At the beginning of 2021, blogger and best-selling author, James Clear crossed the 1 million email subscriber threshold. That means from 2012 to 2021, Clear grew his writing audience from 0 all the way up to the two-comma club.
It’s got every aspiring blogger wondering: How did he do it?
We covered a lot of James Clear’s writing and distribution tactics in our latest guide, 1 Million Email Subscriber Playbook.
But we believe the foundation of Clear’s success comes down to just two qualities: consistency and high-quality writing. Let’s dive into those two characteristics.
1. Find consistency
On November 12, 2012, Clear decided to get consistent with his writing. He would publish an article every Monday and Thursday, without exception.
“It didn’t matter how good or how bad it was. It didn’t matter how long or how short it was. It didn’t matter how I felt about it. If all I could do was write three good sentences that day, then that was getting published. I did that for three years and that’s how the site grew.”
This point can’t be overstated.
Through all our research, “consistency” was the theme Clear continuously came back to when asked about the growth of his blog. Yes, he would occasionally break down his latest promotional tactics, but no topic received airtime comparable to the practice of simply showing up every week to put in his writing reps.
“Coming up with a creative marketing strategy, developing an interesting book idea, having a savvy new product launch—this is a high-level part of the game that requires creative thoughts. But the only way to get to those creative thoughts is to first internalize the fundamentals.
If you’re fighting the friction of the fundamentals, you don’t have a chance at reaching peak performance.”
Clear wasn’t always a consistent writer. Even the master of habits himself spent years writing inconsistently.
In December 2013, James Clear published his first-ever annual review. One of the accomplishments he was most proud of was his newfound publishing consistency.
Clear wrote, “After writing inconsistently for years, this was the year when I finally turned it around. I wrote a new article every Monday and Thursday in 2013.” From the publication of his first article on Jamesclear.com on November 12, 2012 through the end of 2013, Clear wrote 114 blog posts, generating traffic of 686,937 total site visitors — leading to 40,637 email subscribers.
Fortunately for his readers, Clear’s writing frequency was also met with quality.
2. Put in the hours
“The most important thing is also the least sexy one. I wrote two to three articles per week for three years, and I tried my best every time.”
In an interview on North Star Podcast, Clear broke down some of the metrics behind his writing routines. He explained that most of his articles are between 1,000 to 3,000 words, with the median between 1,500 to 1,800. He usually spends 20 hours writing a single article.
“The fastest I’ve maybe ever written an article was eight hours or ten. And on the high end, I probably spent 50 or 60 on a couple. But most of the time, it’s probably 15 to 20. If you essentially make it your full-time job to write two great articles every week, then at the end of the month you’ve got two or three really good articles. I don’t know which ones they’ll be, but I know I’ll have a couple.”
On research and reading
“For a long time, I focused on books over blogs, even though I was blogging. The information density is higher; there’s been more effort and time put into books, generally speaking.
Even if someone has a good blog, usually their book is their best work because they take their best ideas from the blog. They’re the same writer spending two years instead of two days on the idea.
But one of the advantages blogs have over books is cycle time: you can get through more ideas in less time, so you can come across more gems.”
3. Structure for simplicity, write with clarity
Like most bloggers, Clear’s website has evolved over the years.
Today, Clear organizes his blog with great simplicity, avoiding images and flashy fonts. Any reader could click around this website for only a moment to realize Clear’s website is all about the content. It’s minimalistic.
Articles are organized by topic under a simple information hierarchy. Click on any article, and the design remains sleek and content-focused.
Every article emphasizes information. He doesn’t hide behind bold images. The occasional photos and graphics that Clear does use in an article are usually understated. They don’t distract from the content you’re reading.
Meanwhile, information is well-structured to emphasize the content itself, the author bio, title, and sections by heading.
The end of every article has a single primary call-to-action: subscribe to Clear’s newsletter. In many articles, he includes a link to a related article in the final line of the post, allowing readers to dive deeper into the same subject.
What does any of this have to do with promoting a blog?
For Clear, it seems obvious that clarity and simplicity matter. Through his blog and newsletter, Clear has achieved massive success. To understand his success, we can’t underestimate the power of any particular detail.
As you consider how to design your blog, look for ways to simplify the message. Give readers just one primary call to action. Make it easy for people to get to the substance of your articles. And find ways to make connections between this article and previous ones that are similar, so that readers always have another post to read next.
Don’t hack growth until you’ve nailed the basics
A lot of people focus on growth hacks before they’ve even mastered the basics of their craft. It’s like obsessing over which protein shake to buy before you’ve even done a single pushup.
It’s safe to say that a lot of James Clear’s blogging success is the result of his consistency around the blogging basics. He nailed the two most important steps you can take to becoming a better writer: finding consistency and putting in the hours necessary to achieve quality.
With the basics covered, it was that much easier for Clear to then optimize every article for distribution and growth.
This article is an excerpt from our latest AppSumo guide, 1 Million Email Subscriber Playbook. Download it here.