How I Made 5k On Medium As A Programmer In 2020

How I Made 5k On Medium As A Programmer In 2020

In March of 2020 I decided to give writing on Medium another go after I had dismissed it the year before due to the way their clap-based system worked then.

But after realizing that now they pay out money for the reading time of articles I decided that this seemed a lot more viable – and it turned out to be true. I managed to earn over 5k$ writing about programming there in about half a year – and I greatly enjoyed the work, the experience, checking the stat page in the mornings.

Just so that you can see for yourself here is my profile on Medium and here is a screenshot of my most popular story’s earnings:

Nothing to scoff at!

So here are my key takeaways from that, also in video form if you like:

https://youtu.be/ss9wb8v19ks

You have to write about a specific set of topics

Medium most definitely is a bubble even though anyone can write there. But to make money you have to write what the audience wants – which in my case happens fit perfectly with my love for programming.

But other topics exist that are as profitable or even more so:

  • Relationship advice
  • Work & Productivity
  • Self-help / -awareness / life lessons
  • Write about writing
  • Freelance work
  • Money making in general

For all those there are major publications where you can publish – and I think that covers a lot of ground for a lot of people to come in and experiment with writing for money.

You need to apply for and publish in the right publications (not your personal profile)

Speaking of publications: Without them you are nothing. Publications are topic-based communities (I write mostly in better programming and levelupcoding) that collect stories for a certain field – and so readers are more likely to subscribe to those and get all the content related to that field.

I’m also starting to gain followers on my personal profile (1.4k so far!) – but that does not happen out of thin air and rather because I keep publishing in those large publications.

Medium is currently undergoing a shift where personal followers will become a lot more important – I’m all for that! – but even after that chance you’ll be best off just sticking to one niche and writing there until you run out of ideas. Some writers clearly continue after they ran out, but I have not even scratched the surface of topics I would like to write about.

You have to nail the title (and get lucky)

Titles are obviously super important, but writing them can be hit and miss even if you think something is really good. I like to keep titles short, to the point and avoid „five steps to do X“ like the plague. My tow highest earnings posts are named:

The first one is longer than I normally like them, but the second shows pretty clearly how I try to write my titles. No clickbait, but interesting enough to click on. Not convoluted or complicated to understand and none of the clickbait-titles that so many others are using on Medium in particular. Readers are getting sick of that by now is my experience – rightly so – and that means you can stand out by writing non-asshole headlines before everyone else catches on.

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Write personal experiences instead of generalized advice

The one thing that I do that most other authors also do is to go with the „how to do X“ kind of headline – we are writing tutorials after all. But I do put my own spin on it that somehow nobody else is doing: I write „How I Do X“.

That shows immediately the most important thing you can show: „I actually did this thing I’m talking about“. That seems like a no-brainer, but half of Medium is actually „how someone else achieved something and what I believe everyone must do because I say so“. If you avoid that trap and talk about actual experiences and lessons you learned yourself you are already differentiatying yourself from a lot of other authors.

Also it feels much better to write what you know instead of bullshitting your way through life.

Follow the „essay method“ with subheadings and content filler

You are seeing the same approach here in this post: I structure everything I write into headlines, then I go into more detail in the actual text portions. This works, is easy to read and structures the content – and it also makes for much faster writing than aimlessly typing up words.

Believe me, I have been there and structure makes everything easier. My most popular medium post took me a good year to build the content for (since I wrote about automating things in the previous year) – but it only took between one and two hours to write.

In fact I did not even think that it would perform this well, but that has been true for all my most successful posts.

Publish regularly (but don’t force it)

Subscribers are getting more and more important and we all have abysmal attention spans – so if you publish one post a month or even less you’ll fade away. I try for a handful of posts a month, avoiding the other extreme of some people who write one post per day and shoot all their powder out with the cannon ball. Also with those people you can usually tell how quick they are writing their posts with typos, very thin content that only touches on things without going into detail.

As usual the middle ground is where you want to be, lazy and workaholic are two sides of the same medal – a medal that you hide in your drawer so nobody sees it when they visit.

Getting featured by medium or a publication is the easiest path to glory and riches

My two most popular posts were both featured – the keyboard one even lived on the Medium start page for a while. You can see this here, the post already started well and just when it was about to fade into irrelevance Medium featured it with that second, much bigger spike:

The automation post has not been featured by Medium, but it was on the homepage of gitconnected for a looooong time:

Also the picture is pretty great, now that I look at it.

Summary: Medium is quite a difficult beast to try and tame

I can not say that I have cracked the code or anything like that, I still struggle to make most of my posts stick and for the most part I’m now having fun with writing and hope that things work out well.

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