7 Insights About Medium From a 7 Year Medium Veteran
Don’t worry, uncle Ayo is here to set you all straight.
By the time you finish this article, you’ll have a proper understanding of how Medium works and what you need to do to be successful on the platform.
You should trust me, if for no other reason, because I’m one of the longest-tenured writers on the website.
I published my first Medium article in November 2015. I have been regularly writing and publishing on the site, pretty much every day, for the past seven years.
I’ve seen writers become superstars on the platform, only to burn out and leave.
I’ve seen like six dozen “Why I’m leaving Medium” articles from writers with the wrong mindset.
I know the pitfalls new Medium writers fall into. I see your mistakes coming from a mile away.
Medium is a different platform than it was way back when.
If you want to succeed in life, you need to be adaptable and ready to change. The same can be said for thriving on this platform.
Let me show you how.
The Mindset You Must Have to Succeed on Medium
Medium owes you nothing.
It’s not a charity. Hell, it’s not even your employer. When you write on Medium, you are a contractor who gets paid based on your performance. I’ve noticed a distinct change in the attitudes of new writers on the platform.
When I started writing on Medium, I was just happy to have a place to share my words. I’m glad I started on Medium before the partner program launched because I didn’t have money as a motivator.
If you want to make it as a writer, you have to improve your craft for the sake of improving your craft. Rid yourself of a sense of entitlement or you will fail.
The Partner Program created a great opportunity for writers, but it also created a perverse incentive because the promise of money makes you focus on the money itself too much instead of focusing on your craft and making money as a byproduct of writing stuff people want to read.
You need to get better at writing, period.
What’s Your Alternative?
If you can’t make it on Medium, then where else are you going to go?
If you think Medium is hard, let me tell you about the way writing worked when I got started.
You had to build a WordPress blog.
If you wanted traffic you had to:
- Guest Post: This involved pitching random websites to publish your articles. If you got accepted, you had to spend 10-20 hours writing a single article. If the piece did well, you might get 50-100 subscribers.
- SEO: With SEO, you need to write 2-3,000 word articles and reach out to dozens and hundreds of people to link back to them. You’d also have to wait six to 12 months before your article made it to the first page.
- List Building: You’d have to configure an email marketing software, set up a landing page, create a lead magnet, and learn how to write compelling copy to get people to sign up.
Then, if you somehow managed to claw your way to get a few thousand email subscribers, you’d have to sell them something to monetize your work — books, coaching, courses, affiliate programs. If you’re really good, maybe three percent of the people who see your offers would actually buy them.
I was on that path until I discovered Medium — the easiest path to making money writing I’ve ever come across. If you can’t make it here, good luck dude.
Really, go ahead and try the other options.
Start a substack and try to get 100 people to personally pay you $10/month or 200 to pay $5 instead of making $1,000+ per month just writing Medium articles. I have a substack, too. I diversify, too.
Twitter and LinkedIn? Both have a ton of organic reach, and you should write on those platforms, but you’re still going to have to create offers for sale to make money.
But I still understand that standing out is an uphill battle no matter where you publish.
Keep your eyes peeled for opportunities. Nothing wrong with hedging. But you won’t get anywhere in your writing career by having mediocre success on a bunch of random platforms.
Get good at at least one them…
The Indie Model Works Best
A few years back, Medium hired a bunch of fancy editors and brought in outside writers — subject matter ‘experts,’ journalists, quote un quote real writers.
They pushed these journalistic-style publications hard.
They featured the articles on the homepage of every single Medium reader, flooded their inboxes with these ‘substantive’ pieces, and took the time to edit and curate the work of indie writers who got accepted into these Medium-owned publications.
It didn’t work.
No matter how hard they tried, nobody wanted to read that shit.
Indie writers and publication owners built Medium. It belongs to them. I agree that pivoting away from them was a mistake. Medium would be smart to pour its resources back into the people who built the platform in the first place.
Yes, increase the editorial standards, make curation more difficult so it actually means something, push the algo to feature the best writing, but do it through the independent creators and focus on what the readers want.
It comforts me to know that the editor of one of the publications with the highest editorial standards is taking the helm. I welcome the growth of publications with high standards like Better Humans. It can be done. I think it will be done.
Don’t Focus on the Competition, Outlast Them
It’s true. The number of writers on Medium has grown dramatically. There is more competition.
But competition has never been relevant to me for one simple reason.
Most people quit. For everyone 100 writers who try to make it on Medium, maybe one or two do. The other 98 writers have what it takes to succeed, but they’re soft and quit when faced with any sort of challenge.
If you want a hard number, you need to write about 100 articles before you find your voice.
The students who do well in my writing program usually stick with it for 90 days to six months and then experience a jump in stats.
The beginning of the journey is the most difficult because you have to fight your way out of obscurity. But if you just stay the course for a little while, good things will start to happen.
Why no staying power my friend?
I thought you loved to write.
I wrote for free for two years because I love the game. I was hungry to get good. Are you? I never got discouraged. Will you? I never blamed my results on anyone else but me.
Medium ebbs and flows. It has ups and downs. If you can’t ride the waves, you’ll wipe out.
If You Want to Succeed as a Writer, You Must Understand The Power Law
The 80/20 rule is ubiquitous.
20 percent of the people make 80 percent of the money. 20 percent of the writers get 80 percent of the readers. Even for your own words, 20 percent of your articles will account for 80 percent of the views.
Most writers don’t make huge bank on Medium, but it’s always been that way.
The percentage of writers who made more than $100 a month was exactly the same during the ‘gold rush’ as it is now. Medium could create the perfect algorithm, but the 80/20 effect wouldn’t go away.
A lot of people have a hard time grasping power law effects. They want things to be ‘fair’ and ‘evenly distributed.’ Every time an institution tries to arbitrarily flatten out the distribution and make things ‘fair,’ it never works.
Medium shouldn’t try to do it, nor should you want it to.
You should want to reach the top 20 percent. There’s plenty of room up there because, as I said, most writers quit and don’t try hard enough. I can make pretty much anyone a top ten percent Medium writer as long as they’re willing to do the work.
If you’re willing to do the work, you can become a top Medium writer, period.
Write About Subjects You Love, But Do It the Right Way
When it comes to becoming a top writer, get rid of the myth that you have to write about certain subjects to get paid. I would say to avoid giving out writing advice articles if you don’t have much experience. I waited years before I did it.
There are a bunch of writers who achieved success without writing about writing, or money, or tech, or self-improvement.
I appreciate Medium trying to find a diverse array of topics and styles. I want to step up my game and be more creative while teaching my students to do the same.
Focus on finding the best intersection between your interests and the interests of readers. Yes, you’ll have to jazz it up a bit with marketing, but it’s a lie to say marketing and art are mutually exclusive.
I succeeded in the crowded space of self-improvement because I blended marketing and craft together. I may package my words in a pretty box to get you to read them, but my readers can tell that I care about my craft, so it works.
Maybe you consider certain writing low-brow. Fine. But other people enjoy it. So, let them. Who died and made you the emperor of all things literary?
Some people may think my writing is low-brow. From the bottom of my heart, I’d like them to know that I don’t give a fuck about their opinion at all.
If you want to succeed in the digital writing world, you gotta throw a little pizazz on top of your art. It doesn’t make you a sell-out. It makes you someone who understands how the game works.
Where We Go From Here
The present moment presents the perfect opportunity to make a bet on Medium. I look at it like a stock that’s been beaten up a bit. Now is the time to ‘buy low’ and ride the wave back to the top. My views were down for a while, but they’ve since rebounded.
New leadership presents new opportunities. I’m confident in Tony and I’m pushing in all my chips.
Medium has gone through, I’d say, three major pivots. We’re probably at Medium 4.0 right now.
Here’s what it looks like to me:
- Instead of a few writers making $20-50k, there is a large number of writers making $1-5k and a few still at 10+.
- There are a lot of new writers and publications in the mix. Some will stick around and others won’t. That’s how it always has been, though. I can spout some names of top writers and pubs you’ve never heard of. I’ve stuck around for every cycle and I’ll stick around for this one.
- Medium has every imperative to continue to step up its game because it does have competitors. That’s why it’s important to stay sharp. You want to be ready for every opportunity that presents itself in the writing world. Medium is still king, for now, so practice on the platform while you can. Maybe it dies one day, but we are nowhere near that point.
Obviously, if I were in charge of Medium, I’d make some changes. But I’m not, so I can only adapt as best I can. I’m confident that I can do that because I always trust myself and my craft above all else.
I will continue to teach and inspire others to step up their game as well.
Let’s have some fun.
I’m going to start experimenting with all sorts of writing styles, marketing techniques, and new Medium strategies. This new publication is one of them.
If you’d like to be a part of Practice in Public, send a pitch to email@example.com
Be creative and I’ll accept you 🙂