How to Succeed on Medium (From Someone Who’s Actually Done It)
Many writers who’ve tried to find success on Medium have been met with crickets. I used to be one of them.
I’ve seen many a blog post about succeeding on Medium, but many of them come from people with little to no experience. Some of them just give flat out bad advice.
My advice is also unique because I didn’t succeed overnight or have a meteoric rise on the platform. Some people have, which is great, but it’s more difficult to replicate that type of advice.
Spoiler alert — it takes hard work. I’ve written hundreds of blog posts on Medium over the span of three years. Go to the beginning of my profile (you’ll have to scroll…a lot). You’ll see little to no claps.
I have 20k + followers now. I started with essentially zero.
I know how it feels to share yourself with the members of this community and feel ignored.
It almost makes Medium seem like a “rigged,” platform.
The same names rise up to the top of the list. They’re all over your feed and you can’t escape them.
It doesn’t seem fair, does it?
I didn’t start finding an audience on Medium until I changed my mindset.
Once I turned my envy into curiosity, I learned about ways to attract more readers and hone my voice in the process.
I signed up for Medium on a lark. I’d been writing on other websites and noticed a lot of people posting on Medium. The idea of a level playing field where all writers could share their work was appealing.
Until I realized it wasn’t level at all.
I wrote a few posts on Medium thinking at a minimum I’d have a handful of people read them.
Some posts had zero views. The rest had less than ten. I gave up for a while.
Even though I stopped posting on Medium I kept reading articles on the website. I saw other writers thriving.
I had to figure out what they were doing that I wasn’t. I observed them, used their strategies, and found success.
Will you get the same results as me? I have no idea. But I can help you rise from obscurity, which is attainable for pretty much anyone with decent writing chops.
Why Care About Audience?
Maybe you shouldn’t care. Art should be created for the sake of art, right? It shouldn’t matter whether or not people read your work.
Here are my reasons. Maybe they’re selfish, but they’re true.
It makes me happy when people read my work. Do I pander to my audience? No. I write what I want to write about. But when I hear someone tell me how my writing has helped them it makes me feel good.
Vanity also plays a role. I get a high from knowing people read my work. I think if all writers were honest they’d admit they enjoy attention too.
I know many writers do it for joy, but if they didn’t want their work read, why would they publish it?
It’s okay to want recognition for your work. And, whether you admit it or not, you want it. Why not just go for it?
The following is everything I’ve learned along the way to help me find an audience for my writing on Medium.
Confession: I used to be a (solely) motivational listicle writing machine. The formula was easy.
Use the word success in the title. Find five to ten homogeneous list items. Insert a few quotes and include a story about Steve Jobs. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Here’s the thing, that approach will get you a lot of attention. People are hungry for it. But if it’s not you, it’s not sustainable.
I was scared to be myself or talk about myself. It was easier to hide behind pithy words of wisdom and quotes from successful people than to bleed on the page.
But people like seeing you bleed. They appreciate authentic voices. They want to see your scars. You don’t have to be self-deprecating for the sake of it, but try to add elements of honesty and vulnerability in your writing.
You can’t just blindly write about anything. You have to know who you’re talking to and either inspire, entertain, or educate them.
But you don’t have to be formulaic to be successful. Write about your life and your perspective in a way that intersects with the lives of your readers.
Be yourself. Time and time again, I’ve seen people make excuses for how the platform discriminates against certain ideas, topics, and writing styles.
This is patently false. I’m a black male who writes about personal development with a hint of personal story and vulnerability, but not nearly as much as someone like James Altucher who’s tag line on his Medium profile says “For some reason, I’ve turned myself inside out and all my guts have spilled onto my blog.”
Somewhat similar to James is Shannon Ashley — an open-book single mother who shares stories about her life without pulling punches and talks about (what some people believe to be) controversial and deep topics.
You have Your Fat Friend who writes deeply touching essays about her experiences involving her weight in a way that makes you think and gives you empathy.
There’s Jack Preston King who’s work can’t really be…described. You just have to read it. There’s marketing expert Tim Denning, relationship-meta-essay-writer Kris Gage, story spinner John Gorman, the versatile Jessica Wildfire, the Medium evangelist Tom Kuegler, the prototypical master of excellence Benjamin Hardy, and Pat Aitcheson — a British M.D. with life experience and writing advice to boot, all written with swag straight from across the pond.
You can find world-class journalists and regular Joes and Janes who are all thriving. I’ve seen stories blow up by newcomers. The editors and curators are looking for good writers with great stories, insights, and ideas. Period.
As far as getting their attention, I don’t have a strategy. I just write as well as I can and put it in the platform’s hands.
Diverse opinions, people, and topics across the board. No excuses.
Find a Publication
When I looked around on Medium to discover what the more popular writers were doing to succeed, I noticed nearly all of them had their work featured in a “publication.”
Publications are places to share writing for multiple authors and build their own followings.
When you share your work with a publication, you’re able to leverage their audience and expose your work to more people.
You can’t pay your bills with exposure, but you can use it to build awareness around your writing, which can and will help your career down the road.
If you want to win on Medium, find a publication and pitch them your work. Granted, they don’t have as much lift as they did a few years ago, but you have to do what you can with what you have. As platforms change, you just keep writing, always.
Usually, their editorial guidelines will be posted on the homepage of the publication.
Some accept queries. Some don’t. Some require a bit of finessing to reach and editor and pitch to them.
If the publication offers clear guidelines, follow them. If not, search for the editor of the publication and send them a message.
Make it brief, include a bit of information about yourself, some samples of your writing, and a few headlines of potential posts you can write.
There’s no substitute for hustle. Find the publications you want to write for and find a way onto them.
Unless you already have a large following on Twitter that transferred over to medium, using a publication is your best bet to get noticed. There are writers who do just fine without publications, but I didn’t. This is how I succeed and a strategy I’ve seen other writers use well.
Here are my current favorite Medium pubs with badass, hardworking, and thoughtful owners:
- The Ascent
- Better Marketing
- Live Your Life on Purpose
- The Post-Grad Survival Guide
They’re all cool and accepting provided you write a good pitch and put thought into the writing you submit.
This one seems obvious, but many people (myself included) are blind to the fact that perhaps their writing isn’t that good.
I’m always trying to improve. My writing is much better than it was when I started four years ago.
It will be even better a year from now. (I hope) It gets better every day.
The only way to become a better writer is to write more often. I’m not in the business of selling magic pills to success. There’s no replacement for hard work.
Use Medium to practice your writing. It will improve and more people will view your work.
Almost every successful writer I know keeps some sort of quota to build a creative habit. Either it’s word count or time spent. Set a writing goal that’s easy to achieve.
500 words per day. 15 minutes per day. It’s up to you.
Don’t just publish everything you write on Medium instantaneously. You shouldn’t use it as your brain dumping journal. Go through your posts and edit them, but write and publish often.
Nobody knows who you are now, but if you find a publication to write on and publish often people will start to notice your name.
You’ll continue to get better too, so people will start to enjoy and look forward to your writing.
The most common problem I see with aspiring writers is the fact that they don’t write or publish that often.
Most of the successful writers on Medium are prolific. They write constantly. If you go back to their archives, you’ll notice their audience growing in parallel to their amount of posts.
Each post builds on the last one. Prolific work leads to a snowball effect, which is why the successful seem to keep getting more successful.
Elements of Style
The way your posts look on Medium is important. Take advantage of their excellent typography, user interface, and photo library. You want to make them appealing to the eye so people will read them.
Use a large photo to draw attention to your post. It’s a proven fact that people have a higher tendency to click on posts with large images.
The format of your text matters.
People scan through posts quickly online. You need to format your work so it’s easy to read.
Long paragraphs strain people’s eyes when they read them and makes it more likely for them to stop reading.
Paragraphs can go on for multiple sentences, but I choose to keep mine shorter. You don’t have to write this way, but personally, I enjoy writing in this format and I think the people who read my posts prefer it too.
Use headings, bold, and italics to make your writing more eye-catching and emphasize important points in your pieces.
Shamelessly Promote Yourself
When people share my posts on Twitter, I reply and thank each and every one of them. I engage in dialogue with readers. I share my post through social media. I used to clap and reply to every comment, but it’s gotten difficult to scale now.
I blatantly ask people to join my email list (on unlocked posts only, mind you). I share my posts on Twitter, Facebook, Google +, LinkedIn, Quora, Stumble Upon, Digg, Reddit, and anywhere else I can think of.
Why? Because I believe in what I write about. I’m growing in my creative career, but it’s tough. I want to share my struggles and journey with other people to help them on their mission.
If you think people will genuinely benefit from reading your work, why wouldn’t you do everything you can to spread your message?
Jesus was a marketer. Mother Theresa was a saleswoman. Martin Luther King was a master promoter.
Promotion is only sleazy if you have bad intentions.
To be a successful writer you have to learn how to market your work just as much as you need to learn how to improve your writing.
Stop Wanting Life to Be Fair
I’ve been talking with other top writers on Medium and we’ve come to a consensus on the fact that, as a new writer, it is harder to rack of views and followers than it was even just a year ago.
The platform is getting more competitive and you will have to work harder to get noticed among the noise. On the one hand, that doesn’t seem fair, right? Maybe it isn’t. But maybe there’s a valuable lesson for you.
You get penalized for waiting in life. Always.
Had you started writing on Medium or writing, in general, a few years back, you’d have a large audience as I do, but you didn’t. Tough shit.
If you start now, you can catch the next trend. But you won’t get traction by wanting the playing field to be even of life to be fair.
We get upset when life isn’t fair to us.
Your co-worker gets promoted over you by playing politics when you’re clearly the better candidate.
The jerk gets all the girls when they should want a nice guy like you.
You write meaningful, thoughtful, unique pieces on Medium and you keep getting trounced by bigger fish who “got in the stock” earlier than you did.
Get over it.
Put your head down and commit to the work. There are plenty of writers who succeed on Medium in a variety of different ways.
You won’t succeed in writing or in anything else until you view the landscape as it actually is as opposed to what you think it should be.
You don’t have to comprise your work to succeed on Medium, but you have to put in the effort to find an audience who will appreciate it.
Medium is an amazing platform for writers. I’ve seen it fuel careers and create opportunities for writers who may not have had them without it.
I can’t guarantee your success, no one can, but there are only two options for an aspiring writer on the platform.
Give up. Or figure out how to win.
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