An Author’s Editorial Values Decide What Type of Publication They’ll Run

I recently planned and launched a publication on Medium from scratch. But before spending a weekend planning the business model, I had to think hard on what values would become the compass to guide my content.

The publication, Persistence in Practice, provides realistic, practical advice on creative work, productivity, and building habits to go the distance.

I wanted my editorial values to set the publication’s moral fiber apart from the majority of the self-improvement market, where overhyped content dishes out hackneyed takeaways.

Planning the publication helped me understand what editorial values I wanted to uphold when writing content. But, in many ways, these values are also what I want to see more of as a reader.

Here are the values I chose to lay the foundation for Persistence in Practice:

1. Don’t let research become a crutch

Good writing offers a strong opinion, preferably one backed by numerous sources. But a thoughtful piece shouldn’t let its sources do all the heavy lifting. In the world of personal development, it’s all too common to see broad generalizations drawn from a single research study. The author then commonly goes on to make appealing but ultimately exaggerated claims.

Readers deserve content that doesn’t misrepresent its sources. Skewed insights are a disservice to the reader and a disservice to the research.

Don’t compensate for low confidence, a lack of ideas, or an insatiable desire to increase your subscriber list by undermining or inflating your content’s value. And don’t try to recant or update false information after future fact-checking. Content should be made accurate before publishing.

2. Growth through reader delight

Click-bait headlines aren’t a compromise you have to make to grow a publication. If you delight readers with strong promises that deliver, you’ll attract a devoted following instead of fly-by-night passersby.

That’s much more valuable than a massive email list with low engagement. You might be able to trick people into clicking, but you can’t trick them into staying.

But writing well is only one piece of the puzzle. Reader delight also deals with finding and surfacing other great content for your readers.

Partner with authors who offer the same caliber content in the self-development arena and add their fresh perspectives to your publication. Then broadcast this content in your newsletter.

Your publication’s newsletter will become a valuable resource: a hub of resourceful self-improvement material. You will relieve readers of sifting Internet clutter for good self-improvement reads.

3. Publish stories and advice on going the distance

The advice you give your readers should help them solve a problem or carry a course of action through to completion.

A lot of self-improvement content sells quick fixes or lifehacks. It’s light content that might slightly boost the reader’s confidence or reassure them that anything is possible. Maybe it’s inspiring, but that’s the problem. Inspiration doesn’t get things done.

Habit is more dependable than inspiration because it keeps a person going even when they have no inspiration. In personal development in particular, going the distance requires long-term habit changing and perpetual learning. Your content needs to shed light on ways readers can:

  1. Gain bearings on where they are
  2. Navigate to where they want to be
  3. Measure progress to account for each step
  4. Qualify each stage of improvement
  5. Sustain their level of achievement

This is the only way to create lasting change. Your readers want their time spent learning and applying your insights to pay off, so give them nutritional grist that supports the continuity of self-improving habits.

4. All good ideas are worth revisiting

Anything truly worth learning is worth revisiting. Timeless topics will always have something else that needs to be said.

You should revisit a topic when new sources of information sprout up, or you’ve developed a new perspective that would be helpful to your audience.

If a piece of content in your editorial queue features insights that can only make one-time appearances, you should be questioning whether the idea is worth writing about or if you’ve really studied it from all angles.

5. Make every word count

Every word in a piece of content should serve a purpose. And if they don’t, cut them. Don’t waste the reader’s time with filler. Write everything as short as you can without giving up precision. Choose specific nouns and active verbs that don’t need any modifiers to capture what you mean.

Make the space count too. Use whitespace to make the post scannable. Separate sub-topics with headings and put sequences in a list when you can. It’s easier on the reader’s eyes and breaks your content into easily digestible bites.

6. Present insights modestly

The fellow who blows his horn the loudest is probably in the biggest fog.
 — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Inform and educate the reader in a modest, level-headed tone. Don’t inject yourself into a piece of content with an unwarranted authority over the topic.

Take pride in how well your content helps your audience, not yourself as the author. It’s much better to act as an advising peer rather than a know-it-all lecturer. Guidance is refreshing, dictation is annoying.

7. Give credit where it’s due

When someone else unearths a worthwhile idea, give them the credit. The last thing you want to do is present it as your own finding.

Your goal isn’t to monopolize good ideas on personal development or use guest posts to repurpose or franchise your own ideas. Your writing to present the reader with the best information on the topic. Whether the best information is your original ideas or fresh takes from others, all good insights should be surfaced.

Featuring other writers’ thoughts and linking to their pieces enhances your content. Other people’s ideas will enrich your one-person performance and will turn it into a collective by-product of self-improvement pearls. Crediting other authors with a link directs your audience to other valuable sources on the subject.

Develop values that define the business model of your publication

Discovering your editorial values helps build a framework for your content creation. It acts as an ethical mold which holds your content to a standard. It also defines your relationships with your readers.

Your audience feels the effects of your editorial values in play. The values determine how you present the content and may even overlap with your editorial style guide. As you create more content and grow a larger audience, your editorial values weigh in to keep your content consistent.

It’s important to lay the foundation of your publication by putting thoughtful time into your editorial values, not just for the success of each blog post, but for the success of your publication in the long-term.

Originally published at on October 16, 2017.