I started writing on Medium over a year and a half ago. For the most, part this site is extremely intuitive and easy to use, but there are a lot of things about writing here that I wish I had learned earlier. Below is everything that I can think of that I wish someone had told me when I first joined the site.
If you’re new to writing on Medium, or even just thinking about starting to write here, this post is for you. I hope that even seasoned Medium writers will learn at least one or two new things as well.
If you highlight text Medium will give you a list of formatting options. Most are self-explanatory or can be figured out by testing them out. For example, the large “T” creates headings and the small “T” creates subheadings.
Titles and subtitles
If you create a heading at the top of your article, Medium will automatically format it into a title. If you create a subheading immediately below that, Medium will automatically format it to a subtitle. Take a look at the top of this article for an example of what that looks like.
Medium has a formatting option for pull quotes. Just click the quote button on the formatting menu twice. Pull quotes are typically meant as visual features and should repeat a part of the article.
Pull quotes are typically intended to be visual features and should repeat a part of the article.
I’ve never liked pull quotes much even in magazines, and in my opinion, they really don’t work in an online format. Half your readers are likely reading on a phone, so pull quotes are more of an annoyance than an eye-catching feature.
If you spend much time on Medium though, you’ll notice that many writers use pull quotes to simply add emphasis. I think some of them just don’t know the intended use, and others know the original use but are adapting the formatting to their own needs. My suggestion would be to just avoid them entirely.
Medium also allows you to add drop caps, like I’ve done here. This is another formatting option that it’s probably better to just ignore. It just doesn’t work well with online writing, because the size of the screen affects the visual look of each paragraph too much. Some publications on Medium have even banned drop caps completely.
The stats page has gotten much better over the past year, but it still leaves a lot to be desired.
Responses count as stories
One of the most important things to know when looking at your stats is that your responses to other writers count as their own stories. So if you respond to a popular article on Medium, your views skyrocket. These new views are (primarily) just people reading your response, not actually clicking back to your own posts.
If you check your stats multiple times a day (and let’s face it, most of us have probably gone through phases of doing this), you might sometimes notice a sudden drop in your stats. For example, you’ll have 15 fans for the day in the morning, but when you check again in the afternoon, it’s dropped to 2.
The most likely cause of this is a user deleting their account. When someone deletes their account, it removes all of their old interactions, which gets reflected in your stats.
You can read more about this and other weird changes in stats on this official Medium help article: https://help.medium.com/hc/en-us/articles/360024113314-Why-do-I-see-a-sudden-change-in-my-stats-
Every article you post has the opportunity to be reviewed by Medium “curators” who select some high-quality articles for “distribution” across Medium.
Having an article selected will drastically increase how many views it gets, especially when you’re new to Medium. It’s very important for new writers to try to get articles curated.
The best way to know what they’re looking for is to read a lot on Medium, and to follow the official guidelines: https://help.medium.com/hc/en-us/articles/360006362473-Medium-s-Curation-Guidelines-Everything-Writers-Need-to-Know
Unfortunately, there’s still a lot of luck that goes into it. Everyone who has been writing here for a while knows the experience of spending all day on an article that gets passed over, and then writing an article in 20 minutes that gets selected.
There are some articles that you can know won’t get curated (like this one, since I’m writing about Medium.) Even a great article that follows all the rules might get passed over though. It’s frustrating, but the only real answer is to try your best and accept that sometimes it won’t go in your favor.
Publications on Medium can be a good way to get more exposure, but they’re a little intimidating at first.
“Publications” are a broad category
It’s important to understand that “publications” are a very broad category on Medium. It’s really just a tool that Medium offers to organize articles, and users have found tons of different ways to use that tool.
Some publications on Medium are similar to traditional print media. They have editors, they pay the writers, and they promote the stories. Most publications are far less official.
Typically, the only pay you get is through the Medium partner program, and there is essentially no editing done on any of the stories submitted. These include many of the biggest publications on Medium.
In general, it’s really not that hard to get your story into a Medium publication. Each publication has it’s own submission rules, so just check their page for details.
There are some publications that are either run by Medium or owned by Medium. These change often, but they include the ones featured in the menu at the top of the Medium home page.
These are tougher to get published in, but get promoted way more than anything else on Medium.
Creating your own publication
Everyone on Medium can also create their own publications. You can find the page to create publications by clicking your user icon and selecting “publications.”
They are really easy to set up, and provide a few good benefits. First, they let you organize your posts by subject matter. Since I write a lot about sobriety, I made a publication call “Exploring Sobriety.” This way, anyone who only wants to read what I write about sobriety can follow the publication instead of my main account.
Second, they allow you to email your followers directly. This can help make sure that your followers actually see when you post something, since Medium isn’t always great about sharing your posts with all your followers. Medium just announced that they will be overhauling this feature soon, which should add even more benefits.
If you make your own publication, you can just use it for your own writing, or you can accept submissions from other writers as well.
As you write more, you’ll slowly gather more followers. When someone follows you, Medium will recommend your stories to them more often.
Unfortunately, Medium doesn’t show all of your followers everything you post. It also takes into account things like how popular the story is, and how often the follower clicks your stories. This can be very frustrating, but it makes sense. Many readers on Medium are following hundreds or thousands of writers, so Medium couldn’t show them literally every post by every person they follow.
The best way around this is to create a publication so you can email followers.
Growth matters more than totals
Your total follower count has a big effect on how many readers each article you post will get. An even more important metric though is how fast your followers are growing.
People who followed you a year ago have often already left the site or forgotten about your writing. Your recent followers are generally the most active readers.
Don’t game the system
A lot of new writers follow thousands of accounts in the hope that they’ll get followed back. In my opinion, this is a pretty lame way to try to game the system. If the only reason that someone is following your account is that you followed them first, then they aren’t actually going to read your posts anyway.
If you write well and consistently, you’ll attract followers who actually want to read what you’re writing.
6. Search Engine Optimization
Here’s my most controversial opinion: search engine optimization is useless on Medium.
Readers from search engines aren’t Medium members. So, if you’re hoping to make money from writing on Medium, these readers won’t help at all. I have on article on Medium that tanked internally but has gotten over 6,500 views from search engines. Despite all those views, it’s made less than $4. You can check out the article here:
Three Famous Poetry Books That Entered the Public Domain in 2019
Three classic poetry collections are now freely (and legally) available online.
SEO is also less valuable on Medium because nearly everything on this site is behind a paywall. The readers that you get from search engine traffic aren’t going to stick around to keep reading your other articles.
Finally, Medium’s stats page makes it very hard to analyze your search engine traffic. You can see which search engines are sending you readers, but not which search terms are used. That’s not enough data to really analyze your SEO attempts.
I think this is all a good thing. I hate search engine optimization. I think it leads to low-quality writing because you’re thinking more about your robot readers than your human readers.
One of the things I love about Medium is that it rewards writing for humans. Your writing will get curated based on what real humans think of it, and then you’ll gain followers based on whether they actually enjoy your writing or not. Medium even pays based on how long people spend reading your articles, so click-bait articles with a high bounce rate are worthless.
7. Following advice
The last thing I wish I had realized sooner is to take all the advice about writing on Medium with a grain of salt.
There are a lot of Medium writers who have been around for years and give out tons of advice on how to succeed here. Some of this advice is gold and some of it is completely useless, and there isn’t an easy way to tell which is which.
The trouble is that many people succeed without really understanding why they succeed. We all overestimate the effects of our own hard work and talent, and underestimate how big a role luck can play.
Even more importantly, Medium has been increasingly saturated with new writers. That means it’s harder than ever for a new writer to succeed here. What worked well even a year ago might not work anymore.
I still think it’s worth trying out the advice you read from established authors, but don’t take it all as gospel.
I hope this has helped you learn at least one thing new about Medium! This really is a great site for writing and publishing, and I wish you all the best!