A Guide to Starting a Medium Publication
What they are, why they matter, and how to do it.
Medium is, at its heart, a blogging platform with a super easy What You See is What You Get interface. You type your post, hit ‘ready to publish?’ and bam. You’ve blogged.
It’s not the same as having your own website in several ways. On your own blog, you can have ads, for instance. You have control over how the website looks. You can arrange your posts to make them easy for your readers to navigate. Also, writing on your own website is considerably more complicated than writing on Medium. You have to figure out the backend, which might be super easy for you. Or, if you’re like me, it’s totally not.
What I love about Medium right now (who knows, maybe it will change? But as I write this . . .) is that you can make your own Publication on the site that gives you some of the good things about having your own website super easily.
What is a Publication?
On Medium, a publication is a place where you collect your posts. Very similar to a website that you own. You give it a title, it has a header, you can arrange your posts via tabs, you can feature your most important posts.
Medium used to call publications ‘magazines’ and I think that’s a good way to think about them. A cohesive collection of posts.
Consider a publication a landing spot. When your readers follow your publication and come back to it, they’ll see your work (or the work you want them to see), instead of going to the main Medium homepage and seeing all of the work from all of the writers.
Why You Need a Publication (Or Two. Or Three.)
If you’re writing on Medium with an eye toward earning some income, having a publication is important for a few reasons.
Your publication will help you organize your work, as I’ve said. It will give you a landing page to send your readers to. Very similar to having a webpage.
Having a publication allows you to niche down in a way that is otherwise hard to do on Medium, where there is such a wide pool of writers and variety of topics. If you want to write about something very specific (the publication I posted a picture of is my home for posts about the business of fiction writing), a publication will help you build an audience interested in your niche.
Readers can follow both you personally and your publication. Here’s a hard truth: your personal followers are mostly an ego metric. They’re awesome. It sure feels good to see them. But we, as readers, aren’t notified when someone we follow posts something new. Thank God, right? Because I don’t know about you, but I follow hundreds of people and that could get overwhelming quick.
Medium does a better job notifying people who follow your publication that you’ve posted something new. I only follow maybe a dozen publications. That’s way more manageable.
And Medium has a way for you to connect directly with your publication followers, called Letters. I’ll talk about that in a minute.
Medium has recently added a follow prompt on the left side of posts within a publication, which has increased the growth rate of the people following mine. It just follows the reader down the page and invites them to follow.
Can’t I Just Publish in Bigger Publications?
You can. That can be a good way to start to get some traffic on Medium. Big publications have followings. They send letters, to let readers know when something new is posted. They’ll promote your work, sometimes.
But I’ve found in the last six months or so that I get more benefit from posting in my own publications.
Every single time I post in one of mine, that publication gets an influx of followers. I’m sure that the same is true when I publish in someone else’s publication.
I want to build my own following.
Even if I ultimately have less over all traffic than I might if I can get a bigger publication to pick up one of my stories, the traffic has more impact if it is in my own publication and Medium picks it up for curation.
How to Start a Publication
Have I convinced you?
I hope so. If I have, then the next step is to start your publication.
You’ll need a title. I suck at titles. I always have. My best advice is to choose something that makes it clear what your writing about. Don’t try to be too clever.
I started a publication two years ago, because I wanted to experiment with it. I called it 60 Months to Ironman. I wrote one post in it, then went away. When I looked again six months later, 20,000 people were following it. What the what???
The thing is that 60 Months to Ironman is a super clear and obvious title. In five years, I want to to an Ironman triathlon. So ton of people read that and said, okay, I want to see this fat, middle-aged woman do this. (Or, you know, fail.) And crap. Now people are watching.
Conversely, I had a publication called The 1000 Day MFA. And it did okay, but did not explode the way the Ironman one did. I started getting some messages that made it clear why. The said this: What’s an MFA?
Not clear enough. I changed it to The Every Day Novelist and it started to grow faster. I’m considering changing it to How to Write a Novel. Super clear.
So, choose a title. Make it clear and concise. And then just make the publication. It takes about fifteen minutes.
I’m just going to link you to Medium’s pages that offer direction for doing different things that are possible to do with your publication.
Here’s how to set up sections. Sections allow you to divide up your Publications front page, so that similar posts are gathered together.
Here’s how to set up navigation for your homepage. Navigation puts tabs across the top of your publication’s front page. They either show readers every post that carries a specific tag, or they lead to a single post.
Here’s how to set up a promotion section for your homepage. This is exciting, and I’m pretty sure it’s relatively new. Medium lets you set up a section on the front page of your publication that leads to a promotional post on Medium or a website off Medium.
And here’s how to set up feature pages. A feature page acts as a landing page, where you collect specific posts that go together. This is useful if you’ve written a series, for instance.
One of the most important tools that Medium offers publication owners is the ‘letters’ feature. This feature allows you to write a letter to your publication followers that goes to their email inbox, as long as they’ve elected to accept letters.
Writing a letter is super simple. Learn how here.
Can I Still Get Paid?
I see this question come up a lot.
The answer is yes. As long as the post you put in your publication is behind Medium’s pay wall — which means you’ve chosen to add it to the Medium Partnership Program (and you’re signed up to write in that program) — you will be paid just like you would for any other post.
If you chose to allow other writers to post in your publication, they will be paid for their posts. As I write this, Medium publication editors are not paid for other people’s posts.
Do I Own My Work?
Yes. You do. When you write on Medium, you always own your work. You can cross-post to your own website. You can collect your posts into an ebook. You can republish somewhere else.
On Medium, however, each post can only be in one publication. If you put a post in your own publication, it can’t also be published in someone else’s. You can remove your post from a different publication if you want to post it in yours, but be aware that some publication editors frown on that practice and may remove you as a writer.
Publication Best Practices
Decide on the purpose of your publication. As I’ve said, you can use your publication to build a niche. You can also use your publication just to hold all of your work.
You can have more than one publication. I have four. The Write Brain is where I post about the business of writing. The Every Day Novelist is where I post about how to write fiction. 60 Months to Ironman is where I post about health and body image (and my crazy goal.) And The NW Pub is a publication where we host fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction from Ninja Writers.
Reach out to your followers, but be judicious. I notice two things that happen when people start to build a following. Either they are too afraid to reach out at all, or they bombard their followers with too much connection. If you’re writing more than once a day in your publication, you probably don’t want to send a letter every single time, to let your readers know. You also don’t want to never send a letter. My advice is to stick to no more than one letter a day.
Use your publication to build your email list. I can’t state strongly enough how important it is for you to start building your email list, if you want to be a professional writer. Medium is awesome, but you don’t own it. If they change something, if publications go away, if letters go away, you want to be able to reach the people who want to stay in touch with you. I’ve written a lot about building an email list. You can read those posts here. Do not skip this step. Don’t wait until you have something to say or until you’re famous enough. Just do it. Trust me.
Be consistant. I’m a high-volume writer. I write quickly. I have a lot to say. That’s my style. It’s okay if it’s not yours. What your readers will respond to is consistency. Start out with one post a week. Or twice a week. Or once a day. Whatever feels right. Add more if you’re feeling it. But show up regularly for your readers.
Move your relevant posts into your new publication. This is as easy as opening the post, clicking the gear icon, choosing to edit your story, then choosing to add it to a publication. Pick your publication from the list. Voila!
Invite other writers to post to your publication, if you want to. This is entirely up to you. If you do choose to bring in other writers, you have control over whether or not to post any of their submissions. As the editor, you get the final say. Allowing other writers broadens your publication, of course, and you have to decide whether or not you want that. Here is how to add writers.
You’re the editor now. Make sure that all of your posts have good headlines, subtitles, and photographs. That they’re laid out well, with white space and subheads inside the post. That they are relevant to your publication.
Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, two dementia patients, a good friend, Alfred the cat, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the original Ninja Writer.