If You Want to Make It on Medium You Need to Adapt
The game always changes, so it’ll be hard to keep playing if you don’t
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned since joining Medium 16 months ago and turning it into my full-time job is that Medium is always changing. You can’t get used to anything or take it for granted without risk. This is a business in constant flux.
The guidelines have changed.
Last year, members of the Medium Partner Program weren’t allowed to put stories about Medium behind the paywall.
Paywalled stories also weren’t allowed to contain newsletter signups.
Both of those restrictions were lifted months ago, but it took time for the news to spread.
Long before I joined Medium, there were some publications with Medium partnerships. When I began writing on Medium last year, only a few pubs had special arrangements which allowed the writers to be paid.
It wasn’t until last July that writers were allowed to publish locked posts (stories behind the paywall) within a publication. And then there were a lot of complaints about people locking too many of their posts.
Since then, Medium-owned publications have become a bigger deal. And Medium is once again partnering with certain publications in a more serious way.
Finally, most people now recognize that you can't lock "too many" stories here.
In fact, people argued over locking posts.
Like everything else on Medium, there were people in different camps. Some folks claimed that locking your stories would hurt your overall views. Others recommended putting only some of your stories behind the paywall.
Flash forward to today, and Medium now encourages everybody to lock their posts. It’s the default and it’s actually harder to post unlocked stories because you’ve got to uncheck that box before publishing.
Besides, you can't get curated unless you lock the story. And curation can make a huge difference in your reach.
December was a particularly good month for many of us in the Medium Partner Program. In fact, that was the first time I earned $5K in one month. And I only wrote 22 stories, which means I actually took some decent time off.
A bunch of us were very excited for January, but when the New Year rolled around, our earnings suddenly dropped. I’m sure Luke Rowley remembers this. It didn’t matter that our fans were going up each week.
Those earnings just weren’t on par with the previous month, but around the second week of February, those numbers improved again.
Member Features changed.
Since hopping onto Medium in April 2018, I have had 4 stories selected for Member Features. Each time, Medium emailed me, and sometimes those emails wound up in my promotions folder. Thanks a lot, Gmail.
Aside from getting some sort of email from Medium, each experience with having a Member Feature was different.
“A Different Kind of Abuse” was published on April 29, 2018, and currently has earned $669 with 10,314 claps from 737 people. It was featured at the top of the home page and app, but it did not receive an edit from Medium.
“Twenty, Married, and Still a Virgin” was published on July 16, 2018, and has earned $688 with 9,711 claps from 1,001 people. It did get an edit from Medium, and it also went on the top of the home page and app.
Plus, they gave it audio for those who’d rather listen to the story than read it. However, Medium put it into their collection called Losing My Religion.
My latest feature, “Who’s Afraid of Their Big Bad O?” was published on January 23, 2019, and was only shown at the top of the sexuality and culture topics. No homepage treatment. Medium added it to their collection called Can We Talk?
While it did receive an edit (which I approved) and audio, it didn’t get the same big bump of traffic like the other two features. It’s earned $365 with 3,486 claps from 427 people.
These days, not every Member Feature story reaches the front page. As a result, they don’t always do as well as they likely would have done in the past.
More recently, Human Parts accepted and featured this piece that's earned about 430 fans and $341.
And then there’s a little thing called curation
Yes, curation was a game-changer for me on Medium. I noticed it happening last September before everybody was talking about curation and before they emailed you about selecting your story.
I only noticed it was a thing when my self-published stories had a topic at the top of the page. Now it’s in our stats, and I see that many of my early stories were curated before that notion was ever on my radar.
So, about curation…
Last fall and winter, getting curated was for me a near guarantee of a successful story which easily reached 100 or 200 fans.
However, for a few months now, I have seen that curation varies more widely than ever. Some curated pieces go nowhere. Some get very few views.
There is no way to know how well curation will serve a story these days.
The One Thing That Hasn’t Changed?
You need fans. If you want to get paid on Medium, people have got to resonate enough with your work that they clap for it.
But money is not the only form of success for a writer, right? Of course not. When you’re a writer on a mission, getting your words out there matters.
So, there is plenty of success to be had regardless of the money you make. Many writers on Medium find ways for it to help them grow entire businesses off of Medium.
You can be a long-term success story too.
But you’ve got to be able to deal with the changes
Long-term success on Medium requires adaptability. Anyone who’s been on the platform for more than a year and is well-known among readers has had to be adaptable.
Sure, they might be honest about some frustration in their writer’s journey, but they’re probably not going to waste time complaining that things aren’t going their way.
That’s because any lasting success requires the adaptability to grow and change. Basically, you’ve got to roll with the changes that any platform brings and figure out how to make it work for you.
The good news is that adaptability can be learned. Some of us have a harder time with it than others, but it’s not the kind of trait that’s ever too far beyond your reach.
If you’re writing on Medium, you can learn how to roll with the changes and make it work for you.