Discover more from Hot Chips
Things I've learnt so far doing Hot Chips.
Sometime in April, I had
tweeted X’d (henceforth I will be referring to it as Twitter only) out whether anyone might find my learnings from building Hot Chips useful. Apparently, quite a few said yes. I’ve had quite a few people ask me this before, which is where I realized that it might be useful to just dump all that I know in one spot. Things that I might have picked up from other newsletters, how I go about research, and social media feeds — why they make your visibility hell, and how I try and stay not too chuffed about it.
If I’m being honest, I really only wrote this piece for the last 2 sections. Researching and interviewing are always items that people can develop their own styles on over time, and who am I to tell you how to write a “thriving” newsletter?
But, I realized that more than insights about newsletter business (which I don’t really have), I have a lot to say about what it means to me to be writing online. Because it constitutes writing and being online, that can either be two separate activities, or a blend of both. In the former, there’s a chance you hate being online and all that comes with it — unfortunately, newsletter growth is very dependent on your social media numbers.
I don’t know if I truly hate being online — Twitter has borne witness to enough of my stream of consciousness. But I’ve certainly had a tough time marketing myself everywhere, and I’ve sometimes felt that it’s not as important as the very act of writing. This essay is pretty much a vehicle for how I’ve dealt with that. Most other information is secondary — but hopefully useful to anyone who wants to create a stock of their own writing.
Till then: I’ve been checking out some new music, and I discovered Naomi Sharon through the OVO playlist. Drake might be doing something right with his life, signing such gems to his label. This is a lovely song, should be just fine for this piece :)
And yes, the thumbnail picture is very relevant. I can’t stress enough that you should be watching The Bear. It says so much about the joy of being good at something.
To me, research for a piece is usually the easiest part of writing. There’s honestly no voodoo — I end up going through haystacks of Google pages for needles, ask chatGPT for financial (and otherwise) figures, and if possible, see if some unhinged soul on Reddit has something to say.
I do follow a process when I’m researching. I divide my work into secondary research and interviews. I know that reaching out to potential interviewees will take up most of my time — I should probably have added this caveat to the first sentence of this section. I figure I want to read up all that I can online about the subject while I try and see if I know someone who knows someone, or throw cold DMs on Twitter and LinkedIn to see who would like to be on a hot seat.
It certainly becomes tricky when there’s little conventional secondary research to course through. This was the issue with Alcoholics Autonomous — although I did write it because I couldn’t quench my thirst about Gurgaon’s alcohol industry online, so really it was the egg that came first, not the chicken. However, for once I also had to ask myself what it is I was looking for. I took it for granted that reading up online about something would be easy. I went from “It couldn’t possibly be true that I can retrieve nothing from the internet that won’t help me on this” to “I clearly am looking at it all wrong”.
For example, I thought that a crossing of a history of Gurgaon and a history of its alcohol industry would be enough to write the piece. But then, because I initially couldn’t find much on prices of bottles across years, I thought it would be useful to take a step back. And eventually, I discovered state-wise liquor price lists online. Similarly, I found government documents on tax breakdowns of liquor bottles, although, of course, they weren’t available for every state.
Sometimes, there really is no additional secondary research that I can do. If you try and look up information around Abdu Rozik and Hasbulla, you’ll likely find very little about their lives prior to the memes that made them famous. I wanted to write about them because I adored their personalities, but it wasn’t like I could interview them at the time (which I’d have loved to do, obviously). Unfortunately, I don’t have the same pull as Barstool Sports.
However, that spurred me to look for new angles to the story. Making their antics part of a bigger trend. Who do I speak to about those trends? How do I reach out to them? I decided to speak to people involved in influencer marketing in India, because many of their insights would be universally applicable. I weaved a story starting from those two, to internet brands, to Dubai as an influencer haven, to influencers and MMA.
I allow my storylines to evolve flexibly. While I love it, one side effect of this is that structuring becomes a little complicated. As a result, I might have to play backfoot when it comes to editing. It’s a process that I’ve now grown comfortable with, although I will admit that it has given me enough headaches. I would essentially be playing Tetris with my paragraphs, shifting them up and down the piece just to see where else a certain block can fit, if not here.
What helps here is that I draw my storyline into blocks on a piece of paper, and prepare a list of fundamental questions that if answered will mean I have enough to write the piece. I visualize the flow of the piece, and try and write while sticking to those blocks. Sure, sometimes I find new information I hadn’t accounted for (which happens all the time) and I’m forced to change the overall flow. I go back to the drawing board and shift the blocks around.
Easily the hardest, most frustrating part of any piece is reaching out to potential interviewees. It’s a ton of cold mailing, cold dm-ing, asking friends if they know someone, expecting a response, not getting one for days, following up, scheduling a chat for a time way too close to my intended release date, never getting a response, and sometimes, pure procrastination on my end. At the beginning, I truly underestimated how hard it is to do things on one’s own without an external disciplinary force acting on me.
My initial hypothesis is often a little open-ended. And since I’m not really an expert on the thing I want to write about, I certainly want to talk to one. I draw up the kind of person an expert in this subject would be: for the business of live gigs in India, ideally someone in large-scale event management, or music marketing, or the like. I’ll look out for people in particular companies I can reach out to. In this respect, I’ve benefited a lot from people who read Hot Chips — they’re always willing to help connect me to someone. If you’re reading this, thank you, I’m super grateful :)
I have a bunch of general questions I ask each person, and then some specific questions for each person depending on the situation. I’m trying to be a better interviewer by covering all that I can within 45 minutes, but as I’ve realized: that is so difficult. I’ve always overshot the time I’ve told someone I’ll be taking to chat with them, and of course my interviewees are nice enough to lend me their ears for a little longer. It could be because I realize I’ve framed the question incorrectly in order to get a piece of information, or because I have endless follow-ups. Sometimes, it’s because the chat gets way too interesting. Immense respect for professional podcasters out there who understand the art of the interview.
I’ve had the pleasure of having some interviewees turn into future Hot Chips readers, which is as good of a signal that I’ve done a good job. The better my questions, the more the chances that they’ll be willing to entertain me for longer than necessary. I guess it’s just that when you ask people about work that they’re passionate about, they will leave no stone unturned in enthusiastically explaining all the nitty-gritties of what they do. Even better if you come prepared with a basic understanding of those nitty-gritties. Hot Chips is not much without the people I’ve interviewed.
If this is your first time reading Hot Chips, please feel free to subscribe! They’re pretty tasty :)
Long and Short
A question that I deal with really often — and I assume other people do — is, “Who’s going to read this anyway?”
There are really only a few ways to become a sizeable newsletter in a short amount of time — and by “sizeable”, I mean at least having a few thousand subscribers:
You have a track record of doing some stellar writing for publications, likeand (closer home) Small Scenes’ Rega Jha. They’re both people who rose up the ranks at different regions of BuzzFeed, and were fairly well-known before they became independent. This also enables them to earn really good money through subscriptions.
You’re an established expert in your field / you make yourself known for being the apex writer in your subject.write incredible longforms about tech and startups in India. You can tell they’ve thrown themselves into the deep end when they’re looking into a particular company, almost as if Hans Christian Andresen wrote investment memos. Or there’s , who has written her way on the internet, pop culture, and feminism through a book deal.
You’re regular. You’re churning out pieces every week (or two), nonstop. Jack Raines has been writing Young Money for 2 years. But his rate of putting out stuff is truly insane — it has landed him 40000+ subscribers in 2 years. Of course, it goes without saying that you can’t be speaking about everything under the sun when you’re at 2-3 short pieces/week.
You’ve been making banger posts on social media left, right and center, and that has led to a lot of people following you. You decide to open a newsletter and cash in on some of that following because you want to express something more than a shitpost. It’s a genius strategy, and if I had the ability to be witty / smart every other day, I wouldn’t let it pass me. Someone I’m truly envious of in this regard (though it comes so naturally to her) is, tweets like this one are bread-butter for her. Then there’s this monstrous thread from that deservedly got a lot of love.
You’re savvy with social media algorithms. You know what’s a good time to be marketing your newsletter, and you’re very deliberate about it. You know how to craft the right taglines. You’re aware that links get downgraded, posts with photos are upgraded, threads are valuable, retweets are incredible boosts, a good reel really works, Instagram carousels work really well, and you never skimp on your social media strategy.
Some combination of these factors above.
Which leads me to the question — what if…I don’t fit in any of these places? What if I want to write about some topics close to me and I certainly want lots of people to read them, but I’m not sure I can keep up with constantly churning content for greater visibility? What if the honorable emotion of the simple joy of writing conflicts with a superfluous need of mine to be constantly visible that exhausts me the moment I think about it?
I can’t say I have real research backing me on this belief, but I fear that this is an issue that leads to a lot of people quitting the process of writing a newsletter. “What’s the point? Somebody’s already probably written about this, and even if they haven’t, how many people are going to read 3000 words of what this tiny Twitter/IG/LinkedIn account has to say?” It’s some mixture of “not having a unique idea” and “worrying about visibility” that I often hear from people who didn’t go the whole mile.
I have struggled with this, so I do have 2 cents’ worth to share about this feeling. It’s likely that you feel very strongly about an idea because you think it will provide fresh perspective. Or because you can spin a different story out of it. Or most importantly, there’s a personal reason as to why you’re telling this story. If uniqueness of ideas were a problem, we wouldn’t have so many Batman movies by different directors. And most of them range from being pretty good to genre-defining.
I believe everyone has a unique writing voice, and they should probably explore it in the language of their choice. There’s some natural hesitation in the fact that “is my idea truly original” or “will anyone read this at all”. I don’t think the originality of the idea is as important as how you convey the idea. More than anything, what matters is your personal stake with the idea. Do you have one? If you do, how deep is your connection with it?
Or it’s the worry that you’re just writing about meandering feelings and thoughts, and there’s already a lot of people doing that. I would legitimately like to find out how many newsletter titles have the words “random” and “musings” (or some synonyms of them). But jokes aside, I don’t think random musings are boring by themselves. In fact, they allow more flexibility and vulnerability than any other type of newsletter.
What makes a random musings newsletter tick, in my opinion, is how the writing evolves with every piece. As if you can peek into how someone’s brain — however messy, however entangled — really works. If a reader can understand why it is natural for you, the writer, to be talking about your love affair with coffee liqueur one day, and why crying in the metro is so universal (and therapeutic to you) the next, your random musings newsletter is working excellently. Someone whose work I really enjoy in this exact regard is’s Heart-Wired!
A really solid piece that I read about this pressure to write was this one by. Why do we write? Is it because we love it, or is it because we want to sound smarter to other people? Is there ever a way those two questions can ever come to a middle ground, or are they forever meant to be conflicting?
None of these questions have straightforward answers, Kaavyya concludes that she’s not going to try to be someone she isn’t, and that it’s okay to write for the sake of it. We should all be following this advice. The freedom to write and express is more important than the need to write something groundbreaking and thoughtful every time. The latter is not a pressure worth succumbing.
Hot Chips started off as a place for me to ramble about my thoughts. My archives are cute that way, if not embarrassing. One day, I’d write about the inherent tension between famous duos across various fields — sport, music, business. The next, I’d write a long-ass summary of my supposed “emotional evolution” in my final year of college.
I do chuckle a little when I look back at my archives, but it felt relieving to write in that meandering way. I felt like I had power to spew anything on the internet-verse. But it didn’t feel whole. I never really started off with a focus in hand, but I felt like I had lots to talk about like every other 21 y/o. Facts, non-facts, solitude, goodness, skepticism, shock and awe, personal, third-party. I like to think that I still touch upon all of these in the deep dives I do now, but it took me a while to get to blending all of them in the way I do now. And I love it.
I think the best writers understand three things:
the art of connecting something micro, or even a personal incident, to something larger. There’s nothing like the sort of revelation that makes you go “oh wow that’s connected to this”. More so if you invoke strong, universal emotions in your personal writing
the need to establish to people why they’re the one of the best people to write on whatever they write about — especially if they’re not pre-ordained experts on those ideas by virtue of working in those spaces
the balance between that joy of writing and putting themselves out there. I can’t say I’ve mastered it (far from it), but these writers don’t worry too much about having a consistent content calendar. Writing online becomes intuitive to them. For the times when their Spidey-sense has weakened, they may even wrestle with a writer’s block. But they’re not afraid of the death pit.
You might accept that on some level, you would be expected to be regular with your writing if you want to put the word out there that a new wordsmith is in town. You might even be compelled to be on social media more than you’d like, even though you have a long history of deactivating your online discourse cesspit accounts.
What helps me sometimes with the “social media” of it all is to look at it as a game. If I’m trying to crack what works on LinkedIn for me, I test small posts as teasers of the kind of content I dabble in. I try posting them at different days and times (Tuesdays and weekends 10:30-11 am seem great), and if this practice creates leads for my newsletter, that’s fantastic. Unfortunately, I stopped doing that on LinkedIn after a while, because unless you’re putting up posts regularly, the platform is ruthless to your reach. I couldn’t go beyond doing it once a week; I didn’t really enjoy playing the game.
That being said, there’s still a lot of room for quality content on LinkedIn. People are willing to go beyond just sticking to the professional and the business minded. They may actually click on a piece that talks about something other than the usual thought leadership.
I don’t struggle with Twitter at all because the platform is my “Dear Diary” journal, as opposed to my resume. Unsurprisingly, I get most of my traffic through the platform. I accompany every piece with a thread, because I assume that the average user gets a lot of think-pieces on their feed. I’m probably competing for attention with a few magazines, a dozen digital newspapers, and a hundred other newsletters.
I want to summarize the piece as a whole, so that I can at least get them to eat the bait. If they like it enough, maybe they go to the link! I do think getting Twitter Blue would massively help do away the need for threads — not because I can write all of it in one tweet (that is so ugly), but because Twitter Blue accounts are favored much more than normal ones on your feed. I’m not ready for that leap, though.
It has become harder to track how Twitter behaves over time. I benefit from having a custom domain for Hot Chips, so my tweet with the link doesn’t suffer too much damage. However, it’s always a risk. If I put up a thumbnail photo in the first tweet introducing the piece, how do I guarantee that all viewers of the first tweet move to the second tweet (which has the link)? The thumbnail would have to be really interesting and cool — like a meme you made. Or you’re super compelling in your very first 280 characters. Which is why I almost always put the link in the first tweet. It’s certainly always something worth debating, though.
I have…not paid attention to Instagram at all, despite having a separate page for the newsletter. It’s not that I consider it beneath me or anything. But it’s significantly much more work than either of the above platforms. Reels are tough and carousels take a lot of time. Twitter and LinkedIn alone get me exhausted. I haven’t exactly looked into how effective Instagram is as a lead generator for your personal newsletter, but reels are 100% unbelievable growth machines. I feel like there’s an opportunity there if someone is willing to put in that effort.
All of this is to say that promoting your work on social media can be really exhausting. I’ve gone from cringing at people who self-promote themselves as much as they can to really respecting them. They’re comfortable with (and proud of) their work, and they have no trouble spreading themselves all over various social media.
I’d say what certainly works is banking on the community of readers you build when you start out writing online. Some writers are even vocal about the fact that they discuss ideas with their subscribers online. It feels quite akin to making friends, meeting like-minded people. Unless you have ambitions to be really famous, there’s little point in acting on an external pressure to keep up appearances. But building a community and interacting with them also increases the likelihood that they will tell their friends about this piece (that you wrote) they once read while they’re discussing the history of the vinyl, for instance. I don’t think you need to be online all the time to build a community like this.
Many writers call this the problem of finding your first 1000 readers. But I’d say that the number can be anything you like. The idea is to find those loyal people who feel a spark when they read what you write. Normally, it should be someone outside of your immediate circle of influence. There’s nothing more exhilarating than someone earnestly asking you about how you wrote XYZ and you explaining the same to them.
I highly recommend reading this incredible piece by, who navigated his own way towards finding his first 1000 readers. Spoiler alert: he didn’t really follow the conventional methods of being a hit newsletter that I listed above. He did it by being a “Dear Diary” journal online. And he didn’t adhere to sticking to writing about just one niche. He became whoever he wanted to be.
That’s a reader you want to keep forever. That’s a reader for whom you’d make all your pieces free if you ever create a paid tier for up-and-coming subscribers. It’s helpful to frame this as a marketing problem statement if you want to do that: what kind of person is most likely to be interested in my newsletter? I’d say that once you get your first few hundred readers, you’ll know the answer.
And if you really want to start off by writing about anything under the sun, do it. You either evolve as someone who finds a niche or two, or as someone who has mastered the art of making your stream of consciousness sound like poetry every time. The only caveats are to not stop writing over the course of your life, and to see what you could do better as compared to your last release.
Lastly, some pieces I’ve read that probably influenced the way I write. I think these are pieces of writing that I love and sometimes borrow from. I don’t think there’s a better answer to “how do I write better” than “read more”. This is advice I’m terrible at following myself, for the record. And it’s always useful to go back to your favorite pieces, books, or even visual media (if you love taking inspiration from all kinds of art). Maybe I’ll create a full-blooded list of my favorite media one day, just so that I can go back to them when I’m lacking in creative juices :)
The Many Dimensions of DeMar DeRozan (mostly anything by Mirin Fader)
- . I was legitimately jealous of this piece. The sheer attention to detail really had me wanting to be that good.
This video on a very specific NBA event literally blew my mind on how good storytelling can get. I spend way too much time watching basketball videos like these.
Any Good Work video. More than being insightful, they’re extremely funny and well-structured.
This video essay on The Weeknd’s musical evolution. I probably shouldn’t be sharing Weeknd content after the disaster that was The Idol, but this was too well made for me to not be sharing.
If you loved this, please feel free to like/share/subscribe! I’ll be back next month with one of two ideas I’ve been (somewhat) working on. I think they’re both exciting. One of them happens to be on music (again). The other one happens to be about, in one way or another, Gurgaon (again).
I guess there really are some things that scream me :)