I have to say.

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author

This is the big shift with Substack, I've found. I no longer have to try to chase massive 'viral' success and super scale numbers, but can instead focus on a much smaller but more relevant audience that actually cares.

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It's interesting to me how an online space can have a vibe but Substack certainly has a warmer, but also more exciting, feel to it. When I start feeling intense about growth I try to move into myself and focus on what you said Daniel, do your best and engage naturally in community.

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Are you growing your readership, C.L.?

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Yes, but without expectations of virality (is that a word?)

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That's what matters. I guess, I would say, I don't need or expect viral growth, but measurable, sustainable growth is important to me. I'm not sure what rate that would be. With fewer than a thousand paying readers across my lifetime, it needs to go much faster or my runway is going to end before I take flight.

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This seems to be how I have to be content with progressing...one reader at a time. churob5665@gmail.com

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I've also found adding a link to my substack in the bottom of my emails helpful

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This tip is often overlooked but so, so helpful!

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Okay, I was walking the dog and then I have to run but I do have more to day. There are multiple different author ecosystems, and so here's a couple of ways to build depending on what works best for you:

1 - Prelaunch on Kickstarter - I gain a HUGE number of my readers by having launch events outside of retailers which allows me to collect my best fans and get their email addresses. You can do this on your own website, or with direct sales, but I find Kickstarter works best b/c there is some organic reach there too.

2 - If you're more passive in your marketing, then I would suggest you join some group promos on a place like Booksweeps, b/c then they are going to go out and find you subscribers passively. This is obviously less effective at conversion than somebody buying your books, but if you have a great automation sequence, then you can absolutely make this work for you.

3 - If you are somebody that doesn't like doing marketing at all, a very effective way to get subscribers is through organizing an anthology, either free or paid, and using the combined power of network effects to have all of you pushing a little bit. You would have to use something like Kickstarter or Bookfunnel where you get the emails to make this work, but it can be very effective to have everybody bringing their little audiences to create a big audience. I made my career that way through anthologies like Cthulhu is Hard to Spell and Monsters and Other Scary Shit.

4 - You mentioned Bookfunnel, which is good, but becomes less effective over time. I still run a few every year, and get some subscribers from it.

5 - Form a book club. My friend Andy and I started the Action Fantasy Book Club with 10 other authors. You can see it at www.actionfantasybookclub.com. We offer one of the member's books every month for free, but we're mostly promoting the book club. We all chipped in some money and use that to get new subscribers.

6 - Round Robins - I don't do this right now, but I plan to in the future. Elana Johnson talks about this concept. You find 11 other authors and every month you each promote a different author's work. Everyone cycles through the list so over the course of a year you promote everyone else's.

7 - Conventions - I still make a lot of sales and get a lot of subscribers at conventions. If I really push, I can get 400-500 at a big convention.

8 - A prominent book giveaway on the homepage and footer of your website. If you go to my website, I get 20-100 new subscribers every month at russellnohelty.com just from having a big header with a giveaway, and a footer that offers a free book to everyone.

9 - Royal Road and other serialized fiction apps. They are good for bringing people in and act as content marketing, but you need to have a strong call to action at the bottom to get them over to your website/newsletter.

10 - interacting on other posts and being helpful.

These work the best when you have a really strong automation sequence and a killer offer, but most of these rely on your network of other authors, so the key is to have a very, very strong group of authors to promote with who you trust and who write books you believe in.

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author

Fantastic set of advice, thanks Russell.

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Thanks! It’s a per good example at the tour of thing you will find on my substack, though it does also have mindset stuff

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Twitter has never been a good way of promoting anything for me. I still have an account but haven't been logged in for maybe 6 months. I find it to be a waste of time.

I do promotion via The Sample and Inbox Reads. Both seem to work fairly well. I like to get on Office Hours, that's usually fun, but lately it's gotten too popular and rather unwieldy to navigate. And more spammy.

I think the best way for me at least is to just keep writing and putting my work out there. My intention when starting my stack was simply to have a collection of my work in one place. The readers have followed, which is great, but I do try and stay focused on what I can do: writing, posting on my schedule, some promo here and there, etc.

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Apr 12, 2023Liked by Simon K Jones

It's a mixed bag for engagement. I post to a closed Facebook group of people in my religious faith, in part because they don't have restrictions on posts and because other writers of that group also post. I've gathered a couple new subscribers every month, so I'm now at 70. Interacting on Substack with other writers during office hours (when I remember), and posting consistently on FB and Linked In have been positive. I get about 160 views including the 70 subscribers. Since I publish my work for free -- related to mental health, I refuse to charge since I want to help people with good information -- I consider the views as more important. Whether people finish the article is another matter however.

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I’m new on substack so I’m just learning how to find readers. So far the best way for me to find readers has been facebook and asking friends and family but I am sure that will change. Sorry I can’t be more helpful. 😆

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I get a lot new subs from recommendations (Substack network), engaging with various writing communities, and asking readers to forward Situation Normal to their friends. I’ve also made it a practice to talk to people I meet offline. Often times the conversation comes around to the “what do you do” question. I could bore them with tales of corporate comms, but instead I tell them about my creative writing. If they ask how they can find me, I ask them to take out their phone and walk them through a Substack sign up. I know that’s scary to a lot of writers, but honestly you get used to it, and for me it became fun.

As for Wattpad, I get the same result as you. It’s very hard to pull readers from that walled garden.

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author

Making those up-front asks is really important, and something I find quite challenging.

The "what do you do?" question is a really good one to consider, though. I usually feel compelled to talk about the day job, when actually I should focus on what I'm most passionate about.

I don't tend to ask people to share/forward my newsletters, either. I should probably give that a go!

Thanks for stopping by, Michael.

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Group promotions, viral mailing list giveaways, conventions

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I have had this post bookmarked as unread in my inbox so that I could come back to it to read the discussion and find out how people get readers. Conclusion from reading the discussion: Sadly, people don't really know! Lots of intra-substack growth, which is fine. Takehome point for me, though: BookFunnel. Got to get onta that BookFunnel...

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author

Ha, that's a pretty good summary, I think. We're all still figuring this stuff out. Every 5 years a bunch of people hit big on whatever the core platforms are at the time, then the ground shifts and the rules all change and we have to rethink everything.

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Apr 11, 2023Liked by Simon K Jones

I'm on Ghost, so it's a little more difficult, since I don't have that internal Substack network. Most of my readers come from Google, Reddit, and Pinterest. Good SEO is obvious, so I'll put that aside.

Reddit is a matter of finding the communities most relevant to your niche, meaningfully engaging with those communities, and understanding their self-promotion rules and norms so you're not taking advantage of them. At that point, you will probably be getting a few thousand clicks per post, possibly tens of thousands depending on the community and how they react. You can also share posts from other publications you think should be getting more attention, and engage with readers... who sometimes suck, but sometimes provide cool insights.

Pinterest is obviously most effective for a photo-driven publication. I have a menswear blog, so a lot of my posts have a few dozen photos I can just pin directly. It's a relatively passive way to get a few hundred clicks per month, and it's growing pretty quickly in the background while I work on my blog.

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author

If Substack didn't exist, I'd most likely have switched to Ghost by now.

I've never quite cracked Reddit for promotion. I use it personally, but don't have the time to put into the communities sufficiently to justify promoting my own stuff.

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Apr 12, 2023Liked by Simon K Jones

I agree. Not a subscriber, just stumbled on this through Notes. Reddit communities geared toward mental health have a lot of community rules about solicitation posts for your own work, so I've found it to be unfruitful in my quest. So it's good for personal, but professional not so much.

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author

Yeah, same - and while I enjoy helping other writers with their work, that's a big time investment in order to get some clicks back here. All of it ends up being a balance of time and effort vs reward, ultimately, which feels a bit mercenary - but there's only so much time in the day.

On the other hand, very interesting to hear that you landed here via Notes. That seems like a positive. :) Hello!

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Apr 12, 2023Liked by Simon K Jones

Hello! :) Most of the work surrounding being a contractor/small business owner in the writing game (which is essentially what most of us are is a form of gig workers) is that tough battle between time and effort as you said. If we write to eat, then we have to be cut and dry about. Just what it is.

And indeed, isn't that what the hope was regarding posting bits on Twitter? Never used it much other than looking for interesting news articles and commentary. The witch hunts and intellectual screaming matches notwithstanding. There at least seems to be a more of a modicum of civility on this platform.

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I know this is late but here goes anyway... Nice to see someone else using Ghost! I upload to my personal Ghost blog first and then cross post to Substack once Google has picked it up. That's just the way I want to play it, but most other content creators upload to the platform of choice first then use their personal blog as a backup. An SEO focused, single topic site obviously helps, but most writers here are just winging it with whatever they want to talk about and I include myself in that bunch! But when fiction becomes the main game that we want to play then... well... that's another ball game altogether and a tough nut to crack, but crack it we will!

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I don't have any good promotion methods yet unfortunately. Twitter never worked for me anyway, gave up due to lack of results. Been going for cross promotion mainly, and praying for word of mouth. And interacting with other writers I guess, but I don't think of it as promotion.

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author

Yeah, I've increasingly found that any effort spent on Twitter and other social platforms generally feels like wasted time. The real pleasure of writing on Substack is that it all feels purposeful, and that I'm building something genuine.

And you're right about interacting with other writers - I've done so because it's fun and I learn from them, and was pleasantly surprised to find that it also seemed to boost my own readership. Unlike on Twitter, it's very clear what I write here, too, so I can be fairly confident that new subscribers are interested in what I'm doing - whereas on the social platforms, where it's all 'personality'-based, it's hard to know if your 'audience' is at all relevant.

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I do swaps and group promos with SO and group promos with Book funnel. I try to engage the signups to warm them to my content. I also have exclusive short stories available only for my Substack and the link to sign up in the back of my books.

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I've been using regular social media, and venturing little by little into being part of the Substack community. It's been kind of slow for me when it comes to getting new readers and subscribers. I run a bilingual Substack and sometimes I feel that maybe that is kind of confusing for some people. But I do like publishing content in both languages that I speak.

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author

If you're enjoying the writing and process then go for it.

I've come to realise that short stories seem to work better than long-form serialised novels on Substack, but that's not going to stop me writing the stuff I enjoy. :)

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I’ve read through this whole thread. I love how it’s full of relevant advice, some of which I definitely plan to try. Thanks, everyone! :)

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author

There's a lot of really clever and generous people in the Substack writing community. Best writers' group I've been a part of. 👍

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I use my Instagram and YouTube to direct traffic

to my newsletter. Freebies or popular subjects help drive the most traffic. I am going to try guest writing in other people’s blogs, or do a feature swap or something with more writers. Notes seems useful too.

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author

Notes has certainly had a good first 24 hours in terms of connecting people, it seems!

I wish I had time to do video. I've wanted to do a Scrivener intro series for a while, but haven't yet found the brain space.

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I have little to add here since I'm not currently publishing, thus not trying to build an audience, thus having no experiences to share...

I can merely blame lower Twitter engagement on Musk. A good quarter of the accounts I used to follow left the platform and I've used the "block" button more in the last six months than the prior six years put together.

Since you brought up Instagram I'll ask if that platform has ever added a way to upload from PC/Mac? As a photographer I wasn't doing phone snaps and uploading with a filter and the required extra steps of having to dump everything to my phone and tediously upload one at a time going through a whole bunch of different screens to NOT crop, color correct, and filter my already carefully curated images just turned me off the platform.

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Apr 11, 2023·edited Apr 13, 2023Liked by Simon K Jones

Yo people talking about uploading photos to instagram on a computer. Use Chrome broswer. Turn on 'developer mode' in settings. Run Chrome as if it were on a phone (but still on a computer). Upload photos. Voila.

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I am able to post photos (not reels or stories though) directly to Instagram. This is a change, but I'm not sure when the change happened.

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I'll take it. Reels and Stories (especially Stories) are most likely to be directly shot and uploaded from a phone, anyways. Pictures are all I care about.

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author

Yeah, you can upload photos from a browser, which is how I tend to do a lot of it. It's quite buggy and feature-lite compared to the phone app, mind you.

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I haven't found a way to upload to Instagram from my laptop either and agree it is tedious having to dumb down my photos just to get them onto the platform. I've been contemplating sharing them more here on Substack, but haven't really done it yet.

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I have a business account and I use Meta Business when I want to post from my computer. It also shows me to schedule.

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I’d used Twitter a lot but found the amount of click through was ridiculously small and those that did rarely subscribed. I gain followers but almost none of them have subscribed on Substack.

Since the Notes vs Twitter debacle I am putting most of my social media energy into Notes and seeing great results. Twitter does not offer what Substack does and I’m at the end of my patience with the platform. It seems all the platforms are becoming more walled in, we’ll see if this is a benefit to those inside the garden or not.

Beyond commenting in as many places as possible and having conversations with writers of all genres I’m unsure of my ‘next step’ for promotion. To be honest becoming rooted in the community here is likely the best method for the short to medium term.

I’d considered Wattpad, though I hadn’t heard of it until late last year, but it seemed overly insular and not suited to the fiction I write.

Intrigued to see everyone else’s strategies.

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It's tough. I've been thinking it's because I am incarcerated or because my books are about life in prison after 45 years of incarceration and take a critical view of incarceration. Perhaps I am wrong and it's more about getting readership in general. I seek readers for my books. Convicted, So You are Going to Prison, is a version of my life story as an incarcerated man in the dangerous Georgia prison system. My story should provide valuable insight into how to make it in the warehousing for profit violence of serving a ridiculously long prison sentence. Loved ones of the incarcerated will feel they are right in the cell with the person they love.

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THAT'S why my links stopped showing previews! Wow, I had no idea. Thanks for letting me know this. What the heck? WHY?

As an indie, I rely on social media. It's all I have, ESPECIALLY considering I live outside the US. *sigh*

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I took the advice I gave last week and made a 4,000+ word article where I expanded it out with links and other resources. https://www.authorecosystem.com/p/how-to-find-more-readers-for-your?sd=pf

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I'm new to Substack so I'm late to this one. I tried to open your link but the page wasn't found, is there somewhere else I can access it?

Thanks

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