Medium is an awesome place to publish stories. If there ever were a heaven on Earth for writers, Medium would be it. It’s a place that rewards remarkable penmanship and brilliant ideas while pummeling lifeless, boring stories into the ground.
Having used Medium for almost two years now, I’ve learned how to publish on Medium – what comprises a clap-worthy article, what makes people want to follow others, and the junk that makes me want to throw my phone across the room in disgust.
What I tried to do here was walk through my own process for publishing stories, hoping to enlighten you on what you might want to do to improve your Medium game. I’m not saying I’m the best, but I have figured out what it takes to see success on this platform — something I plan to continue doing.
Before you hit the publish button on your next post, use this checklist to elevate your writing, draw in your target audience, and earn those claps like a boss.
Part 1: Making your stories prettier
1. Chunk up your paragraphs
When writing for a large audience, it’s usually best to appeal to their wants and needs.
Try to think about your own online reading habits. I don’t know about you, but when I see an article with large walls of text for paragraphs, I get a little turned off. I breeze right over them and look for smaller, easier to read segments.
Trust me, I’m not the only one who does this. The majority of the internet skims through articles. People are really fucking busy, and they’re getting used to reading a bunch of crap online. It’s like fumbling through your mail, looking for something worth opening that’s not an ad or a credit card offer — people want to find something worthwhile. But until they do, they skim.
This is the reality of the world we live in today.
You don’t want people skimming over your thoughts. You fought hard to wrestle them into words on a page. This is why you have to break your thoughts up into smaller chunks. Don’t lose them in a long-winded paragraph they can’t see past.
“Chunking” makes it easier on your audience to enjoy reading your content. It should flow nicely with one good snippet of information then onto the next. Your ideal paragraphs should be one to two sentences long, three if you’re feeling really spicy on a particular train of thought.
Eventually, you won’t need this to be a checklist item. It’s something you’ll naturally do while writing the article.
2. Add headers and/or breaks
Words don’t mean much by themselves, and neither do sentences or paragraphs with poor structure.
Below is how most great articles are structured on Medium from the top (the overall story) down to the smallest details (words). I say most because Medium is an outlet for creativity, and the platform does promote being creative with your writing. But, keep in mind that you’ll be straying from the norm.
Structure: Story > Key Concepts > Paragraphs > Sentences > Words
People might seek out chaos, or laud it for its oddity, but subconsciously, structure and rigidity are what we crave.
Chunking up your paragraphs helps break up each individual string of thought. Headers or breaks help organize those thoughts into a common key concept.
This breaks up your story into easily digestible segments. The headers or breaks help you know when I’ve completely shifted from one idea to the next. There’s no guesswork, just a simple transfer of thoughts from your brain into the readers.
To add a header, select the text and click on the bigger capital ‘T’ (the smaller ‘T’ is a subheader, which you can use as well):
To add a break, press ‘Enter’ [or ‘Return’] to create a blank line. Then, on the left, click the ‘+’.
And select the “- -” on the far right.
This checklist is a prime example of using headers. Even if you’re skimming the article, you can easily tell how my thoughts are flowing, and you might feel obliged to stop and read something that strikes your attention.
A word of caution: don’t go overboard. Add them where appropriate to group your thoughts. If you’re simply looking for ways to draw focus to certain areas, there are other ways to do just that…
3. Make it pop
“Making it pop” refers to controlling the focus of your readers.
Go back to the top of this article and skim through it. What stands out?
- The sentences I bold
- Bulleted lists
These items are magnets for your readers’ focus.. Medium is awesome for visually appealing posts, and you should use that to your advantage.
Think about how many stories or articles you browse on any given day. Again, do you really read them all cover to cover? No, you might read one or two, but most often, you skim.
Using formatting is a strategic move to help enhance your story and focus the readers’ attention on where you want it. If you’re skimming through this article, chances are high that you’ll at least see what I’ve made “pop”.
Then, one of two things is going to happen:
1. You’ll finish skimming, move on, and walk away with a handful of useful nuggets.
2. One of those nuggets will catch your eye and spark your interest. You’ll start back at the top and actually want to read the full article.
Both are solid outcomes for you, the author.
- Use bold to attract attention to a key concept that you don’t want readers to miss.
- Use quotes to do the same thing. Don’t feel like you have to use them only for actual quotes. These bad boys are highly versatile, and if you can’t tell, I love ‘em.
- Use italics.
- Use bulleted lists.
Mix things up, but again, don’t go overboard. Don’t lose your audience in a sea of formatting mashed together like a hobo’s clothes in the winter.
Be strategic about it. Make that shit pop.
4. Remove unnecessary links
On Medium, links should be few and far between. Only link to relevant content, which will usually either be helpful resources or sources for information to prove your point.
Keep in mind that Medium is not your own website — it has it’s own Domain Authority. The benefit of producing an awesome, highly shareable story far outweighs linking to your own website or linking out to other webpages for SEO.
If anything, it turns people off and distracts from the purpose of the story. Do yourself a favor and make a once-through pass to make sure you remove any links that aren’t critical to the article.
5. Removes “filler” photos
Medium lets you use amazing high-res photos, and they’re formatting is bomb. Why would you want something boring like this…
…just to try to make the post more visually-acceptable?
Medium’s formatting, if done right, permits enough readability that you don’t need “filler” photos to break up the content. The formatting does that for you.
If it’s pertinent to add a photo, and it’s a worthwhile addition, then go ahead and add it, but don’t put them in there for the hell of it.
Write with purpose. Add photos the same way.
6. Spend more time on your headline
Here we go. The good stuff.
Let me hit you with a fact:
Your headline, like it or not, is the most critical piece of your Medium article.
Think about what makes you want to read an article. You’re scrolling through hundreds of thumbnails with only two things to help make your decision:
- The headline image
- The title of the article
Your headline is the ultimate hook that reels people in. It has to make them curious enough to want to read your article, otherwise it gets passed over for something more intriguing.
Writing an effective headline is a science, mostly based on psychology.
Again, put yourself in your target reader’s mind. What would make him want to read your article? Why should he click on your story over the millions of others on the internet?
Try asking these questions:
- Is there a clear benefit for the reader? e.g. How to Gain Dwayne Johnson-Like Confidence
- Does it strike a sense of urgency? e.g. Bank Account Hacked? Don’t Panic, Do This One Thing Immediately
- Is it specific enough? e.g. How This Skinny-Fat Hardgainer Finally Packed on Some Muscle
- Is it unique? e.g. I’ll Have a Grande Coffee With a Side of Confidence, Please
Each brings something to the table that might make your target reader want to explore further.
With your current article, you’re going to want to brainstorm at least 5 to 10 headlines.
If you can, ask others for feedback. Take a poll online or use your email list if you have that option.
“Hey friend, which one of these headlines do you like better?”
If you’re wondering where you’re going to get the most bang for your buck (after writing the article, of course) the headline is where it’s at.
7. Add a high-res headline photo
Ah, the headline photo. It might be the only other item your potential readers see in the thumbnail, but trust me, it’s no where near as important as the headline itself.
The key takeaway here is that you at least have one.
Unsplash.com is the best free site that offers a regularly updated library of high-resolution photos. Earlier this year , Medium introduced a partnership with Unsplash that makes it super-easy for you to add them into your stories.
To add a headline photo, press ‘Enter’ [or ‘Return’] at the start of your title to create a blank line above it. Then, on the left, click the ‘+’.
Then, you can choose either the ‘camera’ or the ‘magnifying glass’.
Let’s say you chose to search Unsplash through Medium.
The specific image you choose likely won’t make or break your reader’s decision, though the image should be relevant and somewhat compelling.
Whether I like to admit it or not, a sexually appealing headline image on a story about sex will probably nudge me to read further, but it may have the counter-effect on a story about mental health — I might feel like the author is trying to trick me into reading.
Just something to keep in mind.
8. How’s your intro?
If you’re lucky, your headline and image will have reeled someone in to read your story.
Now comes the next most important part: your introduction.
The idea is to give your reader something that will make them want to continue on down the page. Ideally, you weave your thoughts in such a way that each one makes them want to keep reading further, but it’s highly likely that won’t always be the case.
A good introduction will give you some margin with your readers. When they come to a sentence or thought that turns them off, they may give you the benefit of the doubt and keep reading.
Some of my best introductions are mini-stories from my life or others that are highly relatable. Others are thoughts that many people have regularly, or asking the reader to ‘imagine a scenario…’
But sometimes, my introductions just dive right into the information they want — like this article, for example.
No one really knows the exact science behind what hooks a reader because there isn’t one. What works for you might not work for someone else. It’s like nuclear physics — there’s a science to it, but it’s mostly guesswork when you get down to the dirty details.
Note: For my non-engineering-minded readers, it’s impossible to predict the exact behavior of nuclear reactions within the reactor core — we can only influence the likelihood of more or less reactions, the rest is covered through probability (albeit highly precise probability).
Hopefully, your introduction will have caught your readers’ attention enough to want to hear what else you have to say.
9. Limit your self-promo
Whether you’re writing for your own brand or to help build a company brand, the advice is the same — Medium is not the place for shameless promotion.
It’s a place for stories. The articles are the products.
That said, a little bit of self-promotion is OK. We all understand that to some extent, we’re here to build our own brand or the visibility of a business.
I like to limit myself to a couple brief sentences at the end of each of my stories. Here’s an example of one I use frequently:
Keep in mind that, on Medium, self-promotion is acceptable for non-paid articles only.
For paid articles, Medium takes their “the article is the product” stance very seriously, and there is absolutely no self-promotion allowed.
10. Re-read your story at least 1 more time
Every time I make a pass through my stories, I find another thing wrong with them, whether it’s a grammatical error, a problem with what tense I used, or the general flow of things.
It’s likely the same with you. We all make mistakes or think we can do better.
I could literally re-read my articles hundreds of times, making changes until I’m blue in the face.
Since I don’t have that kind of time in my life, I’ve at least committed to reviewing them 1 or two more times the entire way through.
Here are some good questions to keep in mind while reviewing:
- Does the article get my main point across?
- Are there any grammatical errors? Use a tool such as Grammarly to help improve your writing.
- Am I consistent with my tense? e.g. past, future, present
- If not, does it still flow appropriately?
- Is it “good enough” to publish? e.g. the story makes sense and there are no blatant errors that show laziness
If you’re ready to move on, let’s get into making the final touches before launching your story.
Part 2: The finishing touches
11. Make the choice between a paid or non-paid article
As Medium continues to evolve, so does their model for attracting writers and readers. One example of this was Medium’s decision to charge a [low and very affordable] monthly fee for premium members.
This, in part, allows Medium to pay you, the writer, for your stories should you choose that option.
There are clear advantages and drawbacks to writing a paid vs. a non-paid article:
- Paid articles obviously earn you money.
- Non-paid articles do not.
- Paid articles are promoted more heavily by Medium.
- Non-paid articles are not.
- Paid articles are currently only available on some publications, Better Humans being one of the most-notable early adopters.
- Non-paid articles can be published almost anywhere (which usually means many more readers, views, and potential claps/followers).
Previously, non-paid articles helped me achieve my goal of building my brand (more followers, views, and claps) more than paid. Now, I’m experimenting with writing more paid stories. My strategy will continue to evolve as Medium does.
For you, the sky's the limit. Do what aligns with your goals. If you're just starting out, I'd recommend the non-paid articles and focusing on becoming a writer for as many relevant publications as possible. Then, pivoting to apid once you have a somewhat established readership.
To make the decision between between paid and non-paid, scroll up to the top of your draft and select the drop-down.
Then, click on the radio button that tickles your fancy.
12. Add tags to your post
Medium lets you choose up to 5 tags (e.g. “categories”) for your articles. What I usually do is brainstorm some relevant tags, then search for them in the input box, looking for popular tags.
On the upper right of the Medium ribbon, select the “Ready to publish?” button.
This is what your screen should look like (or something similar to this):
As you type in tags, suggestions come pop up. In the below example, I tried searching for “Medium tips” but found nothing good. Swing-and-a-miss. Moving onto the next…
Let’s try “writing”…
Anything over 100k is awesome. But, since you have 5 tags to choose, you might not find 5 tags with that many hits. Anything 10k or over is generally a good target to shoot for.
In fact, you might find some success in those highly-specific “niche” tags. This is a good place to experiment and find out what works for you.
With the right tags, Medium will “promote” your newly published article to certain followers of that tag, increasing your chances of a view or read.
13. Aim to dominate a category
Being a ‘Top Writer’ on Medium is a highly-coveted status, one that honestly, I have no idea what it means.
What I do know is that when readers view your profile, they see the categories that you are a Top Writer in:
For lack of a better term, this gives you “street cred”, and people will be more likely to trust that you are an expert in your field.
From what I’ve gathered, you achieve Top Writer status in a category by:
- Writing a bunch of articles with that tag
- Having lots of people read and clap for your stories
If you’re aiming to build your brand or a business’, the Top Writer status for a given tag (or many) wouldn’t be a bad idea to pursue.
Note: I’m still investigating whether or not being a Top Writer has any other benefits, such as your articles more likely being picked up by Medium’s trending algorithms. Stay tuned for an update.
14. Customize your title / subtitle
Here’s one thing that not many new Medium writers know about: you can customize your titles and subtitles for maximum effectiveness.
Go to the ribbon at the top and click on the “…” dropdown:
Click on ‘Change display title / subtitle’, which will open up this menu:
Change the radio button to ‘Custom’ and it will unlock the Title, Subtitle, and Description fields.
This changes what people see in the thumbnails of your stories. If left to automatic, Medium chooses these for you, which isn’t always the most appealing.
Instead, use the Custom feature to play around with your own Subtitles and Descriptions, leaving the Title to whatever you already decided earlier.
15. Customize your story’s URL
I’ll admit, this isn’t something I’ve done much as of yet. I’m still experimenting, but I at least wanted to mention it here, since you might’ve noticed it in the previous dropdown example.
Customizing your URL has some benefits for SEO and targeting specific keywords.
Like I said, I’m still playing around with this. It’s not paramount to your articles internal success on Medium, but is worth noting for longer-term benefits such as more traffic.
If you’re not up to speed on SEO, and at all interested, Moz has one of the best guides online for beginners.
16. Give everything one last look
Double-check the checklist. Are you happy with the article? Have you checked off everything above on this checklist?
If yes, you’re ready for publishing.
Let’s go, you beautiful author, you.
17. Add to a publication
Wait just a minute now.
Before officially pressing the ‘Publish’ button, you might want to consider adding your story to a publication.
Publications, according to Medium, are a way to group stories together by many writers or by one writer around a common theme or topic.
There are MANY publications scattered throughout Medium. You can find them by searching for topics, or just by browsing around the site.
The benefit to publishing within a publication is that your story will be broadcast to everyone who follows that ‘pub’. The more popular the pub (i.e. the more followers/readers), the better chance your article has of going viral, or at least being seen by the most people possible.
Before you can add your story to a publication though, you have to be a writer for one. That’s a whole ‘nother article that I need to write, but for now, use this guide to help.
Once you’re a writer (yay!), click on the “…” dropdown and then ‘Add to publication’:
As a final note, you’ll obviously want to publish your stories in relevant publications. Usually, the gatekeepers or editors in charge of a pub will filter what they want to publish, so it’s best to save face with them and only submit high-quality, relevant stories.
Now, you’re ready to press that ‘Ready to publish?’ button. Let it fly, baby.
Part 3: The work after publishing
18. Promote, promote, promote
Oh, you thought you were done?
It’s not enough to press the ‘Publish’ button and hope for the best. Yes, Medium is a hell of a lot better than your person blog (assuming you don’t have a massive following) for having your story not fall on deaf ears. But, better safe than sorry.
While promoting your article might be the only checklist item in Part 3, it’s certainly a doozy.
From everything I’ve learned, initial momentum is key to having Medium’s algorithms pick up on your stories and make them ‘trend’.
To do this, you’ll have to get a little creative.
- Ask your friends, family, or whoever else has a Medium account to give you a few initial claps
- Send stories out to your email list
- Share on Twitter
- Share on Facebook
- Take a spin on the Reddit roulette wheel and see if you can find a subreddit for it
Basically, do what you can to get your story initially in front of as many eyes as possible. With a fair amount of hustle and a little bit of luck — and a damn well written article — your story will trend on Medium.
And that’s when the magic happens.