Half a Year on Medium – My Thoughts
Experiences, Money, Curation, Publications, Followers29.10.2020 - 22:09
Six months ago I published my first story on Medium. I didn’t expect much, I only posted my normal game development blog post to Medium as well. To my surprise, a few days later somebody read my story and I earned 3 cents. The first bit of money I ever earned online, which was very exciting. Half a year and almost 50 stories later, I have learned a lot and am having more fun with writing than I thought.
The almighty YouTube algorithm placed Shelby Church’s video about Medium on my feed and once again the algorithm’s decision proved correct and I clicked on it. She made a really good and informative video and to her credit, she didn’t promote any of the test stories she wrote on her massive social media channels, so the video was realistic and close to the experience a normal user would have without any following online. Even without promoting her content, she managed to earn 44 cents from her test stories on Medium.
So I decided to have a look at Medium myself. Besides the possibility to earn money from my blog posts, there was one aspect I really liked. Publishing content that you have previously published somewhere else is allowed and the content remains yours. There’s even a button to import a story directly. For the past one and a half years, I have been posting regular game development updates on my website and I didn’t want to move them to another platform. But because Medium allows reposting, there was no downside to trying it out. I tried to write my next game dev update with higher quality and published it on my website and Medium.
For a few days, nobody saw my story on Medium, but to be fair nobody was reading my blogging website either. But then, an unknown hero appeared out of nowhere and read my story. When I checked my stats and saw that it had earned 3 cents, it felt amazing. The first money I had ever earned online.
Inspired by the 3 cents, I also posted my next game dev blog post to Medium, and to my massive surprise, it got curated. Shortly after curation, I also got a message from The Startup asking whether I would like to add my story to their publication. A publication with around 500k followers at the time wants to publish a story from someone with 0 followers? Well yes, of course, publish it!
By that time I had seen an update video from Shelby Church that one of her stories got into The Startup and earned hundreds as well as one into OneZero that earned 5k. So when my story got accepted into The Startup, I got very excited and wondered whether it would mean that it was about to earn a lot of money as well.
As it turns out, it didn’t. It only got a few views and earned a few cents. The Startup accepted a lot of stories at that time so my story got buried under the noise. I got a few other stories published in The Startup after that. Later, they changed their submission guidelines and I haven’t been able to get a story accepted to The Startup since.
In May and June, I published a few more stories and some of them got curated and published in The Startup. The most successful of them was one I randomly wrote in one evening. I had been refactoring a lot of my game’s code, which wasn’t interesting for a normal game dev update post, so I wrote a Medium story about The Importance of Refactoring instead and it got 107 views on the first day and earned 50 cents.
My biggest mistake
When I was browsing Medium or watching some of Zulie Rane’s YouTube videos about writing on Medium, one piece of advice I kept seeing was to write and publish a lot of stories. Many people even seem to publish one story per day. So for July, I decided to give it a try and write daily. I managed to do it for two weeks, but then I ran out of ideas and motivation. One of the problems was that previously I had been writing about programming projects I was working on, but when I spent most of my day writing a story I didn’t have time to work on anything else, so my ideas were running low.
Another problem was that I wanted to keep the daily publishing schedule, so I didn’t try to pitch any of my stories to publications, which would have meant more exposure for them. And while three of them got curated, most of them were not. It’s not like they were not curated, they weren’t even being looked at by the curators, which felt very discouraging.
So even though I had published more stories in July than in all of the months before combined, I got fewer views and reads, because most stories were neither curated nor in a publication.
Because publishing one story per day wasn’t sustainable for me, I went back to writing more spaced out. I didn’t force myself to write, I only wrote when I had something that I felt was worth writing about. In August, I also got my first story accepted into a publication before it was published. Previously, the only stories in publications were those that were already curated, so there was no risk for the publications. But Level Up Coding accepted the draft of Debugging Without a Debugger, published it and it only got curated after publication.
I only published 5 stories in August, but 4 of them were accepted into publications and curated, among them Creating a state of the art sign-in form in UX Collective, which was my best performing story at that point.
I continued to write one to two stories per week and I got more stories accepted into publications and some of them did pretty well. And this is how I’m going to move forward. Only write when I have something worth writing about and I believe it can result in an interesting story.
Ah, curation, the love-hate relationship of every writer on Medium. First of all, curation is amazing. I don’t know of any other system on any other platform that enables smaller creators to get some exposure. When you don’t have any followers on YouTube or Twitter and you create amazing videos or tweets, they will never be picked up by the algorithm and nobody is going to see them. However, when you write a good story on Medium and it is curated, it will be recommended to people who follow that topic. It is still unlikely to be very successful, but at least it has a chance to get some traction.
However, curation has its dark sides as well. When you write a story and it doesn’t get curated it almost feels like a waste of time because very likely nobody is going to read it. Even worse than stories that are rejected from curation are those that aren’t even looked at, which happened to a lot of my stories, which felt very discouraging.
There are also the curation guidelines you need to follow to have a chance of curation. Some of them are easy to understand and to follow, while others require more interpretation. For example, this story will not be curated, because it violates the “no stories about Medium” curation rule. I understand why it’s there, but in general, I want to write stories about things that I have been working on or that are on my mind. And when I am writing a lot, it would be nice to write about writing. This seems to be what a lot of the top writers are doing anyway, or more precisely, they earn money by writing about how much money they earn.
So far, I got 39 followers, and I am extremely grateful for every single one of them. However, if there is one thing that is a mystery to me on every platform I am using, then it is how to get more followers. Especially with Medium’s recent changes towards a more relational platform that promotes more content from writers the readers follow, the number of followers is becoming more important.
As far as I can tell, the number of followers doesn’t affect curation, which is one of the biggest benefits of curation so smaller writers can get discovered. However, I believe many of the bigger publications do look at the follower count when you pitch a story. At least it feels like they are a lot more likely to publish a story from a bigger writer than one from a smaller one. Although, maybe that’s just an excuse because I cannot get in. There are some exceptions though and I am very grateful to them for giving me a chance.
So how do you get people to follow you? I have no idea, except writing good stories, but that takes a while and is very slow growth. As per medium curation and publication guidelines, calls to action are prohibited, so you cannot ask people to follow you, and even if it was allowed, I wouldn’t want to do it, because I also hate all the “please like my video and subscribe” intermissions on YouTube. So, in the end, it probably comes down to luck and patience, both things I am very bad at.
In Germany, there is a saying that you don’t talk about money. But I find it interesting to read or watch a video about other peoples’ earnings from different sources, so I’m going to share my Medium earnings as well: I have earned about 30$ from Medium so far, which is pretty cool in my opinion. Far from being able to live off of it, but a nice amount of money nonetheless, especially considering that I am a very small writer on Medium.
It would be a dream job to make enough money from writing to make a living, but that would require not only posting regularly, but also a huge amount of luck, so it’s very unlikely to happen. I would also need to find success in other areas besides programming, design, or gaming-related topics. While these are areas I am more familiar with, writing about low-level game development in C++ and OpenGL probably isn’t very sustainable.
Writing on Medium has been a very nice experience. I didn’t think that I could enjoy writing this much. In university, I hated writing scientific papers and I declined the offer to write a Ph.D. thesis because I didn’t want to write a 200-page book. But writing these types of 3 to 5-minute stories in a more casual language has been a lot of fun. The possibility to earn a bit of money from it is a nice benefit, but it’s even cooler that people are actually reading some of the articles I write. I’m looking forward to posting more stories on Medium. To the next half a year!
by Christian - 29.10.2020 - 22:09