Medium can be a challenging platform to get started on because there are a lot of invisible functions to a new user who hasn’t been at this for several years. But it’s a stunningly beautiful platform.
Both the UI and the writers you’ll find on here will impact your life in a positive way. There are some brilliant storytellers on Medium and you have the opportunity to become one yourself.
If I was to discover Medium for the first time today and had to start again, these are the steps I would take.
1. Set up a profile
Create your Medium account and write two sentences that describes how you seek to help people with your writing.
Add a close-up of your face so people can connect with you at a deeper level.
Insert a link to a landing page or website you own. (This will become apparent later).
2. Pick one of these goals
There are seven outcomes you can achieve using Medium:
- Reaching people through writing
- Earning money
- Building a business/audience that you own via an email list
- Gaining experience as a writer
- The ability to teach
- The superpower to inspire
- Access to major publications
Pick one or more of these goals and get started.
If it were me, I’d think of the money as an added bonus, not the focus.
3. The path to your goal
Medium has several tools that allow you to reach one or more of the goals mentioned above.
When users clap (like) your story, it gives your post a boost and allows it to be seen by more readers. The more claps the more readers you have the chance of reaching.
Medium has a staff of in-house curators who review each story that is posted. If the story meets a certain level of quality, the story will be curated in one or more topics by the curators.
Curation is how you reach even more readers and without it, it’s hard to reach many people with your stories if that’s your goal.
Without curation, people would post whatever they want and intentionally or accidentally put the reader at the back of their minds. Traditional blogging platforms are littered with a wasteland of ads, popups, affiliate links, banner ads and hidden sponsored content that ruins the experience for the reader.
Medium is all about the reader and giving them the best quality reading experience possible. The platforms curators are responsible for helping readers find quality content and, in a way, penalizing writers who right for their benefit, not the readers.
If you worship the reader and follow these basic guidelines, you’ll get curated some of the time:
- Check for spelling/grammar
- Add heaps of white space
- Choose a non-clickbait headline
- Be clear in your headline what the story is about
- Add a subtitle to add further information about what the reader can expect
- Don’t write about Medium (like I’m doing right now)
- Be helpful
- Talk to the reader the way a parent would talk to their child
- Exclude swear words
- Add links to helpful references you’ve used (becoming more important)
- Resist inserting affiliate links
- Credit all images that you use
- Don’t use a poor headline (or a vague one)
If I’m being honest, nowadays, it’s pretty hard to build followers.
Medium is not one of those platforms where you go to find influencers and follow people. Medium is where you follow stories and where the writer who wrote that story matters less than the story itself.
Medium users worship the art of writing and storytelling, not people. If you’re lucky to gain a few followers, those followers will be able to see your new stories better. How you build followers on Medium is a bit of a mystery and it’s best if it stays that way quite frankly.
4. Go to the last page of Unsplash
Medium recommends you use Unsplash to find images. You can find images wherever you like, but here’s a tip I read somewhere and it’s brilliantly simple: Go to the last page of Unsplash when you search for an image.
For example, if you search for a picture of the brain, go to the last page. Why? The images right at the top have been used lots and you’ll look like everybody else if you use the same old pictures.
Spend some time searching for images that are used less frequently or that are unique. Or look for images in places where others may not be going.
5. Forget social media marketing
At the top of every Medium story are three share buttons.
I’ll let you in on a secret: when you share links to your articles on other social media platforms, they reach no one. The reason is simple: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn don’t want their users clicking your link and leaving their platform, away from the attention of advertisers.
Posting links to Medium articles on social media is a waste of time because you are violating this unknown law of social media. It makes sense if you think about it.
6. Keep a list of quotes from books you read
There are a few writers on Medium that do this well.
They are professional quote collectors. Every book they read, they keep a list of quotes and they categorize those quotes and sprinkle them all through their stories.
Many of these quotes are from unknown writers or not of the cliche variety. This is a great way to add a different angle to your story and go beyond the repetitive sound of your own voice.
7. Avoid joining Medium Groups
Newbie writers often make this mistake. Don’t join the hundred and one group chats that seek to dissect the Medium platform and make wild accusations about what’s going on.
The platform is the platform and it’s best used to write.
There are many fortunetellers who have given up their job of predicting stock market crashes and taken up a new hobby of predicting Medium’s demise. The CEO and founder of Medium is Ev Williams, who started a small startup called Twitter with his mate Jack Dorsey.
I’d be surprised if he was going to give up Medium easily to a pack of wolves. That’s me fortunetelling, though. Either way, resist the sport of commentating on Medium and play the sport by writing.
8. Slow down with headlines
The headline of your article is crucial and I’m crap at it. The way that works well is to slow down.
Have a few headlines. Play around with them. Read them out loud. Ask yourself this question:
Is it obvious what this story is about from the headline? If not, edit until it is.
9. Reading time is important (no links or tags)
If money is your focus on Medium, then it’s worth noting that as a writer, you are paid on reading time.
So if reading time is how you are rewarded both financially and in terms of reach, avoid tagging everybody in your stories and inserting too many links. Tags and links distract the reader and cause them to click off your article, destroying your reading time in the process.
Focus on having the reader take your story in and make it to the end which works better for both them and you. Don’t be in a hurry to divert a reader off the path their on and down a path that they didn’t ask for with too many distractions.
My favorite stories are plain text with a few sub-headings.
10. Not too many pictures
As an amateur, I’d put way too many images in each story. This caused the reader to get lost and become nothing more than eye candy that served no purpose and added nothing to the story.
If I was starting again, I’d use one cover image per story and that is it. Let your writing do the talking for the most part. One quality image is better than ten crappy ones scattered throughout the story.
11. Add a bio link
If your goal is to reach a wider audience or own some of your audiences contact emails, insert a link in your bio to a landing page that captures their details. My advice again would be to ask for their email only (no name or location) and disable the need to confirm an email address.
Yes you will get a few more spam email accounts, but you’ll also increase the number of people who go through the process and that outweighs the tiny bit of spam you get.
Make links and sign-ups stupidly simple.
12. Buy the membership — it’s 5 bucks
Medium costs $5 per month to be a reader. Don’t be a tightarse and support the platform that hosts your work.
The membership is more about respect than anything else.
13. Read other Medium Writers
Now without a Medium Membership, you’ll only be able to read three articles a month outside of the free ones (which nobody publishes).
Most of what I know about Medium has been learned from other writers on the platform. Reading other writers inspires you and helps with your own learning about life.
The more you read the more you take in and that’s good because writing is all about thinking and then taking those thoughts and sharing them.
If you want to be a better writer on Medium, read other writers on Medium (and why you’re at it, clap the shit out of their articles).
14. Add a subtitle
You don’t have to add a subtitle but I recommend you do. Subtitles allow you to set up the story better and convince a reader of why they should spend their precious time on your work.
Stories I have published on Medium with a subtitle as opposed to without one have reached many more people.
15. Create a landing page with email capture
I’ve always hated email lists and even deactivated mine.
I reactivated my email list recently for one reason: you can send email subscribers to specific articles on Medium and give them a little boost. This helps you promote stories you care about and want to have seen by more people.
The simple way to do this is to set up a landing page and link an email list manager like ConvertKit to it. I’m not technical, so usually, an online marketplace of freelancers is an easy way to find somebody to lend a hand.
16. A simple call to action (steal mine)
A link for people to sign up to your email address is called a call-to-action.
If you want to collect email subscribers, all you need to do is put a link on the bottom of every article. “Join my mailing list” is plenty. If you go overboard, Medium won’t curate your story, so take it easy.
A few words with a link is all that’s allowed and that’s good for the reader experience.
17. Send one email a week
If you’re getting started on Medium and capturing people’s email addresses, then all I’d recommend doing is sending one email a week.
Sending one email a week with a link to your most popular Medium article for that week is an easy strategy anyone can follow.
Focus writing on Medium and try not to spend too much time dicking about with emails of which mostly will never get opened. Use email to give your work a small boost.
18. Use a grammar checker
I suck at grammar and a software tool called Grammarly helps keep me slightly more honest (although Grammarly can act like a drunk driver a lot of the time and steer you in the wrong direction).
19. Pick two topics
It’s easy when you start on Medium to try and be a jack of all trades master of none. My recommendation is to pick two topics to start with.
My first topics were Personal Development and Entrepreneurship and even today, that has largely not changed. Picking two topics creates focus and allows you to go deep when you start.
20. Be sensible with tags (4 popular, one unknown)
Medium allows you to tag your story to help categorize it on top of the curation they may give you to categorize your story further.
Don’t overthink tags. I use four popular tags and one tag that is hardly used in every story I publish.
People often search tags using the search toolbar and so that’s another place where your stories might be found if you tag them properly.
21. Don’t be an ass
Treat people nice when you’re starting out and don’t write hate articles or talk down to people in the comments.
Nice people go far in life, especially on Medium.
22. Publish stories to members only
This one is simple: stories that are behind the paywall reach more people because members have to pay $5 a month to see them. Medium lets stories behind the paywall get seen by more people — as they should.
If I were getting started, I’d make all my stories available to members only which supports the platform that supports writers and lets you get seen.
23. Connect your bank account
If your stories are published to members only, you may make a few dollars. Connect your bank account to Medium. If you want to go overboard, use some or all of that money to help other people.
It’s okay to be paid for your writing too. No need to feel guilty amigo.
24. Support other writers
One thing that has helped me a lot on Medium is other writers. These are the cats that clap the loudest and send me emails of support. Why would they do that? Because I support them.
When you help people and support their work, they do the same for you. Supporting people shows you care and that little trick makes the world go round.
Clap your fellow writers nice and loud so they can hear you.
25. A minimum of 800 words to flesh out the idea
Articles under 800 words often don’t contain ideas or stories that are fleshed out enough to be useful.
Aim for 800 words and you’ll automatically help flesh out ideas better and stop from cutting corners with your writing.
26. Avoid the temptation to stat-hack yourself to death
Stats on Medium are nice but they can also be a trap.
Stats can change your writing style or shape your writing in unhelpful ways if you let them become the focus or the justification for why a story does good, bad, or average.
27. No video
Don’t do it. Medium is a writing platform and videos distract users.
28. Please don’t link to your other Medium articles
There are a few people that overdo this and it’s annoying as a reader.
You might think adding links to your other Medium articles helps them get seen, or viewed more. It doesn’t. Links to other Medium articles distract the reader and stop them from finishing your story.
People can find your other stories just fine. You don’t need to insert a link in every second sentence like a crying baby begging for attention. Focus on the reader and their experience.
29. Turn Medium into a gym routine
Consistency on Medium should be the goal if you’re getting started. Think of writing on Medium like going to the gym. The more you write on Medium the bigger and more powerful your writing muscle gets.
When something becomes a habit, you automate it and prevent all the overthinking and resistance you face as a writer to get started.
Treat Medium like a gym habit and automate it.
30. It might not be Medium that you one day use
People can easily get romantic about Medium.
My writing career didn’t start on Medium; it started on an unknown Wordpress blog. It wasn’t the platform that has made the difference years later; it’s the habit.
I can almost guarantee that wherever you start writing will one day change.
You might start on Medium but if you fall in love with writing, you could end up writing almost anywhere. Don’t be romantic about the platform you write on because it’s probably going to change.
Priority One: Race your way to 100 articles and don’t look back
Discovering your writing voice and what you love writing about takes time.
My advice would be to race your way to writing your first one hundred articles (while keeping the rules of curation front and center) and don’t look back. Those first hundred articles will teach you more than I ever could.
One hundred articles will build the habit for you and teach you how to show up consistently without giving up which is most of the struggle us writers face.
Priority Two: Then, get featured in one publication
Publications on Medium have their own following and audience. Once you’ve hit one hundred articles, if it were me getting started again, I’d pitch a few publications and make it into one.
Publications have further quality metrics and will teach you how to write in a particular niche.
The holy grail of publications on Medium are the ones that they own which you can see in the top toolbar of the homepage. These publications can help you reach more people, although I wouldn’t go straight to them if I were starting. You want to get good first.
If I were starting on Medium all over again, that’s how I’d think about it. Keep the reader’s experience front and center and focus on writing.