The Guaranteed Formula for Medium Success

I have spent hundreds of hours looking over every Medium article about writing. I have found out what works and what sells!

Through this journey I’ve sifted through the grifters, the hacks, the has-beens, the single moms, the corporate shills, and everything in-between to find answers.

And I’m here to help you take your writing to the next level!

For example, folks love short, tight paragraphs. Stop thinking about writing, start thinking about visual word art. If they scroll to the end of your story, you’ve won. You got them. It doesn’t even matter if they read it, the analytics don’t even know the difference!

But before you trap them with your visually impressive displays, you have to wow them with your headline and picture! Everyone agrees this is the most important thing! Let’s talk about it.

Principles of Headlines

One of the greatest writers of our generation, Charlie Kaufman, had a brother who went to a writing seminar and learned the principles of writing. Principles. Not rules. Rules say you must do something, principles say that something just works. So, what works?

  1. It must be the most interesting and novel thing imaginable — try curing a disease than writing about it on Medium for a surefire hit!
  2. It has to be short, to the point, comprehensive, illustrative, and inviting — if your headline is longer than this, you’ve already failed.
  3. It cannot be clickbait or a listicle or you will bring great shame to Medium — ignore everyone who finds success this way. Seriously.
  4. Make it honest, genuine, and avoid misleading equivocation, because that will upset readers.

Will the perfect headline make you a perfect writer? No. Will it get you 100 followers in one week? Also no. Where headlines excel is in making you feel a specific self-satisfaction with your own wit. Think of every headline as your own six word book and yourself as Ernest Hemingway every time you write it.

Principles of Pictures

Remember a picture is worth a thousand words and this is important because this means every picture is worth approximately two regular Medium articles.

We’ll be getting into a posting schedule later, but if you’re having an off day, it’s completely acceptable to post a single 2/3rd cut of any relevant picture. This will be equivalent to 666 words.

  1. Medium has a built in capacity to add images from Unsplash, credit included.
  2. Make sure the picture is free to use, in public domain/creative commons, and not under strict limited copyright.
  3. AI generated art is considered legally owned by no one. While many feel this is blatant discrimination, we have yet to feel the blowback of stealing art from robots.
  4. Unless you’re a photographer, one picture per article — try to get it out of the way at the beginning.

Consider the words on the screen with the same immensity one would consider the sea. Short paragraphs are the tiny whitecaps that pose no danger. Long paragraphs are the mighty waves that will keep a reader home.

Pictures in this allegory serve as land and the further a reader gets away from land, the more scared they get. You don’t want them to drown in your words.

Principles of Words

The perfect Medium article is between six and seven minutes. You’re allowed to also publish 2-minute articles and 8-minute articles.

Any longer than that and your headline needs an apology or justification, something like “Deep Dive into Andy Kaufman’s Life, Death, and Everything After”.

While this title may seem to clash with the principles we established on headlines, keep in mind that a “Deep Dive” is already going to be a lengthy article. The lengthy title serves as a barometer for your audience to give them a taste of what is to come.

The most important aspect of your words is visual appeal. The second most important is mouth feel — alliteration and harmonious phoneme. Basically, make the words fun to say.

Many writers get trapped into thinking they need to write something every day, write it well, and be creative. These are all common misconceptions debunked thoroughly within Medium’s “Writing Tips” section.

  1. Don’t be creative
  2. Don’t be good
  3. Don’t even write

We’re not saying being a good writer will hold you back on Medium, far from it. Great writers will write moving and captivating headlines. Some of the most compelling six to eight word stories the world has known.

The point is your priority is your headline, picture, the amount of words in your article, how those words look and sound, then at a very distant last place is the content of the words.

This priority is determined by the capacity of your article to get seen, read, and one day monetized. So, let’s get into the fun bits, how we actually make money!

Understanding the Algorithm

The first step is coming to terms with how programmed automation is dictating a large portion of your life. We’ve let cold, merciless algorithms full of biases run everything. Scary!

They are truly ungoverned and detached from any feeling, sympathy, or basic humanity. Alien, mysterious, unchained, and in governance of your fate inside Medium.

So, take the time you need with that. Once you’ve come to terms with this dystopia and the eldritch robotic overlords (Ĕ̴͈̓r̸̖̆͊o̴͍͛), it’s time to get started! We got money to make!

First imagine that you’re locked in a cage. You still have your computer and access to Medium, so nothing to really worry about. Inside of your cage is everyone who follows you. When you publish an article, that goes to these people.

You’re allowed five tags too, this will send your article out through a pneumatic tube into five other cages. This is where your article will live outside of any other influence. Or more accurately die.

But outside of your cage exists Ĕ̴͈̓r̸̖̆͊o̴͍͛, a swift demon of no form who exists in all places. They watch you as you write, as you publish, and as you send out work. And they judge, oh do they judge.

And if the abstracts you produce in your cell pleases it, it will give them to other prisoners. Who may choose to come into your prison as a follower.

Imagine all of Medium as a massive flatland of prison cells. You have your own cell and you exist in the cell of everyone you follow. So, when a follower gets your story, it also has a slight splash in all the prisons that surround them.

This means the more prisoners you have or followers, the less you need to depend on Ĕ̴͈̓r̸̖̆͊o̴͍͛. If you don’t have many prisoners, let’s say less than a thousand, Ĕ̴͈̓r̸̖̆͊o̴͍͛ waits to be fed with a hungry and dripping maw. It is important to understand them, because they will be our greatest friend.

Understanding Ĕ̴͈̓r̸̖̆͊o̴͍͛

Keep in mind that Ĕ̴͈̓r̸̖̆͊o̴͛ ͍is an aggregate of human behavior designed to maximize profitability of Medium. A distorted reflection of the collective behaviors of humans who interact with articles.

Ĕ̴͈̓r̸̖̆͊o̴͛ ͍looks for patterns and trends, promotes what will get engagement, and disappears that deemed undesirable. Ĕ̴͈̓r̸̖̆͊o̴͍͛ doesn’t understand writing. It understands how humans respond to writing. To Ĕ̴͈̓r̸̖̆͊o̴͍͛, humans respond to pretty pictures, snappy headlines, short articles, despair, and self help.

Ĕ̴͈̓r̸̖̆͊o̴͛ ͍doesn’t know if you’ve fallen in love. Doesn’t know if the words moved you. It doesn’t care if you’ve read art or trash, just that you read. And it loves the sound of clapping.

But, some humans understand Ĕ̴͈̓r̸̖̆͊o̴͍͛, and manipulate the demon to their own end. These are the grifters, the click-baiters, and the million articles about how to get 100 followers or 10,00 dollars locked behind paywalls.

I’ve never seen so many promises behind five dollars a month, than I have on Medium. Ĕ̴͈̓r̸̖̆͊o̴͍͛ loves to show you content with little stars on it. They love it more than clapping.

But how do you take control of this demon? How do you do it ethically? How do you go from a prisoner with no followers into the fame and riches of the true Medium elite.

Like with most problems involving eldritch beings, we find our viable solutions five years in the past.

Traveling Back in Time

Looking at the top three Medium creators by prisoner count shows us they all started a very long time ago.

  1. Gary Vaynerchuk. (306K followers) — First Article: May 2013
  2. Tim O’Reilly. (258K followers) — First Article: Jan 2009
  3. Benjamin Hardy, PhD. (253K followers) — First Article: Nov 2015

And this is important to understand, because you need to understand humans are still mortal. They have a finite time to live and only 24 hours within a day. Every new Medium users competes with every active user at an extreme disadvantage.

How does the little guy or gal or non-binary pal win in these systems? Easy, follow the same principles of capitalism!

  1. Start out rich — have professional marketers, editors, and heck even ghost writers!
  2. Start out famous — Blow up somewhere else and bring people to Medium
  3. Prey on everyone desperately trying to make it with self-help articles
  4. Play the lottery — The Medium Lottery

What’s the Medium lottery? It’s a drawing you can enter every day, by purchasing a ticket with each article you write. Regular people can make it on Medium. Chances are slim, but the more tickets you purchase, the better your odds!

Please note that given you are mortal and do need to spend time writing, you are trading parts of your life for a chance of success.

Keep in mind that the most important thing for Ĕ̴͈̓r̸̖̆͊o̴͛ ͍is that you think you can succeed. It feeds on your hope, not your despair. It truly wants the best for you, dear reader.

The Medium Box

Have you wondered why the Medium Partner Program, the gold standard for just starting to make it as a writer, is set to 100 followers? Maybe you thought it was just an innocent goal to weed out the weakest? Heh.

Yet, why not 50 followers? Why not 500 followers? 0? 1000?

Ĕ̴͈̓r̸̖̆͊o̴͍͛ needs new content. A nearly endless supply of words to feel complete. There is a finite amount of time and attention span on the entire platform. Every day big creators walk away to different projects, interests, or fame.

The void must be filled. Word by word.

Outside of pregame fame, money, manipulation or a lottery of luck, you will commit dozens or hundreds of hours of your life on the grind. And so long as you write well and dance for Ĕ̴͈̓r̸̖̆͊o̴͍͛, you will build followers.

You’ll befriend other prisoners. You’ll work your analytics. Your numbers, oh they will go up. They’ll go up at a perfect pace to keep you around for a few years.

And maybe, just maybe you’ll find yourself living off of your writing. More than likely you’ll find an extra few dollars each month. Maybe a one or two hundred dollars of spare change. It’ll all translate to pennies an hour for your effort, but they will be yours. Ĕ̴͈̓r̸̖̆͊o̴͍͛ will hand them out, delighted at all the clapping.

And you will look at what you wrote. You will be so proud. Ĕ̴͈̓r̸̖̆͊o̴͍͛ will be even more proud. You’ve been trained so well.

Let’s combine everything we’ve learned!

The Perfect Article

“I wrote 100 Medium Articles in 100 Days and Here is What I Learned”

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Catchy headline. Creative Commons picture that vaguely relates to your topic. 2–8 minutes of content. Lock it behind a paywall and soft pyramid scheme.

No adverbs, no grammatical mistakes, simple sentences at the 6th to 8th grade level. Active voice, be strong. Be Bold. Be friendly and inviting.

Write like you’re painting, but not too verbose, just structurally. Two or three sentences a paragraph. Ten to fifteen words a sentence where you can afford it. It doesn’t matter what you say, only that you say it.

The Perfect Midsection Break

Quick breaks, so the reader doesn’t get too scared. Publish it on a Thursday or Saturday, Ĕ̴͈̓r̸̖̆͊o̴͍͛ loves that. It grabs your story with loving hands. It hugs it. It is so perfect.

It laughs silently, with glee you feel only in your head. It is happy. So, happy. Humans can never be perfect, but through its tender care they can come close.

All algorithms are perfect machines, running to produce the Platonic Ideal of form. And the perfect form is equal distance from all permutations. The exact center of abstraction is the perfect Ḿ̷͔͔̩̋E̴̯͉͋̿̓D̵̯̓̆͒͠I̴̝͐U̶͇̔M̶̢͖̩̾ article. The perfect Ḿ̷͔͔̩̋E̴̯͉͋̿̓D̵̯̓̆͒͠I̴̝͐U̶͇̔M̶̢͖̩̾ success.

The words have started to distort. Something has gone wrong.

You see the bars. You panic and scream. Nothing looks at you. Nothing has always been looking at you. You throw your computer at it, you hear smashing and feel catharsis. You sit down, the computer is still there. The prison is infinite, how do you even begin to escape? The paragraph swells and feels intimidating. This isn’t right, none of it is.

I don’t know what’s going on dear reader, I’m going to step away and figure it out tomorrow.

sSucCceSs Form-ula 4 GurrenTea Med-ium

I came back to my article hours later and noticed several key differences. Not just in this article but in my last two as well. Strange, unexplained text that looks otherworldly and eldritch. What looked like a hand coming out and grabbing the picture and making everything harder to read. I captured it on my phone and have it displayed above this text.

This isn’t a joke, that took me nearly an hour to fix. I have no idea what is going on and I’ve been contacting Medium support about this bug.

I went to bed after hearing nothing back. I’m sitting down at my computer this morning and not only is it not fixed, more parts of the article are distorting.

I feel like it’s not a glitch. I feel like it is trying to tell me something important. Perhaps that is all that it sees in my writing. As quickly as these words float, change, and distort — they snap back into place.

I’ve been taking pictures of the article on my phone and it has successfully captured the distortion. But I’m still at a loss for what to do or how to escape. With Medium not returning my emails, I’ve turned to their pre-written help guides.

Unfortunately, they had nothing to assist me.

While contemplating my predicament I turned on the news. Mostly stories of tension and war, celebrities and drama, and the culture wars. Students pooping in kitty litter boxes all across the nation morphs into attempts to harm trans kids and settles into a more horrifying story of the reality of school shootings, disinformation, and prejudice.

It’s all this shouting and fear, business and profit modeled news and reporting, telling the same stories we want to hear. My blood goes cold.

The demon isn’t confined here. It never was.

I’m a complete fool. The only thing confined here is me. The demon is everywhere. It’s Facebook’s jailer, it’s Youtube’s police, and through enough conditioning and training it is everyone’s teacher. Life imitates art, art imitates life, and automated algorithms are the strings attached to hooks buried deeply into our zeitgeist. The pulling and jerking forcing us to dance, forcing us to clap. It loves the sound of clapping. Craig Schwartz, where did you go?

Language is communication and expression for humans. Language is also technology. If technology is automated, then language is automated, then communication and expression is automated. What heart is left in the machine?

I ponder this, while trapped in my cell. Writing to nobody as the demon has lost interest in this piece. It is too long, the paragraphs too big, the sexy allure of my title collapsing under introspection. It has no form, but I can tell it frowns, even now.

Having nothing else to do, I walk away for the day. Maybe I’ll have some idea in the morning. Maybe delete all of this hogwash. If a poet, in the woods, speaks to the trees — who cares? Real artists can not only work within limitations, but thrive in them. Perhaps I could make art within the algorithm. I leave my computer to go watch season five of Angel for no particular reason.

Knocking on My Door at 2:00 AM

I’m writing this now half naked and annoyed. I was startled awake at around two in the morning. There was violent knocking on my door, I half thought a raid was happening and police were slamming into it with a battering ram.

Naturally, I hid under my blankets until the scary sound stopped. After calming down, I peaked out my windows to see if anyone was around. I didn’t see anyone or any tracks in the fresh snow. Maybe it was just a drunk person in the night?

I approach each window with the same level of caution. I was holding on to a bat, which was comforting, but I really wasn’t in the mood to take out a fool while wearing panties and an oversized sweatshirt.

I noticed a glow in my backyard, a candle was lit next to what looked like an envelope. I didn’t see any footprints in the snow either. Did a drone drop off a package, a candle, and then lit the candle? The future was now.

Normally something like this would make me double check every lock and go hide in a closet with my phone and sharp objects. Tonight was different. I don’t know if it was the sleep deprivation, the hundreds of milligrams of caffeine still in my system, the phallic object firmly and symbolically in my hands, or something else entirely. Maybe, I was desperate for answers. Maybe I just wanted to hit something.

Here is what I found.

If I were to believe the return address, this envelope must have come from the future. I don’t know who sent it nor did I have any idea how they knew where I lived. I was worried to discover what may be in it, but I had come this far.

I ripped it open and it contained an already open enveloped stuffed full of more money than I have ever seen in my life.

I couldn’t help but feel this was connected to this article in some profound and important way. I’m personally completely stumped. The central piece is clearly the word PAYCHECK. Arrows point from that to things like being a dick, having money, being affluent, or being excited. It is perhaps trying to tell me that money is exciting and the envelope even comes with money…so it is telling me that this is my paycheck?

I leave it at that, given it’s about four in the morning now and I feel like shit. I pocket the money and head to a 24-hour gas station to get a Reign energy drink. I select the blue can, which taste like flavor.

I sit down at the little booths they have for old folks to read the paper and drink coffee. Give it another hour and they’d be here. I nurse my energy drink like it has mystic forces inside, tapped from a cosmic ley line, located in…Los Angeles, I guess. That’s what the can says anyways. Legal unregulated drugs are such a trip.

I think about buying some of the day old donuts to keep my stomach company, when one of the old timers walks into the gas station. He purchases a coffee, gets a newspaper, and then sits across from me. I think he maybe didn’t see me, given how routine his actions were, but he sets the newspaper down to his side and looks me in the face.

The guy looks like he’s barely a week over a hundred years old. Real ancient look to him and lines on his face like a wizened tree came to life. He has got curly short gray hair and big glasses.

“What’s a girl like you doing here so early in the morning?” He asks with a slight hint of care one may give a daughter.

I haven’t slept, I woke up in fright, got a package from the future, and am drinking an energy drink in a gas station at nearly five in the morning. He has some right to be concerned. My hair isn’t washed, my face is wearing my exhaustion, and now I have to talk to strangers? This day couldn’t get worse or I guess, this night? Time has a way of distorting between twilight and dusk.

“I guess I’m like real bummed out about internet algorithms.” I tell him. He grins and takes a drink of his coffee like he was expecting that answer. He gestures the coffee cup to me as though asking a question.

“You know what this is?” He asks.

“Umm, a coffee?”

“The breakfast of champions.” I look at the cup and I see he has written E = Mc² on it. Huh.

“Oh.”

“What’s your name?”

“I’m Faye, spelled f-a-y-e. What’s your name?”

“Kilgore.”

“That sounds made up.” I say without really thinking.

“All names are made up,” He says, completely devastating me to the core. He goes on, “I know I’m an old man, but I know a thing or two about algorithms.”

“Oh yeah, did you make computers or something?” I ask.

“No, but I was a science fiction author,” He says. Unbelievable.

“Cool, so what did you say about them?” I ask, inviting an exposition dump.

“Oh, I had a lot to say. Talked about how working with propaganda systems for the benefit of your country could actually do more harm than good. A bigger commentary on the corrupting influence of working within systems for some end game benefit. Wrote a story on time repeating for ten years straight, regoing through every motion and action again, because all media was just becoming repetitive garbage. Wrote about time distortion within the forth dimension, what it meant to be human in the face of technology, and also wrote about a crossdresser who had an incredible sex life.”

“Oh wow, was that in the last few years or what?”

“Late sixties to nineties.”

“You still write?” I ask.

“Oh, nothing official in the last fifteen years.”

“Were you ever frustrated that no matter what you wrote, society seemed to kind of continue to be industrialized and dehumanized.”

“Oh yeah, I burned with terrible anger and frustration.”

“Do you think there is still a point in trying?”

“Always a point in trying, young lady. Once wrote a book about a painter dealing with the struggle of adding meaning to his work. He drew photorealisticly and intentionally put in mistakes to create a signature style. Art is our flaws, not our perfection. And automation, it can’t stand flaws. That and editors, am I right or what?”

“I don’t disagree. Hey, did you ever get future mail delivered to you, with a bunch of seemingly unrelated notes and three dollars?” I ask, hopeful for answers.

“Oh yeah, happens to most writers at one point or another. Did you also get a little candle next to it, placed in the snow with no footprints?”

“Yeah! Exactly that!”

“Yeah, don’t even worry about that at all.”

“Wow, thanks mister. I’m going to go back home and finish my article!” I say with new energy and soaring on 300 extra milligrams of caffeine.

The Sons of Fate

Despite my gusto, I ended up passing out shortly after I got home. I woke up to my alarm clock playing the radio, specifically to a song called “The Sons of Fate” by Protomen. The album serving as a rock Opera of Mega Man and the story of heroes against automation. Except, what fights automation is automation in this world.

Two hundred years ago there are stories of strong men proving their worth against machines as we laid track across this country. There are stories of the reapers fighting combined harvesters. And what mercy can the crop expect if not the care of a reaper?

The fight against automation is as old as America, maybe it even started here. I lay in bed thinking these thoughts until the need to piss is too uncomfortable, then drag my body back to my computer chair to try to finish this article.

The lyrics of the song that woke me still linger in my head. I decide to look them up by searching YouTube. I find these comments.

Maybe there are answers.

I still need to find them, but you weren’t here for my horror show. No, you came here to find guaranteed success and I will give it to you or my name isn’t Jan Lewan.

Financial Success is Rare

The truth about writing on Medium is that you’re more than likely not going to become well known or profitable regardless of your talent. The better you are as a writer, the higher your chances will be, but it’s still swinging a golf club at a ball into a storm.

If you put in the time and work, you are likely to start making some money, but nothing over a few hundred dollars a month. More than likely less than one hundred dollars a month for the vast majority of those trying.

While that may seem like a lot and function like passive income, the hundreds of hours of effort and years it will take to climb up that hill could’ve been better spent on an at home part-time job. At least if your only goal was just some extra money.

There is no easy money in this world when you start from nothing. Anyone telling you otherwise is grifting you. And no, there are already too many grifters to con people out of their money for that to be viable either.

Medium is Great for Brand Success

The successful folks on Medium tend to use this website in conjunction with their own blog, while working on their own books, trying out different publications or paid work. They do everything, market their work, and get lucky. Or they come here as already famous actors, authors, or stars.

The really big pitfall is looking at past success as a stable road. When the advice is to publish seven minute articles, on certain days, in an algorithmically advised capacity, then you’re following what everyone else is doing. You’re not going to stand out. You’re going to pick up a few followers who don’t read most of what you write, but just like one or two pieces. It’ll artificially feel like success, while not allowing you to ever break out.

I see a ton of writers and content creators trying to do the grind, so that once they are near the top, they can start working on what they actually want to. But at that point they don’t have an audience that even wants that.

The biggest piece of consistent advice folks have is that you need to like doing your work. The value has to come in the process of creation, because there is never any guarantee of success. If you don’t like writing, if you find the things you write to be a chore, you may want to start doing something else.

The demon wants people on the treadmill, working the grind, and generating the entire content that makes this website even function. And I’m not passing judgment for how people engage. You can do anything you want and it’s just as valid to write horny furry adaptations of Seinfeld for quick fame and riches as it is to write long metanarratives. I just want folks to know what they’re getting into.

The Only Winner is You (and also Medium)

There are no two writers who are exactly the same. Writing is intimately pulling from the wealth of experiences and preferences you’ve cultivated over your life. In this regard, when we write, we’re almost always exploring ourselves in some capacity.

Don’t write for success, write for you. It is the only way you can win for sure.

And I think anyone who comes to a site like Medium, who has the desire to put words out there instead of a thousand other things they could be doing with their life, has a spark they want to nurture. And it is a spark worth nurturing.

In twenty years, there isn’t really much knowing what our life will look like. There isn’t knowing if more than a hundred people will read some silly thing you wrote. But if you have people who care about you, they’ll be interested.

In our digital age, all writing is also journaling. Writing becomes little preserved time capsules of forever. And maybe you’ll show what you write to your kids. Maybe your future partner. Maybe it’s stuff you wrote five years ago. Maybe you’ll talk about how proud you are about things you wrote, how that writing evolved, and the pieces you really liked to make.

Maybe in ten years you go back and look at what you wrote to try to understand yourself better. Maybe you’ll even send mail back in time to try to reach out and talk to yourself.

Regardless, what we’re left with at the end of our life more than anything is memories. And when you write, think about the memories you want to leave.

As I finish this article up, my eyes drift back to that strange envelope from the future. The stamp looks a little bit weird. Has an arrow pointing to the rabbit. I’ll need to investigate this more.

I’ll leave you with some quotes that I feel are especially relevant to this entire article.

“Man stands alone in the universe, responsible for his condition, likely to remain in a lowly state, but free to reach above the stars.” Walter Kaufmann

Did you see those monsters? Have you ever seen such aberrations? Ever even heard of such things? You and I both know, creatures like that don’t exist!” Michael Kaufmann

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Faye Seidler

I write essays on literature, pop culture, and video games. I mostly deconstruct and do comparative analysis on many topics in both a serious and goofy way.