Category : Writing


My Writing Experiment on Quora - The Incredible, The Bad, The Eye-Opening

Tim Denning Quora

Photo by Onur Binay on Unsplash

I’ve always hated Quora.

Then my brain struggled for a few weeks to come up with writing ideas. I fired up my good ol’ Quora account again. That’s where I found a bunch of awesome questions that triggered some of my most successful writing.

Quora is notoriously hard to use. The layout isn’t pleasing to the eye. And, well, the users, I’ll tell you about them shortly.

What put Quora back into the spotlight

Quora has gained attention again after they decided to turn on multiple ways for writers to earn money.

Many writers I admire started to publish on there again recently. They offer paid memberships to Spaces (publications) and answers, and a share of the revenue from ads on the platform. It’s not a lot but for writers who are desperate to quit their jobs and do it full-time, Quora provides yet another income source.

My Experience with Quora

200-word content is so refreshing

On Quora the word count of a blog post can be a lot lower. I typically see between 200–500 words as the norm. It’s nice to write short-form again. Writer Michael Thompson gave me some critical feedback about my writing when I asked him for it.

“You try to say way too much in your articles.”

Now I aim to say one thing clearly in every Quora answer. It’s made my work a lot more focused. Instead of ranking ideas and trying to choose my darlings, I simply choose one idea.

No headlines to write

Headlines are crucial to online writing. Quora doesn’t have them.

The question asked by a Quora user acts as the headline. This is a lot of fun for me. I’ve noticed that I spend more effort on the subheadings now because of it. Fellow writer Ayodeji Awosika regularly preaches about the importance of subheadings. (This is the resource Ayo recommends here.)

Ask your own questions

I never knew you could do this. Quora writer Sean Kernan is cheeky and asks his own questions and then answers them. Through the process of asking your own question, you can come up with some wild content. Questions are the source of some of the best tweets of all time. Questions make us think. Questions help us look at both sides of an argument.

Give headlines a rest. Try asking phenomenal questions on Quora.

Answer a question with a story

The most popular answers to questions are stories. The most popular stories on Quora are personal stories. This is great for us writers. We’ve all got tonnes of personal stories.

The problem is we often don’t think our stories are valuable or we don’t know how to frame them properly as a written article that people want to read. That’s different on Quora.

In a way, Quora has lowered the barrier of entry for writers by allowing personal stories to be seen more than any other type of content. This excites me. I have hundreds of personal stories. The trouble is many of them don’t require a full-length blog post, and a tweet doesn’t allow enough space to share them. Now I have another option.

Personal experience matters

Quora has credentials. But they don’t have to be traditional credentials. You can customize the credential featured on every piece of content. For example, I answered a question about vaccinations and put my credential as “took the Pfizer vaccine last week.” The answer doesn’t offer medical advice. It offers advice on what the experience is like for those who haven’t done it yet.

By redefining credentials, you start to believe as a writer that you’re qualified to write about more topics. Credentials give readers perspective on where your writing comes from. That gives the reader the option to choose the angle of the perspective they want to read, rather than a decision about which headline or byline they like.

The secret to Quora

There’s one skill you need on Quora that you don’t need anywhere else: you have to get good at finding what questions to answer. Here are the factors you must consider to have your writing seen:

  • How old is the question? Questions that are more than two years old often get no traction.
  • Has a top writer already got the first spot on the question? Below every question is all the answers. They’re ranked based on views. If Sean Kernan has answered the question and got a million views already, you’re probably not going to beat his answer. Quora works the same as Google. Do you want the first search result in Google or the 8th? If you want the first result then choose questions without superstar answers.
  • How many followers does the question have? This isn’t an exact science. You can answer a question with one follower and do okay. I’ve had better success when I find a question that has 5–10 followers. Followers tell me people care about the question. One follower tells me nobody cares.
  • Does the question appeal to you? The smartest questions to answer that do the best are the ones that instantly speak to you. I saw a question about Game of Thrones and straight away thought of my fiancé who forced me to watch it on our second date. Questions that speak to you will produce better writing.

The Dark Side of Quora

Not everything about Quora is champagne, horderves, and high-fives. Let’s explore.

Moderation sucks

There’s a lot of garbage content on Quora. The worst type is memes. The platform is drowning in them. People who are not content creators post them because they get a lot of upvotes (likes). They drive me nuts. Quora would be significantly better if moderators removed a lot of the spam.

Many top writers have disappeared

An Aussie friend of mine has been on Quora for years and amassed a sizeable audience. I got him to put together a list for me of the best writers on the platform. The list was incredible, but as I went through each person I noticed more than 50% of them had dropped off.

Content creator retention is something many social media apps overlook.

They simply think new creators will keep popping up so it doesn’t matter if they destroy the veterans. What they fail to understand is the veteran writers motivate the beginner and intermediate writers.

When top creators disappear the content on the platform starts to go downhill. From there, paying subscriber numbers start to fall off a cliff because their favorite creators are elsewhere. Before they know it, they’re adding loads of features nobody wants in an effort to regain dominance.

I’ve noticed this phenomenon (slightly) through my Quora experiment. It’s nobody’s fault. The only way to overcome it is to have a few content creators on the platform as employees or consultants. Us content creators are a weird bunch. Platforms like Quora think we’re solely after money. When you dig deeper you realize that’s not a high priority.

We want to write and build an audience. Whoever helps us do that is our high priest that we worship.

Quora users

There are some really smart users on Quora. The platform seems to attract the intellectual type. I don’t find that a lot of the content has links to research and evidence, though, which sometimes detracts from the credibility.

There is a NewsBreak vibe too. Anyone who has written on NewsBreak will tell you the sheer terror of the comments section. The racism, harassment, and bullying is wild. You literally can’t read a single comment on NewsBreak if you like yourself even one bit.

Quora comments can be pretty crazy too. There is less moderation these days on the platform since they laid off a large number of staff a while back (probably to cut costs and refocus). Treat every person you encounter on Quora with an open mind and respect, and you can’t go wrong.

What you don’t want to hear about writing on Quora

Can you handle two ‘likes’ (upvotes) on Quora for a year? That’s the real question that slaps writers in the face. You’ll likely get very few views and upvotes when you write on Quora. (My best post is like six upvotes…haha.)

Quora — like most platforms — rewards time in the game, the number of answers, and the engagement you get on your content.

You won’t simply be able to post answers and get 10,000 upvotes tomorrow. That occurrence is rare based on my research. So it comes down, as always, to whether you’re willing to put in the work and be patient. I am. Look at writers like Mark Manson on different apps — he is.

No social media platform will work for you as a writer unless you stick at it for more than a year. Writers hate hearing this but it’s the brutal truth.

Should you write on Quora tomorrow?

After my experiment with Quora, here’s my conclusion.

  1. Use Quora to get questions you can utilize for writing ideas.
  2. Publish a 200-word answer on Quora here and there if you have time.
  3. The Quora+ memberships that earn writers money have just started. Look at the results first from other writers before seeing Quora as a way to earn money from writing.

Bottom line

Quora is an old platform. It’s had lots of issues over the years. Their employees are trying lots of new things, but nobody knows if any of them will work.

At the same time blockchain is fixing the problems of centralized social media apps that run on ad models. Apps like Bitclout are questioning the follower model, where writers have no email addresses of their readers. It’s an interesting time to write online.

I’ll leave you with this: there has never been more opportunities to make money from writing and not work a normal job if you choose. Stay open-minded. Experiment with where you write. Focus on writing for the long-term and the quality of your work. You’ll succeed wherever you write when you do.

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If You Are a Content Creator, This Simple Sales Philosophy Is Crucial to Understand to Build an Audience

Simple Sales Philosophy

Photo by Dmitry Zmiy on Unsplash

If you create content then you work in sales. Congrats.

Most of us aren’t born salespeople.

In fact, many of us hate anything salesy. Sales applies to content creation because you need to persuade and market your work to build an audience — there’s no way to avoid it. If you want to go the extra step and then build a business from content, you’re in for an even ruder shock.

I’ve spent most of my life in sales. My original mentor taught me to be stupidly honest and remove all the tricks and hacks. The tips I’m going to share make up a simple sales philosophy that will help your content reach a larger audience without feeling sleazy or salesy. Here we go.

Your audience is overwhelmed. Sorry.

The problem with content creation is social media is extremely noisy. It sucks away our energy and leaves us deprived of dopamine.

Many content creators forget about this, or are unaware. They assume their content is the only stuff being seen by the audience and that they woke up in the morning just to be part of their happy, awesome club of wanderlust lovers. Not true.

The key to getting an audience to consume your work is to put them first. Think about what it must be like to be in their shoes.

Now imagine this: they’re right-hooked in the face every few seconds by some creepy stranger who doesn’t give a damn about them. The internet is a salesfest. If you forget this simple rule, you’ll become part of the forgotten crowd that lurk behind closed doors and slap internet users in the face.

You’re selling and probably don’t know it

Many content creators I’ve spoken to think that selling online is only when you ask for money. Not true. Here are some examples of uncommon selling:

  • When you post an external link on Twitter, you’re selling.
  • When you ask us to follow you, you’re selling.
  • When you ask for a donation to your Patreon, you’re selling.
  • When you tell us to check out your friend’s video, you’re selling.
  • When you retweet another content creator’s post, you’re selling.
  • When you use affiliate links in your content, you’re selling.

Tattoo this on your forehead: every ‘ask’ is selling.

So add up your ‘asks’ to see how much you’re really selling.

Overdoing it is far too easy

Most of you are not trained sales professionals so you accidentally overdo it.

You send way too many emails to the audience. When you have no method for sales and marketing, you have the opposite effect. Instead of growing your audience, you squash the size of your audience.

The result is huge spikes in unsubscribes on your email list. Or the silent unfollows on your social media accounts that are hard to track. Or even better, the gentle press of the mute button on your content.

Stop spamming your audience with asks — both direct and indirect. Stop all the overdone self-promotion, and the promotion of your friends or businesses that you have a vested interest in. Want to know what overdoing it looks like?

I once went to a sales seminar. The guy presenting was a real estate content creator and auctioneer. He told the wannabe content creators to wrap their personal cars in signage, only wear clothes with their company logo on it, give business cards out to all the parents at their kid’s school, place their logo on the background behind them when they do meaningless self-promotional podcasts nobody is listening to, and when they go on holidays, get a tattoo with their business.

I mean jesus freaking christ. This is what I mean by overdoing it. It screams “buy, buy, buy.” When you’re good at what you do, there’s no need to slap people over the head with all this selling.

The simple test that reveals the truth about you

Many content creators are lying to themselves. They pretend they’re not selling. I have a way to cut through the crap. I call it the “timeline test.” Go to the timeline of your favorite social media app and look out for these things I’m going to demonstrate.

Let’s do the test on Tim Ferriss’s Twitter (sorry Timbo).

Screenshot taken by author of Tim Ferriss’s Twitter

His first tweet is an ad for a conference he’s speaking at. His second post is a retweet to promote someone. His next tweet is a retweet. The tweet after that is a retweet with an external link to a Youtube video. Then he links to his website and asks us to listen to his podcast. The last tweet is one that says how amazing Mr Ferriss is. See the problem?

This is how most content creators market themselves and it’s totally wrong.

Timmy Boy is drunk on selling. He’s broken the cardinal rule of sales. All he’s doing on Twitter is asking for stuff but not giving any value in the form of a freshly written tweet that hasn’t been posted elsewhere. Now, Mr Ferriss probably doesn’t care about being a great law-abiding content creator. But you definitely should.

A totally different way to think that will save your content creator life

Justin Welsh is a badass LinkedIn creator. He taught me to think of an audience like an iPhone battery with his “recharge method.”

When you ask the audience to do anything, the battery goes into the red. Every day you don’t ask, the battery slowly goes back up until it’s green. Once it’s green, then you can ask again.

Screenshot of Justin Welsh method

You get to do one ask at a time. So you wouldn’t waste an ‘ask’ on a silly thing like a retweet or by posting a link to a Youtube video on LinkedIn, would you?

Post a valuable ask that significantly helps you grow your audience — like ‘buy my online course’ — then leave them the heck alone for at least a week. Ideally, after the big launch of a product, you should wait at least four weeks before selling again.

There is a hidden part of your audience that wants to be sold to a lot

The place where selling hurts content creators the most is in emails sent from the likes of Mailchimp and ConvertKit. Just because you have an email address, doesn’t give you the right to oversell.

There are some members of your audience — I call them superfans — who can’t get enough of your asks. What I do is segment my email list. If people respond to the first ask then they get tagged. If they respond to the second ask then they get tagged again.

When you segment the audience, you can do more asks to those who engage more times than normal, without overdoing it.

Bottom Line

It’s easy to oversell. The temptation to do it comes from the desire to build an audience far too fast because, often, we compare ourselves to other content creators who are 1000 steps ahead of us.

An audience is built slowly. Ask less. Give more.

Superpower: give a lot more than you think you should.

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Here’s Why Sean Kernan Is One of the Most Successful Writers on the Internet

Sean Kernan Medium

Photo by Elijah pilchard on Unsplash

“Son of Quora.”

The tagline was bizarre. I first found Sean Kernan on Quora about five years ago. Every good question on Quora had a witty answer from him.

On some days it looked like he literally ate, bathed, and slept in front of a computer screen with voice-to-text software he used to answer questions on Quora. Since then Sean has diversified onto many other platforms.

I like to study prolific writers to see if I can uncover a few nuggets of wisdom from them. In case you’re wondering, this isn’t a bro hug. I don’t care whether Sean reads this or whether you like him. The point is to get better as writers and we do that with an open mind and through analysis.

Here’s what I learned by studying Sean (without him knowing).

Ruthless curation

Many writers are lazy at curation, including me. We add every story and every dot point about a topic into the finished article. We hope the reader will filter out the crap parts so they can find the gold. This is a myth.

If you leave in half-baked thoughts or poor-quality stories, the reader will simply click away.

I read a comment by Sean on one of his posts. He said to a reader “yeah sorry, that dot point didn’t make the final cut.” There isn’t an ounce of wasted content in Sean’s articles. If a sentence isn’t strong or a paragraph doesn’t wow us, he removes it without attachment.

Cut out lukewarm content so what’s left can shine.

Self-edit. Then recruit a fanboy to edit.

Sean has said many times that he edits a lot. I estimate he spends more time editing than writing. Recently, Sean admitted that writer Michael Thompson, who also loves his work, helps him edit. Michael is a secret fanboy of Sean, although I don’t think he knows it.

It’s easy when we edit our own work to think everything is awesome. Feedback from another writer can help you overcome the “I’m the best” bias. I’ve recently taken inspiration from Sean and got a fellow writer to do the same for me. We read each other’s work. We aren’t afraid to be brutal. The coolest part is we play with each other’s structure.

Stream of consciousness writing, sometimes, can simply screw up the order of points. I do this all the time.

Seek help from writers who are on the same level as you. We rise up through the writing world by lifting others up. Also, get out of your head. The biggest liar about the quality of your writing is yourself.

Get to the point j-j-junior

Sean’s intros are shorter than a one-night stand. The guy gets to the point. He sets up the article with one thought and then gets to the meat.

Too many writers fluff around and destroy the little energy and attention the reader has right at the start. There’s no recovery from this. Online readers are brutal. They simply don’t give a f*ck. If you get to the point too slowly, they click away and forget about your story, never returning to it again for eternity.

Halve the length of your intro.

Adopt the habit of an archaeology professor

There are two Sean Kernans: pre-archeology girlfriend, and post-archeology girlfriend. The first version is the one I read on Quora. There’s some research in his stories but nowhere near as much as now. It’s no wonder. Sean’s (current) girlfriend is an archeology professor. No doubt her habit of researching a topic to uncover the finer details has rubbed off on Sean.

Look through his stories and you’ll find carefully sprinkled statistics and facts that back up his points. There are nice underlines that link to research so you can go down the rabbit hole if you choose. The challenge I see with this approach is people link to every damn thing. They accidentally believe it’s an intelligence test and every word has to be backed up.

It’s okay to use your life experience or explain your view of the world without the requirement to link to Science Daily.

Trust yourself to be an authority on a topic.

Turn into a giant weirdo

Many of us wonder what weird shit Sean reads. He finds the stories none of us have ever heard. I guess that’s Sean’s little secret. Here are three killer examples:

  • Nazi IQ Tests
  • An Elderly Mathematician Hacked the Lottery for $26 Million
  • Pepsi’s $32 Billion Typo Caused Deadly Riots

Some speculate Sean spends a lot of time on Quora reading. There’s a lot of weird stuff on there, so maybe that’s his source of secret inspiration. One day the mystery will be revealed. Until then, let it remain a mystery.

You can find your own weird stories. Go to uncharted territories of the internet. Dare to read stories that aren’t popular. Search through old history books to find weird battles, or people who would remain dead if you didn’t bring their story back to life again through your writing.

I sometimes wonder about my own life story. Yesterday I filled in the government census which is mandatory in Australia. There was a tiny tick box at the end that read something along the lines of “Do you consent to your information being released to the public in 90 years?” Kind of a weird question, right?

“Why not? I’m not going to be alive by then. Maybe someone can benefit from the data collected about my life,” I thought quietly to myself. So I ticked yes.

Stories shouldn’t die with people.

Diversify across multiple platforms

Sean doesn’t write on one platform. Around the time Quora took a u-turn into death’s valley, Sean started writing on other platforms. Now you can find him, well, everywhere.

This is a smart strategy used by many of the top writers I’ve encountered. You never know what a social media app can do. Social media apps prioritize making money over your content. They don’t care about your feelings or whether you like their rules. Look at NewsBreak now: dumpster fire.

When you write in a few places you de-risk your writing career.

A sense of humor is a gift

Too many writers take themselves way too seriously. Some go too far in the other direction and end up publishing story after story that reads like satire.

Sean’s gift in his writing is balance. Take this line: “The startup collapsed within nine months. It was like a reverse pregnancy.” It’s subtle humor that makes a story interesting without going overboard.

Be a little witty in your story. Make us laugh once in a while. We need it after the virus that shut down the world.

This destroys writer’s dreams

This lesson from Sean gets me in trouble. Every. Time.

Here goes: Sean consistently publishes every week. He’s not a once in a blue moon while the algorithm is red hot kind of writer. He doesn’t come for the bonuses, or the contests, or to win the writer lottery over at Vocal Media.

Every month he publishes around 25 stories. That’s why he is one of the most successful writers on the internet. Consistency separates the real writers from the pretenders. Read that again.

If you haven’t made a career out of writing, it’s because you’re not consistent. Or you started writing yesterday. Time in the game beats complaining.

Make a bold statement

A lot of writing makes me sleepy. It’s full of cliches and Instagram quotes we’ve been drowning in for years, like “Be busy being awesome.” Yuck.

Sean makes bold statements when he writes. They make you uncomfortable. Here’s the best one:

Do a little life math. If you are the common denominator in a series of repeating problems — it’s probably you.

See what I mean? Sean makes a stand. Bold statements make us think — and in a world where so many don’t think and can’t understand basic science, this skill is crucial to good writing.

I often say in my writing that I don’t care whether the reader agrees or disagrees, I simply want to make people think. That’s what the power of inserting bold statements in your writing can do.

Forget trying to please everybody. You’ll please nobody.

Final Thought

I’ll be careful offering any critiques of Sean. His dad was a navy seal, after all, that would happily beat my skinny Aussie ass into mash potato. Just joking, Sean 🙂 *Escapes the country forever*

While Sean is a great writer — according to the data and his enormous online audience that spans across multiple platforms — I don’t agree with everything he says. That’s how I like it. Living in an echo chamber of people who all believe the same as me feels like a slow walk off a cliff of misinformation. I’ll leave you with this line a mentor once told me:

The sign of a brilliant writer is one you don’t always agree with.

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Good Writing Gets Secretly Shared Without You Knowing

Writing lessons

Photo by Khalid Boutchich on Unsplash

Growing an online audience is completely misunderstood.

Many writers look for growth hacks, or headline tricks, or new platforms that will make them the Pamela Anderson of the writer’s world. I’ve built and continue to build an audience online. Instead of staying in one place, I’ve ventured out into the deep end. From Substack, to Bitclout, to Mirror.XYZ (coming soon), to NewsBreak-my-balls, to LinkedIn.

To grow an audience you need your work to reach more people. The problem is an audience doesn’t grow in front of your eyes. All the statistical dashboards in the world can’t show you why your writing actually gets shared.

I learned this lesson the hard way the other day. I jumped on a call with a stranger. Because the call happened at the crack of dawn I didn’t have time to learn who they were, or even what they do for a living.

A few minutes into the call it became clear they were a somebody. They were a talent agent that dealt with some of the biggest cultural icons of the last ten years. They could drop names like Billie Eilish as if it were normal. Despite all their connects, it did nothing for me.

I hate fame. Fame is a nightmare I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

About thirty minutes into the call the spotlight went to my writing. They secretly shared with me how some of the biggest New York Times Bestselling authors had noticed, and even, shared my work.

It’s hard to believe when you’re a nobody from the Australian desert that any notable writers would care about your simplistic form of glorified self-help. I currently publish twelve articles a week and tonnes of short-form content on LinkedIn, Twitter and Bitclout. It’s nearly impossible not to get a tiny bit better when you’re putting in that many hours.

The quality of your work improves the more you write. Quality writing gets shared because there’s not a lot of it.

These are the extra ingredients required to have your work secretly shared behind closed doors (they’re not obvious).

Sell less

Too many writers try and blackmail us into reading their work. It’s stupid. They overload our newsfeeds with links to their work. They clog up our email inbox with notifications that feel like begging. They tell us too many times to follow them. They have way too many digital products that require our credit cards. Good writing sells itself.

Increase the quality of your writing. How? Do more research. Edit ruthlessly and kill some of your darling dot points that you know suck.

Create tiny advocates who whisper your name

It’s easy to take a follower or subscriber for granted. The temptation to think 100 followers is a small number has been hardcoded into our innocent brains by ‘like factories’ such as Instagram.

The key isn’t to build your followers.

I focus on tiny advocates. I look for the people who are most vocal about sharing my work and then engage with them. Or I find out what problems they’re struggling with in case I can help. These small good acts may sound stupid if you’re time-poor. But they’re not.

When you create an advocate they tell all of their friends. They hunt you down on places like Twitter and watch all of your tweets. They build a library of your content in their head that they can recite to strangers.

I learned that some of these tiny advocates (without me knowing) did the following:

  • They shared my stories with their email lists.
  • They tagged me in their articles to expose their audience to my content.
  • They self-published books about writing on Amazon and recommended my work (with links to my website).
  • They suggested certain book publishers reach out to me.
  • They told writing platforms to contact me and see if I’d be interested in putting my work in their app. This led to more ways to monetize. One of the reasons I hear about new writing platforms before most is because of these recommendations.
  • They asked their workplaces to have me at their team days as a speaker.
  • They introduced me to other writers who became friends.

Takeaway: Think of writing as community building. Create advocates who become smaller leaders of tiny factions, full of people that share one thing in common: your work.

Be a good person when nobody is watching

In front of a crowd it’s easy to act like a saint.

Go to a conference and watch the speakers hang out backstage. You’ll be mortified. I’ve seen this firsthand. The person on the stage who is confident and nice is often a giant a-hole with an ego the size of a gorilla when you meet them in the green room.

What you do as a writer when nobody is watching is what counts. I like to give stuff away for free. Maybe it’s a Q&A. Maybe it’s a free book to someone who really needs the content to solve a huge problem. Maybe someone bought a course from you and wants to exchange it for another product. It’s not necessary to do it, but when you do, you do the right thing.

Doing the right thing is always the right thing. It’s a superpower for writers.

Then there are times where you’ll write something stupid or that’s tone-deaf. Behind closed doors it’s easy to pretend you’re always right. I recommend you admit when you’re wrong, or at least admit you could be wrong.

Another missed opportunity is writers who are better than you. I see way too many writers shitcan another writer because they’re having a stellar month. This is the sign of an emotionally immature writer. None of us will sit at the top of the writing mountain forever.

Better writers force us to grow.

Instead, build up other writers who perform better than you when the eyes aren’t watching. The practice shows humility, and humility will see you reach the greatest heights of writing.

Show genuine gratitude for all of this

Not yoga-mat gratitude taught by a guru. I mean gratitude for the fact you can even write online. So many countries don’t have access to Stripe. If you do, then you’re extremely f*cking privileged. If you have an email list or even a handful of followers then you’re doing better than most writers. Why?

Well after years of teaching online courses, I’ve learned one thing: the biggest barrier to writing is publishing anything. Most writers won’t publish. If they do, they’ll give up way too soon. If you’ve got a few followers then that means you’re not the majority. This is huge.

Five years of writing online will make you wildly successful.

Few writers get this and squash their dreams in the first innings, when if they’d played a few more rounds, they would have easily made 6-figures and probably got a book deal like Mark Manson did.

I can’t believe anybody reads words from a weird-looking dude from Australia with big ears. But here we are seven years later. Gratitude shows your audience that you won’t turn on them if your work takes off. That’s so rare and, without thinking, they’ll share your work because of it.

Nobody likes an ungrateful writer who gets lost in their own awesomeness and forgets where they came from. To be able to write a single tweet is a miracle to 100-year-olds. Think about that.

Be the person on the Zoom call that you are in your writing

Let me translate:

  • Talk like you do on a Zoom call.
  • Keep the profanity in.
  • Leave the slang terms.
  • Let your personality shine.

Followers are bullsh*t. Make friends instead.

I want to finish with this one. Too many writers focus on followers. When the number goes up they have a brain orgasm.

Ten friends you make through writing are worth more than 10,000 followers.

Let me explain. Some of my best friends are other writers. We collaborate. We support each other. We reach out when one of us has been bitchslapped for no reason by a critic. We wish one another all the best on each other’s wedding days. We jump on a Whatsapp call when a parent is terminally ill. We randomly ask how each other is going. We invite each other to our podcasts. We edit each other’s work.

I used to be a follower zombie. I didn’t give a crap about other writers. I ignored them and ghosted their emails. One day a fellow writer changed my mind. I engaged. I found a friend. That friend became my business partner. My output and income doubled because of them.

Followers don’t share your work because they’re disposable — they’ll happily trade you in for another piece of dopamine content without thinking twice.

Friends, though, support your writing, and advocates share your work secretly without you knowing.

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The Most Important Lessons I’ve Learned from My Substack Newsletter Experiment

Substack Publication

Photo by Pursuit Retro on Unsplash

Substack confuses most people.

We innocently believe it’s another newsletter platform. That’s why a lot of great content creators have missed the opportunity. They’re too close-minded to try it. I suffered from the same narrow-minded thinking too.

So I decided to conduct an experiment and start a Substack publication. It’s been a few months. The lessons will completely change your thinking about Substack — and the strategies can be used on other platforms.

Substack Created a Paradigm Shift

Newsletters existed before Substack. It took me a while to process what Substack has done. Here it is: Substack has forced content platforms to reconsider the ‘follower’ model.

Followers are an audience a content creator can’t directly communicate with, without a pain in the butt algorithm getting in the way. Substack said “Content creators own their audience data from now on. Forever”

If you’ve had enough with Substack you can pack your audience into a neat, little container, and quietly walk over to the next platform that has better features. That simple philosophy creates accountability that bossman CEO of Facebook and others don’t have.

Accountability prevents the extortion of content creators, so we don’t get taken advantage of like Uber drivers have been.

The Secret Feature Substack Has Been Working On

Gif credit: Tenor

You might think it’s too late to join Substack. Here’s why you’re right on time. As you read this, Substack is quietly working behind doors on adding discoverability. What does that mean in English?

Substack is going to have a newsfeed like many other social media platforms such as Twitter. This means you won’t have to import email subscribers to Substack to create an audience on there. Nope.

The signs of Substack’s secret plan are easy to see if you look hard enough. The words “discover, reader, and beta are all over the platform.”

Screenshots taken by me of Substack

If you publish on Substack now, then you’ll have a headstart — when they eventually launch discoverability — to gain subscribers for free and build an audience before the good times slow down like they did with NewsBreak. Discoverability will make Substack a real platform to watch for content creators. Keep an open mind to get a headstart.

Substack is about to go from a newsletter platform to a blogging platform. Read that again.

Substack Is Invisible

  • There’s no talking about Substack on the platform.
  • There’s no “How I Made $49 on Substack.”
  • There are no content creators fighting for pennies in the gutter.

Substack doesn’t tell you how to write. They don’t determine what is quality writing and what isn’t. There are no Substack editors. There are no publications to submit to. In fact, I haven’t heard from Substack since I started. I like it that way.

When I sit down to write, I want the platform I’m punching words into to be invisible. Less platform noise, more writing signal. Perhaps you can relate?

You Write Completely Different on Substack

I feel like it’s 2014 all over again. You can swear like a drunken sailor. You can use controversial images. You don’t have to link to every tiny thing you say to prove it’s fact. The formatting can be wild. I’ve even started inserting crazy gifs into my text to spice up the mood and avoid the drain of reading black words on a white page.

Nobody is in the back of my mind saying “you can’t say that, pal.” You say whatever you want on Substack without a care in the world.

Substack can give you back creative freedom. Bliss.

The Email Stats Are Stupidly High

My email open rate in ConvertKit is currently 30%. My email open rate in Substack is higher than 50%. The number of unsubscribes is almost zero compared to my ConvertKit email list.

The deliverability of emails to readers is high too. I suspect platforms like Gmail have marked Substack emails as high-quality content and adjusted their algorithms — that decide whether your emails end up in the trash — with a blinking green light that signals “let this email see the light of day.”

Simple Analytics Tell You What to Do Next

I’m a content creator dummy. I can’t read data to save my life. Substack has really good analytics. They email you a report of how your article went. They track every part of the email so you can work out what you did well and what you didn’t.

My favorite feature is, you can see what percentage of readers clicked links. This is bloody helpful. Like wow!

Screenshot of my analytics from one of the early emails I sent.

The Views Don’t Just Come from Email Subscribers

Notice something odd in the screenshot above? 292 email recipients generated 743 total views.

The reason is that Substack gives you more than an email list — they also give you a Substack website. That website is searchable in Google and on the Substack platform.

The difference with a Substack website

You get your own website on other content platforms too. The difference with Substack is there are no distractions.

No other content creator is promoted to your subscribers, so there’s no risk of a world-class writer like Mark Manson showing up unannounced and stealing your reader away from you with their famous reputation. Think about that.

The Social Side of Substack Makes It Better than Traditional Emails

Substack made email into a social media platform. You can leave comments on a Substack email. This starts conversations and builds intimacy with readers. A reader has the choice to either leave a public comment or send you a private email. When you write about touchy subjects such as mental illness, like I do, this is a huge benefit.

The Publication Is You

A newsletter on Substack is called a publication. Publications have themes and highlight a limited number of topics. When I began my Substack experiment this confused me, and delayed me starting. Then a helpful person said “You’re overthinking it buddy. The publication is YOU.”

People don’t sign up to a Substack newsletter that only focuses on one topic. A lot of readers sign up to a content creator they love, so you can write about whatever topics you want. Yay.

The Hidden Superpower of Substack

There is a feature most content creators don’t know about. Substack allows you to add “call-to-action” buttons. Traditionally these buttons are placed at the end of the content. But it’s perfectly normal on Substack to add these buttons multiple times throughout the story.

Writer Zulie Rane taught me that there’s another option when linking to other stories or content.

I used to put call-to-actions in my emails that would feature the text “click here” which was a hyperlink. The audience has to click the underlined text. Zulie places videos in her emails and uses custom CTAs instead (see screenshot below).


Screenshot taken by author of custom CTAs from Zulie Rane writer

I’ve tested the same method with Substack. Now here’s where it gets cool. You can add a custom CTA in your article to sell a book or course. Then Substack gives you analytics to measure the success of those buttons. You can tweak the labels on the buttons as the results flood in. Mind blown.

A Counter-Intuitive Way to Make Money on Substack

I’ve seen many content creators whinging about the 10% fee Substack charges when you switch on monetization. Basically, you can offer a free newsletter on Substack or a paid one by enabling Stripe payments.

With all the complaints I simply said to myself, “My Substack costs $0.”

How is this possible? Well, when you add CTAs in your newsletter, you can make money offline through affiliate links, books, coaching, courses, etc.

The idea of charging every audience member money to gain access to your content is stupid and needs to die. So if you don’t charge for your Substack, there’s no 10% fee. Genius.

If you decide to charge for your Substack later, you can simply lift and shift your newsletter to a platform like Ghost and get much more competitive fees.

Pessimism destroys opportunities. Creativity helps you make money as a content creator.

Substack Subscribers Grow Faster like This

I’ve told you already that my Substack is $0. Free content grows your audience 10X faster. Back in 2014 when I first started writing, I said to myself “Write as long as you can for free Timmy Boy.”

Many content creators try and make money too fast, and that’s why they fail miserably. Greed takes over. They start overpromoting and jamming links in the audience’s faces. Their Twitter timeline is full of back-to-back links to their blog with 0–2 likes. They start metaphorically stabbing other content creators in the face with their hateful comments because they’re envious and mad about other people’s success.

$0 is the answer to a lot of content creator problems.

The audience is much more forgiving while you’re building your skills and creating a library of content when the price is free. An audience is ruthless when they’re paying you money and you accidentally waste their time.

The #1 Mistake Content Creators Make on Substack

I’ve researched dozens of other content creators who have gone to Substack and faceplanted.

Substack is all about exclusivity and superfans. You will fail on Substack if you take content from other platforms and simply dump it there. Laziness doesn’t work out well for content creators.

To succeed on Substack you have to publish exclusive content there that can’t be found anywhere else on the internet. That’s the price you pay.

The #1 Rule of Substack

You’ve got to show up every single week. Once every now and then doesn’t work for Substack. Creating content every day is the biggest hack there is, yet many people never do it.

Write every day for a year and you’ll have an awesome after hours side hustle. Write every day for five years and you’ll never need to work again and have an audience that pays your bills forever. Nobody wants to hear this so I rarely offer this advice, but it applies to Substack too.

Promote Your Substack like a Badass

Marketing a Substack is easy. This is how you market pretty much anything online. Ready?

You simply add a link to your Substack in the bio of your various social media accounts. People click the link and find your Substack.

I didn’t even do that. I didn’t tell anybody about my Substack experiment. It grew organically through word of mouth. A proven way to promote your Substack is to announce it on social media and add a link to it. I’m lazy and non-fancy so I did nothing. You do you.

The Surprising Tactic You Can Steal

This revelation really surprised me. Your Substack can grow rapidly via word of mouth. But how?

Well, you manually add a share button at the end of every Substack email. People click the share button and it forwards your work to their network. Add some custom text to encourage the audience to share (see below).

Screenshot of taken by me of my CTA

This approach to sharing content is much more intimate than traditional sharing on social media. While there are multiple places a reader can share your Substack, the majority of the audience will choose “share via email.” Emails from friends are more likely to be seen. Therefore, the likelihood of a person getting forwarded your Substack from a friend and subscribing is much higher.

The share button grows your Substack quicker than you think.

Some Extremely Bad News About Substack

Wait, what?

Yep, I’m here to be honest with you and not sugarcoat anything. Substack has not embraced blockchain technology. This may not sound crucial but it is. Blockchain is how content creators publicly prove ownership of our work.

Blockchain also prevents a human in a penguin suit from turning off your account for no good reason. Decentralization enables democratic rules to be applied to content creators, rather than the dictator rules applied by big tech. Took me four accidental bans from LinkedIn to learn the power of this feature. Blockchain freedom is the same reason Jack Dorsey is decentralizing Twitter.

There’s another huge trend Substack is missing: NFTs. Other platforms like Bitclout are allowing content creators to turn their writing into NFTs. Why does this matter? NFTs make your content portable, transferrable, and allow you to co-produce work with other content creators and split ownership.

But let’s be frank. NFTs create new revenue streams for writers. You can sell your stories, blog posts, and writing as an NFT and easily get paid. Substack hasn’t tapped into this trend and that worries me.

Bottom Line

My Substack experiment has taught me a lot and I’ve been sharing my learnings with big-name writers. Now you know what they know. The bring-your-own audience concept is huge. The customizable CTA buttons are massive. The creative freedom of escaping the algorithm is stunning.

Set up a Substack. Charge $0. Sell an eBook using custom CTAs. Add a share button to promote word of mouth of your Substack. Keep publishing on multiple platforms to de-risk your side hustle. And .. create from the heart.

If your Substack experiment fails, export your audience and take it somewhere else. No problemo. *Cuts shackles from arms and legs*

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It’s *Not* Too Late to Join the Creator Economy

Creator Economy Web 3.0

Photo by Drew Dau on Unsplash

Creative people used to be a joke.

In high school, I told people I was going to be a musician. They laughed out loud at me. I grew up with odd characters who wrote poetry. They too were laughed at. I had a friend who was a standup comedian. He tried to do it professionally. People at the bank he worked at during the day laughed at his nighttime gig.

Then there are writers. If you told people ten years ago that you wanted to be a writer and maybe publish a book, they’d say “get a real job ya bum.”

Not anymore.

Those who used to laugh at my creative dream are sending me private messages asking how they can do the same. What’s changed? The tech.

Fiction writers can write on Wattpad and succeed. Bloggers like me can set up a Substack and crush it. Poets can go on Twitter and leave mouths wide open. (A few male writers even went on Twitter and created a new form of poetry: broetry.) Photographers can blow minds on Instagram. Wannabe actors can start a Youtube channel and get gigs on tv shows. Singers can publish their songs on Spotify and become the next Billie Eilish.

Creators aren’t a joke anymore.

Tech has made the creator journey even more interesting than the cliche entrepreneur movement that dominated the early days of the internet, where people accidentally thought starting a business made them a god.

Maybe you haven’t unleashed your creativity online yet. It’s not too late to start. Let me explain.

The Creator Economy Boom

Let’s start with what the creator economy isn’t: influencing.

The odd category of influencers tried to attach themselves to the creator economy. The truth is influencers aren’t influencing anybody. They’ve simply become glorified network marketers. Just look at Instagram. *Does faceplant*

The creator economy isn’t about looking good or “selling product.” It’s about unleashing your creativity and making good art. Words are art. Photos are art. Videos are art. Games are art. Books are art. Poetry is art. A podcast conversation is even art.

Art never used to pay the bills for most people.

Large media companies got in between the creator and their audience. They siphoned off most of the cash to pay for their executive cappuccinos, and left creators hungry and looking for scraps. The internet changed that. Creators can now, partially, go direct to their audience.

How? By creating content aka art.

Creators focus on making their art and the tech platforms do the rest. Creator platforms either have direct monetization, like Youtube, or what I call creative monetization. Creative monetization requires a little more work. You collect the emails of your audience. You give them more content. And you occasionally charge a tiny fraction of your audience a small amount of money in return for art.

This business model started a huge boom for creators. Youtubers became millionaires. Bloggers like Ryan Holiday and Mark Manson became household names and wrote New York Times Bestselling books.

Creators were happy. They’d sing hallelujah at the dinner table while eating their vegetables and drinking their green smoothies. Rainbows appeared in the sky. Elon Musk smiled down at us from space.

Then a huge problem happened…

The tech platforms got greedy.

They kept the audience data for themselves through the follower model. Followers are simply audience members a creator can’t contact. Without contact details, creators become the Uber slave drivers to whatever platform they create on. Substack saw an opportunity. They created the “keep-your audience-data-and-take-it-wherever-you-want model.” There was one catch: you had to have an audience to bring to them.

Their model worked for established creators. It left smaller creators out in the cold. Over time the big creator platforms replaced art with more and more ads. Zucks at Facebook got high off all the excitement. His startup love child became a monster gobbling up platforms like Whatsapp and Instagram as they emerged. Then he attempted world domination of the creator world. Creators rebelled. They left. TikTok became the new kid on the block.

That brings us to now. We’re at the intersection of something beautiful for creators. Creator platforms like Facebook have realized they are wrong. They’ve got their cash cannons aimed at creators. They’re attempting like a dangerous predator to lure back the very people they ignored for ads.

More and more creator platforms are entering the scene and offering cash. The creator economy is getting stronger. Creators are realizing their value, and platforms that see the value will join us in our creative heaven.

Enormous competition has just been unlocked

Giving money to creators isn’t the real win. Creators know that money can be dangled in front of us and then magically disappear conveniently.

Here’s why you’re not too late. (In fact, you’re right on time!)

Creators are flocking to Web 3.0. Web 3.0 allows us creators to own our audience. NFT games built by creators are exploding. Axie Infinity is leading the way. Gamers are earning full-time incomes in the game. Finally.

Mirror.xyz is attempting to reinvent blogging for writers. Bitclout is turning creators into stocks the public can invest in — they even rebuilt Twitter. A decentralized version of Youtube that is censorship-resistant is on its way. Even the greedy business model of Spotify is being decentralized.

Jack Dorsey who co-foundered Twitter gets it. He’s in the process of decentralizing Twitter. Why? Jack has realized you either join the creator economy built on Web 3.0, or die holding onto the old model that takes advantage of creators and ends up being the next Myspace (soon joined by Facebook).

Imagine being at the start of the social media revolution with the ability to build a decent audience in twelve months. That’s where you are right now if you’re a creator.

Finding the right platform

There’s a tonne of noise in the creator economy. A lot of it centers around which platform to invest your time into. Writer Michael Thompson said it bloody beautifully, mate.

Don’t underestimate the importance of “where.”

Michael tells the story of his creator friend who got frustrated with the platform she chose to write on. Her writing was great but it didn’t find an audience. She ended up publishing in lots of locations.

That led to a few big business publications publishing her work, which led to a book deal. The reminder Michael gives us is there are more creator platforms opening up every day. Keep an open mind and you’ll do well.


Put your work on multiple creator platforms. See which ones work for your art and which ones don’t.

The Biggest Benefit of the Creator Economy

So why bother with all of this? First off, when you wake up every day and use your creativity to make art, it’s incredibly rewarding.

Corporate life taught me to hide my creativity and fall into line behind the soldiers in pinstripe suits. The creator economy taught me to express myself. You can do the same. By far the most underrated feature is this:

The creator economy can help you reach financial independence.

This doesn’t mean millions of dollars, a jacuzzi, and a Lambo. Financial independence simply means working your own hours, taking more time off, being able to take mini-retirements from creating, and having control of your work. Some people have waited a lifetime for this opportunity. The creator economy has made it a reality. I wouldn’t have said that a few years ago.

Making your first $20 from the creator economy changes how you think. Here’s the question that pops into your mind when you do: I can get paid to do what I love?

The benefits for creators are accelerating at light speed

By now you’ve heard about NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens). Don’t get lost in the hype. All an NFT does for creators is make our work portable and allows us to prove ownership. That’s it.

I recently turned a tweet into an NFT via Bitclout.

I clicked the “mint NFT” button. Moments later the auction for my tweet began. One user paid $20 USD for that tweet. A tweet is typically 2–3 sentences. They take minutes to write. Imagine I sold multiple tweets as NFTs each day. That’s a full-time income from the creator economy right there.

The NFT revolution is moving fast. Everybody reading this can benefit and build a career centered around NFTs. You’re not late. You’re right on time.

Here’s how to join the creator economy before it becomes saturated

  • Choose a creator platform: Ghost, Substack, LinkedIn, Youtube, TikTok, Twitter, Vocal.Media, Wattpad, etc.
  • Publish content weekly. If you’re really keen then do it daily.
  • Collect the data (likes, comments, shares, views, email signups). What content does the audience love of yours? Do more of it.
  • Experiment with Web 3.0. Try out Mirror.xyz and Bitclout.
  • Understand how cryptocurrency works. Wait, what? Yep, in the future the creator economy will pay you in crypto. Why? It’s fast, cheap, borderless, easily converted, digital … I can go on for hours. Start by learning about Bitcoin and Ethereum. Buy $20 worth. Send it to a friend. It’s better than PayPal, trust me, and cheaper than their ripoff fees.

Bottom Line

The creator economy is booming. If you’ve ever written an email, posted a photo, recorded a video, done a podcast, or drawn an illustration then you qualify. Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t. Plenty of people told me the creator economy is stupid. Now they’re asking me how to join.

Let me share with you one final thought. The creator economy is so powerful because it shows you that your experiences and stories have enormous value. Many people think their life is boring so they never create content. What if your life could inspire others through art? It can.

The creator economy is changing lives. Don’t be surprised if creators saturate the internet and become the most highly valued asset. It’s about time.

Society has looked down on creatives for far too long and fed them scraps from corporate giants. Let’s change that.

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