Polina Marinova quit her cushy job at Forbes as a writer and editor to start her own Substack newsletter.
It took a lot of courage. I’ve followed her work for a while. Watching what she did is part of the reason I quit my job to write full-time. She has also been the inspiration for me to experiment with my own Substack newsletter.
Her newsletter, The Profile, on Substack has been wildly successful and helped her rack up over 98,000 Twitter followers. Dwayne The Rock Johnson even publicly endorses her work.
I studied Polina so you can learn from her and perhaps dare to start your own newsletter or go all-in as a writer.
Building newsletters might be the most slept on business model in the world — James Camp
The smart way Polina makes money
On Substack, writers can charge for access to their newsletter. Polina has chosen a different way to make money from her writing. Some of her posts are free, and some require a Substack subscription.
This is smart because it gives you a taste of her brilliant writing before you commit. Eventually, you become addicted to her work and pay for the subscription. Too many writers put all their content behind a paywall, except maybe one article. This drives people nuts. Charging for all your writing is a scarcity mindset. Scarcity thinking gets you nowhere. Who wants to spend time with a tight arse? Not me.
Free writing shows readers that you back yourself and your work enough to give some of it away for free.
Shamelessly plug your newsletter
I asked my writer’s community recently about whether they are okay to get paid by platforms like Substack to refer readers and get a cut of the monthly subscription. I couldn’t believe it. Many writers think asking for money is unethical and it makes them sleazy network marketers. Ridiculous.
Polina uses a technique I haven’t seen a lot. She asks readers to subscribe to her newsletter halfway through the article. The typical place to ask people to subscribe and pay for your work is at the end.
Now, the difference with Polina’s ‘ask’ is it doesn’t interrupt the reader’s experience. She doesn’t go overboard with it. She just places a short piece of text asking readers to sign up. This is in contrast to some writers I’ve seen who flood their stories with ads of other work, asks, requests for money, and to follow their dog on Instagram.
Takeaway: Successful writers promote their work and are happy to ask for money.
Pick a badass format
Polina’s newsletter has the same format each time. She focuses on sharing great insights from successful people. These are often not second-hand insights like one of those cliche “Five Ways Steve Jobs Is The Best” articles.
Polina often interviews the people she writes about. So the lessons are firsthand and she’s able to dig below the surface-level bullsh*t everybody has said about that person and find something different. Now that Polina has nailed her niche she has begun adding the odd self-help style article too.
Takeaway: start with a simple format. Add to it as you go.
The secret way to market your articles without posting links on social media
The biggest failed strategy writers follow is they place links to their articles on platforms like Twitter. Twitter will not help you take their users off their platform and onto a competitor platform like Substack. Dah.
Polina has a better way. She turns her Substack newsletter posts into short Twitter threads (see here). Each tweet of the Twitter thread is a bite-sized lesson from the newsletter that readers can snack on. The first tweet is the headline with the cover photo. The last tweet in the thread is a link to the original article on her Substack.
Takeaway: Twitter threads that lead to paid content are the badass way to succeed as an online writer.
There’s no website for Polina. She has outsourced all the tech to Substack. She only uses Twitter for social media.
You can learn a lot from this minimalist approach. It’s easy to get distracted with tools and bullsh*t. When you go deep on a couple of tools you get a lot more traction. Her Substack is successful because she is deeply focused on it. Her Twitter account is enormous because she tweets useful stuff every day.
Takeaway: you don’t need the distraction of a website and a million social media apps to be a successful writer. Read that again.
New content every few days
A newsletter only works if you stay consistent. That lesson can be applied to all of writing. In fact, that lesson applies to life.
Polina has content every 3–4 days. She gives subscribers enormous value by finding interesting people and spending the time to do the research. You can count on her to write. If she doesn’t write she doesn’t eat. Remember? She quit her job to do this.
I’ve found there’s something so freeing when you’re all-in as a writer and have to find a way to be successful. An empty writer’s stomach is great motivation.
Writer’s motto: write or don’t eat.
Name a relationship in your life where you trust someone who is inconsistent. You can’t. That’s because we don’t trust people — whether it’s in work, business or relationships — who constantly break their promises.
— Polina Marinova
People pay for convenience
A small number of Polina’s newsletters are summaries of her free podcast. You’d think this would be bad for business. It’s not. Most people don’t have time to sit down and listen to a 60-minute podcast. They’ll happily pay for a 4-minute summary of it though.
Takeaway: Free content can become paid content. Simply optimize for convenience rather than brand new content.
What this all means for you
Polina is an awesome writer who is crushing it on Substack and Twitter. Why can’t you do what she’s done? You can. Polina isn’t a better writer than any of you reading this.
What she’s figured out is to back herself, ask for money, be consistent, choose an easy format, optimize for convenience, and make free content that leads to paid content.
There’s no reason you can’t start a newsletter. The most valuable part of the newsletter won’t be the money. It will be the habit of writing every week to an audience. It will be the joy of organizing your thoughts for the benefit of readers. You’ll be forced to show up and create your newsletter like a job. There won’t be any excuses like there are with blogging.
So get out there and be inspired by Polina. You can mimic her results.