Why You’re Not Earning Anything on Medium
Lessons learned after 3 viral articles
I don’t know why, but I really enjoy reading about how much people earn on Medium.
It seems that there are three types of earners:
- people who publish frequently (at least once a day, but sometimes more often) and earn a predictable, growing amount each month
- people who publish less frequently but nab the coveted Member Feature spots, or who write a few articles that go viral (usually by accident)
- people who try really, really hard but don’t make as much money as they think they should be making
This article is for those of you who fall into the last category.
I’ve been reading a lot of stories from frustrated writers who are putting a huge amount of effort into their work but seeing little return on their investment.
I used to fall into the third category. I moved into the second category after publishing three articles that went viral unexpectedly. I’m slowly moving into the first category after taking some time to reflect upon what made those viral articles so popular.
Here is what I learned.
Medium is unlike any other platform.
Paying members are very like-minded and tend to gravitate toward a certain type of article, regardless of the niche.
- Articles by people who are experts on a given topic tend to do well.
- Articles written by experts who are willing to be vulnerable do even better.
- Articles about personal experiences tend to do well.
- Articles about personal experiences that people usually don’t talk about do even better.
I’ve spent time producing well-researched articles about health, business, and finance. I’ve written articles that were politically relevant and timely. I’ve written how-to articles that got less than 50 views (and even fewer reads). I’ve written articles that would probably have thrived on other platforms, but they all flopped on Medium.
Yet, many times when I write an emotionally charged rant, I wake up to hundreds of notifications, dozens of emails, too many LinkedIn invitations to count, and messages from people all over the world (literally) thanking me for writing about what they have been experiencing.
What are you writing about?
If you’re frustrated with your earnings, your following, or reader engagement, take a moment to consider what you’re writing about.
You might be writing well-researched articles, but if you have to spend hours researching a topic, a group of people, or a cultural phenomenon, those words might not be yours to write.
Think about it from the reader’s perspective: would you rather read a well-researched article about bankruptcy, or a “lessons learned” article from someone who has been there?
Would you rather read a well-researched article about a medical condition, or a first-person narrative from someone who is living with it?
If your readers can find the same information on Wikipedia, let them find it there.
They come to Medium to read your story, not to read your notes (with a few exceptions: freeCodeCamp is one of them — and, clearly, those articles are free).
This doesn’t mean that just because you have to do research, you shouldn’t be writing something. That’s not what I’m saying and my words shouldn’t be construed as such. Of course you should do research and provide accurate sources when necessary, but if you want to succeed here, tell your own story, not someone else’s.
If you’re struggling to come up with ideas, you might be thinking too hard.
Write about something you know or something you’ve been through. Offer a unique perspective.
Enough with the writing challenges that force you to publish daily just for the hell of it. Publish thoughtfully, regardless of the frequency of your posts. If you have 50 articles a month just begging to be written, cool. If you only have 1 or 2, that’s cool too.
You can (and should) write about:
- successes and failures
- lessons learned from difficult experiences
- hopes and dreams
- things you know a lot about and can teach others (emphasis on “can teach others”; this is why freeCodeCamp is so successful)
- aspirations and fears
- new or different perspectives
Give your readers a chance to empathize with you just as often as you give them a chance to learn from you. Just remember, though, that readers like to learn from people they trust, so adding a human element to your work is necessary.
People like to read about personal experiences, but only when there is a lesson to be learned.
Would you rather read about someone’s experiences changing cat litter, or someone’s experiences overcoming imposter syndrome as they started a new job?
Would you rather read about someone’s favorite music, or about how someone conquered the music industry against all odds?
Medium doesn’t function well as a blog in this respect. Although people do follow certain writers, they generally do so because they like the writer’s style, not because they want to know what the writer ate for breakfast today.
On the bright side, you can thrive on Medium even if you don’t write in a particular niche. You don’t need to write about the same topic every day in order to have your articles distributed by Medium’s curators. You can write a viral article about technology today and a viral article about relationships tomorrow.
If you’re writing frequently, but your articles are not getting distributed at all, think about what new insights you offer or what lessons your readers can walk away with.
And keep in mind that Medium’s curators don’t get the chance to read every single article. Sometimes, a brilliant article doesn’t get curated. I’ve noticed that if a story is still “pending curator review” after 24–36 hours, it usually doesn’t get curated. If I think an article is really special, sometimes I’ll delete it and re-publish it. It’s a 50/50 gamble; about half the time, it gets curated the second time around.
EDITED on 27 November 2019: You cannot do this anymore! Thank you Shannon Ashley for bringing this to light, as I was not one of the writers who received an email about it and would not have known otherwise.
People do like to read “ramblings” if they can relate to the subject matter.
A rambling piece about why you don’t like a certain book is unlikely to do as well as an emotionally-charged confession or a relatable, free-flowing piece about a break-up.
If you’re not writing something that teaches a lesson or offers a new perspective, write something emotional that your readers can connect with.
Don’t get discouraged.
Before you start to doubt your abilities as a writer, consider this:
- Medium’s curators prefer a specific format, and readers do, too. Maybe you just need to add an image, headers and sub-headers, bullet points, or properly format your titles. Maybe your paragraphs are long and hard to read. Maybe your article is full of great insights, but not organized well enough for readers to follow your thought process.
- Certain tags are much more popular on Medium than others. Small niches have small audiences. You might not be able to achieve superstardom if you’re writing exclusively in a small niche — even if you’re a world renowned author.
- You can always delete an article and re-publish it if you believe it should have been distributed. I deleted and re-published one article three times, and the third time, it was distributed into multiple tags and got thousands of views. (EDIT: Again, this is no longer true as of 27 November 2019.)
- Your voice is unique, and people do want to hear about your experiences. Especially the unusual ones. This might seem like conflicting advice, since I just advised you not to write exclusively in small niches, but here is what I mean: writing 100 articles about the study of plants might not make you Medium famous, but writing about how you discovered a new plant right as you were about quit your job as a botanist is something that could pique any reader’s curiosity.
Keep an open mind. Not every piece has to be a masterpiece. But if you happen to have a masterpiece sitting inside you, let it out. Don’t sit there thinking about which topics are trending or which controversies you can piggyback on. Just write from the heart, and speak directly to your audience. If you do this regularly, you will thrive.