How to Make a Full-Time Income on Medium (Maybe)

Write a lot and build an audience. Repeat. Repeat.

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

So, this is exciting.

I made a full-time income writing on Medium in March. It’s first time.

I made enough to pay all of my family’s bills, buy all of our food, put gas in our cars, take a trip to visit my daughter without going into debt.

It feels weird to share that. Income is a private thing, after all.

I know that you probably opened this post hoping for easy answer. Some hack or tip or trick that will let you make a bunch of money writing on Medium. The truth is that it’s not easy. This isn’t passive income (at all.) This isn’t fast.

But, it’s possible.

It’s important to me that you know that it’s possible.

I went to a panel at a writer’s conference today on how to earn a living as a writer — and it was kind of crap. Three people sat behind a table and spent an hour and fifteen minutes talking about why you don’t need an MFA — they each have one, and it hasn’t done anything for them.

One of them works as a copy editor.

One of them sells vintage and designer clothing.

The last one never said what exactly she does.

I realized something. It’s super hard to talk about earning a living as a writer. It isn’t straight forward, most of the time. It’s not like some other jobs.

Like, for instance, being a teacher, where you graduate, pay for a license, and go interview with principals.

There’s so much hope involved. So much work that has to be done before you know you’re ever going to make a living. So much frustration.

So, I guess I just hope that I can light a path.

Sometimes all it takes is knowing it’s possible.

This was my third month of writing pretty much full-time here on Medium. I’ve been writing on Medium with varying levels of consistency since the spring of 2017 — so two years.

I wrote 103 posts on Medium in this pay period. I am aware that that’s a lot. It’s kind of eye-popping. But, like I said, I wrote on Medium like it was my job. I’d say I put 30 hours a week into it.

I’ve been thinking about whether or not what I’ve been doing is something that someone else could re-create. That’s the essence of scientific study, right? It’s not enough for me to say I did it. I want to think about whether or not someone else could.

I think someone could. And I definitely think that pretty much anyone writing on Medium can increase their income here.

The key to the whole recreation thing is that I’m pretty sure I’m not getting any special help from Medium. There are writers that seem to have every single post curated. I’m not one of them. It’s frustrating as hell sometimes, but I’m definitely not getting any special treatment from Medium.

I’m in control of how much I write. I’ve built my own audience, which supplements the audience that comes just from posting on Medium. I don’t get any more than a normal amount of support for my work from Medium itself.

I do have a platform.

An active Facebook group, an email list. The Facebook group is nice (actually, it’s amazing), but as far as Medium goes, it doesn’t lead to a huge number of views to my posts.

My email list does better and I think is my most important tool.

What both of those tools — my email list and my Facebook group — do is give my posts an early boost. They also give me a sort of control group. Having my own audience makes it easier for me to understand what readers want from me.

My best advice is to start building an email list as soon as you can.

Today. I use ConvertKit and I’m pretty evangelical about it. It’s the best money I spend all month.

Having an email list has changed my life. It’s given me a way that no one else controls to reach out to people who have let me know that they want to hear from me.

It’s given me an audience.

There are only two things that writers really need: a finished manuscript (book, short story, article, whatever) and someone to read it.

One of the easiest, most effective ways to build a platform here on Medium is to start your own publication. You can reach out to readers via the letters feature. But even then, you should start to build your own email list. Something that belongs to you.

I think of myself as an editor.

I figure that if I’m going to write on Medium like a job, I need a schedule.

I write a blog post first thing and send an email to my list. Then I write fiction. In the evening, after dinner, I write my Commonplace Book Project post and my Writer Life log. And I send out another email.

Those last two are series posts. I write them everyday. Together they take me about an hour. I enjoy working on them. Neither of them are blockbusters — but they both get a smallish, steady readership.

I try to pay attention to what readers are responding to. A small steady readership is good. If no one was reading those series posts, I’d rethink them. I write what I want, but I also try to write what people want to read.

It’s a give-and-take. I’m a writer, but I also have to be an editor. I have to decide what goes into my publications and whether or not a post is worth my time. I have to figure out how to reach readership goals.

Just like an editor.

Basically: I wrote a lot. I curated my own work, focusing on building a readership. And I utilized my own audience, rather than counting on Medium as the only source of readers.

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

Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She lives in Reno with her husband, three superstar kids, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the original Ninja Writer.