There’s no limit to how much you clap. You have two choices basically, in showing support — you can clap very small on members only stories, very consistently, and not read too much each month and your claps will translate to cash for the authors. BUT! Be aware that your claps are taken out of $5 monthly fee and must be divvied by how many claps you give and how many stories you read.
The second, more logical way (ha ha, in my view!) is to use the claps to raise visibility on stories you consider to be good and as a recommendation to others to read. Monetarily, this has the same effect as trying to ‘pay’ authors yourself — your membership input is negligible but your claps may encourage a lot of other people to read and clap, and raise the payment for the author on that story for the month.
There is a limit to how many stories you can read and clap for in a day: a 24 hour period that is. It’s 150. Once you’ve read and clapped for 150 stories, you can no longer clap. You have to wait for the next day to resume.
How did I discover this, you might wonder? When I started on Medium, I was discovering a lot of new, very good authors and going through their work — quite a lot being poetry, it wasn’t taking a lot of time to get through a load of stories — and I ran out (!) Sorry, Mark, but this is why I consider you a rank amateur :P
In any case, Medium wants to know how you feel about the stories you read. They’ve given you a scale from 1–50. Forget completely about the payment plan and just focus on the stories you’ve enjoyed, the writers you’ve found and giving claps that fit into that scale. Those writers end up being featured in Lit and elsewhere and that too increases their claps.
Clear as mud? Good, my work here is done :P