The 3 Things I Did To Become An Author on Medium’s Top Publications
And what you can learn from my experimentation and research
I have been pushing myself to write for at least an hour each day. Most of the time, it takes me about 2 or 3 hours if the draft I create warrants the extra time. The goal for the day is to write a post that takes at least 3-minutes to read. Sometimes, I split the work up over multiple days to expand on a more complex idea. However, this isn’t a random activity. I set a personal goal to become an author on all of Medium’s top publications, and this is how I went about doing it.
1. Do Your Research
I have been a technology evangelist for roughly 10+ years at companies like Samsung, Amazon, and Microsoft. Part of the job involves identifying communities, their size, and ranking each by importance. There are a lot of ways to do this. The easiest one is to create a list to track the total number of users for a given community and sort it from largest to smallest.
Medium doesn’t make it easy to rank publications by followers, at least not in the traditional sense. Most publications don’t openly tell you how many readers they have either.
So the trick I discovered only works on your Medium homepage feed.
Start by following a lot of different publications. Their stories will appear based on whatever random order Medium’s algorithm decides to serve them to you. Next, scroll down the page for a while, so you have a long list of articles in the browser. Then, search for the name of the publication you are looking for in the browser.
Finally, if you rollover a publication’s name, it will display the total number of followers.
Using this trick is the only way I have been able to consistently find this information when the publication doesn’t display it on their page. I’m not sure if this information is hidden intentionally? Other social networks make followers count visible on a user or company’s profile page. Because of this commission by Medium, it took me a few hours to put together a list of the top publications, how many followers they had, and a link to their submission instructions page or direct email.
Here is the original list I created that got me started.
By now, the follower counts are probably off. The idea isn’t to track the size in real-time; you just need a starting point by prioritizing which publications to focus on first. As you can see, I have been working my way down the list and track which ones made me an author. Publications with over 100k+ followers are the ones I care about the most. Once I get through all of them, I’ll reprioritize the smaller ones by topic and personal interest.
This post is also a great resource if you want find publications and their size without doing any work.
2. Know the Audience
After making a list of publications to target, you need to understand the type of content they share. Given my technical writing background, it wasn’t challenging to create content for Towards Data Science, UX Collective, and Codeburst. These combined increase my exposure on Medium by roughly 800k+ potential readers.
Some publications are out of my wheelhouse or comfort zone. I have yet to write something for Better Humans, which is high on my list at over 377k+ followers. I don’t write self-help or personal posts often, so I’ve yet to create something they’ve accepted. I don’t take it personally, having submissions ignored or rejected by publications is part of the process. Just accept it, move on, and release it on your own. Either way, you are building up a library of content, which also makes you more appealing to publications when you submit in the future.
If you are having trouble getting into a publication, take the time to read what they are posting. Do this for about a week and make a list of which posts are accessible based on claps, highlights, topics, and things that interest you. Medium doesn’t make it easy to figure out what posts are popular since an algorithm serves a lot of the content you see. It usually means clicking on the post to see the number of claps and doing some fuzzy math.
Using claps as a baseline of popularity is not an exact science since people can give up to 50 at a time. One of my most popular posts only has about 200+ claps but has been viewed over 28k+ times.
What you are looking to do is build a sense of what these publications are looking for so you can emulate their voice in your first submission. When I focus on a specific publication, I usually create something I know will be more appealing versus what I might want to write about. The goal is to get your foot in the door, so make an excellent first impression.
3. Write About Your Interests
There is nothing I can tell you that will guarantee an invitation to become an author from any of these publications. Humans, not algorithms, curate each one, so it’s difficult to bend the rules. Good writing is good writing. That means you should always focus on creating the best content possible. Writing an interesting article is still your best way to become an author in any of these publications.
I submitted several articles to The Startup only to have them all rejected. In between these targeted attempts, I wrote about topics I love, like modernizing retro game hardware. Then randomly, out of the blue, an editor at The Startup liked it and made me an author. I’ve submitted several posts since, and they were rejected. To this day, I don’t know why my hardware post caught their attention? I find that being an author of a publication lowers the barrier for getting additional articles published, so focus on at least getting your foot in the door.
I also love photography and have been spending a lot of time creating a unique look and feel for articles I write about my retro hardware collection.
While a lot of people use Unsplash for artwork, myself included, there is nothing like having bespoke photography or artwork to help make your writing stand out from the crowd.
Even with my personal goal to be an author for all of these publications, I still write a lot of articles that I publish under my account. Editors sometimes reach out to me to add one they like to their publication. I always accept the offer regardless of there follower count. Even with my 2.2k+ followers, any publication, regardless of its size, will expose you to new readers with different interests.
I love writing. Even with my background in art and programming, I find that my written content has opened the most doors in my career. I’ve built up several popular blogs on my own, but lately, I have been shifting my focus on using Medium as a tool to build more awareness in what I like to do. While you can make some money with your posts, I find it to be a by-product of the requirements most publications have to make your content part of Medium’s paywall.
To give you a sense of how I did all of this, here is a list of each publication I’ve become an author for and what got me in the front door:
- Future Vision — How My First Visit at Forward Made Me Feel Important Again
- Toward Data Science — Is It Time for a Data Scientist Code of Ethics?
- The Ascent — How to Find Creativity During Your Most Productive Moments of the Day
- Codeburst — How Covid-19 Will Change the Way Tech Companies Engage with Developers
- The Startup — Modernizing A Neo Geo Pocket Color
- Mac O’Clock — How Apple’s iPod Won Me Back
- The Innovation — I Don’t Feel Like Writing Today
- UX Collective — What the Apple Newton taught us about UX 27 years ago
In total, all of these publications have increased my potential readership over 1.8m people. There aren’t many other platforms that allow you to do this. Even more impressive, the majority of these readers are paying for the service, so the quality of each view is much higher than what you’d get on other social networks.
I hope you find these tips helpful? If you have any you’d like to share any tips or your first post on a popular publication, feel free to leave a comment.