How NOT to Succeed on Medium

Jason Deane
Oct 5, 2019 · 9 min read

My first line for this article was going to be “I am the perfect example of how NOT to succeed on Medium!”

But then I realized that’s not exactly true. In many ways I’m not a ‘perfect’ example as I haven’t made the usual mistakes listed in the ubiquitous ‘How to Succeed on Medium’ articles that litter the platform, but I can definitely say I am not a success here. And this is even more interesting because I have actually had some success away from Medium.

Let’s think about this for a minute. How can someone who has published two books (one of which made the Amazon finance top 100) AND has provided marketing copy writing for large companies such as Microsoft AND made an (albeit small) income from a Wordpress site not be able to make more than a couple of cents on Medium?

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Yup, that’s my second book at number 81 in Amazon’s top 100 finance chart, outselling — for a brief period — Richard Kiyosaki’s ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’ and Napoleon Hill’s ‘Think and Grow Rich’. Definitely not going to make Medium’s top 100 at this rate though!

It’s actually quite an achievement if you think about it. Even my blog that had previously earned a small amount of money immediately stopped earning after moving it to the platform and redirecting the original URL. I’m still earning from my books and activities linked with them, but my blogging income has dropped to zero.

And yet people do very well on here, so I can’t help but take it a bit personally. Am I being paranoid? Is Medium against me? Am I just a crap writer who has finally been exposed as the fraud I must always have been?

Or is it something else?

I’ve read hundreds of articles by some of Medium’s biggest authors -and many smaller ones- to ‘learn the platform’ and, well, I think I did I quite well. Let’s review the checklist:

Write passionately — CHECK

I can’t write any other way. I love writing, but it doesn’t come naturally to me and I find it hard going pretty much all the time. Therefore, it has to be something I really want to write about or I’ll just not finish it or do it properly.

Write about things you know about — CHECK

My professional life is all about Bitcoin and cryptocurrency, so I write about that often. But I’m also into finance and money management, so that creeps in too, which is OK as it’s related. I can write about these things all day (and frequently do) but I also happen to think I’m a pretty good dad, so I like to write passionately about that too.

The bottom line is that I only write about stuff that I have passion for, know a bit about or have a story that I think might be useful — or even just entertaining — for others. In my book (pun intended), that’s a ‘check.’

Write in about one subject or create publications — CHECK

Like many writers, I want to write about anything and everything and that’s a problem to get a following. The best advice is usually to write about one subject (in my case probably Bitcoin and finance) but I’ve noticed that many successful writers get round this by creating publications for different subject areas.

I love that idea and have ‘Magpie’d it’ (as my kids cutely describe blatant plagiarism) with publications for cryptocurrency (OriginalCryptoGuy) and my learnings from being a dad (On Being Dad) with a couple more to come based around money and observational life stuff. They’re laid out nicely, the content is relevant and current and ‘both’ my readers agree that’s the case.

It would just be nice if I get a couple of their friends in.

Write regularly — CHECK

In 45 days of being a member on Medium I have published 58 articles over three main categories — cryptocurrency, being a dad and life observations. That’s 1.3 a day, which is pretty much where I should be by all accounts and some of them were even quite good, even though I say so myself.

There’s another hundred or so in development, some of which will make the final cut, and others which will end up in the virtual bin. ‘Showing up’ and ‘putting in the work’ are things I am used to as it applies to any category of success, not just writing.

Write for publications — CHECK (ish)

OK, so I haven’t done terribly well in this category, submitting a grand total of three pieces to publications I don’t edit, so I can’t give myself a full ‘Check’ here. There’s much more to be done, but the truth is my results so far have reduced my confidence to a level where I’m convinced myself they wouldn’t be interested in someone who appears — outwardly at least — to be about as unsuccessful on this platform as it is possible to be. I can’t actually tell whether that matters or not at this stage.

Write curatable pieces — CHECK

This was one of the first things I learned using the guidelines, especially about pictures, layout, spelling, length and format, even ensuring the title is properly capitalised.

I made sure they all complied fully and even changed some of the pictures under advice for ones that weren’t quite as good, but couldn’t possibly cause any licensing issues.

That said, I must admit once I learned they hadn’t been curated, there’s a few I changed back, like some rebellious act by a defiant child who’s been told they can’t go to the park after all because they’ve been too naughty. I couldn’t help it. I liked them. And it wasn’t going to make any difference anyway.

Of course, none of this guarantees curation, but the point was to remove any obvious obstacles to it’s happening.

So, with all the check boxes ticked, how am I doing after 45 days?

I’d read many articles on how people became top writers in 7 days, or had made large amounts of money in a month, or had 30% of their stories curated, which I found really quite eye opening and interesting, but really my ambitions were a bit lower — to simply earn a few hundred pounds a month doing something I enjoyed doing and had, in fact, already earned some money from.

I really didn’t think it would be that hard. After all, the ingredients were there, right?

So, after 45 days, what have I achieved?

Stories — 58

Followers — 18

Earnings — $0.45

Curated articles — ZERO

ZERO? How on earth was it ZERO? Has anyone actually achieved that before?Sure, there’s some great stuff on Medium (actually really great if I’m honest) and standards are pretty high but could I really be that …bad?

Apparently so.

And this was obviously the answer to the whole earnings issue, currently giving me an average hourly income of $0.0017. That works out to be $3.54 a year provided I continue to put 40 hours a week into blogging. I could buy a well earned Latte for my troubles. Or I could save up for two years and get a large one. With a vanilla shot.

With no followers, there’s no traffic and no claps. But with no curation, there’s no new promotion. Even the articles I’d submitted to publications had garnished an average readership of 1 (yes, that’s ONE read) over a three week period, whilst the articles either side had managed to gain a respectable number of claps. That’s even worse. Obviously the mere mention of my name is enough to put people off!

Of course, I don’t blame Medium for this. The platform clearly works and evidence of that is abundant, but somehow I’m doing something fundamentally wrong. If I can find out what it is, it could help any number of people who are struggling.

Thus, the idea of this article was born along with a new focus not on writing, but on how to do it in a way Medium likes.

However, there’s one part of the all too common ‘Medium is all rigged blah-blah-blah’ conspiracy theory crap thrown about as a convenient excuse by unsuccessful writers like me that may actually hold a bit of water. It’s so subtle, it took me weeks to notice. It’s to do with curation, or, in my case, total lack of it.

I spotted by about my thirtieth article that they were being curated REALLY quickly — usually within ten minutes — and the inevitable ‘not distributed in topics’ message would appear.

I’d submit another article and the same thing would happen and, after a while, I started to get suspicious. Some of these articles were seven or eight minutes long, so there was barely time to read them from the point of submission. Since it seemed unlikely that a curator was sitting and waiting at a desk for my items to come in, something else must have been going on.

Something didn’t ‘feel right.’

Incredibly, I hadn’t noticed that there was a little information button next to the ‘not distributed’ message and, for the first time, I hovered over it to see this message:

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Our curators were not able to review this story for distribution in topics due to high volume. This story will be shared with followers.

So, hang on, this means it wasn’t even looked at? I went through and checked all of my stories, one by one. Sure enough, almost all of them had the same message.

Have I picked the only 45 days in Mediums history where this is occurring? Does this happen to everyone, even the ‘big’ writers? Does this mean it’ll be curated later? It’s one thing to have your writing rejected because it’s not good enough, it’s another to be told none of it will ever be looked at anyway.

So that raises the inevitable question: is this normal and is it therefore a complete waste of time submitting anything, ever?

I can’t answer that. Not yet anyway. But the discovery of this little line on my dashboard has reduced my confidence in the platform to an all time low.

I’m sad about it, actually. I love it. I love finding new writers and reading interesting things. I love its simple and robust interface (anyone who’s used Wordpress will tell you how awkward it can be) and I love all the menu driven systems that support it. It’s, frankly, brilliant in its simplicity.

But what’s the point if there’s no chance of anything being curated due to ‘high volume?’ What does Medium now offer over my previous sites that I have just moved to the platform?

In an effort to find out, I have sent this article to some of the big names on Medium — the movers and shakers, the people who know it best, the people who write the most. It could be I’m doing something fundamentally wrong and that’s OK, I just need to know and I’ll fix it. Or have I somehow fallen foul of the powers that be at Medium and will be perpetually in the ‘volume too high’ zone, the writer’s equivalent of the dreaded ‘Friend-zone.’

So, if I’ve sent you a link to this piece I am reaching out to you for your view and experience. Take it as a compliment. It means you’re in a place I aspire to be. It means I’ve read and appreciated your work. It means I value your opinion. It also gives you licence to be brutal — I can take it (I’ve read your ‘rejection’ articles after all!).

And if you arrived here by other means — either looking for the same answers I am or just curious — I’d love to hear from you too.

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If I fall, make sure the flag still flies … (Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash)

And, if this article DOES turn out to be my swan song, I’ll still update it with what I learned, so that as I fall I can pass the flag to the next ranks in the hope that they can struggle through the metaphorical battlefield and storm the impenetrable fortress of Medium with greater success than I.

And when you get there, raise a glass to your old colleague Jason, who fell in the battle but maybe, just maybe, in some small way, helped you get there.

Epilogue: Ok, all very overly-dramatic, but I don’t actually intend to leave Medium or reinstate my old sites as I still think it’s a great repository for my work and for finding great articles by other writers. But as for earning money from it? That’s the part I’ve lost confidence in — for now. As I learn more about what my mistakes were, I’ll publish an update and we’ll move forward together!

The Roundabout

Publication for my stories that don’t have a home elsewhere.

Jason Deane

Written by

I blog on things I am passionate about: Bitcoin, writing, money, life’s crazy turns and being a dad. Lover of learning, family and cheese. (jasondeane@msn.com)

The Roundabout

Publication for my stories that don’t have a home elsewhere. Enjoy!

Jason Deane

Written by

I blog on things I am passionate about: Bitcoin, writing, money, life’s crazy turns and being a dad. Lover of learning, family and cheese. (jasondeane@msn.com)

The Roundabout

Publication for my stories that don’t have a home elsewhere. Enjoy!

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