Why Authors Should Ditch Mailchimp and Move to Substack | Jane Friedman

Why Authors Should Ditch Mailchimp and Move to Substack | Jane Friedman

Photo by RDNE Stock project

Today’s post is by publisher and author L.L. Barkat (@llbarkat) of Tweetspeak Poetry.

If you’re an author who’s been using Mailchimp to grow your list and improve sales, it might be time to ditch Mailchimp and move to Substack.

This is a big decision. I understand.

After all, as a small publisher, I recently made the decision to move our Every Day Poems publication to Substack, and it took some real work to successfully do so.

Why did I risk relocating a publication that was approaching its twelfth birthday?

Two big reasons I started the ball rolling

  1. Mailchimp has seriously raised its prices since it was taken over by Intuit and since it has pivoted to be a heavier e-commerce service. Regarding pricing, I asked Mailchimp for a solution that might be appropriate for their customers who are part of the creator economy, and they said, “You could delete subscribers.” That just didn’t seem like a sustainable solution if the goal is growth.
  2. One of our T. S. Poetry Press author/illustrators started a few Substacks last fall and immediately built her lists into the thousands (from nothing!); we watched her book sales start climbing. That sales trend has continued for her and for another author of ours who also moved to Substack.

The bottom line?

We saw a chance to cut costs and increase sales. What’s not to love.

Beyond that, we want to suggest 5 more reasons you might want to ditch Mailchimp and move to Substack.

5 reasons to make the move

1. You can get paid, instead of paying. Substack is technically a subscription service, and while you can offer your newsletter for free, you can also offer it at a minimum of $5 a month or $30 a year. Some people charge more. Sure, you can charge for your Mailchimp newsletter, too, but you have to pay to play. If your lists are in the thousands at Mailchimp, this can become quite pricey.

We went for the 5 & 30 model at two of the Substacks we now run. and while we lost paying subscribers when we made our initial move, the revenue has since tripled. That’s partly because we also added a new offering: The Write to Poetry. It might also be due to Reason # 2 below.

2. You’ll be in an ecosystem instead of a silo. Substack sends your newsletter to inboxes, just like Mailchimp, but it also publishes your content to the Web. This is extremely important for creating an ecosystem instead of a silo. All your free posts are easily likeable and shareable and, if you allow comments, can provide for engagement.

On top of that, the Substack network allows publications to recommend other publications—sort of the way blogs used to have sidebars where they recommended other blogs. If you really hit it big, you might even get recommended by Substack (that happened for us with Every Day Poems, and we picked up a lot of subscribers when it did!)

3. You can have searchable archives instead of invisibility. Substack has excellent SEO, and your archives (even your paid ones, if you toggle to discoverability) are discoverable by search engines. With Mailchimp, there are no archives except in people’s inboxes. Not optimal.

Does it make a difference? Our Substack stats show that it does. We’ve gotten new free and paid subscribers via Google searches that landed people right on our regular content—content that with Mailchimp would not have been findable by search engines.

4. Your signups will be simple instead of requiring design and coding. It’s super easy to grab the embed code for Substack and put it everywhere on your website. Caveat—no pop-ups at this time, like you can with Mailchimp. Still, there is little to do in terms of code and design. You just grab the embed code provided by Substack, right from your dashboard, and signups become as simple as this:

5. You can export your content if you want to leave, versus having your content lost in fragments forever. Nothing lasts for all time, especially on the Internet. If Substack becomes a place you someday leave, you can take your content with you. On Mailchimp, your content is not downloadable and it’s all in separate pieces.

Need more convincing?

First, importing your existing Mailchimp list to Substack is easy. You simply drag and drop your CSV list that you download from Mailchimp. With large lists, in the thousands, you might have to wait a day while Substack reviews it.

Second, your posts can go straight to your audience’s inbox, just as with Mailchimp. Or you can choose to post just to the Web.

Finally, when you send a newsletter to subscribers’ inboxes (the content of which also publishes right to the Web), Substack automatically provides media assets you can use to populate your social channels. It helps if you have nice photographs. Here’s a sample:

Image: a square promotional image created by Substack to promote an author's post. The name of the Substack account appears at the top, along with the post's title <a href=and subtitle, all overlaid on an image of wildflowers which was used in the original post.” class=”wp-image-62011 lazyload” srcset=”https://www.janefriedman.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/barkat_substack.png 572w, https://www.janefriedman.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/barkat_substack-300×300.png 300w, https://www.janefriedman.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/barkat_substack-150×150.png 150w” sizes=”(max-width: 572px) 100vw, 572px”/>

Tips for success

1. Have a clear proposition, as with the best blogs. In fact, if you want to be eligible to get recommended by Substack, they note they are looking for a clear focus.

2. Publish consistently, which is a data-proven key to success. (If you haven’t read Don’t Trust Your Gut, you really need to. One of the most encouraging points is that authors and artists are more likely to become successful by consistently putting work into the world!)

3. Be a little social, even offer just a “heart” or a smile if people comment on your work. (See the introverted Sadbook Collections for an example. It doesn’t take much, which is good news for many writers who get overwhelmed by the prospect of having to be too social online.)

The end of the matter

If you still need the complexity of creating “Customer Journeys,” I suggest you stick with Mailchimp. But remember, you can also hybridize your approach, as we are doing with The Write to Poetry—starting some clientele on Mailchimp and moving them through several customer journeys, before relocating them to Substack.

In the end, this is the question: To ditch, or not to ditch Mailchimp? The signs say Substack might be best for your future.

Note from Jane: I field many questions these days from writers who are wondering if they should move to Substack. I myself do not use it for my blog, my free newsletter (Electric Speed), or my paid newsletter (The Hot Sheet), and I will not be switching. If you are currently happy or satisfied with your website, blog and/or email newsletter, I would not upend everything to move to Substack. Ask yourself if you’re experiencing FOMO (fear of missing out) or if you have a well-thought-out business reason for moving, as L.L. Barkat does. Also keep in mind that Substack is built on VC funding, which means you’re building on shifting sands. What’s here today might not be here tomorrow. Use the platform for your own ends, and know what you’ll do if the service closes or changes in some way that makes it less attractive for you. While I’m glad Substack makes it easy for people to depart with their emails/subscriptions, it can be very painful and time-consuming to find and build a new home base.

L.L. Barkat is the author of seven books for grown-ups and four for children. She is the publisher at T. S. Poetry Press, where she delights to bring beautiful work to light. Her work has appeared at The Huffington Post, on NPR, and on the BBC. She loves tea, poetry, and a secret cup of coffee.

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