It seems Substack is “all the rage” these days, and for good reason. If you’re curious about Substack as a Christian writer or wondering if it’s a good way to build your platform, this post is for you.
After much deliberation, I started two Substack publications in September (2023). I loved it—at first. After five months, I quit Substack.
What is Substack?
Substack is a free blogging platform (and a type of email service provider) that provides an easy way to publish content. It uses a subscription model to encourage writers, journalists, and thought leaders to distribute their work independently.
You can publish digital newsletters, podcasts, and private group chat broadcasts on your Substack publication(s) and generate short-form content (similar to social media posts) on the Notes feature.
“Substackers” can monetize their work by offering paid subscriptions, though this is not required.
Why I Started With Substack
I love connecting with my readers through email. I use email to inform them of new content, share more personally, and provide extra resources to encourage and equip them. It’s an effective and enjoyable way to serve my readers.
But as my subscriber list grew, my email service required me to upgrade. This was quite costly. Also, I wanted to serve my readers better by giving them more control over the content they receive from me.
Substack seemed like a good free alternative, so I switched to Substack in September 2023. To help provide the most relevant content for my readers as possible, I actually started two Substack publications—Wield The Word was home to my content about writing for God’s glory as Christian writers, and Love It • Live It was for my devotional and Bible study content.
I did not start my Substacks to replace my existing website and blog. I wanted to use it strictly as my email service to connect with my readers and potentially meet new ones.
What I Love About Substack
Before I tell you why I quit Substack, let me tell you what I like about it.
1. Quick Setup & Simplicity
Substack is perfect for someone without a lot of technical expertise. Even if you don’t have a website, you can start writing on Substack within minutes and build a platform. In some ways, the simplicity of Substack can be a great option for someone who wants to write publicly without the distraction of tech stuff.
2. Writerly Community
Substack attracts writers and readers who appreciate great writing. In this way, it’s different from social media platforms that seem to encourage you to keep scrolling instead of genuinely appreciating the words that have been carefully crafted for your benefit.
Also, through various features, Substack seems genuinely determined to support writers and help them succeed.
3. Financial Benefits
Substack is free. That’s a huge advantage over any email service. Additionally, Substack provides a way to easily monetize your work if you so choose.
10 Reasons Why I Quit Substack
Despite the positives, Substack is not for me. It’s not the best way for me to serve my readers. (For a more in-depth explanation of my approach to writing and serving my readers, read Faithfulness and Followers: Why I Quit Social Media.)
Here’s why I quit Substack and returned to my email service despite the sacrificial cost.
1. Lacks SEO functionality
I’m an SEO copywriter. I love SEO. I know SEO. And I use SEO to drive traffic to my website. (SEO is search engine optimization.) I could go on about this, but I’ll save it for a different post. Bottom line: SEO is crucial for me, but Substack has limited SEO functionality and may even hinder SEO in some cases.
2. Devalues my emails
Because Substack emails are published online for all to see, it devalues my emails. Why would someone want to subscribe to my email list if anyone on the internet can read my emails online? I like to provide genuine value to my subscribers by offering them exclusive content, including free resources unavailable to non-subscribers. (Are you on my email list? Sign up here.)
3. Limited functionality for lead magnets and email campaigns
Substack allows a single automated welcome email to new subscribers. That’s it. There’s no functionality for email sequences or multiple campaigns. There isn’t a slick way to offer a lead magnet or multiple lead magnets (or freebies). I’m sure there are unconventional ways to use Substack for things like this, but I want to be able to integrate it with my website, and I can’t do that with Substack.
4. Personalized subscriber options are not user-friendly
I thought Substack would enable my readers to customize their content preferences, allowing them to select specific content to receive or not. However, the process of achieving this is not intuitive by any means. In fact, it requires so many steps that only one of my subscribers bothered with it.
5. Requires readers to create an account
If readers want to comment on a post or change anything related to their subscription, they must create a Substack account. This seems unfair to my readers. What if they don’t want a Substack account? I felt bad about forcing my subscribers into something they didn’t want.
6. I can’t repurpose Substack content
Because my time is severely limited, I try to repurpose my work. When I write a devotional for my email subscribers, I like to reuse it elsewhere later. However, because what I publish on Substack is public, my repurposing options are limited. I can’t submit a Substack article for publication, for example, because most publications don’t accept work that’s been published elsewhere. (Most publications will happily accept content I’ve only shared in my emails when I use an email service that doesn’t publicize email content.)
7. Design limitations
I’m not fond of Substack’s look, and the design customization is extremely limited. I don’t get to make my emails look exactly how I want them to look. This is a personal taste issue, so it may not bother you.
8. It’s an extra platform to maintain
Like social media platforms, Substack is a platform that works best with maintenance. It’s designed to be a platform on its own and works best when it’s used like social media—rewarding engagement like commenting on other people’s posts, etc. This doesn’t interest me. My website, emails, and speaking engagements are my platform. If I add more, I feel spread too thin. I need simplicity.
9. Potential addiction
Because of the similarities to social media, I was constantly tempted to spend more time on Substack. I know it’s possible to use Substack without the Notes feature (which is the most like social media), but there’s still the “like, comment, share” aspect and the reward from increased engagement. Regardless of what anyone says, Substack has its own algorithm.
10. I’m not in control
I own my website and my emails. I have complete control over what I write. And with SEO, I can reach the readers who really want or need the content I provide. With Substack, I don’t have complete control. Substack is a business. They could change their policies at any time. They could add or remove features at any time, etc. That’s their right, but it makes me vulnerable.
Is Substack a Good Option for You?
Even though Substack is not right for me, it might be for you. I highly recommend it, particularly for writers without much technical experience or those without a budget. It’s an excellent and simple way to start publishing content for free.
If you’re still exploring, Substack for Authors: An Exciting Opportunity or Just Hype? is another helpful article.
As I said in my article about social media, “to Substack or not to Substack” is a question of stewardship. For some of us, Substack is a tool that helps us faithfully steward our gifts, but for some of us, it isn’t.
Are you on Substack? What do you like and dislike about it?