How to Start Writing and Making Money on Medium: A Beginner’s Guide

11 min read

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How to Start Writing on Medium - A beginner's Guide

The following blog post comes from Ming Qian, who, within a short couple of months, have seen significant success on Medium — the popular online publication. If you’re thinking about writing on Medium, this is a must-read for you!
Many writers start their journey wondering whether to write on Medium, and I was no exception.

Writing is a solitary job, and it is, without a doubt, a lonely task. I know of writers who designate days where they cut off all outside contact to focus on churning out stories. It is that intense!

However, it does not always have to be that way. It is possible to find a writing community to accompany us as we grow and learn.

I started writing online on Medium in May 2020. It was scary to venture into the unknown, but I was lucky to quickly become part of an inclusive group of writers on Medium. These writers supported and advised me every step of the way, and they continue to do so today.

Writing is a solo job, but I have never felt truly alone.

Content

What is Medium and the Medium Partner Program?

Medium is a site founded by Evan Williams, the founder of Twitter. It is a space where writers share their best stories, read the works of other brilliant writers, and establish a network. You can think of Medium as a social media site where long-form content and ideas are shared. We impress others with words, not short viral videos or sound bites.

With writers from genres such as poetry, self-help, digital marketing, data science, and even artificial intelligence, every writer will find a space to call home on Medium.

The best part? Writers can join the Medium Partner Program — most Medium writers do — and be eligible for a portion of the pie from subscription fees. For $5 a month, subscribers gain access to all of the stories hosted on Medium.

You do not have to be a paying subscriber to register for the partner program or to write on Medium. However, if you aim to network and meet other writers, I strongly suggest that you do.

Each writer’s earnings are calculated based on reading time instead of the number of views or claps. In other words, writers are rewarded for sustaining the attention of readers, not how many clicks we receive.

(Note: Claps are Medium’s equivalent of a like on Instagram)  

In July, the partner program reported that “$33,617.89 was the most earned by a writer, and $6,386.48 was the most earned for a single story.”

Before you trip over yourself rushing to sign up for the Medium Partner Program, please note that not everyone commands over $6,000 per article. Most of us do not break the $100 ceiling!

The majority of Medium writers are here for the community and the ideas we share. If you come on board thinking that you are going to go full time on Medium, think again. Frankly speaking, I am content for each month that I recover my subscription fees!

How does Medium work?

Publications

Anyone can self-publish or start a publication, but as a new writer, publications allow us to tap into their broad follower base that we will otherwise not have access to.

For instance, I had just over two hundred followers when I published a personal essay in The Ascent, a publication with over 100k followers! To get a sense of how big publications are, here are some numbers extracted from Top Pub:

  • The Startup (672k+ followers)
  • Towards Data Science (439k+ followers)
  • Better Humans (379K+ followers)
  • P.S. I Love You (220k+ followers)
  • The Writing Cooperative (208k+ followers)

Note that these publications are not owned by Medium. They are run by ordinary writers such as you and me. Writers submit works to these publications, and the editors take days or even weeks to respond to us.

I would advise submitting your first few articles to smaller publications that you think are a great fit for your story. Read the submission guidelines carefully and adhere to the tags to use and the format to adopt. You can usually find them on a publication’s home page.

Where the submission guidelines are usually located on a publication homepage. Screenshot by author.
Where the submission guidelines are usually located on a publication homepage.

From there, network, gather feedback, improve, and when you are confident enough, submit stories to larger publications. What is the worst that can happen? A rejection? All of us receive multiple rejections before we get to a ‘yes,’ but that is how we roll. You have nothing to lose!

Curation

Medium’s algorithm feeds stories to its human moderators, and these curators will decide whether to distribute them to topics. Once a story is selected, the algorithm will promote our curated pieces across the platform and through Medium’s marketing emails.

In 2019, a spokesperson for Medium revealed that there are “nearly 100 million monthly readers” on Medium. Imagine our essays being read by even a fraction of that vast audience!

Email notification for curated stories. Screenshot by author.
Email notification for curated stories.

Why is Medium a perfect starting point for new writers?

Now that you have a basic understanding of how Medium operates, here are some reasons why Medium is an excellent space for new writers.

Publications provide writers with a vast audience

Not only do publications have a massive following on Medium, but some are also committed to helping writers gain visibility.

Illumination (20k+ followers) was the first publication I ever wrote for, and they accept all stories as long as they fall within Medium’s guidelines. Illumination aims to give writers visibility, and to that end, writers and editors in Illumination have set up a robust online presence on Flipboard, Pinterest, Facebook, and even YouTube!

Medium and its built-in audience gave me a better start to writing than I ever dared to imagine. Sometimes, I even joke that my online writing presence was born and bred on Medium!

Online writing groups ensure writing is never a lonely process

Medium writers clap for one another (we can clap fifty times for each article), highlight sentences and phrases, and leave comments to express our take on the subject. That is how we bond with one another.

To make conversations more personal, we can highlight a sentence, click on the speech bubble with a ‘lock’ sign, and leave a private note. That is how easy it is to connect with other writers!

Where to find the private notes feature on Medium. Screenshot by author.
Where to find the private notes feature on Medium.

As you build these relationships, some writers may invite you to their writing communities. If not, be the writer who forms one! Currently, I am a member of two Slack groups where we exchange drafts, discuss promotional strategies, and occasionally, we chat about our private lives away from the prying eyes of the Internet.

Last month, I even spoke over Google Meet with an American writer who lives halfway around the Earth from me!

Instead of going at it alone, we support and lift one another. Remember how I mentioned I never felt lonely while writing? Medium writers are a big reason why.

Cross-pollination, a practice where writers share and develop each other’s ideas

Have you heard about the lengths people go to for backlinks on self-hosted blogs? The good news is that Medium writers are usually open to dropping links in each other’s stories. Some writers initiate writing prompts or challenges, and these contribute to even more of what some of us call ‘cross-pollination.’

A perfect example of cross-pollination is Reading Rhombus, a relatively new publication whose submission guidelines explicitly request that writers respond and build on “the work of four different Medium writers.”

Medium writers do not merely skim. We read critically, respond thoughtfully, and produce even more content to advance important conversations.

There is something about how we communicate through our words and somehow succeed in developing a level of intimacy that I have never experienced elsewhere.

Step by step guide to get started writing on Medium

Alright, enough of me singing the praises of Medium. I want you to get in on the action, make some new writer friends, or even write your way to $33,617.89! Here is how I believe you can hit the ground running by writing on Medium.

Create an account on Medium

Head to Medium and register for an account if you do not already have one. Click on the green ‘get started’ button. There are two on the homepage; you cannot miss it! Here, you will see some of the most popular topics and publications on Medium as well.

Select ‘get started’ on Medium. Screenshot by author.
Select ‘get started’ on Medium.

A pop up will prompt you to sign up with Google, Facebook, or email. Any of these options is fine, but it is my preference to choose Google. If you choose Google, Medium will ask you to log in, and once you do, you will be on the homepage of Medium. Welcome!

Sign up for an account on Medium. Screenshot by author.
Sign up for an account on Medium.

Sign up for the Medium Partner Program

Before you write anything, you are probably eager to join the Medium Partner Program. Click on your profile picture on the top right. In the drop-down menu, select the option for ‘Medium Partner Program.’

Select the Medium Partner Program option on the drop-down menu. Screenshot by author.
Select the Medium Partner Program option on the drop-down menu.

On this page, Medium will explain to you how the Partner Program works. Read through it if you are still unsure, but return to this section and click on the green ‘Join the Medium Partner Program’ button.

Click on ‘Join the Medium Partner Program.’
Click on ‘Join the Medium Partner Program.’

Read through the terms, and once you are aware of what you are getting yourself into, check the box next to ‘I agree to the Terms of Service.’ Next, click on ‘Continue to payout setup.’

Agree to the terms of service.
Agree to the terms of service.

After you have agreed to the terms and conditions, Medium will request that you set up a Stripe account. Stripe is the third-party system that Medium uses to send us our monthly payouts. You can think of Stripe as a service that is similar to PayPal.

Medium gives you two options, and this page explains what each option entails. I chose a standard Stripe account when I set up mine. Once you have made your choice, click on ‘Set up payouts on Stripe.’

Set up your Stripe account.
Set up your Stripe account.

You will then be redirected to Stripe to fill in your information. Make sure that you fill up your details accurately. Use your full name, not your pen name! Do not worry; this information will not be public.

Once you have filled up your tax and banking details, click on ‘authorize access to this account,’ and you are all set!

Some points to note:

  • If your country does not have a tax treaty with the United States, you will only receive seventy percent of your monthly earnings.
  • Unfortunately, the Medium Partner Program temporarily does not serve all countries. Check out this page for more information.

Connect your Twitter Account

Remember how I mentioned that Medium was founded by the same person who founded Twitter? Well, it is beneficial for Medium writers to connect our Twitter accounts, and here’s why!

When readers highlight parts of our work, they can tweet us in quotation marks with just a few clicks.

How to tweet quotes from Medium stories.
How to tweet quotes from Medium stories.

When readers tweet us, Medium drafts a tweet that mentions our Twitter handle. Not only will our readers and their followers be able to find us on Twitter, but we will also receive notifications whenever someone quotes us in a tweet!

The screenshot below is how Medium drafts our tweets by default. I did not edit any of it.

How Medium drafts a tweet that is shared from your story.
How Medium drafts a tweet that is shared from your story.

Now, do you see how valuable it is to connect your Twitter account to Medium? Twitter is another avenue where you can engage with other writers and readers. 

Also, did you know that Medium stories shared to Twitter are not subject to Medium’s paywall? I did not realize that until one of my writer friends pointed it out to me recently too! When subscribers click on our friend links, we will still receive payments.

To connect your Twitter account, click on your profile picture on the top right, and select the ‘settings’ option in the drop-down menu.

Select the ‘settings’ option.
Select the ‘settings’ option.

On the settings page, scroll down to ‘connections’ and click on ‘Connect to Twitter.’ Authorize your Twitter account to post from Medium, and you are good to go!

Connect to Medium to Twitter.
Connect to Medium to Twitter.

Write, write, write!

With that, you are ready to write and publish your first story on Medium. Click on your profile picture on the top right, select ‘New Story,’ and you can begin to draft your first article!

Some advice for new Medium writers:

  • Write consistently and publish daily—if you can—for the first month.
  • Read and comment on the stories of other writers with your original insights. Make these writers and their readers curious enough to check out your work too!
  • Experiment and learn to write in a conversational style with short sentences and paragraphs. Avoid verbiage, technical terms, and jargon.
  • Once you have gotten the hang of Medium, publish whenever you have quality content.
  • Try your luck with larger publications.
  • Write in topics and genres that you are interested in and have something valuable to share.
  • Most importantly, have fun!

My words matter

When I chose Medium to debut my first essay online two months ago, I had no followers. Back then, I was––and still am––too self-conscious to share my links on my private Instagram or Facebook profiles. I began in obscurity, but Medium gave me a platform to be heard.

In my first month on Medium, I wrote daily, and I experimented with different styles and genres. While writers have to niche down to be favorable in the search rankings, Medium is more forgiving than that.

For instance, I have been curated in music, race, writing, and gaming, all vastly different topics. Medium also recognized me as a top writer in Ideas, Government, and Social Media. These small ‘wins’ may be insignificant to some, but they tell me that even though I am new to the scene, my words matter.

Ming Qian’s profile on Medium.
Author’s profile on Medium.

Of course, that isn’t to say that you should not write in a niche. You should if you want to gain credibility in your field. However, I know how difficult it is to choose a narrow niche. Fortunately, beginner writers can explore several niches and not be penalized for it on Medium.

Final thoughts about writing on Medium

I prioritized my content, and I developed a conversational style on Medium before I finally mustered the courage to write on my blog. I learned from the comments and private notes written by other experienced writers, and I kept working to improve my craft.

If you are a new writer curious to start writing on Medium, I hope that you will take away the following:

  • Writing is a solitary experience, but with Medium, it does not have to be a lonely one.
  • Leverage Medium’s publications to reach a wider audience.
  • Be consistent with your writing schedule to gain traction.
  • Experiment with different writing styles on Medium and learn what works and what does not.
  • Engage with other Medium writers and leave an impression with your words.

Now, over to you. Are you a new writer? What are your considerations and worries about writing on Medium? What is your end goal, and what are the stepping stones you have identified to get there? If you have questions, please leave a comment, and I would be more than happy to help.

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A step by step guide on how to start writing on Medium - the online publication for writers


11 thoughts on “How to Start Writing and Making Money on Medium: A Beginner’s Guide”
  1. Sharon Hurley Hall

    “Medium writers do not merely skim. We read critically, respond thoughtfully, and produce even more content to advance important conversations.” This is my favourite part of writing on Medium. Although I’ve been on the platform for years, I’ve only used it actively in the last three months. Great tutorial, Ming.

    1. Hey Sharon, I didn’t realize that you’ve only started using it actively in the last three months. Your work and the way you carry yourself among writers on Medium never gave me that impression.

      I love your ‘While Black’ series because it has given me so a glimpse into a perspective of daily life that we don’t always get. I hope that Zora will accept your submission and publish you soon. Your personal essays on race and equality deserve/ought to be read by more people!

  2. I only wish I had had such a clear, comprehensive guide to Medium when I first started writing, last November. As a co-founder of Reading Rhombus, I was so pleased that our very first submission was yours – as Rasheed points out, we use that as an example in our submission guidelines, to show others exactly the sort of stories we’re looking for in the publication.

    You write, “Engage with other Medium writers and leave an impression with your words.” I’m so glad we met on Medium! I honestly do not remember, now, which of us commented on the other’s work first, but you have encouraged me on my “off days” and I hope I’ve been able to do the same for you. Medium is billed as a “blogging platform” but it has the feel of old-school blogging, before the whole point of it was monetization and before Facebook and Twitter took over as THE social media platforms of choice for the majority of people. In fact, spending more time on Medium has led to less time on Facebook and Twitter, and that has led to more thoughtful and less contentious interactions with people. This is really the most important thing, for me. I have yet to join the $100/mo. club, myself – but the connections made there have ripple effects and lead to the kind of success I want to have.

    1. Hey Holly, I am so happy to see you here as well! I can’t remember how we started commenting and talking either. The earliest I can think of was your DIY project with the dresser and your comment about my animal crossing story on Slack haha!

      I’m so glad to have met you on Medium as well. I am grateful that you brought me into your circle of writer friends who have welcomed me just as warmly as you did. And yes, of course, I would even say that you’ve done more than encourage me on my “off days.” You’ve spent hours giving me advice not just in writing, but in life as well.

      I started spending less time on Instagram, but Twitter has become the place where I discover writers and blogs beyond Medium. And I created an account after I started writing on Medium! I guess Medium was the initial reason why I started using Twitter so much. So, it’s the exact opposite for me LOL.

      1. Holly Jahangiri

        What a nice thing to wake up to! Thank you, Ming Qian.

        What you say about Twitter makes sense. You went back to promote your writing and that of others – you use it intentionally, to widen your network of friends and fellow writers. You’re not letting it use you. The conversations you’re creating there are positive ones. So yes, any platform CAN enrich.

  3. Dr Mehmet Yildiz

    Fantastic blog about Medium by a popular writer of Medium and ILLUMINATION publication, Ming Qian. As one of the fastest-growing publication over 2,700 writers followed by over 23,000 readers, we can mention ILLUMINATION publication which covers diverse topics over 70 tags. I’d be delighted to see bloggers join Medium and become a writer for our supportive publication. https://medium.com/illumination

    1. Hey Dr Yildiz! Thanks for popping by and for opening your doors to new writers and bloggers looking for a place to start. You brought me into ILLUMINATION when I first started out 2.5 months ago, and you’ve helped me to grow and become a better writer. It means so much to me that you’re here extending an invitation to new writers to your publication now. Thank you! 🙂

  4. Great article Ming! Good ideas and well presented! For a new writer, you are off to a fantastic start. I’m sure your article will be helpful to anyone thinking about writing on Medium. Also, it will be a great resource for new writers who may not have heard about Medium and feel like lone ducks on the pond. We all need to belong to a flock or tribe or community.

    I myself just started writing on Medium a few months ago. Your article would have been very helpful. Wish I could have read it back then.

    As you say, Medium provides great support for new writers, at least some publications do. Illumination is one example that you mention of a publication that provides great support and encouragement to new writers. I’m grateful that I found it early on.

    Happy reading, writing, and connecting!

    1. Hey Bob, I am glad you think that this article will be a great help for new writers. That’s good to know! I wish I had a guide to teach me the ins and outs of Medium when I first started as well. It took me a while when I first started, and I was discovering new features every other day.

      Yes, I love Medium and Illumination too! Everyone has been nothing but supportive, and I am grateful for that every day. :’)

  5. Excellent information, very thorough. That has become Ming Qian’s calling card or brand on Medium.

    He has done a fantastic job of showing how any one can get started, and how with the right attitude and work ethics become successful on Medium, or anywhere in life.

    We use his article as an example of how to create a successful story for our publication.

    ~ Rasheed Hooda, co-founder of Reading Rhombus, a publication on Medium.

    1. Hey Rasheed, thank you for your kind words! I hope that this blog post together with all of your comments will be a warm welcome to any new writers who want to be part of the community on Medium.

      It’s such an honor to be the first writer featured on Reading Rhombus. It is without a doubt, a publication with one of the most unique guidelines I have ever encountered! Your publication pushes me to read beyond the small pool of writers that I constantly return to. And that’s why I love writing for y’all!

      Thanks once again for reading and commenting here. 🙂

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