What I’ve Learned From a 60% Curation Rate on Medium

Making sense of our art.

Shannon Ashley
Jan 28, 2019 · 9 min read
Photo by Igor Miske on Unsplash

Curation on Medium means that your story has been distributed through one or more topics on the platform. Medium may include your story in a daily digest email, or simply prompt your story to come up more frequently in the app and website to readers interested in those topics.

If you look at my story about Welcome to Marwen, you’ll see what I mean.

Notice the "Film" topic at the top left.
From the detailed stats page, I can see this story was distributed in two topics: film and equality.

Essentially, I use the words the words “distributed” and “curated” interchangeably here. If your story has been curated, it’s been distributed.

For independent writers on Medium, a high curation rate can do a lot for your credibility and income. In my experience over the past nine months, I would say that the benefits of curation began picking up in September, and likely peaked in December. We’re nearly through January, but I think the jury is still out on exactly how curation works lately. As many people have noted, January has been a funny month in terms of money and member engagement.

At the end of the day, if you want more reads and fans, you do want to have more of your stories curated. The real debate is how to get a story selected, and then how far curation will carry that story. Having a story curated isn’t the same as a well-received piece.

Over the past few months, I’ve published 111 stories, and 66 have been curated. (Er, make that 69--a few pieces just got picked up since writing.) Here’s what I’ve learned about curation with that 60 percent success rate.

It pays to pay attention.

Medium makes it reasonably easy to succeed here--as long as you are willing to work with the system. I see a lot of people ask questions or even give advice that indicates they haven’t yet familiarized themselves with the actual rules or guidelines here.

The curation guidelines are easy to find--just click your profile picture on the upper right portion of your screen, select “Medium Partner Program,” and finally “Curation guidelines and terms.”

Originally, members were not allowed to put stories about Medium behind the paywall. The guidelines changed, but Medium didn’t make a big announcement about it. They simply took the clause prohibiting the practice away. Those of us who weren’t paying attention missed it. I wound up having to email yourfriends@medium.com because I was confused about that change.

Your stories about Medium CAN get curated, with a caveat.

I have had several stories about Medium get curated in writing, though I do think it’s harder to get curated this way. Among them, only one story that was blatantly about writing on Medium got curated. The rest were a little more subtle about referencing "writing on Medium."

It’s important to note that not everyone who writes about Medium has got it right. I’ve run into plenty of stories from either new or misinformed members who want to cash in on “How to” articles.

I once saw a BIG publication here release a piece where the writer clearly confused the Member Feature with the featured story on one’s profile. Not the same thing. And I’ve seen other stories about writing successfully on Medium that are littered with typos.

My guess is that Medium isn’t going to curate an article about writing on Medium if they don’t agree with your assessment, so do your best to make sure you really do know what you’re talking about. Writing about your experiences with the MPP at 30 days is one thing. Writing actual tips to success or even a class at 30 days? That’s… concerning.

ICYMI, things change a lot around here.

One of the problems with offering success tips or how-tos as a newbie is the simple fact that everything is subject to change. Also, information tends to get noticed in waves.

I first saw curation change my life on Medium back in September. That’s also around the time they introduced detailed stats, so it became easier to see that a post was distributed. And then Medium announced that they have “more than 25 curators” with different literary experience and various skill sets.

But over the past month or so, advice about getting curated has been blowing up. It’s the next best thing to a Member Feature and it’s measurable, so it only makes sense that we’d all become obsessed with it. Like anything else on Medium, it's all subject to change.

Not everything will get curated, and sometimes it will make no sense when a piece goes “overlooked.”

I am usually right about whether or not one of my stories will be curated, but occasionally a story will surprise me and not achieve the hoped-for status. There are certain stories within the community that are safe to say will never be curated, but they’re still valuable. Like many of the writing prompts for listicles.

This piece about being a woman in the workplace was a monster for me to write, but I believed in it despite the 15 minute reading time. It was distributed in several topics.

That said, even this month, there have been several stories that surprised me and went absolutely nowhere--no distribution.

Some stories don’t have a ton of reads, but have a great fans-to-reads ratio.

Some offer genuinely good advice.

And some took a lot of time and effort.

Sending the story over to tips@medium.com might work. There's still a lot we don't know about that. You can also keep sharing your story on social media and hope more fans bite.

You can also try a new title, edit and republish. Anything you like, but eventually, you will have to pick up and write again. Move to your next story.

We all have questions, and there could be errors.

Right now I’ve got a story that looks like it is distributed in “Relationships”--when you read it on the mobile app. But if you read it online, it doesn’t display any topic at the top. And in my stats, there’s no note that it was curated.

I emailed Medium about that, so it will be interesting to see what they say.

But remember, at the end of the day, we’re talking about at least 25 perfectly imperfect humans. I’d expect some error along the way.

*Update* Medium did respond with this message:

We experienced a disruption in the curation process, that has now been fixed.

The post is back in the topics.

Well, there you go. Mistakes can happen, and that story wound up getting curated in "Relationships" and "Women."

The actual reach and results of curation vary widely.

Unfortunately, getting a piece curated doesn’t mean that it’s going to get 400 or 500 fans. We all wish it worked that way, of course.

Here’s a screenshot from some of my November stories. The stories with circled fans have all been curated.

A person could drive themselves crazy looking at the numbers. I’ve heard a lot of people say that a “good” story on Medium gets a 10-15% fans-to-reads ratio. But in my experience, that ratio drops with the more views/reads you get. Does that mean I should quit writing? Of course not.

We have no control over what happens to a story once Medium picks it up for curation, but we can be proud that they picked it up at all. It means that somebody behind the scenes who happened to read the piece thought it was good and worth sharing.

That said, take heart. I have seen a trend where most of my curated pieces keep gaining reads and fans even a month or two after publishing. Few of my stories get popular right away.

That’s all awesome, but you want to know how to get curated, right?

Let me remind you that I’m not a Medium guru or mastermind. But I am a single mom who quit her freelancing gig to write here full-time.

Some months I write more or less than others, but I haven’t earned less than $2,660 since September. So I’m making Medium work for me.

My best advice to get curated is to hone your voice as a writer.

Oops. I know you were hoping for a step-by-step guide. But if you're active on Medium, you already know the basics. (Or maybe I need to cover those in another story.) Curation is about going beyond the basics.

That's why you need a strong voice.

You want to produce quality stories that are highly readable, and make some kind of a point. Many writers worry about putting off their audience by being too polarizing. But you need to remember that everybody can’t be your audience anyway.

Honing your voice helps your audience choose you. And that’s what you want. Too many writers waste time trying to choose their fans. It’s much more practical to let your fans find you by offering consistent quality and an engaging voice.

That doesn’t mean you can’t take a risk. Or even miss the mark sometimes. If you ask me, more writers should take risks. But even those risks are best when they come from a deep sense of who you are and why you are writing.

"You rarely have time for everything you want in this life, so you need to make choices. And hopefully your choices can come from a deep sense of who you are." -Fred Rogers

Personally, I cover a wide variety of topics, but I still maintain my voice when I write. Whether I’m talking about something that happened to me, ranting about the world, or encouraging fellow writers, I know why I’m here. To support my daughter and live a life of freedom.

When you read my stories, I think you’ll find freedom, honesty, and vulnerability at their core. You might not like what I write, or you might only like some of my work, but as I grow and refine my voice, you’re still getting the same Shannon Ashley.

I am convinced that focusing on your voice is an effective way to get curated, because a great writing voice is about all the basics Medium is already looking to distribute.

At the end of the day, you’re the writer. You have to choose what to say and how to say it. And then, you’ve got to do it consistently. One piece that does well or goes viral doesn’t make you a writer. Consistent quality writing does.

The Post-Grad Survival Guide

Medium’s Millennial Career and Life Advice Publication. We discuss our post-grad blues, successes, failures, and everyday life right here. Featuring topics related to work, relationships, travel, finances, and so much more.

Shannon Ashley

Written by

Single mama, fulltime writer, exvangelical. It's not about being flawless, it's about being honest. Top Writer. shannon.ashley.medium@gmail.com

The Post-Grad Survival Guide

Medium’s Millennial Career and Life Advice Publication. We discuss 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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