I’m putting Better Programming on hiatus to make room for other programming publications.
I get that this is a big pivot given that we switched to a new editor recently. But things are changing at Medium and I think this will ultimately be a boon for everyone, authors, readers and publications.
I would like to inspire some (but not all) of you to start a publication and give you some guidelines on how to do it well. If you are an author, there are many other publications to write for and hopefully there will soon be even more (check the comments for suggestions).
Medium has always had publications that acted as something in between a group blog and a sub-reddit. Publication editors help set a quality bar, give feedback on your posts, and bring you an audience. Publications are a pillar of the Medium experience.
Better Programming has published stories on all of those topics and more, and so by definition we were often publishing stories that a lot of you don’t want to read. The direction Medium is headingn is to optimize for publications that are more focused than Better Programming has been.
There are two types of focuses that I’m personally excited about. One is that publications are de facto communities of enthusiasts. The other is that publications bring a level of expertise to Medium’s boost program. Caveat: these are just what I’m excited about — maybe you have more creative ideas than I do.
Both cases beg for publications that are focused.
If you want to build an enthusiast community of people who love Kotlin, who want to write about their Kotlin projects and what they are learning, then you don’t also need authors in your publication who are writing about Swift.
Similarly, Medium is leaning on the expertise of publication editors to contribute as nominators in the Boost program. It’s hard to bring credible expertise when your focus is too broad. Most nominators also have first hand expertise beyond what they publish. So, if I were to run Better Programming myself, I think I could credibly nominate within Rails (I’ve built several companies on that stack) and Regular Expressions (I wrote a book), but I’m clueless on nearly everything else.
Running a publication isn’t for everyone and it isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme. The best publications are run out of authentic interest in a topic and nothing more. In technical topics, there can be some financial rewards, which I’ll get to. But mainly it’s best to think of this as a way to harness a passion you may have. I know that the community building impulse is strong in many of you because I’ve seen how many people have started publications on Medium over the years.
For any of you who are interested, I’m going to give you some tips on starting a publication. These aren’t exactly a recipe, but I’ll try to arrange them in order.
- Pubs are easy to start and at minimum you have yourself as a possible author to fill the pub with stories. Here’s a link to get going.
- If you want to accept other authors then you need to setup instructions. Almost all publications that accept other authors setup a “write for us” page with instructions, make it a tab on the publication, write a style guide, and then create a Google form to handle new author applications. Copy ours.
- Do you want to focus on inclusivity? If so, then your role is probably more about support and encouragement and less about setting a high editorial bar. People get squeamish about being judged but the thing I’ve long recognized is that all writing was useful to the writer and is often useful to at least a few people, but very little writing is going to trend on Reddit or HackerNews.
- Do you want to focus on exclusivity, i.e. finding the best of the best ideas and information on a topic? Medium’s Boost program gives publication editors a tool to recruit authors: “I can help boost your stories to more readers.” You can’t just boost anything, it has to be the best of the best. And so focusing on that is a very exclusive approach. I often think of a publication here about Runners where the editor is using his access to the Boost to work with professional running coaches, professional runners, and the former editor-in-chief of Runners World. That must be so fun for him! The programming equivalent is different for each programming languange so I’ll use an example from the language I got started in: if I started a publication for Perl, I’d use the boost as a way to recruit Larry Wall.
- Consider becoming a Boost nominator but also consider that doing that will require having a strong nose for the best of the best. Of course every story on Medium is “high quality” but there are certain stories that are important, accurate, helpful and maybe even more than that. This isn’t official policy, but unofficially, it would be reasonable to submit an application to be a Boost Nominator once you have a publication with three authors and ten stories.
- Getting a publication started requires recruiting authors. Hopefully you know some already, even if they aren’t on Medium. I think that if you don’t know a subject well enough that you also already know other people with similar enthusiasm and expertise in that subject, then starting a publication isn’t for you. That’s not a hard rule, but I’m saying it from experience. After recruiting from your own network, the way almost every other publication has recruited authors is by monitoring relevant tags on Medium and then using the private note feature to invite recently published stories into your publication.
- Lets talk money. If you are a publication that Boosts stories you will get paid an honorarium. Plus if you build an audience, your own stories might make more money. But, you are missing the big picture if this is the most important thing to you. Writing and editing is a form of portfolio building. The software engineering field pays so much money, way beyond what Medium pays for writing. So focusing on getting paid from Medium is the ultimate example of a local maxima because the you can make 1000x more by building a reputation and using it to get a job or raise. This is just fact.
If you do start a publication that is looking for authors or you’ve already started a publication like that, post a link in the responses along with a link to your submission guidelines.
Authors: I looked up Better Programming’s stats. 4.6k authors have published 16.8k stories to Better Programming. Those stories generated 151M page views. Not all of them were behind the paywall, but the ones that were earned authors $999 thousand dollars. It’s been a huge honor to play a role in that and my thanks go out to the editors who’ve made it happen and to all of you for writing. Medium is still a great home for you, it’s just