5 Ways My Most Successful Post Broke All The Rules
Of my 30 stories to date, one has accounted for about 40% of my earnings
Every writer on here knows the feeling of checking their stats and seeing that their latest killer post, the one they poured their heart and soul into, earned pennies, getting just a handful of views and reads.
“But I did everything right!”
“It was the perfect length!”
“I wrote in second-person voice. My post was all about delivering value to ‘you,’ the reader!”
“It was even in one of Medium’s biggest publications! What more can I do? What more can I do? Should I just give up?”
My most successful story on this platform did not follow a lot of the conventional advice handed out to new writers. Yet it has accounted for about 40% of the revenue earned from 30 stories I have so far published. This is the story of that story.
1. I wrote about myself
With the changes that rolled out at the beginning of October, Medium moved from a transactional model to a relational one. They encouraged writers to develop relationships with their readers.
That’s something in which I felt I had been deficient. I felt as though I had provided quality information to my readers in the 22 posts I had published up to that time, but I hadn’t given them a reason to get to know me personally, to keep coming back for more of what I was serving.
There was a reason why.
“Medium is not your personal blog.”
That was the advice in all the how-to-succeed-on-Medium free email courses I tried on my initial weeks on this platform. “Your writing needs to be all about delivering value to the readers,” the course authors wrote. “No one wants to read ‘I’ writing. Make it all about your reader, ‘you.’”
I understood that, but I also had 14 years’ experience putting a lot of personality into my real personal blog, which had won awards. I felt like I was depriving my readers a big part of who I am by not bringing that to Medium.
One day, I happened upon the answer. My favorite URL on all of Medium is
I love it because I get the latest posts that have been tagged “Writing,” in pure, unfettered, descending order by date and time published — not just posts selected for distribution or curation, not just posts in publications, but EVERYTHING in that tag.
There I found an introductory post by Jamie Golob, a “hello to my readers, this is who I am” post that she had been asked to write for ILLUMINATION. Five minutes later, I thought to myself, “I now feel like I have a sense of who she is. She’s not just a name on an author line anymore. I want to read more of her work because I feel like I know her personally.”
So I sat down and wrote an Introducing Paul Ryburn post.
“Maybe no one will read it,” I thought. “Maybe people will see the headline and the photo of me and keep right on scrolling. They probably will. But at least I can say that I put myself out there, that I gave readers a chance to know me.”
2. It was too long
I selected “New Story” and started typing away. I included things I consider relevant to truly know me — that my calling is to be a teacher and a writer, that I had a 20-year career misstep into IT, and that I once (not that long ago) attempted suicide. I inserted some fun facts about me, books that influenced me, and some photos that shed light on the essence of who I am.
I read it over several times, edited, selected relevant tags, and hit the Publish button. There was my story in finished format, ready for the world to see.
“13 min read.”
Ugggghhhhh. By conventional wisdom that is way, way, way too long.
According to most of the “how to do Medium” free courses I took as a noob, 5–7 minutes is the ideal article length to shoot for. If it’s a scholarly article, then it’s OK to go a bit longer, maybe 8–10 minutes. But, thirteen?
If I had a writing coach, they would plead with me to tighten that story up, to go through with a razor’s edge and be ruthless with my cutting. In fact, I did that already before hitting Publish.
Every word that remained needed to be there. To delete anything further, I thought, would subtract a necessary part of my story.
“Well, just know that people are going to see ’13 min read’ and keep right on scrolling by,” said the editor voice in my head. “You want to aim for a 30–50% read rate (number of people who read to the end, divided by the number of views) with your stories. This one is never going to fall within that range.”
My editor voice was right.
My introductory article, as of this morning, has a read rate of 52%.
3. I didn’t aim for a big publication… or any publication
“If you want to build a following as a new author, you’ve got to consistently aim for the big publications” — almost every how-to course out there
As I mentioned, Jamie wrote her intro as an author profile for ILLUMINATION. However, I had never been published there, so it didn’t make any sense for me to submit my introductory piece.
Nor did it seem to make sense to submit to any other publication, for the simple reason everyone tells you no one will bother to read an “it’s all about me” post. Ironically, there is now a publication, About Me Stories, that publishes exactly that type of work, but it was not yet around when I published my introductory piece.
I had previously published in The Innovation, Age of Awareness, Data Driven Investor, and The Ascent, all of which are fabulous publications I read regularly. Since my introductory piece, I’ve been in The Startup. However, none of those seemed like the place to submit an “about me” article.
So I self-published.
The result? My introductory story has out-earned my most lucrative article published in any publication on here — by a factor of more than 4-to-1.
4. I was on social media constantly while writing it
“When you get ready to write, put your phone on silent and put it in the other room,” they tell you.
And really, they tell you, why would you want to be on Facebook at all? Delete your account. Delete the app. Step into freedom!
I can’t do that. I write a very successful local blog that requires me to keep up with ongoing events in my neighborhood. It was a vibrant Sunday afternoon and notifications were pouring in. I probably hopped over to Facebook 10 times during the course of writing my story, with two or three visits to Twitter.
I’ll admit that I did stay off social media while I was editing and selecting tags. Concentration is required when finalizing a post.
However, the overall attitude that Facebook is the devil? I don't buy it. Sorry.
5. It didn’t get selected for further distribution
Not surprisingly, my post did not get selected for further distribution. Who knows if it got reviewed by a human curator or an algorithm, but given how many times “I” and “me” appeared, it wasn’t going to stand a chance in any case.
In my first month, I got a post double-curated in Work and Education. I was the hit of the Medium study group I had paid to join for achieving so much success so soon.
My little introductory post, curated in nothing, not distributed, has out-earned that post almost 5-to-1.
Takeaways: Be yourself and don’t be afraid to experiment
When you write, your first and foremost objective should be to deliver value for your reader: to inspire, educate, or entertain. However, don’t be afraid to inject a healthy dose of yourself into your work. If you can’t find a way to do that in the topics you write about, make yourself a topic, as I did. Now that About Me Stories is around, it’s easier than ever to allow your readers to develop a personal connection with you.
Medium is not like the TV game show Jeopardy!. If you get a question wrong on the show, dollars are deducted from your account. On Medium, however, the worst you can do is $0, 0 views, 0 reads, 0 fans, and no new followers. Even if that happens, at least you learn what doesn’t work, so there’s still value.
Now that I’ve told you how I broke the rules, I’d like to invite you to break one as well. Usually, leaving links to your own stories in comments on other writers’ stories is considered a no-no. However, if you write an intro-to-you story, please leave a link in the comments on this one. I’d love to read it.
Thanks for reading. If you’d like to be notified of my future work, sign up for my email list and join my tribe! By the way, if you want to read that post I got double-curated in Work and Education, here it is: