For what it’s worth, I think it’s even more important now than it’s ever been to be curated. Curated posts have a longer life on Medium. Now that our posts are paid based on reads rather than claps, those reads further into the future mean more robust paychecks.
In my capacity as a teacher, I read a lot of Medium posts that are well written — but not quite right. In other words, there’s nothing wrong with the writer’s talent, they just haven’t quite learned how to write for Medium the publication yet.
I’ve written plenty about things like consistency and showing up to write regularly. Today I want to talk about learning how to write each individual blog post in the best possible way, so that it shines and so that it has a better of chance of being distributed by Medium to it’s readers.
That’s important for a few reasons. And there are a couple why it might not matter at all.
Let’s start with why it might not matter and get that out of the way.
You might not care at all about getting Medium involved in the distribution of your work to its readers. I can think of a few reasons why.
- You’re using Medium as a public journal and really don’t care about followers or making money or how many readers you have. You want to write what you want to write, the way you want to write it. Period.
- You’re an artist and you’re writing poetry or fiction or highly-artistic work of some other kind and following Medium’s guidelines rubs you the wrong way. If that’s what it takes for them to share your work, you’ll pass, thanks.
- You have your own audience and you’re really only using Medium as a platform and driving all of your own traffic.
You might also have decided that Medium is never going to curate your work anyway, so why bother? Or that Medium is too tough to break in to, so screw it, you’re just not going to think what they want. You’ll just do your own thing.
Rejection hurts and our self-protective brains eventually just shut down the pathway to that pain. So if you’ve tried to write the way Medium wants and it hasn’t worked, maybe you’ve just decided it’s impossible.
If you recognize yourself in that description, I hope you’ll keep reading. Because it’s definitely not impossible. You just have to learn to do it.
Learning how to write a good blog post for Medium is important, if you want to be read on Medium.
Here’s how I frame it in my own head: there are two Mediums.
There’s Medium the platform. It’s no different from any other blogging platform: Wordpress or Squarespace or anywhere else where you might host your writing. You post something and it sits there unless you drive traffic to it.
You can do that by buying ads or learning how to use SEO so that search engines will help people who want the information you’ve shared or directing your own followers via social media or an email list.
But otherwise, if you post and none of that happens, your words go largely (or actually) unread.
And there’s Medium the subscription publication. Medium also is a media outlet, right? They charge readers a $5 per month or $50 per year subscription fee and provide an ad-free reading experience.
And just like any media source works to make sure that they’re providing a certain quality and aesthetic and type of writing to their readers — so that the readers know what to expect, and get it — Medium does the same thing.
So, if you want Medium to distribute your work for you, you can’t just use them as a platform. You have to also tap into them as a distributor by writing for them in a way that will make them want to add you to their subscription publication.
And that’s where learning how to write a good Medium post comes in. It’s not about the quality of your writing, although if your writing isn’t on a professional level, you might need to spend some time improving it.
It’s about more than that.
The Obvious Stuff
Medium is an ad-free platform for paying readers. That means that when a post is behind the paywall, especially if it’s curated, it cannot have ads. Medium’s curators usually interpret that this way: your blog post cannot have affiliate links, links that are clearly selling your own products, cannot read like sales copy for yourself or anyone else, cannot be a review for a product.
If your post is salesy or has a salesy element, it will not be curated. You can have a simple, subtle call to action (‘let’s keep in touch’ hyperlinked to a sign up form for your email list, for example, or a relevant free download that fits your post) and be curated.
However, curators are human. They may choose not to curate posts with that kind of call to action. You have to decide what your priorities are. Building my email list is my highest priority, so I always a call to action near my bio at the bottom of my post. But, I have a large Medium following and I can drive my own traffic because I have an established email list.
I’ve emailed Medium and I’ve been told that a form (like the one at the bottom of this post) is not against the curation rules and does not preclude your post from being behind the paywall. But again, it’s unlikely a post with a form will actually be curated.
Medium does not curate posts about itself anyway, so I always include a form in a post like this one, however.
Medium also does not curate posts that read like they’re part of a series, so make sure that your post reads like a stand alone.
Use a Good Headline + Subtitle
In the interest of honesty here, I’ll warn you: titles are my nemesis. Truly. I struggle with them. But I work hard at them, because they are very, very important.
In fact, they can make or break a story. Not only can they be the difference between Medium distributing your post to their readers or not, they can be the difference between a few reads and lots of reads.
In other words, I’ve had a post with a mediocre title curated, but it didn’t do well. A good title really matters.
A good title is compelling, but very clear. It walks a very weird line between boring and irresistible. The reader needs to click, because they want to know what you’re going to tell them.
Your title should not be clever or cute. It should not be vague at all. If you want to start to drive some traffic outside Medium, you can use Ubersuggest.com to look for a keyword that you might want to include in your title.
When I searched around on Ubersuggest for keywords, I found that ‘blog post’ ranks much higher in searches than ‘Medium post’, for example, and it has a surprisingly low threshold for ranking. So, I built my title around it.
Your title should be in title case, which means that most words (everything but prepositions) should be in capital and you should leave out punctuation except a question mark if your title is a question.
Your subtitle can be more clever and should tell more about your post. It should be in sentence case, just like any other sentence.
Make sure that your subtitle is properly formatted. This is one of the most common mistakes I see. In edit mode, just highlight your subtitle. A little box full of icons will pop up. Choose the small ‘T.’ If your subtitle is situated direction under the title, it will be moved into the subtitle position and formatted properly.
Medium will not curate your post if your title is click-baity, if it promises something you don’t deliver on, if it feels too gimicky, or if it has a swear word in it.
Curation is a human system. Someone actually looks at the posts and makes a decision. The title is the first thing they see. It matters a lot. If your post is not curated, it very well might be that the title is the only thing that was looked at.
Cite Every Photograph. Period.
Even if you use your own photographs or take photos from a site that don’t require citation, every single photograph in your post must have a citation or Medium will not curate it. This is a hard and fast rule.
To cite your photo, hover your mouse over it. A green box will show around it and you’ll see a prompt to write your citation just under the photo.
Your post should have a feature photo that is large and clear and illustrates your work well. Medium is set up to help you choose one and automatically cite it.
After you write your title and subtitle, in the next line, click the + symbol and then the looking glass on the list of icons that shows up.
That will open a search bar where you can put in a keyword that will bring up lots of photos from Unsplash. When you choose one, it will show up at that point in your post, properly cited.
For best results, choose a horizontally oriented photo, or your reader will have to scroll too far to get to your post.
Use Lots of White Space + Subheads
When you think about it, formatting your post so that it’s easier for your reader to digest just makes sense.
Lots of white space is easier on the eyes. It’s easier to read on mobile devices, especially. What happens when you have very dense paragraphs is that your reader will read the beginning of it and the end of it, and skim through the middle.
That’s not laziness or lack of intelligence or attention span. It’s human nature.
Don’t be afraid of short paragraphs and lots of white space.
And divide your post up with subheads. To do that, highlight a sentence and use either the big T or the little T icon to make it large or small heading. (I’ve used the large heading for this post.)
Long dense paragraphs are the hallmark of academic papers and they’re notoriously difficult to read. That’s not what people come to Medium for. Medium’s curators know that and they want to give their paying subscribers a certain experience.
A good rule of thumb is to have one thought or point per paragraph. And to use subheads to break up sections of your post.
Start Out Strong
I can always tell when someone is putting their high school English classes to good use. They start out their posts by telling the reader what they’re going to write, then they write it, then they conclude by writing it again.
You’re not writing a five-paragraph essay here.
You’re a storyteller. Try to remember that. If you want to make a point, make it with a story. Let your readers in with a story. It’s how they’ll start to relate to you.
And that relation is A) how you’ll hook them and B) how Medium’s curators will know that you’ll hook them.
When I write a post that isn’t curated, it’s often because I didn’t take my own advice here. The post is too dry. I didn’t dig deep enough. And it starts out weak.
This is the most esoteric piece of advice in this whole post, because it’s subjective and not particularly concrete. And I’m still learning how to be better at it, because sometimes I just want to teach something.
But here’s an example. A month or so ago, I wrote this post about show vs. tell in fiction writing. It wasn’t curated.
Last week, I took another look at it. Because it’s a topic that should have been curated. It’s evergreen, lots of fiction writers are interested in it. I expected Medium to curate it.
With a little space, I realized that the title was not great. “Character Development” doesn’t sound like writing, it sounds like psychology. The photo was also not great. It illustrated the story I started with, but also looks like psychology, not writing.
And I started with a kind of weird, half-told story that I didn’t connect very well to my point. After that, I went into my teaching and did a good job with that.
So, I gave it a better title and photo. I also told a much better story at the beginning and tied it into the reason for the post, then gave concrete descriptions of showing and telling. And then I reposted. The post was curated the second time around. It’s only been a few days and it already has twice the traffic and engagement as the original.
Make Your Point With Data
Another problem I sometimes see with blog posts that aren’t curated is that they hint at really good, strong points — but then they don’t follow through.
If you’re going to make a point, make sure you follow through on it.
For instance, if you’re going to say that a certain percentage of people do the thing you’re writing about, back that up with data. Or if you’re writing about a specific phenomenon, show examples.
Don’t tease! If you whet your reader’s appetite, be sure that you’re satiating them.
(And, if you share data, be sure you’re citing your sources.)
Sometimes the middle of a post is too short. It flips through the points and doesn’t ever go deep enough into any of them. After you’ve written your post, go back over it and ask yourself if there’s anything you can do to dig a little deeper.
Is there anything else your reader might want to know? Is there any information or resource that you might share? Is there a story you could tell that illustrates your point?
Make sure you’re not skimming the surface with bullet points.
Have a Take Away for Your Reader
This part is so important. I’ve read so many posts that end with the writer talking about how they’re going to take action — they’re going to do something!
But they don’t say what action.
Or they leave the reader excited about the topic, ready to try what they’ve learned, but they don’t actually give them any way to do it.
Or they don’t wrap up their post with some reason why what they’ve written is relevant to the reader.
Make sure you’re leaving your reader with a take away. Why it matters. Either something concrete the reader can do, or some reason why what you’ve written should matter to them.
Remind them that they aren’t alone. Or give them a list of ideas. Or teach them how to do something. Offer them a resource for learning more. Give them a next step.
While You’re at it, Remember That You’re Writing For That Reader
I’ll end with what I think is the most important point.
No one is reading your posts to do you a favor. They’re reading for themselves. They’re using their precious free time to read your work. There’s about a million other things they could be doing instead.
And that’s pretty damned humbling, isn’t it?
Write for them. Even when you’re writing something super vulnerable and personal, write it for them. Remember that you’re writing it for them.
The rest, eventually, will take care of itself if you put the time into learning.
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 author of Viral Nation and Rebel Nation and the upcoming novel The Astonishing Maybe. She is the original Ninja Writer.