How Do I Make Money on Medium?

A breakdown of the stories that earned me $1530.94 in March.

Zulie Rane
Mar 31 · 7 min read
Photo by Fabian Blank on Unsplash

This story is a breakdown of my March earnings, which I did because I’m a big proponent of transparency and because I love analysis.

I’ve tried to be as open as I can about earning money on this platform. I don’t make as much as some superstars on here, but I’m on my way to making over $1,500 per month which is nothing to sneeze at. (One day I hope to earn enough to stay at home all day with my cats!)

I’ve been on this platform seven months and earned a total of $5646.57 altogether.

Payment screenshot

Not only do I love any and all kinds of analysis, especially when it comes to my own statistics, but I’ve often wished for people to be transparent with their earnings on here and it seems only right for me to do so as well.

Below, I’ve broken down where the money came from, which stories were successful, and how much curation plays a role in this, all specifically for the month of March which was my highest earning to-date. I wish I could go back further but alas it took too much clicking from tab to tab.

I published 41 stories in March.

About 1.3 stories per day. Y’all, that’s a lot. I’m fortunate that I’m a quick writer and that I love writing so it never feels like a job — but a lot of my time goes to writing. I wish I could say it’s an hour here, an hour there, but realistically I spend an hour or more on this platform every single day. Usually more.

Out of those 41 stories, 27 were curated. That’s 65.8% percent which is on par with what I’ve managed in past months. Not all my curated stories do well — some still get fewer than ten fans — but it all contributes.

Half of my money this month came from 10 stories.

Despite publishing only forty-one stories, I earned money from over 125 stories this month (out of 166 total published, ever).

Ten stories earned me $767.43. The other $762.76 came from a grand total of 115 stories. Forty-one stories did not earn even a penny.

And you want to know something even crazier? This month, out of the ten stories that earned me the most money, only six of them were published this earning period. The 5th most lucrative was actually published way back in December.

Top ten earning stories for March 2019

The takeaways? You never know when one story is going to make you tons of money cumulatively on months to follow. All the stories I published this month earned some money, but more than that, the stories I published months and months ago still earned some. In some cases, just pennies. But even pennies add up, in this instance to $1530.94.

What makes stories successful?

If I knew for sure, I’d be making way more than I do now. As it is, I have some ideas.

First, if you look at those top ten stories there, they’re all what I would consider controversial. They’re things that people have strong opinions about. Curation might spread your story out, but to get fans, you still have to give people a reason to click.

Kylie Jenner being a self-made billionaire? People were mad. Not being like other girls? Folks had thoughts. A defense of unproductivity? Not something you see on Medium often. Refusing to apologize? A veritable minefield.

They’re not click-baity titles, exactly. But they are intriguing titles (I hope). They’re inviting the reader to come check out my thoughts.

Like most other writers on Medium, I religiously adhere to the skimpy standards for curation the Medium staff have deigned to provide us with. I do this both to get more people looking at (and clapping for) my writing, and also as that form of external validation I so crave. However, even when curated (which is unpredictable at best and infuriating at worst), results varied.

It’s important to note that I did have stories curated in three tags last month, otherwise known as what I’ve seen called the “Medium Trifecta.” They simply didn’t do as well as others. Single, double (or even no) curation was enough to make the top ten.

So yes, curation matters. But so, I think, do publications, followers, tags and titles.

I also want to point out here that I’ve republished stories that were originally uncurated only for them to be curated the second time around in one or more tags. So just because the first time it didn’t work, try again! Curators are humans in search of a very vague idea of “quality writing” — give them the chance to look at yours again.

You won’t be able to see this by looking at titles, but all of those stories were personal. (Yes, even the Kylie Jenner one!) They were all stories that occurred to me out of the blue, that fascinated me, that as good as dragged my fingers to the keyboard so I could start to type.

A lot of them were stories in topics I’d never written about, tags in which I’d never been curated. I pushed the boat out and was rewarded. For example I’ve never been successful in humor, yet my Girls story did surprisingly well.

NB: This does not take into account all the other times I was deeply personal and/or controversial and was not rewarded by curation or money — that happened a lot. There were a ton of stories that didn’t do that well. But every story that did do well followed this pattern.

Some quick stats:

The average amount of money I earned per story published was $9.22. The median was actually just $1.99. That means that out of all the stories I’ve published ever, half of them earned me less than two bucks this month. And half earned more.

Here’s a frequency distribution to illustrate what that looked like.

Frequency distribution of March story earnings.

As you can clearly see, the vast majority of my stories earned less than twenty dollars. But there are a ton of them! And you never know when you’ll get a big one, either.

Fans were the best metric for predicting money.

Not claps. Fans.

I have a really complicated spreadsheet (which is pointless to be honest, because the money comes whether I predict it correctly or not) where I track how many fans I get for each Medium week (Monday-Sunday) and try to predict what my monthly paycheck will be. This month, I was within ~$15 which is pretty darn close! The conclusion? Each fan is worth, on average, $0.58 for me.

That doesn’t mean that every story with 10 fans earns six bucks. For stories which get fans that clap elsewhere a lot, because they’re splitting their claps widely, their claps don’t earn me a lot. On the flipside, some stories with only ten fans can earn fifteen dollars, because those fans clap less elsewhere and so each clap is worth proportionally more.

Check out here for Neil’s fab in-depth explanation of how (we think) clap distribution works.

But on average a fan gives me sixty cents.

I’ll spare you my detailed analyses (which I did with R, my favourite statistical programming language), but it boiled down to the fact that views and reads don’t count for much — it’s about the fans. Views, reads and claps did not correlate with money earned, but fans did.

In the spirit of honesty, I’ll admit to having a difficult relationship with the money I earn on Medium. On the one hand, if I didn’t earn as much as I do, it’s likely I wouldn’t write. The writing is its own reward, yes, of course, but if I wasn’t getting an actual, tangible reward, it simply wouldn’t be worth my while. In a very real sense, I write for money and I don’t want to be ashamed of that. (For a really well-articulated and deeper explanation of this kind of sentiment, check out Shannon’s piece here.)

However, when I write stories specifically to make money, when I try to copy successful stories or authors, or jump onto trends I’m uninterested in but seem popular on Medium, they tend to fall flat.

So I walk somewhere between those two zones, balancing my need to be rewarded for my writing with the fact that when I remember that too much, my writing sucks (and earns me no money).

The summary:

I write a lot. I write about things that interest me, because it’s easier to write more that way. I experiment with topics, voices. I try to patient and trust that interested people will find my content. I learn from other voices here. I persevere even when I’m frustrated, fed up, disillusioned and annoyed with Medium. This platform has given me so much and I hope it has much more to give yet.

Want to get my four-day email course on making money by writing on Medium? Sign up here to get it!

The Post-Grad Survival Guide

We're confused twenty-somethings. We dish on our post-grad blues, successes, failures, and everyday life right here. Featuring topics related to work, relationships, travel, finances, and so much more.

Zulie Rane

Written by

Lover of writing, mother of cats, drinker of cheap red wine. She/her. Want to make money by writing on Medium? Get my starter kit here:

The Post-Grad Survival Guide

We're confused twenty-somethings. We dish on our post-grad blues, successes, failures, and everyday life right here. Featuring topics related to work, relationships, travel, finances, and so much more.

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