How to Build a Successful Career on Medium

Spoiler: It’s not about the money.

I’ve been a member of the Medium Partner Program (MPP) since June 2018. It’s been a generally positive experience; I’ve gained a good number of followers and I’m finally at a place where I’m making a steady three-figure monthly sum from my writing.

I wanted to pen an article with tips on how to make a modest income from MPP — not enough to pay all the bills, but maybe enough to cover Netflix and a couple dinners out. But I can’t seem to write said article because the truth is, I have no idea how I earn money here.

No one does.

Photo by bruce mars from Pexels

The Wrong Path to Success

I’ve seen a lot of articles on this platform, written by veterans and newbie alike, discussing the writers’ earnings, followers, Top Writer tags, and other data, all in the guise of helping fellow scribes be successful.

I’m also a member of various online communities that regularly dissect Medium payments and stats with the goal of solving the great MPP mystery (that is, how to build a thriving freelance career solely on this site). It’s as if by sharing numbers, we can finally understand how Medium determines partner program payments. If we can crack the code, we’ll all know how to make it big!

No offense to my writer friends, but I don’t think any of it is helpful. In my opinion, there is no way to tell someone how to be successful on Medium because none of us know how Medium really works.

There’s so much that goes into success on this platform: Timing. Topic. Length. Tags. Social media presence. Number of followers. Publications used. And, of course, talent.

Let’s say two MPP writers with the same level of skill publish regularly on Medium. Writer A publishes every day, has half the pieces curated, gets one article featured, and makes more than $1,000 for the month. Writer B publishes twice a day, has only two curated pieces, no features, and makes under $300 for the month.

As great as it would be to say that Writer A followed some strategic path that any of us could follow, at the end of the day, much of it is just sheer luck. Writer A might simply hit the right notes at the right time and get his pieces in front of a curator at the perfect moment. Meanwhile, Writer B might have the same level of talent but can’t seem to catch the curators’ eyes, possibly due to something as minor as timing, title, subtitle, or header image. So much of it is out of our hands that it’s impossible to say that by following specific steps we’ll have any control over how well our work is received.

My work, for example, is all over the place in terms of recognition. This piece, written last summer, was curated in Writing and has been my most successful to date:

Yet this follow-up, similar in title, tone, topic, and information (and in a publication with significantly more followers), wasn’t curated and hasn’t received as much engagement.

Some pieces I wrote last year still do really well and earn at least a few dollars a week, while more recent works — which, in my opinion, are just as good — don’t bring in as much of an income.

The weeks when I’ve published only once have at times made just as much as those weeks when I’ve published five times or more. Pieces with higher views, reads, fans, and claps have made less than those with lesser stats. None of it makes much sense, no matter how much I try to slice and dice the numbers.

Photo by Antoine Dautry on Unsplash

The Path to True Success

For many months, I spent hours stressing over my stats. I maintained a spreadsheet that I updated daily; I’d study which pieces performed better and try to decipher why: Was it the length of the piece? The tags? The publication? Which pubs attracted more internal Medium views? Which pieces did I have to market solely on my own?

I tried to tailor my articles to these numbers, as if by following some magical mathematical formula (length + tags + images x title / publication’s readers) I could hit the sweet spot and finally make a livable wage solely through MPP.

But what I found is that I was writing stilted articles that went nowhere. I was ignoring my passion for writing, all in pursuit of some stupid numerical data. (And I hate math.)

The true path to success on this, or any, platform is to write — freely, wildly, passionately — about the subjects you enjoy. Work on your craft. Publish, even when you’re afraid. Promote the work often. Engage with readers and fellow writers. Then start the process over.

Yes, it’s hard work. And it might take a long time to make a reliable income. But if you’re consistent and you put the effort in, you’ll attract success in so many ways —you’ll find your voice, you’ll develop your skills, you’ll gain followers, you’ll build a platform (so critical if you want to eventually find an agent), you’ll join a wonderful community of scribes who want you to succeed, and you’ll lose (at least some of) the fear of publishing.

After 10 months of participating in MPP, I can’t say I’m any closer to understanding how the program works or earning enough to pay the bills. But I can say I’m much further along than I was when I joined with zero followers and a dark cloud of Imposter Syndrome hanging above my head.

My advice to anyone trying to find Medium success: Ignore the numbers. Stop stressing over the stats. Write, write, write, read, promote your work, and then write some more. Success, whatever it means to you, will come if you put the work in —data be damned.