Medium: Platform or Publication? Everything You Need to Know About Writing on Medium

UPDATE 7.30.13

I originally wrote this post in April of 2014, when any Medium user could submit any story they wrote to any Collection of their choosing. Medium has since abandoned this open submission policy -- details here.

My take? It's disappointing. What made Medium so great, to me, was that it was a platform for "Everyone's Stories & Ideas" (see above image). Now it's a place for the stories and ideas of people that have relationships with Collection editors, are brand name writers, or are really exceptional at pitching their work.

That's not inherently a bad thing. This is the way most publications work. But I thought Medium was different. Turns out, they're just like everyone else -- they hate dealing with the slush pile. That's what this is all about, regardless of how they spin it.

You can still get published on Medium, the same way you can get published anywhere. Track down the editors you need to know, find their email, send them a pitch, and hope for the best.

And you can still read great content on Medium -- even though I'm opposed to the change, I think the quality of content is already improving. They're attracting terrific writers from all over the world. Which is great for readers. Not so great for people like you and me who are still trying to find a place where our voices can be heard.

If you want to read me gush about the old Medium, see below.

If you'd like a breakdown of why Medium's new policies aren't great for the average writer, go read Adam Charles' wonderful post over at Social Media Today.

END UPDATE


Medium, the content platform founded by the guys that started Twitter, has been getting a lot of attention lately. There's been a lot of debate... should you write on Medium or not? Can it get you exposure, build your brand, help with SEO, etc? Or is it just yet another platform that's going to contribute to the endless content noise we're inundated with every day?

Well, it's not really 100% clear what Medium is yet.

Is it a blogging platform? A curated publication?

Honestly, it's a little of both. And for that reason, there are still a lot of people asking questions about Medium and how it's best used by writers.

So here's my experience writing on Medium, which will hopefully answer some of those questions.

I guess you could call this a "review" of Medium.com.


Signing Up

Signing up for Medium is super easy. If you have a Twitter account, you can have a Medium account in essentially two clicks and you can be publishing in no time.

There's really not much of an "account" to set up. You don't have to pick a template or do any design work like you would if you were hosting your own blog. You might want to pick a cover photo, like you do on Facebook, and make sure you're happy with your short bio. And that's pretty much it.

For those wondering, Google Authorship on Medium is extremely easy to set up. It's a simple option under your account Settings.


Writing on Medium

Writing on Medium is about the cleanest writing experience you're bound to get on the web.

That's it. That's the entire interface.

Clean. Beautiful. But somehow, still very robust. You can insert all different kinds of media pretty easily on the fly. You can even do some cool stuff with full bleed images. Here's a great example:


What About Collections?

This is where things start to get a little confusing, but also really enticing for writers hoping to get a little exposure.

Collections are curated batches of content pieces that have been published on Medium. Usually, they surround a certain theme like "Writers on Writing" or "Thoughts on Creativity". You can "Follow" each of these Collections, just like you would a Twitter account, and those follows will partially inform which stories you see on your Medium front page.

Each collection is curated by a specific editor and they can add stories that they discover organically, or you have the option of submitting your story to be added to any Collection you'd like.

The biggest Medium collections are followed by thousands and thousands of people, which represents an enormous potential audience for your content.

For example, I wrote a piece called "The Unglamorous Life of a Writer" and submitted to the Writers on Writing collection. After it was accepted, I got a ton of eyeballs on my writing.

Here's a screenshot from Medium's nifty built-in dashboard.

How long does it take to get a story reviewed?

The piece I mentioned got accepted in about two or three weeks, even though most Medium collections advertise about a week.

I've seen other collections that say they'll review your piece within a few months.


The Advantages of Writing on Medium

Overall, you can count me as a big fan of Medium. Both as a writer and a reader.

I love that anyone can write about anything and find a place for it here.

You always have the option of publishing anything you want and promoting in on your own, the same you would on your own Wordpress blog. The added bonus with Medium is that if you start to get traction and Recommends, the Medium editors might notice and you could get added to a Collection without having to really do anything.

But the biggest plus, for me, has to be being able to tap into the huge audiences behind popular Collections via a one-click submission process. If you can get a piece added to one of these curated content streams, you're going to get lots of high quality readers checking out your stuff. Which, as we all know, can be pretty hard to do.

It also doesn't hurt that I could get completely lost in reading articles on Medium for hours. There are a lot of great writers and thinkers putting out content, on everything from creativity to design & UX to personal development.

It's a great place full of great ideas. So, it follows that if you have great ideas, you should do well there.


A Few Miconceptions

Not everyone is a fan of Medium, but I've found that a lot of the criticisms are out of date.

Does Medium own your content?

No.

From Medium's updated terms of service:

You own the rights to the content you post on Medium. We don’t claim ownership over any of it. However, by posting or transferring content to Medium, you give us permission to use your content solely to do the things we need to do to provide Medium Services, including, without limitation, storing, displaying, reproducing, and distributing your content. This may include promoting your content with partner companies or services for broader broadcast, distribution, or publication.

We will never sell your content to third parties without your explicit permission.

I guess some people don't like the idea that Medium can promote or share your content without permission. I can't see why anyone would care about that unless they're posting proprietary content -- which you really shouldn't be sharing on an outlet you don't control, anyway.

Medium is for writers and thinkers who want to share their ideas with the world. It's not where you put things you want to closely monitor and protect.

Can you cross-post to Medium from your own blog?

Yes. There was a lot of confusion about this early on, but this is also covered in the new Terms of Service.

The piece I wrote for "Writers on Writing" was originally published on my blog. Many of the successful Medium stories I've seen are re-posts, in fact.

You're even allowed to link back to the original source, or even just your general website, at the bottom of the story.


The Disadvantages of Writing on Medium

I think I've made it pretty clear that I love Medium. (I have, right? Because I do love Medium.)

But I still think there are some issues, both current and looming.

Collection Rejections Are Not Required

"The Unglamorous Life of a Writer" sat in review for several weeks when I was expecting the process to take only a few days. That whole time, I had no idea if it had been reviewed and rejected or if it was still sitting in the queue. That's because editors are not required to let you know if your submission has been rejected from their Collection.

This sort of mimics real world publishing -- you're not going to get a response on every query -- but c'mon. Inside a UX-friendly platform like Medium, it should be pretty easy to send a notice.

The other problem I see on the horizon is that Medium is only going to get more popular. People are going to be submitting more and more content to Collections. The backlog is bound to get huge and the editors are bound to get more selective.

Without more transparency and communication, I can see Medium ending up being like pretty much every other respected publication -- very difficult to get published in without a track record and/or a little luck.

I'd like to see them find a way to stay inclusive.

Basically Zero Organic Reach without Support

I have another piece I wrote -- a short personal essay -- that has been sitting in review for several Collections for a while now. Again, I have no idea if it's been rejected or if it's still in the queue.

All I know is that it has been viewed 0 times.

Admittedly, I didn't promote this one on my own at all. But 0 views still surprises me.

When I started my old blog on Wordpress, I had a few random Follows and Likes after only a few hours. Just by people haphazardly stumbling upon my content.

Your own Medium channel is basically a vacuum without the support of a Collection or your own built in audience.

You Can't Follow People, Only Collections

This is a popular complaint, and a pretty valid one, I think. It would be nice to discover a great writer on Medium and effortlessly be kept up to date with his latest pieces.

Right now, that's a no-go. The plus-side is that big names have no real advantage in exposure over the little guys -- at least, within Medium itself. What they do with their content on their own social channels is bound to influence things, but as far as Medium goes, whoever writes the best content wins.

UPDATE 4.30.13

Medium announced the "Follow People" feature about two days after I published this piece.

You're welcome, everyone

Who Runs Collections?

It's strange -- some Collections are edited by Medium employees. Guys like Mark Lotto, a former editor at GQ, and Kate Lee, a former powerhouse literary agent.

But each individual user also has the power to create his or her own collection. Joe Schmoe Nobody can have a collection, if he wants, and have it appear in the same list next to all the others. Here's a random one:

I don't know if this is inherently a problem. You can decide whether you should submit to a Collection based on its number of followers, which is easy to find, I just wonder if there's eventually going to be an issue in terms of which collections are "real", which ones aren't, and how the submission process varies between them.


Should I Write on Medium?

Everyone seems to be asking whether they should write on their own blog or write on Medium.

I say you should write on both.

Think about what sort of ideas you could write about that would fit in with popular collections (here is a list of most of the big ones.) If you think you have something to contribute, go for it. You could wind up reaching a huge audience that way.

But don't put all of your eggs in the Medium basket.

I think you should still have your own blog to write about whatever you want without worrying about fitting into a Collection. And, particularly if you're a writer, you should still be looking at getting published in a variety of other publications.

So, Medium is awesome. It's a beautiful place to display your writing and reach a very smart, very engaged audience. But it's not the end all be all for your content. If you have to think of it as either a blog or a publication, think of it as a publication. Submit your best work when you feel it will really connect with the audience there.

On Medium, shoot for quality. Not quantity.



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About Evan

Evan is a copywriter, content marketer, freelance writer, blogger, husband, and new Dad.

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