How to Get Read on Medium
3200. That’s how many copies of Moby-Dick were sold during Herman Melville’s lifetime. A critical and commercial flop at the time of his death — by which point he was working as an anonymous customs inspector for the City of New York — it took nearly 50 years for Melville’s book to become the Great American Novel.
The lesson: Exceptional ideas always find an audience. Eventually.
We don’t want you to wait that long. Medium is committed to helping writers publish great ideas, and not just popular ones. But we also want you to find an audience, so we’re offering these four tips to make sure your post looks its best, grabs people’s attention, holds it, and encourages them to pass it on.
Use an image that makes them stop scrolling
Make it relevant. If the free market dictated, every news story, book jacket, and white paper on fluid dynamics would feature a picture of a kitten, but that’s not always the best call. A relevant cover image — muddy wildcatters on a story about oil prices, and stag beetles on one about entomology — will engage directly with the people who are interested in your topic.
Also, if your story is about kittens, then go ahead and use a picture of a kitten.
Pick something high res, but not TOO high res. Approximately 1900 pixels on the long end and a file size of at least 500 KB is ideal. But if you don’t have the time to right click and check the properties, just make sure that your image is clear and bright, and that it fits the screen reasonably well.
Make sure that the thumbnail works. Most Medium posts are shared on Twitter and Facebook using “cards,” short summaries that have a title, teaser, and a thumbnail version of your header image. Try to pick an image that will reproduce well at this smaller size.
Write a title that gets them in the door
Provide context about the story, but don’t give away the punch line. Your title should appeal to readers’ interests, and make them curious to find out more. You want them to know that your post involves cheese, but intrigued enough to click through and read about how Camembert saves lives.
Use “how” or “why.” This can veer dangerously close to the black magic of the internet — tricks that help bad content go viral — but, used in moderation, it can also be helpful. Readers want to learn something new, and a title that includes one of these words lets them know you’re about to make them smarter.
Focus group it. Make a list of titles and sit with them before you choose. And even better, run those titles by the people who sit in the cubicles around you, or the shipmates on your fishing vessel. Give yourself some options and open the floor to feedback, and the right title will rise to the top.
Show some effort to make it shine
Do the work. Our data lab recently unearthed a statistic that makes us very, very happy. It turns out that there’s a direct correlation between the time spent writing a post, and how popular it becomes. In other words, hard work matters. So spend a few extra minutes fixing the weak spots, and crafting the perfect conclusion.
Make it pretty. We designed Medium to make your work look amazing, but our tools only work if you use them. Just cutting and pasting your text into the editor and pushing “publish,” means that you’re missing the chance to select a call-out, or to add some fancy formatting that will make your post look like you have an entire team working in your attic.
Make it easy. If your paragraphs are too long they’ll look like an endless slog, too short, and you’ve written a grocery list. It’ll be different for every kind of post, but a solid rhythm is essential. And don’t forget to add some visual interest; an image or a video gives the eye a spot to rest before it sets off again on its long journey across the page.
Finally, be nice, and spread the love
Let them know you’re listening. When someone shares your Medium post on Facebook — even if they’re a stranger — go ahead and comment, or, at the very least, toss them a like. And it’s always simple to favorite a tweet about your post, or retweet it yourself.
Don’t ask people to like you. You want everyone to know how proud you are of your post, but you don’t want to sound like you’re selling a used car. Be open and genuine, and careful about using things like “please RT,” or “if you like this, recommend.” Be friendly, not pushy.
Ask people to like you. Yeah, we know. But there is a way, subtly and usually in private, to go ahead and ask, especially friends and acquaintances who can act as influencers. Email your buddy from college whose Tumblr about hipsters somehow blew up, or nudge a work friend who writes a cool blog about penguins. And ask your mom. She’s totally obligated.
If you spent the time to write a post on Medium, then you probably have something awesome to say, and it’s the quality of your content that’ll carry the day. Everyone deserves to be heard, and these tips will give you the best chance to succeed.
If you start to lose hope, remember that Moby-Dick now sells untold numbers of copies a year, and your great idea will find its audience too. Ideally, it’ll be way before you’re dead.