A fellow writer in a Facebook group recently asked whether the Medium Partner Program is a worthwhile investment. Does it make sense to publish on this site? What are the pros and cons? It was only when other writers chimed in with their own questions that I realized what a mystery Medium is to some.
I’ve published more than 50 pieces here since June 2018 and, as of this writing, have earned $885 — more than some, far less than others. But I feel as though my time here has taught me some insight into how Medium works. So, I thought I’d throw together my own quick and dirty “How to Medium” guide.
One caveat: This is my take on Medium. Other writers may have different experiences or opinions. Take what I’m offering, use what you feel is helpful, and ignore the rest.
What is the Medium Partner Program?
In a nutshell, the Medium Partner Program (MPP) enables writers to earn money for their work. As a Partner, writers can publish a piece on Medium — either on their own page or through a Medium publication — and earn money based on the level of engagement (claps and reading time, primarily) the piece receives from Medium members.
You can learn more about MPP here:
A place to publish your best work
The internet should reward quality thinking, not clickbait. That's why we've created a better home for writers…
What is a membership?
If you join Medium as a member, you pay $5 a month (or $50 for the full year) to read an unlimited number of stories. Your money also goes toward supporting writers enrolled in the Medium Partner Program.
If you’re not a member, you have access to any unlocked post — that is, posts not part of MPP — but you’re limited to reading only three locked (MPP) posts a month.
Should I join Medium as a member?
In my opinion, yes. Especially if you join MPP.
You don’t have to be a member to submit writing to the Medium Partner Program. According to MPP guidelines: “You don’t have to be a paying Medium member to join the Partner Program and earn money for your writing. Anyone with something to say can join for free and start earning.”
That said, I think asking other members to pay you for your writing while not giving back is unethical. Unlike publications that are paying you out of a set budget, MPP’s writer payments rely solely on memberships:
“Partner Program writers are paid every month based on how members engage with stories. … Each member’s $5/ month subscription is distributed proportionally to the stories that the individual member engaged with that month.”
So, if you’re publishing on Medium to make an income, you should pay the membership fee. It’s only fair. Plus, at $5/month, it’s cheaper than many of the disposable items most of us buy on a regular basis. As I’ve written previously:
- I’ll spend $5 to get tea from Starbucks, only for it to be gone in 20 minutes.
- I’ll spend $5 on a magazine. I’ll read it, then toss it. By the time it’s in the trash, I’ll have forgotten what the articles were about.
- I’ll spend over $5 to buy my kid a LEGO set that will end up in pieces on the rug, forgotten, until I step on it while barefoot.
To me, the cost is worth it, especially since I make the $5 fee back with my MPP earnings and get to read an unlimited number of locked Medium articles each month. It’s nice to have access to great writing and know that I’m also supporting fellow writers.
What are publications?
Within Medium live hundreds of publications. Some are open to new writers, while others are invite-only.
You can find a list of many of the publications here:
Smedian | 544 Publications
Smedian is the largest community of Medium.com editors and writers. Writers can request to contribute to top and fast…
My suggestion is to poke around Medium’s homepage. Do your research. Read articles and take note of where they appeared. Based on your interests, you’re bound to see many of the same publication names repeated. A few of the ones I’ve written for are The Startup, The Writing Cooperative, Writers Guild, P.S. I Love You, and The Ascent.
Publishing in a publication is a great way to build a following when you’re new to the platform. Frank McKinley has a great story about the time his piece in Publishous led to a featured spot on NBC News.
How I Got Featured on NBC News Without Even Trying
A backward look at hitting hit the big time
Each publication has its own guidelines and submission process. That said, every one I’ve written for has required the same basic structure:
- Lead photo at the top of the page, just above or below the title.
- Finished, previously unpublished, draft.
- Proper grammar, spelling, etc. (Don’t submit sloppy work.)
Proofread your work, then do it again. Make it look good. Submit the unpublished draft and wait for the publication’s editors to respond. In my experience, this can take anywhere from a few hours to five days.
When I have a piece that just isn’t a good fit for a specific publication, or I really want to get it up right away, I publish it to my own page. There’s nothing at all wrong with doing this; it just means I have to work that much harder to get eyes on it because it’s not going to have the benefit of being shared with a publication’s followers.
Does Medium have an editorial team?
It depends. When you publish a piece on your own page, it goes up as-is. When you send a piece to a publication, the publication’s editors will review it, edit as needed, and then (if accepted) publish the piece.
There are often just a few, sometimes only one, editor for a publication that may receive hundreds of daily submissions, so errors can slip through. As mentioned above, proofread your writing before submitting it. At the end of the day, your name is what’s attached to the piece, so make sure it represents the level of work you want to share with the world.
You can read more of my thoughts about this here:
Why Grammar Isn't Overrated - SANDRA EBEJER
I read a post by an influential blogger recently that said, in a nutshell, that grammar doesn't matter. It's overrated…
How does curating and distribution work?
Once you publish a piece, whether on your own page or through a publication, Medium’s curators will read it to determine if it is right for a specific topic. If it’s well written and follows Medium’s Curation Guidelines, your post will be recommended to followers of that topic through the Medium homepage, Medium app, Daily Digest email, and topic pages.
Some pieces can be distributed through numerous topics. As an example, a piece of mine about Stephen King was distributed in Writing, Creativity, and Books.
You might not find out an article has been distributed until after the fact. I’ve never received notification when a piece has been distributed; I just notice the distribution topics on my MPP dashboard OR see the topic heading appear on a piece I’ve published. (Like this piece, which suddenly had “Parenting” appear at the top of the page — the clue that it was distributed to that topic by curators.)
Shannon Ashley has an excellent article that breaks down her experience with distribution.
How do I get a piece featured?
If curators like your piece enough to feature it, they’ll contact you. Featured posts get more prominent placement on Medium’s homepage and in marketing materials (daily digest emails, the app, etc.), so it’s a way to get more eyes on your work.
More information can be found here:
Answering Your Questions for Medium’s “Elevators”
A follow-up to our Q & A with Stephanie Georgopulos and Harris Sockel, editors at Medium who search for great stories…
Can I pitch directly to Medium?
Yes. If you’re interested in pitching a piece, in the same way you would pitch to any print publication, you can send an email to Medium’s editors. One, Michael Zelenko, includes his email in his Twitter bio.
Note: I HAVE NOT DONE THIS PERSONALLY, but I know of writers who have submitted a pitch and been paid quite well for feature-length articles. But these are high-quality, well-researched, journalistic works that could have been pitched just as easily to other major outlets. So, don’t pitch your 300-word personal take on hot dogs. Only reach out, via email, if you have a well-crafted idea and can write a great query letter. (If you’re not sure how to do this, there are a million books out there on how to write a great pitch; my favorites are The Byline Bible, The Essential Guide to Freelance Writing, and Writer’s Digest Guide to Magazine Article Writing.)
Does Medium only accept new work? Or can I republish older pieces?
Publications within Medium often only want new work. But if you want to post to your own page, you can republish using Medium’s Import Tool.
If you have a story published elsewhere and would like to import it to Medium, you can use this handy import tool…
It’s easy. And at the bottom of your post a link will appear to your own website, potentially driving more traffic to your site.
What does it mean to be a Top Writer?
It means that you’ve written a number of popular pieces using the same tags. For example, my posts tend to fall into the same general categories: writing, advice, parenting, books, and health. Because of this, I’ve been labeled a “Top Writer” in Reading, Advice, Parenting, and Writing.
Have these tags impacted my life or career? No. I don’t even know that they’ve done much to boost my readership. But it’s nice to get some kind of acknowledgement, and the tags have given me something to write about.
The Irony of Being a Top Writer
When I first joined Medium, I noticed that many of my favorite writers had Top Writer status in a number of categories…
What do I do once I publish? How do I gain readers and followers?
This, to me, is where the real work comes in. Unlike print publications or major sites that have a built-in following, Medium writers are responsible for promoting their own work. Sure, your piece might show up on the homepage or in online marketing materials, but with thousands of new articles being published every day, your work is going to get buried if you don’t keep pushing it.
I spend a lot of time promoting my work. I belong to a number of writer’s groups on Facebook: Medium Mastery, The Tribe Builder’s Network, and Bloggers & Medium Support, to name a few. On these pages are Medium writers who read each other’s work and applaud when so moved. (These are not strictly “like for like” pages; you really have to read everyone’s writing and clap when you like what you’ve read.)
Basically, it’s like having a blog, though with Medium you have a chance to make some money so there’s even more incentive to get the work in front of as many people as possible.
As your work gets read, you’ll begin to gain followers. I started with 0 followers in June 2018 and now have more than 700. It’s been slow moving, but each day I gain one or two more, which is a nice feeling. If I don’t keep at it, though— if I take a long break and don’t post or share my work often — my stats drop. So, it’s absolutely a time-consuming process to engage readers.
TL;DR: What are the pros and cons?
In my opinion, the pros are:
- Ease of publishing: No waiting months for an editor to respond to and potentially reject your pitch. You just publish what you want, when you want.
- Community: Readers can applaud for your posts, highlight your words, and leave comments. Sure, you get the occasional troll, but generally people are really supportive, and that kindness is a nice ego boost.
- Money: If you put the work in, you can make money for your writing.
- Promotion: I get tired of having to constantly promote my Medium posts. But if I don’t, my stats — and income — drop.
- Money: You might put the work in, but not get the payoff. You could put hours into writing and promoting a piece, only to have it make a few cents. You don’t find out how much you’ve made for a week until the Medium Partner Program payments are announced on Wednesday, and sometimes the amounts are depressing.
In short, I think Medium is a great platform that has given me so much. I’ve made a small income, built a fledgling following, met (online) some incredible authors, and found my voice. It might not be for everybody, but I’ll continue to publish here for as long as I can.
I hope this information was useful. Please feel free to drop additional tips or questions in the comments.
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