Seven Ways You Can Earn $$$ on Medium That Aren’t Completely Unrealistic or Bizarre (Especially with the New Changes)
You can do it without having a lot of tech knowledge, or exposing your deepest secrets
By now it’s no secret that one of the most popular essay topics on Medium is, “How to Make Money on Medium.” While some of these pieces give helpful advice, others provide examples you can’t employ unless you’re a tech whiz writing about how to use your iPhone for space travel — or you’re willing to tell your deepest, darkest secrets.
As a writer who wants to reach as many readers as I can, and who finds it validating to earn money when I do, I understand the reason for reading the “How to Make Money” stories. In fact, when I started putting more time into publishing on Medium over the summer, I read columns like this one and found so many that were helpful, and a handful that were not. But I broke the $100-per-piece mark several times.
I also spent days and sleepless nights on stories that didn’t earn nearly as much.
When I started publishing on Medium in earnest, I learned from columns like this one.
It’s important to be realistic, while at the same time aiming high.
This month, Medium introduced changes to how earnings for writers are calculated — positive changes, in my opinion (it seems that many writers agree).
In the past, it was mainly “claps” and clicks from paying Medium members that earned significant money for writers. While I understood the reason for this, it also meant that if you brought a lot of readers to your story, but they hadn’t paid $5 a month (or $50 a year) yet to join Medium, you could draw a few thousand readers to the site with a very small payout, even if they were intrigued enough to join soon after. But under the new model, if you write a story that garners significant readership, you can earn more if some of those readers become paying Medium members within 30 days. And the amount of time readers spend on your story matters more than the “claps” on the side (although claps will still get your story seen more often). This is all good news.
No one knows for sure what the ideal formula is to make money on Medium, although if editors like your story and give it a boost — either by “curating” it into specific topics, or better yet, “featuring” it on a main page or accepting it into a Medium-backed publication — it will be seen by more readers. The model is continually changing as the company tweaks it, which is a good thing.
The model continually changes as the company tweaks it, which is good.
(Also: Here’s the link to become a paying Medium member for $5/month or $50 a year, similar to what people might pay to a favorite publication on Patreon or via subscription. If you’re a member, you can read unlimited stories.)
So, how well have my stories done so far?
Earlier this year, I published a piece about The Catskills that earned high readership from people who have fond memories of that beloved New York State travel destination. In fact, I posted links to my piece in a few “Catskills memories” Facebook groups on social media, drawing readers that way.
How did I do, money-wise and readership wise?
I amassed 1,700 views and 55 percent readership (a good percentage). Total earnings: $19.
In June I published a followup story to a longform true crime article I’d heavily researched and written a year earlier. I got 1,500 hits on that one too, but only earned $7.
Why was the amount relatively low, compared to the readership? Likely because many of the readers weren’t Medium members at the time they clicked on it.
However, both stories were pieces I wanted to get out to an audience, so I was glad they found a home.
In July and August I spent a lot of time working on articles that had been brewing in my mind for a while. I submitted them to relatively new Medium verticals (niche publications) I admired. They traditionally offered upfront payments of $100-$200. I was pleased that several pieces were accepted into publications I enjoy: Human Parts, Gen, and Forge. It was gratifying they found a home where they were well-read (2,000–5,000 readers each) and icing on the cake that I earned an upfront payment.
Right now Human Parts is not accepting unsolicited drafts, but if they feature your published piece, you will likely get more hits than usual (this happened to me last month; my piece about being a shy kid-turned-published writer has earned me $34 so far). Human Parts is a wonderful space for personal essays, some with important life lessons. Guidelines here.
The majority of my pieces have earned less than $15, so what really helps a writer break through on Medium?
It helps to write about specific topics that will have a set audience (my best-performing pieces were about writing and pop culture). Write what you know and love, and what you know others love, too. Then, you can either publish them and hope they get curated, or submit your best (and only your best; editors get overloaded) to specific Medium publications.
With the new guidelines going into effect at the end of October, your heavily promoting your pieces on social media and through your other outlets (newsletters and what have you) will help more than it did in the recent past, because non-members will be counted more often (and let’s hope they’re intrigued enough to become members!)
With the new model, promoting your pieces on social media and through your other outlets (newsletters and website) will help more than before.
My seven best strategies
Overall, here are the best tips I’ve learned for gaining readers and earnings, that don’t involve writing about how to jailbreak an iPhone:
- Use tags that are popular topics. When you click “Ready to publish,” Medium will prompt you to pick five tags. When you start typing a tag, it’ll tell you how many stories already use it. This gives you an indication of how popular it is. Also look at the tags used by your favorite Medium stories. “Self,” “Technology,” “Business” and “Culture” are popular, for example. You can find lists of popular Medium tags around the internet as well. But since you do get to choose five per story, also include some that are a little more specific, like “Film” or “Family.”
- Don’t write every day at first. Instead, focus on honing a handful of pieces in topics you’re passionate about, experienced with, or that would fit into one of Medium’s paying or most popular publications (here’s a list). Then promote them on social media. You never know who may see them and re-share.
- Join Facebook groups for people who promote each other on Medium and discuss the ins and outs of the process. They’re helpful and inspirational, and you’ll meet some great fellow writers. Medium Mastery is one that I enjoy.
- If you think you’ve written something better than average, submit it: First, to publications run by Medium, if it fits into a niche (read each of their guidelines and other content, of course). If you never hear back, and you’re really confident in the piece, there are often ways to send it to the Medium editors. Those methods, too, seem to shift from time to time, but the aforementioned Facebook groups will have fresh information, suggestions, and links.
- It helps to be specific in your piece, rather than vague. Include examples, stories, numbers, data, and relevant art. For photos, many use Unsplash, a free site that offers photography to go with many different topics.
- Think of a headline that encapsulates your idea well and also leaves enough mystery to get people to want to read further. Shannon Ashley, besides being a great writer, is a super headline writer. Reading her pieces is a solid education for Medium authors both new and experienced.
- Once you’ve mastered everything above, write your own piece about how to write for Medium and what you’ve learned (You knew I had to say that!)
Oh, almost forgot one of the most important things: Join the Medium Partner Program first, if you want to be paid for your writing.
Anyway, besides appearing in a few of Medium’s paying publications this summer, I’ve published in two popular Medium publications that don’t pay up front, but are well-read and well-regarded: Slackjaw (for humor) and the Writing Cooperative (for writers). As a result, I’ve earned more than average with those pieces (a recent humor piece on Slackjaw earned me $18 in two weeks so far, and I’m just happy to be paid for humor writing).
Speaking of giving tips for getting writing published, here’s the eight-part series I wrote for the Writing Cooperative over the summer about, well, how to get your writing published. (It’s called “Out of the Rejection Pile” becaues we all start there, and I still get rejected, of course. My first novel, which has since been adapted into a film on Netflix, was rejected by more than a dozen publishers before two were interested.)
I’m glad Medium is doing well and that so many fabulous writers have had success with it. This year, I’ve read some of my favorite essays and articles in this space, and found new authors to adore. I’m also glad to be able to publish my work in a timely fashion. In the past, I’ve found that pitching to various editors — then waiting months for their responses — can hold stories up for far too long.
I look forward to reading what you write. What do you think? Comment below.