Before you even entertain working with newsletter writers as a brand, you should understand more or less clearly what you are looking to get out of it. And if you are a writer looking to work with a brand, you need to make sure your expectations are aligned from the start. Some people draw a direct link between media mentions and sales, and while that's sometimes the case, not every partnership converts immediately (or at all!), but it doesn't mean it's not valuable. Here is a brief rundown of what you can aim to get out of a newsletter partnership or offer as a writer, and how to optimize for it.

Growth and Sales

Click-through rates in email marketing are historically low (1-5% is an industry average).If you’re looking to drive sales/signups via writer partnerships, look for newsletters with a substantial audience and a strong open rate where discovery is the primary focus (i.e. shopping newsletters, like Magasin, if you’re a fashion brand). Converting clients/customers via your own newsletter is a long-term play unless you funnel your existing following/mailing list from another platform into Substack (free sub to paid sub conversion is 1-5% by the way).

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Long-form content gives more hooks for a meaningful chat with someone than an IG post. As long as you are genuine and well-meaning, Substack comments, notes, and DMs may be the easiest way to connect with others in your field and engage with your target customer groups on the internet right now. But be careful, it’s easy to tell who is genuinely engaging with others and who is playing the LinkedIn game.

Brand awareness

My personal favorite brand awareness strategy is to win over small communities of really passionate people because they are likely to stick around and tell other people about you and your work. Rather than casting a wide net on Reels and TikTok, get a small group of tastemakers to recognize your name. Whether you are writing, sponsoring or engaging with Substack posts, you have the active attention of curious people which is practically gold in the current attention economy.

Alternative and mainstream PR

Fashion writers read fashion writers, creatives read other creatives. If you get a mention in one newsletter, chances are you will land another one via network effects (think High Sport pants). The best way to land big organic PR is by getting mentions from the people who staff writers follow, read, and look to for expertise (i.e. Snaxshot in food media).

By the way, this podcast episode from Brenda Weischer is a great BTS look into the details of luxury fashion brands partnering up with talent that does not fully fall into the traditional "influencer" category (i.e. writers, photographers, models, etc.)


The independent newsletter space exists in close proximity to traditional media and social media influencers. Hence, most of the partnerships between writers and brands look a lot like creator collaborations and paid PR. Here is a brief overview of how they are structured and why, along with a visual reference bank.

Classified Ad

Classified Ad looks like an old newspaper ad - a couple of sentences about the brand that sometimes come with an image banner. These are the oldest, cheapest, and perhaps the most boring type of partnerships, but nonetheless, still a popular one, especially in newsletters oriented towards professionals. Usually they appear either in the very beginning of the issue or closer to the bottom, sometimes in a bullet pointed list alongside other classified ads.

Sponsored Issue

Sponsored issue is an issue of a newsletter that has a section dedicated to the partner brand, and sometimes, runs with a “Sponsored by” header. Traditional newsletters, run by media companies, like The Published Press or Morning Brew, have two sponsorship slots per issue: primary sponsorship that comes with the header headline and runs closer to the beginning of the issue, and a secondary sponsorship that’s just a sponsored section closer to the bottom of the issue. Independent writers tend to have more flexibility as far as the placement goes.

Commissioned Issues (i.e. Deep Dives)

The contents of commissioned issues are fully dedicated to the sponsor. They can include personal details and other brand names to create a narrative and an entertaining read, but the core focus of the issue is the partner brand and their product. For example, Medik8 commissioned a Feed Me issue dedicated to its writer’s skincare routine. A more experimental take on the commissioned issues is a commissioned series of issues, like the x Dirt Scent Access Memory series about scent and memory that built up excitement for an Ufo Parfums scent launch.

The premise of the series sounded really interesting, and building up excitement for the partner scent launch through repetition seemed like a great idea (although sometimes tricky to execute). Personally, I felt a little bored by the series by Wednesday and unsubscribed before the perfume reveal, but it’s possible I am not the target audience for Dirt and content. I also thought the landing page for the perfume was extremely sloppy but it sold out, so I guess it worked! The pieces also got a prominent placement on the Dirt’s homepage. Great idea overall, and I’d pilot something like this but perhaps over the course of a month rather than days.

Product Seeding

Product seeding is essentially gifting with a contract obligation or hope for a mention of the product in a newsletter issue or a review. A good example of this is High Sport gifting or providing a deep discount on their products (specifically, their hero product - the Kick Flare Pants) to newsletter writers which kicked off a mention frenzy. Here are just a few examples of the pants getting mentioned in Magasin, Love List, 5 Things You Should Buy, Sarah’s Retail Diary, and Feed Me. Even the features centered around finding dupes for High Sport Kick Flares pushed the name of the brand further into the zeitgeist.

Another great example of this was Palm Heights resort PR inviting Emily Sundeberg from Feed Me on what was essentially a PR trip in exchange for a review.

Overall, if you have experience in PR or influencer marketing through gifting, you know exactly what product seeding is. A lot of times, seeding starts with social listening. For example, Emily wrote about both Palm Heights and High Sport before gifting. In fact, that’s what prompted the gifting in the first place.

Product Collaborations

Product collaboration is exactly what it sounds like - co-creating a product with a writer and partnering up with them on distribution. A good example of this is “Soeur x Cafe Leandra” where Soeur tapped the writer behind The Cereal Aisle to co-create a capsule drop and write about it. I like this collaboration in particular because the collection pieces feel very Leandra, so the readers can tell that she was involved in the process of making them. A lot of times, brands would just stick a writer’s or creator’s name on a product and use them for marketing which by now, consumers easily pick up on.


Lately there’s been an uptick in brand events, hosted by writers/niche high-value influencers which I think is a very nice spin on influencer events that have gotten really stale and soulless.

Rothy’s worked with the founder of Ghia Melanie Masarin to host a dinner for NYC-based writers and niche downtown influencers. The guest list was seemingly curated by Melanie and included the WSJ reporter Lane Florsheim, Emilia Petrarca, and Emily Sundberg (unfortunately, I missed the opportunity to take screenshots of everyone’s stories from the dinner with photos of their Rothy’s gifts). I am speculating but I think it started with Melanie mentioning that she loves Rothy’s in her newsletter.

Alex Mill did a phenomenal job letting Jess Graves from Love List invite writers and influencers for a dinner party she hosted in her home. Everyone wore pieces from their latest collection, and the photos and the recap newsletter that followed were magical (and included a generous reader giveaway!).

Reverse Campaigns

Reverse campaigns is my unofficial name for brand and writer partnerships in which instead of using the writer’s mailing list for distribution, the brand engages the writer in one of their campaigns. For example, Still Here cast Courtney Grow and Laura Reilly in their wheatpasting campaign, and Rothy’s shot Long Live’s Erika Veurink for their Mary Janes campaign. Using talent (writers, musicians, artists, etc.) instead of models and social media influencers resonates well with the cultural tastemakers and gives the talent a reason to organically write and speak about your brand.


Substack Notes and the reader app opened up a whole new territory for how readers engage with newsletter writers, turning the platform into a more engagement-driven social platform than merely a publishing tool. So, I think we are on the cusp of seeing partnerships that are more interesting than classified ads and sponsored issues (i.e. the fabulous Love List x Alex Mill newsletter). Until then, here are a couple of directions that I think brands and writers should entertain.

Sponsored series

I like the idea of Dirt’s popup fragrance series and I think it’s worth iterating. Great YouTube, podcast and short-video integrations come in packages and the best ones become essentially a character in creators’ universes. Time and loyalty build trust and curiosity, because let’s be honest, did you look up green powders that one time because you are into wellness or because you heard your favorite creator talk about AG1 time and time again?

Not everyone has AG1 budget but everyone can experiment with:

  • The sponsorship timeline. I like the idea of partnering up with a writer on a seasonal series – depending on the writer’s normal frequency, an issue or two per month for three months to start. It gives the writer and the brand enough time and flexibility to produce good-quality reads and iterate, and stays on the readers’ mind throughout the season.
  • The partnership type. Not every mention has to be a fully commissioned piece. I’d play around with packaging a commissioned piece, product seeding, and a couple of quick mentions together.
  • The number of writers involved. Delia Cai ran a pop-up Hate Read series in which she engaged tens of guest writers for guest essays about something they hate over the course of three weeks. This is obviously a huge undertaking but you can start with 2-3 writers and build from there.
  • Content types. Right now, Substack is saturated with three types of content: curations, essays, and interviews. My bet is that a breakout series will come in a format that doesn't look like any of these. I think there is a strong case for the “on the ground reporting” format. Emilia Petrarca’s profile of a fabulously dressed woman she met on a subway train may be my favorite story of all time. Laura Reilly reported from the opening of the first Phoebe Philo store at Bergdorf Goodman. Outside of Substack, Boy Room has taken the internet and the downtown NYC scene by storm, and this SSENSE piece is a great example of how it would work for a brand. Everyone is stuck in a cycle of finding something online and making online content about it, so any writing that talks about something that happened IRL is automatically different and refreshing. Partner up on a fun read rather than an ad read and use the content produced on the brand’s platforms as well.

Ambassador program

Sounds intimidating but it doesn’t have to be. Ideally, when you activate a group of creators on social media for a campaign, you want to saturate enough of your target audience’s feed to put your campaign in front of them time and time again and earn extra exposure via reposts, organic posts, and PR generated by the campaign. The For Your Page concept broadened previously niche communities, making it more expensive to saturate them. On Substack, writers and readers still exist in niches and have premium quality industry following which makes achieving proper saturation and earned media much easier and cheaper.

On the brand side, I’d start with actively engaging with a couple of top writers and a couple of up-and-coming, consistent writers in your niche. Give them early previews (writers love an exclusive!), sponsor their projects, invite them to your events. In other words, use traditional PR and talent management tactics to become a recurring character in their universe. The more thoughtful you are about building a relationship with these writers, the more other writers will notice you and want to build a relationship with you too.

Contract Opportunities

Most of writers on Substack aren’t full-time writers. They work in marketing, social media, copywriting, production, creative strategy, merchandising, design, and more. Hire them for a project and have them write about it!


How to find newsletter writers to partner with?

Start with the more visible writers in your niche. For example, if you are looking for people in food and cooking, you can start with Alison Roman and Pierce Abernathy. Then, go through the writers they read, the writers that leave comments under their posts, and even their follower lists. Notes will show you the posts they like and engage with. Little by little, you will be able to get deeper into a niche and build a diverse list of writers to work with. You can also always get a writer you like to create a list.

Lucky for you, here’s a starter list.

Note: It’s tempting to look for partners in your imedate niche, i.e. if you work for a fashion brand, you’d automatically look for fashion writers. I’d love to see more cross-nice experiments, like engaging a food writer in a fashion brand partnership. Pierce Abernathy is a great showcase of how it works. There is literally a writer who creates outfits based on interiors and a writer who talks about dating in the context of design. The possibilities are endless!

What to consider when picking writers to work with?

Partnering with writers looks like a hybrid between partnering with social media influencers and creative/business talent, like media writers, business owners, and artists. Subscriber lists are much smaller than follower lists on social media but they are also higher quality because the bar to let someone into your inbox on a weekly or daily basis is much higher than that to let someone appear on your social media feed.

I’d also divide Substack writers into two categories - before and after the reader app. A lot of the OG writers on Substack pretty much brought their following over from Twitter, IG, and YouTube because there was no way to build a following inside Substack (except for maybe getting a mention from another newsletter). It was normal not to place any expectations on likes and comments because most readers engaged with them via email. Now, I see writers who are coming up rack up much higher engagement and better open rates because their subscribers read their work through the app.

So, make decisions based on what you are looking for as a brand - higher view count or someone who is able to facilitate a conversation and has built an engaged community rather than readership. Younger writers are also growing fast because their understanding of the platform is different - they post notes and engage with each other’s content. Most of the OG writers still treat the platform as a one to many publishing tool.

And writers with smaller mailing lists - use your high engagement to ask for higher rates in negotiations!

How to find brands to partner with?

Substack writers are in a tricky situation. Lots of brands are watching you but not a lot of brands are pitching you. It’s likely you will have a much easier time pitching brands who are familiar with the platform, so start by looking through your list of subscribers – are there any emails with interesting domains? Are there any names you recognize?

Another tip is to look through the brands that have partnered with your peers. If you know the writer, you can even ask them for an intro! (Anyone who works with your favorite creators on other platforms will work too). Here are a few examples of brands who have either sponsored a newsletter writer before or are at least familiar with the platform:

Alternatively, if your dream partners aren’t familiar with the platform, you can try to pitch them a project you already have in the works if you think it fits their brand narrative – the more detail you provide about how it will play out and benefit them, the better. Make it as easy as signing a contract and a check for them.

Lastly, it’s in the brand’s interest to partner with writers who genuinely like them and its products rather than writers and creators who partner with brands exclusively for monetary exchange. So, if you have a genuine interest in working with someone, speak up! This is how Emily spoke a Palm Heights partnership into existence and Erika Veurink initiated a long-term partnership with Rothy’s.


Talent rates usually depend on a couple of things:

  • The size of their audience
  • The quality of their audience
  • Their average engagement level
  • The scope of work
  • Usage rights
  • The size of the partnership package
  • The added value that working with the brand can bring talent (i.e. exposure, name recognition, elevated status, etc.)

Unless the deal involves an established writer that operates more like a media brand than an independent creator, the rates can be really flexible. Here are a couple of guidelines to use as base in partnership negotiations.

Traditional newsletter rates

Traditionally speaking, newsletter partnerships are about selling eyeballs, brand awareness, and link clicks. Writers sell mostly classified ads and sponsored newsletter sections at a CPM (cost per mile or cost per 1000 unique views) that could range anywhere from $50 to $200 depending on the audience niche, size, and sponsorship type. The formula is pretty easy: if you have 30,000 subscribers with a 52% open rate, you can expect 15,600 unique views. Multiply that by your CMP rate and you’ve got your baseline.

In the Substack landscape, this partnership rate calculation is a little outdated. First of all, it doesn’t take engagement into account. You can have 50,000 subscribers and 100 likes per post or you can have 3,000 and 200 likes per post. Which one is better depends on your goals, but if you take influencer partnerships as a baseline, you want to go with creators with the highest engagement, not follower count. Secondly, posts on Substack can now be accessed through Notes and the reader app which means that people outside of your subscriber list can view and engage with your posts, and the post can go viral on the app, bringing you more views and subscribers. Last but not least, Substack analytics are difficult to comprehend. The views reported are total views rather than unique, and the base for calculating the click-through rate is the number of opens from subscribers rather than the total number of unique opens (including the people who viewed the post but don’t subscribe to the mailing list). So, it’s common to get 50-100% clickthrough rates while the industry norm is 1-5%.

There are a lot of great writers on the platform with an engaged high-quality following and just a couple of thousands subscribers. If they were approaching partnerships through the traditional sponsorship lens, they would be impacting their relationship with their readers in exchange for $100 - $500 which isn’t quite worth it. A good writer with an engaged following can make this amount by adding paid content without any damage to their relationship with readers.

Alternative rate structures

While distribution-based, structured approach to newsletter sponsorship pricing may work for bigger newsletters that essentially run as small independent media companies, if you want to make money as a smaller writer, you’ve got to get more creative than that to avoid pricing yourself and your talent down. Here are a couple of suggestions to start with:

  • Flat price per commissioned piece. If you are writing sponsored pieces, like this or this, it makes sense to just treat it as commissioned artwork and price it, like a freelance writer piece. What the brands are buying from you isn’t just distribution but also your skills. This way, rather than charging brands $100-300 per mention, you can go up to $500-1000 a piece. Make sure to work in room for negotiation into your opening rate (i.e. if your desired rate is $500, ask for $600-700 first). You can also break down the commissioned pieces into social media assets that the brand can license for distribution - you can think of it and price it as UGC social media content.
  • Create distribution bundles. If your newsletter audience is small, but you have a following on a different platform, bundle it! Once you write the story, offer to cross-post it on your IG story or cover it on TikTok to get it in front of more people.
  • Position yourself as an expert in your niche. I know “multifaceted” sounds miserable, but if you are a professional who writes rather than a full-time writer, you open up a whole lot of interesting partnership opportunities. If you are a chef or a baker who writes about food and pastries for example, you can produce community event series and experiences for brands or sponsored by brands. If you are a marketing professional, you can offer everything from content strategy services and custom research reports to creative direction and event production. Positioning yourself as an expert means that your skills, research, and knowledge become the core offering, and your writing becomes more of a marketing and discovery channel for your skills rather than a distribution channel for brands. The pricing here will depend on the scope of work and the industry rates for that work.


The way you measure results of a partnership depends on the goals you set. If your primary goal was views and clicks, it’s easy to both predict the results you will get and measure them. However, there are a couple of other things I suggest you account for:

  • Comments and restacks. Being able to start a positive conversation people want to participate is really powerful, and Substack may be the only place on the internet where it’s still possible
  • Key people who read and engaged with the sponsored piece. The one thing Substack is great at is insights on the individual reader level. The writer is able to see what every person on the subscriber list viewed, how many times, what links they clicked, and when they did so. So, if there are certain target people you are trying to reach, you can easily see if you were successful or not.

The best part about audiences on Substack is that the views and engagement writers get is much more consistent than on any other platform. So, the brand will definitely get the bottom line they are paying for, and if lucky, it’s only up from there!


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