How I did it. Spoiler: I’m not sure.
It’s kind of fun.
In all truth, I never heard of Medium. I know, shame on me. Actually, I had read an article here, but I really kind of thought it was just that person’s personal blog. OK, I admit it, I may have been a bit off base. Late last year, I was complaining to my wife that I didn’t like the way my SquareSpace site formatted the things I was writing. She said I should try Medium.
At the time, my site was largely devoted to a million dollar plus Kickstarter boardgame that I was creating lore and writing for (Oathsworn: Into The Deepwood). The board gaming industry is central to my work and I’ve been somehow involved in writing professionally for games and RPGs since the early 2000's. I wanted a little more freedom and creativity in posting rather than just on KickStarter or BoardGameGeek, and I wanted to write more than just for specific Game IPs. I also wanted to start gathering a fanbase to get a grassroots following for upcoming novels. While my personal site still has game reviews and other things there in development, I just wanted a place for the things I would classify as “other”.
So I headed to Medium. Thanks to my wife finding it.
As an absolute Z-List celebrity in the world of boardgaming, I already had a slight following, which consisted of pretty much my wife, three cats, an instagram bot and a dust bunny. My first piece was about how a Go master had quit the game due to AI beating him. It was a weirdly specific niche topic of AI and boardgaming, but I had a very solid link to it. I used to work at what was the largest seller of computerized chess boards in the US when computerized Go had just come out. I was pretty uniquely qualified to comment on it. I posted a link on my facebook page, it got shared to some small Go community board and I was happy that something like 50 people read it. Considering the tiny intersection of Go and AI as a point of interest, I felt pretty good.
When I looked at my stats, I saw that somehow, it made me something like 6 cents.
You know, I remember entering my banking info when I signed up, but I thought it was like YouTube where you needed 40 billion viewers to make a dollar. So I was pretty psyched by my 6 cents.
I’m a huge proponent of write what you know and have passion for. What do I know? Writing for boardgames. I had done work on licensed products for Lord of the Rings and Star Trek, so that would probably be something people would find kind of cool. I wrote it. Posted on my FaceBook. Shares happen. 300+ reads. Medium was doing exactly what I wanted. Giving me a space to share some things.
I was posting maybe a piece every two weeks. I started to stray from gaming, just as writing exercise when I wasn’t working on my novels or paid gigs. What else was I intimately familiar with that people might find interesting? How about when I was in a bicycling accident and broke my face?
OK. Here’s where I learned that graphic medical tales don’t get shared around. It got about 100 hits. I call learning this ‘marketing research’. What else was I uniquely qualified to write about?
Now, I know some of you regulars out there are thinking “what kind of marketing did you do, where did you link?” My answer is that I simply didn’t. I belonged to a handful of forums on Reddit, and I figured I would reverse engineer. I’ve been a blacksmith. So I wrote some blacksmithing articles and posted links on Reddit.
Ah. It gets shared to different blacksmithing sites, and I get 3,000 reads. Huh. Cool. And now I get a few dollars. So, what ELSE could I consider myself qualified to write about?
When I designed Escape Rooms. As someone involved in board game creation, escape rooms are just a tiny jump over, so I figured my growing fanbase (I think I may have had 9 followers) would be interested.
I write a piece about when I designed and acted in a horror escape room and how the real horror was some of the families I spent time with.
I posted a link on BoardGameGeek, where I’ve posted over a hundred game reviews and been an extremely active community member. And. I. Got. Moderated. *Poof* Link gone.
Man, was I pissed.
It turns out they really don’t like links to external blogs from their main forum. Technically, also, my piece wasn’t really about boardgaming. I’m sure it’s in the TOS, but I’d been a member of that site so long I think the original TOS I saw was carved on a wooden log.
The weirdly funny thing is BoardGameGeek then sent out a link to my article in the weekly e-newsletter update. They liked the article, just not it pulling people off their site. In some weird way, it was understandable.
Then enter Medium’s very own Harris Sockel, (Hi, Harris!). He’s the hero of this story, not me.
Harris sends me a message that he’d like to put my Escape Room story in Human Parts. Now, I really had no clue what the heck that was or meant, but, yeah, sure, can’t hurt.
Harris and I spend a few back-and-forths editing my piece. I love editors. Seriously. If it wasn’t for editors, I would release some seriously stupid and confusing stuff that only makes sense to me. He asks some questions, we laugh at the answers, we tighten up some stuff, remove some stuff, add some stuff. You know, editing stuff. Another editor looks it over. It took, I don’t know, two hours of my time over four days. Harris and his crew are solid dudes (and dudettes) and he really helped get the piece into shape.
Apparently, a lot of people thought so.
The next day, that single piece had 11,200+ hits. And not from Medium.
Digg. Twitter. AOL Newsfeed. Pinterest. I have zero, and I mean ZERO clue how to know where else this thing got spread, because the list on the stats page ran off pretty quickly.
Even though it was 11K hits, I made only $32. Most of these hits were external and didn’t lead to money. I get tagged and distributed in Humor and Work. I get a message that I’m now a Top Humor writer on Medium. The Medium epub GEN finds the piece and puts it in one of their “you should read this” style updates. I end up with about 200 followers and that piece gets over 1,300 fans giving over 10,000 claps. Somehow, a few weeks later, it gets distributed again under the nebulous heading of “self”. Don’t know how or why, but cool. Another surge happens because of that where the piece is pulling over $30 a day again.
I put up some humor pieces. Few hundred readers. They get distributed in different categories. I submit a few bits to some Medium pubs I like, they get distributed to more categories. I get stuff distributed to fiction, philosophy, stuff I really hadn’t thought about.
My absolute best, and kind of only, marketing, has been just word of mouth spreading. I write what I know. I write what I’m passionate about. Then I let my readers spread the word.
I don’t have any magical marketing advice at all, because I don’t do any. I just focus on what I know. Maybe that’s the most important marketing. Don’t push. Don’t force. Just be you.
So to anyone who read something of mine, got a chuckle, and posted that link somewhere out there in the ether — thank you. Truly, thank you very much.