If you scroll through your email inbox, there’s a good chance you’re subscribed to some kind of newsletter. And while plenty of those subscriptions may be for companies and brands, there’s recently been a surge in the popularity of individual newsletters. Substack, a platform dedicated to free and paid email newsletters, received over 24.57 million visits in September 2021. Journalists flocked to the site in 2020, leaving newsrooms to become their own bosses.
And that’s the great thing about creating your very own newsletter – the autonomy it provides. A newsletter can become an unfiltered channel for all of your ideas, personal and professional updates, and any other musings you may want to share with the world. This flexibility makes it a great medium for individuals in all fields, not just journalists and writers. If you’re interested in building community and establishing yourself as an expert on a certain topic, an individual newsletter may be perfect for you.
The benefits of having an email newsletter
Writing a regular newsletter is a great way to network with like-minded people while also connecting with a new audience. As you share your perspective, you can even become a thought leader and build up your personal brand and credibility with readers. In fact, if your audience feels like they’re benefiting from your words enough, there’s a chance they’ll be willing to pay for your newsletter. In this way, a newsletter can even become your very own business, something you’ll see in the below examples.
5 successful newsletters from people we admire
There’s no right or wrong way when it comes to setting up an email newsletter. These examples of newsletters from five very different people prove that anyone can create a thriving newsletter as long as they are passionate about a certain topic.
A commentary on all things pop culture with Hunter Harris
Hunter Harris — a former entertainment writer at Vulture — quickly became popular through her witty recaps (aka “Power Rankings”) of the Roy family from HBO’s Succession. Along with her journalism work, Hunter amassed a huge Twitter following by sharing her sharp commentary on the latest TV and film news and celebrity gossip. Rather than stay as a Staff Writer at Vulture, Hunter decided to create her own Substack in late 2020.
She wasn’t the only journalist to do so. Culture reporter Anne Helen Peterson made a similar move when she left Buzzfeed to turn her semi-regular Sunday newsletter, Culture Study, into her full-time job. Both Harris and Petersen have shared how the move to Substack provided them with greater freedom to write what’s most important to them.
“I was really nervous about starting it!” Hunter said. “ ... But once I started brainstorming ideas and working with the designer on the logo, it kind of clicked into place: I can be even more myself than I could be for Vulture, which means, essentially, infinite posts about the movie Closer or Bennifer or why Martin Scorsese doesn’t wear his glasses anymore.”
While the focus of “Hung Up,” is on the latest pop culture news, Hunter discusses trending topics of all sorts, even politics. Her newsletter has been a huge success so far, and the writer has even been featured in other email newsletters like when she wrote a guest piece for fashion brand Reformation.
While "Hung Up" does have a free version, in order to read the entire newsletter followers have the option to pay $5 for a month or $50 for a yearly subscription.
Not only has this become Hunter’s full-time job, but the writer said she’s also been able to take on more freelance writing gigs – something she didn’t have the time for when she was a staff writer. Clearly, starting her own newsletter has been a win-win situation for the journalist.
Emily’s life plan for the week
If you’re a fan of Emily Mariko, you know that her brand is all about minimalism. While the influencer went viral on TikTok for her salmon rice bowl recipe in 2021, she first created her YouTube channel in 2012 sharing content around fitness and food.
Unlike most other Influencers, Emily’s Instagram Reels and TikToks are quiet. The YouTuber never adds music or voice-overs, and rarely even talks in her videos. Instead, viewers hear the chopping of vegetables, the clinking of pans, and the ignition of the stove. Rather than provide all of the details for her recipes in her videos, Emily sends a weekly newsletter with a rundown of the previous week’s content, including full recipes and links to her cookware and outfits.
Not only does "Emily’s life plan" have a simple layout, but she also includes handwritten notes, which adds an authentic touch to the newsletter.
This newsletter is a great reminder that your content doesn’t need to be exceptionally curated or polished. All that matters is that you share information that is useful and relevant to your audience.
History lessons with the cultural tutor
In May 2022, Sheehan Quirke, who goes by “the cultural tutor,” quit his job and decided to make a Twitter account to share his passion for history with others. In just six weeks, he was able to amass over 100,000 followers.
While Sheehan uses Twitter as a platform for discussing his interests – and has had many threads go viral – he also sends out a newsletter every Friday promising to deliver seven short lessons about art, history, and architecture to his followers’ inboxes.
The newsletter was initially free and gained 19,000 subscribers in its first few weeks. Now, however, Sheehan has included a paid option as he hopes to make the newsletter his full-time job. Users who subscribe for free will still receive a monthly newsletter and two essays a year but paid members will continue receiving weekly emails. Sheehan has stated on his website that he is even interested in starting a podcast as well.
If you’re passionate enough about a certain topic, like Shaheen is passionate about history and culture, a newsletter is a perfect way to organize your thoughts while also disseminating your knowledge to others. The fact that Shaheen was able to grow his following in such a short time without having any prior exposure, proves that people will gravitate towards your newsletter as long as your content is interesting and educational.
Kat Boogard’s freelancer tips
Kat Boogard — a freelance writer who has been published in multiple outlets, including The New York Times — writes a newsletter specifically for other freelance writers. In her newsletter, Kat shares her experience with other writers and offers tips for freelancers to land paid writing opportunities.
Each week, Kat shares best practices and provides actionable advice for freelancers, like how to make their pitches the most effective. This is a great example of a newsletter that is hyper-focused on one topic. Readers know they’ll be learning more about freelance writing, making Kat’s content a great resource for a specific demographic.
Along with sharing her own advice, Kat also includes a list of resources, freelance writing gigs, and highlights her top reads of the week. These additional sections are a great perk to an already useful newsletter.
Joel’s weekly newsletter with thoughts and highlights
Our very own CEO, Joel Gascoigne, has recently started his own weekly newsletter where he shares updates about his personal life, Buffer, and highlights anything else that’s top of mind for him.
In every newsletter, Joel focuses on a specific theme, with the most recent addition being about flexibility, specifically as to how it pertains to the four-day work week at Buffer.
Also included every week is a roundup of articles, tweets, and quotes that have especially resonated with Joel.
Joel has said that this newsletter is a way to build community and connect with others, and he even encourages readers to respond directly to him. Similarly, your newsletter doesn’t only have to be a one-sided conversation but can also be a way for you to engage in open discussions with like-minded individuals.
While starting your own newsletter from scratch may seem like a big undertaking, we hope the above examples have made the process seem more doable and inspired you to create your own. Whether you’re commenting on trending topics, providing expert tips, or just sharing your favorite things – your newsletter can be successful as long as you talk about the things that matter most to you.