How to Become a Successful Writer and Make Money on Medium
Updated: Aug 31, 2020
If you are looking for a side hustle that allows you to pursue your passions creatively and offers scalable income, you might consider writing on Medium.
If you want to make $1,000 or more per month writing on Medium, there are four areas you need to focus on.
Choose a topic or topics you are passionate about.
Always work on improving your writing skills and learn how to write specifically on Medium.
Learn to unlock the power of Medium publications.
Stay the course and grow your audience.
This post serves as a guide to the steps I took to turn writing on Medium into a profitable side hustle.
Setting realistic expectations
The first thing you should know about writing on Medium is that it takes a long time and a lot of hard work to grow an audience and begin generating $1,000 or more per month.
If your only motivation is to find a side hustle to make money fast, Medium probably isn’t for you. There are many other faster ways to make a buck on the internet.
If your goal is to build a reliable income source over time while writing about topics you are passionate about, then continue reading.
It took me 21 months to begin earning over $1,000 per month writing on Medium. Below is a graph showing my monthly earnings writing on Medium from May 2018 to July 2020.
Medium is a platform that rewards writers who are dedicated to working on their craft, are consistent with the frequency in which they publish, and are willing to stick it out for the long haul.
To be honest, I don’t put much more time and effort into writing articles today, making up to $2,000 per month as I did when I made $15 per month.
That is because I was willing to put in the work to become a better writer. I can write a high quality, 2,000-word article in the same amount of time it used to take me to write a crappy 600-word article.
Now that we have set realistic expectations let’s get into the steps to become a successful writer on Medium.
Step one: choose a topic you are passionate about
I got started on Medium because I was incredibly passionate about personal finance and wanted to help ordinary people make better decisions managing their money. All I wanted was to get my thoughts written down and share them with the world.
I had no experience building a website, and honestly, I had no interest in doing so. I found Medium by Googling, “What is the easiest way to publish an article on the internet?”
Any success I have on Medium can be attributed to the fact that I am incredibly passionate about the subject I write about.
The first step should be to figure out what topic or topics you want to write about.
I believe it’s essential to focus your writing on the topics you care about most deeply. The subject I focus on writing about is personal finance.
It’s okay to write about a handful of topics, but you probably won’t gain much traction if you take the “buckshot approach” and write about every topic that you think will get clicks. Readers might be a bit confused if you’re writing about politics one day and keto-friendly cooking recipes the next day.
You want your readers to associate you with a particular topic. My readers associate me as one of the top personal finance writers on Medium, so they know what to expect when I publish a new article.
Getting started on Medium
To get started writing and earning money on Medium, you’ll need to take a few simple steps that only take a few minutes.
Create a Medium account
Fill out your profile.
Sign up for the Medium partner program.
Connect a Stripe account.
The first step is to head over to Medium.com and sign up for an account. On Medium’s home page, you will see a button in the top right corner that says, “get started.”
You’ll be given the option to sign up using your Google account, Facebook account, or an email address.
Once you have created your profile, head back to the Medium home page, click on the tab that says “write.” Click that tab to learn about the Medium “partner program.”
You will be asked to fill in some personal and information and connect your Stripe account. Stripe is the payment processing platform that Medium uses to pay writers under the Medium partner program.
How the Medium partner program works
I write a lot about the financial services industry, and one thing I try to hammer home to my readers who are considering which financial advisor to use is that your job is what you get paid to do. There are a lot of people who call themselves “advisors,” but they don’t get paid when they give advice, they get paid when they sell a product. That makes them salespeople, not advisors.
I use this analogy to highlight my favorite part about writing on Medium; how you get paid. Medium pays writers based on how much time people spend reading the author’s work.
Here are the details of how writers enrolled in the Medium partner program get paid.
Medium is a subscription platform. Some articles anyone can read for free, but some articles are only available to medium subscribers who pay $5 per month to access all of the content on Medium.
Medium pays writers with a portion of the subscription revenue it collects from subscribers.
The more time subscribers spend reading an author’s work, the more that writer gets paid.
As a writer on Medium, you have a singular financial incentive; get as many people as possible to spend as much time as possible reading your work.
The only way to accomplish that is to publish high-quality content consistently.
People who write clickbait are not rewarded on Medium. A clickbait article might get someone to click, but only quality content will get someone to stick around and read your entire article.
A story with 20,000 views won’t make much money on Medium if readers only spend 15 seconds on the article.
If you want to make money on Medium, you need to be dedicated to becoming a great writer.
Step two: Focus on your writing skills and how you format your articles
Once you have chosen a topic that you are knowledgable and passionate about, you need to focus on improving your writing skills and making your articles as “readable” as possible.
It took me nearly two years to earn more than $1,000 per month writing on Medium. If I knew when I started out how to format articles to make them easy to read, I bet I could have done it in half the time.
Here are the essential things you need to learn to become a great writer on Medium.
How to write a compelling title, subtitle, and kicker.
Choosing a great cover image for your article.
Avoiding sloppy spelling and grammar errors.
Writing a great introduction.
How to use sub-headings in your article.
When and how to use bullet points and numbered lists.
Avoiding the wall of text.
How to write a persuasive concluding paragraph.
How to schedule the publication of your stories and other Medium publishing quirks.
Finding your voice as a writer.
Let’s dive into each of these topics.
If you want to learn how to turn writing on Medium into a scalable side hustle you will want to enroll in my course, "A beginner's guide to writing on Medium." You can enroll for free and get 2-free months on Skillshare here.
Writing a compelling headline
If you want people to click on your articles, you need to give them a reason to do so, which means your articles need a great title.
You can have the best-written article in the world, but nobody will read it if your headline stinks.
This was a mistake I made when I started writing on Medium. I would spend a lot of time writing the content of my articles and spend less than 5 minutes on the headline. Once I started focusing on writing great headlines, my traffic began to take off.
Your headline should give your potential reader a reason to click. Before you publish a story, look at your headline and ask yourself if it would grab your attention if it weren’t your article?
Let’s get one thing out of the way; a “catchy” headline does not mean a “clickbait” headline. It’s okay to make a bold proclamation in your headline, but you damn well better spend most of your article backing up your bold claim.
I once wrote that “Real Estate Is the Most Overrated Asset in History.” This is a bold claim, and I knew it would piss a lot of people off because many people love real estate. I knew this headline would drive clicks, but I did not write it this way the sole purpose of driving clicks. I wrote this headline because it is a statement I have long believed to be true. I spent the entire 2,000 words of that article backing up the bold claim in my headline.
Free tools to help you write better headlines
I use Coschedule’s headline analyzer tool to write all of my headlines. Once you sign up for a free account using your email address, you get unlimited access to the headline analyzer tool.
All you need to do is enter a potential headline and you’ll receive a score from 0-100 for that headline.
Let’s say I was thinking of using the headline “How to write a good headline.” I would enter it into the headline analyzer.
Then I receive a score for this headline score and a breakdown of how that score was calculated.
This headline received a score of 75 which is on the lower end of what I would consider an acceptable score for your headline. I try and have most of my headlines receive a score of 80 or more. That takes a lot of work and sometimes 50 or more headline variations.
The score is calculated by your use of “common,” “uncommon,” “emotional,” and “power” words in your headline and the length of your headline.
If your headline is too long, it will get truncated in Google search, which means fewer people will click on your headline and read your work. The Coschedule tool simultaneously optimizes the type and number of words in your headline.
I would caution that you don’t rely solely on your score when determining your headline. It should pass what I call the “eye test.”
Look what happens if I enter the following nonsensical headline: “How to Money Power exciting love.”
According to this tool, this is a great headline because it contains only power and emotional words. However, we know just from looking at it that this headline makes no sense.
The lesson here is that you should not simply chase a high score with this tool. You need to balance the analytics with the human element. The only way to do that is through experience and writing literally hundreds of headlines. It takes a lot of work, but it gets easier over time.
Another headline tool I use for every single headline is Titlecase. This tool helps your format your headline in the proper format. After I have confirmed my headline, I enter it into Titlecase to get the proper capitalizations for te words in my title.
It may seem like a small detail, but proper capitalization makes your work appear more professional.
Subheadings and kickers
In addition to your title, Medium allows you to easily format a subtitle and a “kicker” for your articles.
To add a subtitle, start typing below your title, highlight the text, and select that smaller of the two “Ts.”
Adding a kicker to a Medium article is a little less intuitive and I didn’t even realize it was possible until a year after I started writing. All you need to do is type above your title, highlight the text and, and select that smaller of the two “Ts.”
When done right, It looks something like this.
I like to use my subtitle to expand upon my title and give the reader a better understanding of the purpose of the article I want them to read.
Take this article, I wrote on saving for a child’s college education.
Title: How to save for Your Child’s Education
Subtitle: Freeing the next generation from the burden of student loan debt
The title is brief and tells the reader exactly what to expect from this article. The subtitle reveals the true purpose and hits on the emotional heart of the article.
The article is “about” saving money to pay for a child’s college education.
The “purpose” of the article is to free your child from carrying student loan debt.
If I were to add a kicker to this article, it might be something cute like “smart money.”
Add a great photo to your article
Having a great headline and an excellent thumbnail photo will go a long way to getting more people to click on your article.
One of the great features of Medium is the ease in which you can get access to royalty-free images.
Click anywhere on your draft, and the “+” symbol will pop up on your left.
Click it and scroll over to the magnifying glass icon and type in a keyword for an image you want to use.
Medium will pull up the best matches from the site, Unsplash.
If you have multiple photos in your article, click on the one you want to appear in the article’s thumbnail and click SHIFT + F to set it as the featured image.
Write a great introduction
Writing a great headline and including an interesting thumbnail image completes the first step to success on Medium, which is getting people to click on your articles.
Remember, you don’t get paid on Medium for clicks. You get paid for time spent reading your articles. Once you get them to click, you need to get people to stick around and read your article.
To do that, you’ll need a great introductory paragraph.
Different writers will have different approaches to their opening paragraphs. I like to follow a simple formula, which I invite you to copy if you like it.
A sentence or two that sets up the issue or problem I will discuss in the article.
The TLDR version sums up the main points of the article in a short paragraph or a few bullet points. I like to bold this part.
A closing sentence that serves a promise for what the reader will get if they stick around and read the whole thing.
Here is an example of the opening paragraphs of my article about saving for your child’s education.
I don’t want to waste anyone’s time. Anyone reading that introductory paragraph will know if this is an article they want to read until the end. If you build a reputation as a writer who consistently provides value and quality content, people will be more likely to stick around and read your article.
Assume everyone is reading your article on their phone
You could be the best writer in the world, but if your articles are hard to read, people will give up before they finish your articles.
If you want to make your articles easy to read, write as if everyone will be reading it from their phone. That means avoiding big blocks of text.
Look at these two blocks of text, which are the same words but in different formats.
Which format was easier and more pleasurable to read?
It’s the second format that uses more spaces and bullet points. You want to make the job of reading your work as easy and pleasurable as possible. If reading your article is a chore, people won’t do it.
My primary focus for formatting my articles is to avoid blocks of text. That means;
Using lots of subheadings. I try to never go more than 300-400 words without a new subheading.
Whenever possible, use bullet points. People like reading lists more than they like reading paragraphs.
Write short paragraphs. Even if it is not grammatically perfect, I try to keep my paragraphs under 5 sentences.
The more blank space that’s on the page, the easier your article will be to read.
Download an app to help with spelling and grammar
Nothing pisses me off more than when writers submit a story to my publication that is filled with spelling and grammar mistakes. It is the simplest error to avoid. Just download the google chrome extension for Grammarly, which integrates perfectly with Medium and fix those sloppy mistakes.
If you have another editing app that you prefer, that’s fine.
Just make sure you don’t publish articles filled with errors. If you do, you'll quickly turn readers off and develop a bad reputation.
Step 3: Learn to unlock the power of Medium publications
One of the unique and awesome features Medium offers is the ability for any writer to start their own blog, or as they call it “publication”, within Medium.
There are two routes you can choose when it comes to publications.
Submit articles to other people’s publications.
Start your own publication.
Writing for multiple publications
If you plan on writing on a variety of topics then submitting stories to other publications makes a lot of sense.
Each publication has a unique focus and audience.
Submitting stories on multiple topics to multiple publications grants you exposure to each publication’s unique audience.
As time goes on, you’ll learn which topics and which publications you enjoy writing for.
If you want to submit a story to a publication, you’ll need to ask to be added as a writer. Each publication will have instructions on how to get added as a writer and what type of stories they are looking for.
Here is an example of how I instruct writers to add a story to my publication.
Starting your own publication on Medium
However, if you are planning on consistently writing about a particular topic, the best thing you can do is start your own publication.
Building a publication allows you to build a brand.
Publications let you reach readers through email.
You’ll be able to feature your best work.
You can add other writers to your publication to help you build your audience.
Building a brand is critical to building an audience
If you nail the messaging of your publication, it will be a lot easier to find your audience on Medium. To be more accurate, it will be a lot easier for your audience to find you.
The name and logo you choose need to communicate exactly what type of articles readers can expect to find on your publication.
My publication is called “Making of a Millionaire” and here is my logo.
Anyone scrolling by and sees my publication will have a pretty good idea of the type of stories they can expect; money and finances.
Anyone interested in personal finance might give my publication a shot.
Your publication’s name and logo act as the hook lure your target audience in. Whether or not they stick around will depend entirely on two factors.
The quality of your writing.
The tone of your articles.
Your writing will probably suck at first, but that’s okay
The first few articles I wrote on Medium, were pretty crappy. They were generic personal finance topics that have been written about by hundreds of bloggers in the past.
I have two pieces of advice for new writers on Medium.
Write as often as possible because the only way you’re going to become a great writer is through lots of reps.
Talk about how the subject your writing about has impacted your life.
Even if I am writing about a general finance topic like how compound interest works, I can bring something unique to that topic; how it’s impacted my life. Suppose I talk about how compounding returns on my investments have opened up new doors and experiences for me. In that case, that is something that readers can only get by reading my article about compound interest.
The more you talk about how issues impact your life, the more readers will connect with you. If you want to build a brand and an audience, you need your readers to connect with you.
Readers will forgive so-so writing if you have the right tone
When I am writing about personal finance, there is a specific feeling I want to elicit from my readers; optimism.
Many personal finance writers have a very negative tone with headlines like “3 reasons you’ll always be broke.”
When I see a headline like that, it turns me off. I imagine it turns a lot of people off.
I try very hard to make my readers feel empowered that even though they may be in a tough spot financially right now, things can get better. I then discuss the concepts and ideas that they can use to turn things around.
You don’t need to be the best writer in the world. You need to elicit a reaction from your readers that gives them a reason to look forward to your next article.
Publications have their own newsletters
I am no marketing expert, but it is something I have been trying to learn since building my own digital course earlier this year.
If there is one thing that digital marketers can agree on, it’s that building an email list is critical for long term success. Owning your own publication allows you to build an email list and reach your readers in their inbox.
This really comes in handy if you have a story you want to promote. Nearly everyone on that list will either have a Medium account or be a paying subscriber. The more Medium subscribers you can reach through email, the more money you’ll make from your Medium articles.
Setting up a newsletter for your publication is easy.
First, click on the menu for your publication and select “Newsletter.”
Next, click on “Newsletter settings.”
Then you will be able to enter the name of your newsletter, write a description and opt in to promote your newsletter.
Promoting your newsletter in your publication’s stories will add a signup form at the bottom of every story on your publication.
From there, it’s a numbers game. The more people that read and like your stories, the more you will grow your newsletter. The best part is that this opt-in form will appear on all stories that appear in your publication. This means if you add writers to your publication, they will help grow your publications newsletter.
Adding writers to your publication
The more high-quality content you can add to your publication, the faster your audience will grow. Allowing other writers to write for your publication is a great way to do that.
It’s important to know that you are not paying these writers, and you don’t get any money from articles they write.
The only transaction is exposure.
The writer gets exposure to the people who follow your publication.
Your publication gets exposure to the people who read the author’s article. If they have an article that goes viral, your publication will get more eyeballs and more followers.
This transactional relationship makes it difficult to get people to write for you when you are just starting out and have no audience. However, as your publication grows, you’ll see more people asking to write for you.
My publication has around 10,000 followers, and now I have multiple writers reaching out to me every day asking to submit an article to my publication, which is pretty cool.
If you’re just starting out, look for other writers that have little to no following and ask if they want to band together to help each other build an audience.
If you find a writer you like, you can leave a private note on their story and ask if they would consider writing a story in your publication. As long as you are not spammy, there is no harm in putting yourself out there and trying to make connections. Many will say no, or not even respond but some will say yes.
One of the most surprising things about writing on Medium is the great connections I have made with some of the writers who submitted articles to my publication.
Step 4: Stay the course and grow your audience
Becoming a successful writer on Medium, above all else requires patience and consistency. Remember, it took me two years before I started making $1,000 or more per month writing on Medium.
It might take you more or less time to start making that type of money on Medium. Or you might not ever make even $100 in a month writing on Medium.
That is why writing about a topic you are passionate about is so important. If you write for the sake of writing, it’s not a big deal if you never make any money. You may have just stumbled upon a fulfilling hobby.
If you are consistently publishing new articles, always focusing on improving your writing skills, leveraging the power of Medium publications, and have a bit of luck on your side you may be able to turn writing on Medium into a fulfilling and profitable side hustle.
I wish you the best of luck on your writing journey. Feel free to reach out to me in the comments with questions or comments.
If you want in-depth training on how to make money on Medium, sign up for my upcoming Medium side hustle course.