I started my personal website, The Curious Cat Project, because I was craving a connection to other writers and I was too short on time (and, let’s be honest, cash) to attend conferences, retreats, and in-person readings. The original vision of the site was centered around an all-online writing meet up. My thought was that if I could start a writing group, I could connect with other writers, get feedback on my own writing, and also grow my readership. This is still an important part of the work for me. But in addition to connecting with other writers, I also wanted to reach a larger audience for my writing. Long story short, this led to my blogging on Medium.
In this post I share how Medium helped me expand my readership, publish a book (coming out soon), and get my work in places like Business Insider, The Daily Muse and Thought Catalog.
It started with one blog post in particular. Here’s what I did:
I made the time to write
If you’ve been a writer for a day, a year, or many years, you already know there’s no secret formula to success. The best thing you can do as a writer is write, write, write without worrying about publishing. Worrying about finding a home for your writing before you focus on the writing itself often leads to self-censorship or, worse yet, inauthenticity. The writing should come first, always.
Once you’ve taken the time to do the real work of writing, pursuing publication is a logical next step. For many writers, including previously published ones, it’s a routine goal. Like writing, this part’s not easy, either. And it’s time consuming. Getting your writing noticed by agents or reputable publishers often requires starting a blog, using social media, and networking in-person— often all on top of having a full-time job and actually keeping up with your “real” writing. The work can feel exhausting if not impossible.
Although there is no secret to successfully doing it all, there is a way to kill a few birds with one stone.
I’m all about that efficiency. I work full-time from 7:30AM-4:30PM Monday through Friday, but I often work longer hours, totaling anywhere between 55 and 70 hours each week, so efficiency is key. All my writing and blogging happens in the early mornings, evenings, or on the weekends (and often while I’m waiting in grocery store lines or at the doctor’s office… pretty much whenever I can fit it in). I believe you can find the time for anything if it’s important to you.
I published in collections
I started blogging on Medium in June. My first posts were simply re-posts of things I’d written for The Curious Cat Project. After receiving very few hits on the pieces I was reposting, I decided my next goal would be to publish in a collection. The day after I joined, Medium changed the way you could submit to collections. Instead of allowing you to submit a piece to any collection, now— as you know—you have to be a “writer” of a collection in order to submit it for the curators of the collection to review. Each piece can only belong to one collection.
Getting published in a collection does not guarantee readership, but it helps writers find your pieces as they browse, and I was drawn to the prestige that came with publishing in certain collections like Human Parts and Coffeelicious.
“Life is…” was my very first story accepted in a collection, and it got over 2.1K views. Social sharing is probably what is most responsible for that, but my Pavlovian response was to submit to more collections. I researched how to get accepted as a writer for different ones— some prefer you leave comments on specified pieces, other curators include their emails and request that you pitch ideas. If the curators of a collection decide to accept your piece, they add you as a writer. Then in the future you can simply click “submit” and the curators of the collection will receive an alert, making it likelier that they will review your submission. It does not, however, guarantee they will publish your piece. Today I have nine in my “collection of collections,” but that took time.
Slowly, I started to see an uptick in my readership. As I published more pieces that were shared and recommended, more people followed me, which meant more people received notifications when I published new stuff. I started contributing to more contests and communities like the NaNoWriMo collection, for example. It’s important to note that while doing all of this, I continued to network by recommending and commenting on other pieces and reaching out to other writers whose work I respected. I joined The Writing Cooperative, which allows writers to give and receive feedback—much like The Curious Cat Project meet up, but for Medium publications.
One weekend, I wrote a piece called “Grandma’s How-To List for Getting Through Life.” I was excited to post it, but I waited until I got some feedback from a fellow writer in the cooperative, who helped me make it 1,000x better. I then submitted it to the General Writing: Idea, Thinking, Opinion collection, and it was accepted. This was all on a Sunday.
Sidebar: Here’s an interesting piece that says the time/day you post has nothing to do with how popular your piece becomes.
After I published the piece I started to see a steady increase in views and recommends. Then Medium tweeted the link and the thing took off, leveling out at around 16K views and 340 recommends. It’s still my most popular piece from week-to-week, with views continually trickling in. It also made #34 on the top 100 list for November. The #1 piece from that month had over 3,500 recommends. The thing is, your piece doesn’t have to go CRAZY viral in order to reap the benefits.
My “grandma” post ended up setting a ball in motion for me and my writing, leading to other accomplishments:
- After seeing its success on Medium, I asked a friend to send the piece to his editor at Thought Catalog, who liked it and ran it.
- At the same time, I was participating in NaNoWriMo and struggling to write a thriller novel. In my first week I hit pause on that work and started expanding my idea for the grandma list into a book.
- On November 9, I received my weekly career news round up from the Daily Muse and saw the grandma piece linked there.
- On November 11, I received an email from Business Insider, asking if they could repost the piece in their Strategy section.
- On December 9, I sent my finished manuscript of the novel I drafted during NaNoWriMo to Thought Catalog books and received word on December 11 that they’d publish it. It’s due to come out in the spring. (Update 7/27/15: It came out!)
The dates are important to note because they show the value of momentum. Again, one piece is all it takes to boost your confidence and open other doors.
It takes a lot of duds to write a gem, but when you do write the gem, it’s important to cash in.
It’s now three months post-grandma’s list (p.g.l.) and I’m focused on other projects, like my meet up. I’m also trying to get back to writing my thriller novel and polishing a few short stories for submission to literary magazines. I’m hoping I’ll get my second wind and post a few more things to Medium and some major websites. Like many of you, I’m still trying to strike a healthy balance between blogging and devoting time to my other writing. It will always be a work in progress.
The big takeaway from this experience is that not everything you write will lead to a book deal or bigger and better things, but the small things do matter in helping you reach your goals. You never know what will resonate, but you can be smart about how you capitalize on what does.
If you found this helpful, please click “recommend” at the bottom of this post.