How I Increased my Medium Earnings from $180 to $3000 in Three Months

Spoiler: I wrote a lot.

Shaunta Grimes
Nov 20, 2019 · 11 min read

I originally wrote this post in February 2019. It’s November 2019 now — a year since the month when I made $180. I’m on track to earn $10,000 from Medium this month. I did make more than $9,000 in October. That was up from over $6,000 in September.

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Note: October’s pay came in two parts. (Screenshot: Author)

But that first effort — those first three months — were the most important. They proved to me that I could make a decent income here. The advice here still works, for the most part. It’s evergreen.

Anything that feels outdated, I’ve updated below in bold type. I hope this helps.

Medium gives its writers an estimate of their weekly earnings every Wednesday — and on the last Wednesday of the month, it lets us know what our paychecks will be. (Medium updates earnings daily now!)

I’ve gone back and forth about how transparent to be about how much I’m earning. On one hand, it seems super weird. On the other, I’d want to know what’s possible.

I’m not sure that I’ll do this every month, but I figured that I would give you an idea of the last few months.

Let’s start here. I decided to put more effort into Medium when a friend told me in that she was earning $1000 a week — which was about the most I’d ever earned in a month.

It had never occurred to me that regular, non-famous writers without massive platforms were earning that kind of money on Medium month-after-month, with posts that weren’t going super viral or ending up on the front page or something.

So, I got bit in the butt by the idea that if she could do it, I could, too.

November 2018

I didn’t actually write much in November — between moving from Nevada to Pennsylvania and having a book due on January 1 to my publisher, I just didn’t have time.

I wrote nine posts in November and in early December I was paid $182.78.

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December 2018

About halfway through December, I had that conversation with my friend and decided to dig in and try to earn some more money on Medium.

My entire strategy was to write more often and also try to do a better job of promoting my own posts outside Medium. For me, that meant emailing links to relevant posts to my email list, sharing posts on Facebook, and posting links on Twitter.

I also starting posting some of my posts in my own publication (The 1000 Day MFA) and the following for that started building.

I wrote 28 posts in December and in early January I was paid $791.77.

About $300 of that came in the last week of the month, when my writing picked up significantly. You can easily see where that happened in the chart below.

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January 2019

In January, I got really serious. I started the Commonplace Book Project, which is a daily post. And I wrote at least one more post (usually about writing or productivity, sometimes something more personal) every day. I also cleaned up and republished some posts from a couple of years ago.

I wrote 77 posts in January and in early February was paid $1815.55. Super exciting — the most I’d ever earned via Medium in one month. It was a ton of work, but far less (and far more pleasant) than working 27 hours and 45 minutes a week as a teacher’s aid earning about the same amount.

I’d say in January I worked about 3 hours a day, most every day.

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February 2019

In February I continued with my daily writing or productivity post and the Commonplace Book Project. I wrote a couple extra posts when the mood hit and toward the end of the month I started to experiment with writing in my 60 Months to Ironman publication every day as well. So that brought me up to three posts.

(Looking back from the perspective of a year, I think it’s important to point out that I didn’t jump right into writing at the pace of two or three posts a day. It took me three months to build to it.)

I wrote 89 posts in February — which is slightly insane. Still, less time and effort than I’d put into a regular day job. I don’t have to sell anything, which I love. The writing is pleasant. If it ever becomes a toil, I’ll have to rethink things, I guess.

But for now, I put about four hours a day into it, pretty much every day. It’s a solid part-time job.

And it paid off in February. In early March, I’ll be paid $3051.89. Which is considerably more than I made at my last day job and probably about as much as I’d make at my best prospect for a day job now: High School English Teacher.

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Here are some things I did to increase my earnings.

The first two are by far the most important. I wrote a lot and I tried to write things that Medium would promote for me. The rest helped — some — but I don’t know how significantly.

I wrote. A lot.

I started with a post a day in December, went to two posts a day in January, and I’m up to four posts a day in February. A year later I’ve settled into a pace of one new post and one republished post most days — occasionally I’ll be motivated to write a third post in a day. I very rarely write four in a day now.

I’m pretty sure this is where I’m going to stay for now. It feels like a good pace.

I’ve been asked a few times if I feel like I’m going to burn out or run out of ideas. I’m not too worried about either one. Maybe because I was a newspaper reporter in a different life?

I Worked on Writing Posts that Medium Would Curate

Medium promotes some posts in their topics.

I wish I could give you some insight in to how that works, but I have none. It can feel very arbitrary and subjective. All I can say is that if you write relevant, insightful posts, tag them well, give them good headlines, add a decent picture — Medium might share them more widely.

When they do that, it’s a good thing.

I’ve noticed that the more consistently I write, the more often Medium curates my posts. It’s almost always my posts about writing or productivity that are curated. Sometimes a more personal essay. Nearly never a Commonplace Book Project post.

My best advice is to pay attention to which posts of yours that Medium curates and write more like that. And don’t forget your tags. Use all five of them.

I created my own series.

One reason I’m not worried about running out of ideas is because I organized my posts into my own series. The Commonplace Book Project starts with a quote and goes from there. There are a nearly unlimited number of quotes out there, so I’m good.

In February I added a daily post in 60 Months to Ironman, which is basically a journal or diary. It takes some time, but close to zero research.

I’ve started writing a daily writing log type thing, too. I’m not sure how long those will last. I suppose as long as people want to read them and show me by reading and clapping. I’ll be okay if that one fades away. Something else will pop up to take its place.

Medium does not curate posts that are in series. It’s important to note that they work pretty well for me because I have an established audience. If I was just starting out, I would focus on entirely on posts Medium will curate. It’s that important. If you do want to try a series, it should be an additional experiment.

I Used My Own Publications

Like I said, I have two. I put my writing-related posts in one and some health/personal essays in the other.

Publications are little bit like having your own website. You can set up tabs across the top to organize your posts in and readers can follow them, in addition to following you.

And you can send ‘letters’ to your publication followers. Which means you can email them.

I started a third publication after this post was originally written.

I Started a Couple of Medium Series

This is the only piece of advice I think you can entirely ignore now.

I don’t have the slightest clue how other people are using series. I started two of them. One to hold all my Commonplace Book Project posts and the other to hold the posts that I’m writing about 25 habits for writers.

I’m not sure how much good they’ll do in the long run, but I do like that they’re an easy way to keep collections of posts together. And if people start to follow them, I think Medium sends them notification when I add a post to them, which is nice.

It would be awesome if you subscribed to one or both!

I Self-Promoted

I used my email list. This was a little scary. I’m expecting to get some comments on this post from email subscribers that are like…yeah, you flooded my inbox!

I’ve been sending two emails a day. One in the evening with my Commonplace Book Project post link and one in the morning/early afternoon with my writing or productivity post link.

I also post in Facebook and on Twitter — but to be honest, I don’t get a whole lot of traffic from those. A tiny percentage. The best thing that posting on social media does is give me some early traffic, which I think might have an impact on Medium’s algorithms for distributing my posts. But I’m not 100 percent sure of that.

My friend who started this whole odyssey by telling me she was making $1000 a week did not have an email list in December and didn’t do a ton of self-promo. Far less than me. And now that I’m nearly caught up with what she was making in December? She’s making $2000 a week.

So you can definitely do this without a lot of access to self-promotional avenues. I still highly recommend you get an email list going.

I also started trying to teach my readers how to interact with my posts, so that Medium will pay me. Mainly, I thank them for clapping if they enjoy my posts and let them know that it supports Ninja Writers when they do.

If you’d like to join my email list, you can do that with the form at the end of this post.

What I didn’t do and what I think doesn’t matter.

I didn’t focus too much on my personal followers on Medium.

I think it’s AWESOME that 16,000+ people have let me know they like what I write. It’s super gratifying and sometimes it keeps me going.

But it is nearly impossible to access those followers.

If I post something on Medium and it doesn’t get curated and I don’t email it out to my list, it languishes. It gets no more views than someone with no following at all on Medium. That’s the truth.

I was wrong about followers. They matter a lot. If you don’t have any, Medium has no one to share your posts with. I have nearly 25,000 now. It’s still difficult to reach them, but they do matter and I think more about growing them now than I did back in February.

I also didn’t pay for ads.

Well none outside of a few boosted posts if something is doing exceptionally well and I think there’s some benefit to getting more eyeballs on it outside of earning money on Medium.

Because here’s the thing: traffic that comes from outside Medium doesn’t generally lead to a bigger paycheck. Those readers usually are not paying members of Medium, which means that even if they figure out they can clap for posts they like, the writer isn’t paid for the interaction.

I have a post I wrote two years ago that has more than 6000 views. About 5800 of them came from Google. It has 20 fans. In two years, 20 out of 6000 readers clapped for it, because almost none of them came from Medium.

We’re paid via reads now, not claps. That changes everything. I’m using SEO more now than I used to, in an effort to drive traffic. I still only boost a post on Facebook here and there, though. I wish there was a way to target Medium subscribers on Facebook, but as far as I know, there’s not.

I (mostly) didn’t try to be published in publications I don’t own.

I did post twice in one publication. Those two posts were two of the lowest performing of all the posts I’ve written since November.

I’m whether or not it’s a good idea not to post in publications. It’s just not been my focus. I like having control over when my posts are published. A couple of years ago, I did really well publishing in publications, but it seems that these days with Medium working to curate and promote high-quality posts, it doesn’t seem to matter as much.

I might experiment more with this in the future, but between December and February it wasn’t my focus at all.

It still isn’t my focus. Getting into Medium’s own publications is a nice boost though. But other people’s regular publications still aren’t a real important part of my process. That being said, if I was just starting out I might make an effort to get into some of the big ones though, to help build my following in the beginning and make some connections.

Okay, whew. I think that’s enough. I hope it helps!

Here’s my secret weapon for sticking with whatever your thing is.

Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, two dementia patients, a good friend, Alfred the cat, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter and Instagram and is the author of Viral Nation and Rebel Nation, and The Astonishing Maybe. She is the original Ninja Writer.

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Shaunta Grimes

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Learn. Write. Repeat. Visit me at ninjawriters.org. Reach me at shauntagrimes@gmail.com. (My posts may contain affiliate links!)

The Write Brain

Posts about productivity, business, and systems for right-brained creatives. Ideas aren’t enough. We actually have to do the things!

Shaunta Grimes

Written by

Learn. Write. Repeat. Visit me at ninjawriters.org. Reach me at shauntagrimes@gmail.com. (My posts may contain affiliate links!)

The Write Brain

Posts about productivity, business, and systems for right-brained creatives. Ideas aren’t enough. We actually have to do the things!

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