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Understanding the Substack toolkit

Posts, Threads, Chat, Notes, Video, Episodes, what?

Go back a couple of years and Substack was about sending newsletters. That was it. Nice and simple. Fast forward to today and there are lots of pieces that fit together to form the Substack toolkit, and it’s not always obvious what they’re for. Or where they are. Or which ones you should use.

This is the second part of my Substack for Beginners series. You can find part 1 here:

Let’s take a tour of that toolkit. In your Substack dashboard you can click a button to start a new post.


These are the core of a Substack publication and are also the easiest to understand. A standard post is primarily text-based, like an essay or article or short story. It can include images, videos, embeds and all sorts, but text is the beating heart of a post.

Posts are sent out as a newsletter to your subscribers, and then they live on your publication website.


Back on your dashboard, if you click the arrow next to New post you’ll get a bunch of other options.

The one at the bottom, Video, is the simplest to understand. It’s very similar to a normal post, except it puts a video front and centre.

This very post, the one you’re looking at right now, is a video post. It presents the video at the very top and prioritises that viewing experience.


Episode is for podcasts. Yes, you can run your own podcast via your Subsack!

This isn’t some kind of Substack-only fake podcast, either - you can have it show up in all the usual places for Apple, Google and Spotify users. The episode goes out just like a post to your subscribers, but also appears in the feeds of podcast apps.

You can even have custom feeds for your paid subscribers, and it’s all kept fairly easy to manage. Here’s

’s podcast showing up in my Google Podcasts app:

So far, these options have been fairly self-explanatory. Next we have two slightly more obscure options: Note and Thread.

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Creating a Note jumps you over into Notes, which…is a whole other thing.

The easiest way to think of it is as Substack’s version of Twitter, although that does it a disservice. And I’m referring to pre-2016 Twitter here, I suppose. In terms of features the comparison is mostly valid, but the feel is very different.

I’ll cover Notes in detail later in the series, but the key thing to know here is that a Note will not be sent out to your subscribers in the same, direct way as your other material. A Note will only be seen by people who actively use Notes.

A Note is also more public: anyone using Notes has the potential to see your Note, even if they are not a subscriber.


How about a Thread, then? No, it’s got nothing to do with Meta’s attempt at Twitter.

On Substack, a Thread is very similar to a normal post, except it’s presented and designed to maximise discussion. Instead of sending out a long-form article, a Thread should be a question: a short discussion prompt to get the conversation flowing.

Here’s an example from my archive:

I’ve always been pleasantly surprised by how effective these are: when I first started using them I expected to get an awkward silence in return, but instead I’ve had some really in-depth debates and have met some great people.


Lastly, there is Chat.

‘What is chat,’ you’re wondering, given its total absence from the dashboard?

To get to Chat you need to use the mobile or web apps. In the app it’s the icon at the bottom-right of the interface. On the web you can find it by going to your account menu and choosing Chat, which will then hop you over into the web app.

Think of a Chat as a private conversation between you and your subscribers. Only your subscribers see them. The idea is for Chats to be more ‘live’ and of the moment than newsletters.

I’d say this is the least well-defined part of Substack at the moment, but it still has a lot of potential if you want to build a community around your writing.

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Your Substack publication

Those are all the pieces. You don’t have to use all of them, but they’re there if you want them.

All of this is why I tend to refer to a writer’s Substack as ‘a publication’, rather than ‘a newsletter’. Your publication can incorporate all sorts of different types of thing, making it your own little media empire.

It can handle your written material, your videos and your podcasting. It has community features built-in. You don’t have to go elsewhere for these features, or bolt-on some confusing third party plugin.

I think of Substack less as ‘a platform’, in the traditional way of describing Facebook, or Twitter, or YouTube, and more as ‘a toolkit’. It may well be the most powerful toolkit for independent writers that has ever existed.

Things change, of course, and Substack is developing all the time. Features I’ve covered today could be quite different 6 months from now. But as I covered in last week’s video, you own your data and your audience on Substack: even if the worst happens and you decide the platform is no longer for you, you can just pick up your stuff and go somewhere else.

Hopefully that won’t be necessary, though. Substack have built something exciting and important and largely unprecedented, so hopefully it’s here for a while.

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Next time I’ll be looking at writing a post: how to make it look good, how to embed media, how to make use of buttons and footnotes and the other bells and whistles. 

Thanks for reading and watching. Every Monday I send out a newsletter with tips for writers (like this one), and on Fridays I publish a new chapter of my ongoing science fiction serial Tales from the Triverse. If that sounds good do make sure you subscribe so that you don’t miss anything.

Meanwhile, some other stuff on my radar:

pretty much nailed the fundamentals of writing an online serial:

A few years ago I judged a children’s book award and was primarily left wondering why incredible books are siloed off as being ‘just for kids’, so

’s piece gets a big thumbs up from me:

Haver & Sparrow
Illustrated books aren't just for kids
✨This VoiceOver was recorded unedited in my home so there may be word jumbles, throat clearings, and the occasional dog snore. I hope you enjoy it whether it’s something you need or prefer. This post contains several photographs so if you’re able to take a look at those, I’d definitely recommend it. You can tap on a photo to enlarge it, if you’d like a …
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Typically good stuff from


The Honest Broker
Why Did Social Media Go to War Against Writers?
Below I look at some surprising ways Substack has changed the media (and social media) landscape. This gives me a good excuse to recommend the new Substack app. It’s now my go-to source for informed writing—providing access to a smarter and more diverse group of authors, thinkers, and creators than I’ve found anywhere else…
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I went to NorCon with my son at the weekend, an amusingly-named local science fiction convention. It’s always a good time and hits a nice balance of merch and actual artists. My 10 year old got to chat with a bunch of manga artists, and it made me think about how this kind of opportunity didn’t seem to exist in the 80s and 90s. Or maybe I just wasn’t aware of them.

Either way, being able to meet and learn from artist and writer role models is so important, especially for young artists.

Lastly, a friend of mine linked me to an amazing use of AI. So much AI hype focuses on the frankly grim application of generative AI to take things away from artists, so this makes for a nice change:


Write More with Simon K Jones
Substack for Beginners
A no-nonsense video guide for writers who are new to Substack.
Simon K Jones