…and what I plan to do about it
There exists a lot of advice on Medium about how to get every penny out of it to maximize earnings. In short, it all boils down to:
- Write every day
- Don’t write every day
- Submit only to big publications
- Don’t submit to publications
- Follow 150 people every day
- Don’t follow anyone but interact with everyone
- Post only on Medium
- Cross-post with multiple platforms and not just on Medium
…and so on.
I don’t think any of them are wrong. Writers try stuff and they go with what works and creates results. We all have different goals, careers, voices, and styles. When someone feels they have figured something out, they share it with others and that’s a good thing!
However, Medium deliberately keeps the most important data opaque and given some of their most recent changes in the fall of 2020 (such as removing curated topic notices and follower counts from profiles) it’s going to be even harder to figure things out moving forward. Meta pieces about Medium don’t get curated but the platform absolutely relies on the traffic from them to keep writers guessing, engaging, and submitting content.
I only joined Medium in late September 2019 and was shocked to learn that less than 10% of members earn $100 or more per month because, by December, I was already there.
It didn’t last long. By February — and the arrival of the pandemic in the United States — I only earned $49 and change. I haven’t gotten past it since; at least, at the time of this writing.
It may seem counterintuitive to explain why my royalties have decreased but I think it’s closer to what the majority of Medium writers will experience.
I’m going to talk about the two most successful stories I have on the platform to date, what contributed to my drop in royalties, and what my next plan of action is.
The first story we will talk about is “I Fell Asleep on a Porn Set and it Taught Me a Big Lesson About Consent” in October 2019. In January of 2020, I published “White Privilege Masks My Ethnic Name in Plain Sight,” which has now also been co-hosted over at The Ghetto Activist.
How they compare
In general terms, the two stories have a similar tone and approximate length. They’re both personal essays on fairly evergreen topics: race and sexuality.
Most significantly they differ in format, structure, and publication. “White Privilege…” ended up getting circulated in Age of Awareness when an editor reached out to me about adding it to the publication. “I Fell Asleep on a Porn Set…” was curated but not added to any publications until August 2020 (and the publication is my own starter that is neither here nor there).
Here are their stats as of October 2020.
I Fell Asleep on a Porn Set and It Taught Me A Big Lesson About Consent:
White Privilege Masks My Ethnic Name in Plain Sight:
As you can see, “White Privilege…” gets occasional spikes in traffic and engagement. However, “I Fell Asleep on a Porn Set…” which was curated but self-published has made more money with consistently less engagement and no notable spikes in readership.
I am only one single writer here, certainly not in the big earners club, but how much of the advice I listed above would apply to these? A lot of it.
How I contributed to my own subpar performance
For a while, I was making $4 to $5 a day and it felt so good to finally have cracked the code that worked for me to start earning small but significant and growing passive income as a writer. I honestly did not know what to expect when I joined Medium and it was a great incentive.
However, as I mentioned, everything changed between February and March. I was getting curated less often. I was stressed by the pandemic. Readership dropped. Impostor syndrome set in, big time. I wasn’t turning in as high quality of work and knew it, and still couldn’t muster even knowing I was capable of it.
Earnings plummeted and so did my activity. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Keeping it simple
Earlier, I mentioned impostor syndrome. This is something that can really hinder me as a writer. I have the hardest time submitting my work to publications for fear of rejection.
With one exception, to date, any work of mine that has ended up in another publication was by the request of an editor instead of me pitching or submitting it. This even happened off-site, as a story about grief and pet loss was picked up by a third party but did not do that well here aside from getting curated.
What writer wouldn’t feel bolstered by getting that kind of feedback, especially when they are small-fry like me? It’s no wonder I was coasting along on others’ attention to my work which I now understand was only going to get me so far.
It’s only now I have decided to swallow my pride, start submitting to publications on a regular basis and prepare to hear “no” as an answer. If this next plan of action doesn’t work out, that’s okay — I’ll adapt and try again. That’s really it.
Before, my plan really wasn’t a plan. I just wrote a lot and hoped people would encounter it and enjoy it. But it was simple, effective, and got me results. The plan now isn’t that different, it is just more proactive.
Without attracting a large audience, I don’t think that I will ever crack four figures on Medium. I think it’s unfair to give so much attention to these cases of people making a living or even five figures monthly when we know they are anomalies and outliers with a healthy advertising budget.
Finding success on Medium is completely subjective to you, your goals, and your talent. There many ways to reach that and you should be willing to find a new path every so often.
My setbacks earlier this year really took a toll on my self-esteem but I understand now that just because my earnings dropped doesn’t mean I failed or am not talented. I just need to use it differently.
I am proud of getting to the $100 Club but not ashamed of leaving it: it’s an opportunity to do better in the future.