Member preview

I'm a Single Mom, and Writing on Medium Pays My Bills

Last month I earned $2,660--here’s what I’ve learned.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

In case you missed it--because I sure did--Medium now allows those of us in the partner program to publish member posts about Medium. In fact, the rules were updated back in September, and I’m far from the only writer to miss the change. That actually leads me to my first piece of advice for anyone who wants to succeed here: keep in mind that nobody is an expert on Medium.

The truth is, the platform is an ever-changing experiment, but I still see a lot of bad advice thrown around from people claiming to be Medium experts. Some people have one good month on the platform and will tell you to duplicate their method. Other people will make--and sell--courses on how to succeed on Medium after only being a member for a month. Still others will create formulas to tell you how much a clap is worth. They’ll all tell you they’re experts here in one way or another.

Let’s be real. When Medium sends out its monthly partner program summary, they tell us how many writers earn more than $100, and it’s typically less than 10 percent. Which means that 90% of all writers on Medium make less than $100 a month.

I am not a Medium expert. Please don’t think I know it all. But I am in that top 10 percent of Medium writers who earn over $100 a month. Actually, I’ve never earned less than $446 in an entire month, and I’ve made more than $1,000 most months. That’s four out of six months so far. My best month just came in last week:

That's a little more than $76 a day (the pay period was 5 weeks, or 35 days). Not too shabby for a single mom who typically doesn't spend all day on Medium. And it’s a big deal for someone who's been hurting for money most of this year. It covered my basic bills, some debt, and Christmas.

That said, I do spend a pretty big chunk of time here because most of my stories take three to five hours to write. Sometimes more. I realize that’s more than many other writers here, but I’m simply not wired to write quickly. Which leads me to another piece of advice: go at your own pace.

Everybody here is on their own path, and there is no formula to success. Not on Medium, not anywhere. All I can do is tell you what has worked for me.

So, let's recap.

Know that it's going to take real work to succeed, remember that nobody is an expert on Medium, and go at your own pace.

After that? I can offer a few more pieces of advice:

Be authentic. When I first hopped on Medium back on April 25, it wasn’t simply to practice my craft or go after my dreams. I desperately came here to support myself and my daughter since I can't feasibly work outside of my home these days. And I’ve been open about our financial situation from the start. Medium is keeping me and my daughter off welfare.

Write what's natural for you. It made sense for me to be honest about why I'm writing, and it made sense to write about my honest life experiences. I found out right away that vulnerability works on Medium, and it comes naturally for me. The takeaway? Don't push yourself to write content that you think will "sell," if it's not your forte. Readers won't enjoy forced stories.

Most successful Medium writers will say you should write often, hone your own voice, and tag your stories. These are all true. I'd also add that you should consider the editorial guidelines, and pay attention to other stories that do well here.

A lot of people crack jokes--or complain--about parts of Medium like Top Writers, curation, or Member Features. The truth is that all of these things can help your progress on Medium. Sure, you don’t want to sweat it when you gain or lose a Top Writer status. But it’s good to be aware of the tools that are there to help us.

Curation is not a magic bullet to a popular (and therefore moneymaking) story, but it can sure make a big difference. When Medium curators distribute your stories through one or more topics, there’s a greater potential of new eyes seeing your story. And hopefully, they’ll read and clap.

Speaking of claps, you should know that there are basically two camps on Medium: people who are generous with clapping and those who tend to clap low. There's even a rumor that clapping "low numbers" will help a writer earn more through the partner program. That simply isn't true. How do I know? I asked Medium about it:

When we talk about claps, people forget that reading time matters too. If you rush through a member's story, your claps won't count as much--even if you give the max of 50 claps.

Where do I stand on clapping? I think it's worth clapping more generously for the writers and stories you wish to support most. Whatever portion of the membership that gets distributed to pay writers, if you clap for many stories, most writers will only get spare change from you anyway. But you know what? All of that change adds up. Clapping heartily tells Medium and the authors where your support lies. You don't need to over think it!

Honestly, people keep trying to crack the Medium algorithm and it drives me crazy. That’s one math problem none of us can actually solve because we don’t have all of the numbers. One huge factor in our pay that no one talks about? How many stories are behind the paywall getting engagement. It must vary from month to month. And how many membership payments are successful each month? Quit trying to crack the algorithm! Just write.

While we're on the topic of Medium memberships, there's really no excuse to not be a paying member if you're putting stories behind the paywall. If you're publishing member stories but refuse to get a membership yourself, what that says to me is that you don't care about the other writers here. You want us to support you, but you don't want to support us.

I understand waiting to get your bearings and seeing what Medium is all about first, and in fact, I waited a couple weeks before I got my membership. But waiting more than a pay period seems a bit... selfish.

Another thing people will tell you is to write better headlines, but most people aren’t great at Medium headlines. They may recommend a headline generator, but my top stories never score well. My take on headlines for Medium is that they should be straightforward and just a touch controversial or sensational if possible.

That said, if you’re seriously well-known on Medium, I think you can afford to write more clever or punny headlines. Until then, I’d say basic is better. You want readers to have some idea of what your story is about.

You should also know upfront that gaining traction and making money on Medium isn’t without its pressure.

When I first started out, I naively thought some of the big dogs were too good for me to grant me the time of day. Gosh, I feel stupid now. Lately, I get at least 100 comments a week and I’m still not at the top. Honestly, I simply can’t keep up with all of the feedback if I want to keep writing and supporting my child. And I hope my readers understand this and that I do my best.

The truth is that Medium is a community of writers and readers--regardless of the changes that have happened across the platform. And it’s very hard to succeed here if you write and publish in a silo without investing yourself in any of the other writers here as well.

Lately I've been a little bit MIA when it comes to interacting with this community because I've been battling a very painful dental infection. I don't like disappointing my readers, my fellow writer friends, or myself. But I also have to be realistic--I'm the single mom of a four-year-old little girl. I don't get a fat child support check. And I lack a great local support system, so I've got to face my limits sometimes.

At the end of the day, I have to be honest that I got lucky on Medium.

I came here to make up for lost income, and I’m doing exactly that. But I was lucky to get two featured stories early on in May and July. That boosted my morale and income right out of the gate. And of course, it gave me followers, though not necessarily more readers.

To keep gaining readers, I had to keep writing. And some months I wrote more than 60 stories. It took me six months to finally make a real income writing fewer stories.

And of course, I know there’s zero guarantee that next month will go as well. My fingers are crossed. But I’m alright with that because I love writing here, and I have high hopes for greater growth. For six months, I’ve said I’m writing my future, and I genuinely believe that today. As a result, I know that means I have to keep going even during the rough months.

In a nutshell? Here's what I've learned:

  1. It takes real work to be in the 10% and consistently earn more than $100 a month.
  2. Nobody is an expert on Medium.
  3. You've got to go at your own pace.
  4. Authenticity and vulnerability do well on Medium, but you should write the stories that come naturally to you.
  5. You should write and publish often--especially at the start of your journey.
  6. Hone your own voice--be you, be honest, be edgy in a way that works for you.
  7. Tag all of your stories. (I don’t tag replies.)
  8. Know the editorial guidelines and read some member features to get a feel for what the editors go for.
  9. Consider clapping generously on the stories that move you.
  10. Quit trying to crack the algorithm, and don’t obsess over your stats.
  11. Ask Medium Support your questions directly rather than falling for rumors.
  12. Write better headlines for Medium.
  13. Accept that success will come with the pressure to please everyone.
  14. Take part in the Medium community.
  15. Keep writing--even through the "bad" months.

Hopefully my experience will help inspire you in your own Medium journey, and also make you feel good about the writers you support here everyday. I’m not the only single mom on Medium. I’m not the only writer earning their income here and working toward a brighter future.

Keep writing, keep reading, and keep dreaming!