• Richie Crowley

Why You Should Self-Publish on Medium

Data from two stories on why curation matters more

I’ve been drinking too much of my own Kool-Aid recently, loudly claiming that you need to publish your stories with a publication in order to have any success on this platform.

A few weeks ago I was reminded that I might not know everything when I came across Julio Gambuto’s Prepare for the Ultimate Gaslighting which at the time was a self-publish already with over 56,000 claps.

It has since been added to Forge, a Medium publication about personal development, but this story had its own legs far before the boost from Forge.

Success without a publication? This went against everything I knew. Or, thought I knew.

To wade in pools of confirmation bias overlooking and discounting information that challenges my convictions would be a disservice to myself and my readers.

So, I did what creatives are supposed to do. I sought discomfort through a personal self-publishing challenge.

For weeks, I had been submitting two of my pieces to an overwhelmingly consistent reply of rejections. One morning, post-meditation, I decided, “F*ck it,” and self-published both of them. Within minutes they were tagged and live.

I walked away.

The worst moments post-publish are the first. Here in this curation purgatory, we constantly refresh our stats page to see one new view, a clap, and reread the “We are still processing this story. Hang tight!” message of false hope.

Don’t do this.

Self-publishing these two pieces was an experiment. A test to challenge if I, my marketing strategy, was the reason for my success, or if the publications I published in were responsible for it.

In distributing my first piece, I emailed my story link to over 50 brands in the non-alcoholic, sober-curious, alcohol-free, and wellness categories, mostly CPG brands, and asked them to tweet it out, post it on their Facebook or Instagram, or share to their Linkedin. For piece two, I shared my story link to over 50 contacts I had that worked at Zoom hoping they’d get a kick out of it.

I also featured both of these stories in my newsletter that I sent out that evening.

In their first 24 hours, each of these stories had been honored with significant distribution actions and asks.

How did these stories perform?

On day one, one piece was curated in Addiction and Health, and over the course of the next two weeks averaged 146 views per day, yielding just under an hour of member reading time per day, and earning an average of $1.57 per day, for a 12-day earnings total of $18.87.

Piece two never got curated. But, on day five, a publication reached out via a private note asking if I would submit it to them. I said sure. Of the 12-day data set I used for this analysis, this story had an average daily view count of 20, averaged daily member reading time of 19 minutes, and daily earnings at $.70 for a 12 day total of $8.40.

Both stories were self-published, both were timely, yet one outperformed the other by more than double.

For these two stories, curation beat publication, and self-publishing’s equity increased.

This process returned that curation is a more valuable factor in determining story success than the publication itself. I realized that sure, my distribution strategy can bring thousands of views to each of my stories but the only thing to access curation is great writing.

This realization distanced me from the “hack” culture I participate in and weakened my writer’s dependency on publications for success.

Soon editors will begin to realize that writers have more power than previously thought, and editors will need to improve their publishing process and writer support in order to continue to attract top writers.

Benefits of Self-Publishing

There are additional benefits of self-publishing beyond publication independence.

  • You maintain sovereignty over your work.

  • You are the sole editor, so you dedicate more attention to every article of grammar and the entire editing process.

  • Self-published stories can still be curated and are positioned to be poached by larger publications. Human Parts, a Medium owned publication exploring what it means to be human, is closed to submissions and is in complete poach mode.

  • You maintain the ability to include infinite backlinks. One of my favorite strategies is linking five or ten of my older stories in keywords throughout a piece and including one or two at the end of a piece in the signature.

  • You get to keep your newsletter in your signature, rather than have editors replace it with the publication’s mailing list.

  • You’re able to keep all your social media links in your signature for readers to discover more of who you are.

This isn’t to dissuade you from pursuing publication publishing, just an expression of caution, and a reminder to not compromise for a poorly run publication.

There are thousands of publications, and they are not equally significant. Most days a publication will publish between 10 and 12 stories, so if you’re fortunate enough to be accepted, on the day of your publish you are one of 10 or 12 stories that day. Your story is the “latest” for at most two and a half hours that day. And that’s only one day.

If the publication you are published in pushes 10 to 12 stories live per day, then your story is one of 300–360 stories that month. It’s difficult to stand out amongst 300-plus pieces, and even harder to be one of the featured stories in a publication’s weekly or monthly newsletter.

To select a publication without compromise, evaluate them on which ones best promote their writers. Often, publications use writers as lead gen for the publication, rather than assume the role of writer advocate or partner.

Top publications will share each new story to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram with proper accreditation tagging and mentioning of the writer. This provides exposure to the writer and allows the writer to share the publications postings to their audience, thus returning exposure to that publication.

This is the lowest of hanging fruits.

You can also check how many pieces they publish per day, the fewer the better, and if you do publish within a publication ask the editorial relationship you have to add your story to their features section. This is controlled by the editorial team on the Homepage tab under Homepage and settings from their drop-down menu.

It was liberating to not rely on an editor’s approval to publish these two pieces. I had forgotten Medium’s core mission of providing a platform for writers to self-publish their own work and get rewarded for great work.

This experiment only included two 12-day data sets, but as a writer with 60-plus stories, I’m confident in curation’s role in success as the leading factor. I have no hesitations sharing that as a professional writer I do assign a portion of my focus to success defined as income earned and I’ve since continued to experiment with self-publishing and will continue to test what I’ve built on and off the platform.

Don’t get swept into publication mania. Medium is a place to empower writers to own their creative process — a hard pill for me to swallow since I’ve been so loud about the need for publications before.

What’s more hypocritical of me is that since this test I’ve published this piece in a leading publication and even opened my own publication dedicated to all things music.

Life is but a contradiction.

The difference between Seth Godin, The Morning Brew, and me? I respect your inbox, curating only one newsletter per month — Join my behind-the-words monthly newsletter to feel what it’s like to receive a respectful newsletter.