The Strategy I Used to Write My First $6,000 Medium Story
30 Days, 181,876 views, 2,191 hours read, and $6,012.25 earned
Maybe you were gifted it, or maybe you signed up this month as part of your resolution to write more. If you’re new, you may not have received a monthly email update from the partner program yet, so you don’t know that you’re not in the top 8% of writers that earned over $100 last month, or that a single writer earned $21,650.88. But there’s good news: You are part of a group. If you earned even $.01, you’re in the top 68%. Congratulations!
If you’re in the other 32%, maybe the contents of this piece will help.
But, if you’re in the third group, the ones who have no idea what Medium is or that you can actually earn real money on it let’s go over a few things before we get started.
Medium is an online publishing platform that’s free from ads, that charges $50 annually or $5 monthly to read the stories behind its paywall. Non-paying members can read up to three stories per month. The subscription fees are then distributed to one of two places: Medium or Medium writers.
The Medium Partner Program is how contributing writers earn money when subscribing members read their work.
Partner Program writers are paid based on how deeply Medium members read their work. As members read longer, writers earn more. In addition, we distribute a portion of each member’s subscription fee to the writers they read most each month. (Medium)
What this means is that Medium is a place where you can read quality work, without ads, and a portion of your monthly $5 monthly fee ($4.16 if annual) goes to the writers publishing on the platform. It’s a familiar model. Think of Medium as Spotify for writers.
I signed up for Medium in October of 2018. In my first month, I earned $7.00, and in my second month $37.54. That’s 500% growth month over month, and all I did was upload previous newsletters and press publish. I felt like I was finally let in on a secret. I knew it would only be a matter of time until I’d pay off my student loans, buy a home, and pen the story: Writing On Medium Bought Me A House.
Fast forward to December 2019. Thirteen months of writing on Medium and I had earned $495.28.
Nice house bro!
My highest earning story was Last Year I Drank Tequila, earning just over $100 or enough to cover my annual subscription and matcha lattes at the wifi shops, I mean coffee shops, I worked out of. Not only did I totally fall short, I felt that there were more secrets I wasn’t being let in on. How the hell were writers earning tens of thousands publishing here?
I emailed, left notes on stories, and LinkedIn messaged the writers I admired most, only for them to be left unread. Eventually, I found my way and wrote my first $5,000 story: The 9 Subscriptions You Should Bring With You Into 2020. In my failed attempts to learn from my role models, I made a promise to myself to share what I learn. I didn’t want to be like them, I wanted to be an outlier, and that’s why I’m going to unpack every move I made on my path to Medium success. Here’s how it happened.
This was not brilliant writing. I’ve written pieces that I’ve poured my soul into— this one I wrote on an airplane. What I did pour into this piece was a detailed strategy and one that began with its title.
I’ll break down the success of this title into three parts.
The first is that the title suggests a deadline. The title The 9 Subscriptions You Should Bring With You Into 2020 gives readers a deadline of when they needed to read it by. This title activates an urgency and communicates that if you don’t read its contents and consider one of the nine subscriptions prior to the ball dropping, then you may be at a disadvantage going into the new year. Better yet, if you do read and apply the contents within, you’ll start off the new decade with an advantage. It’s a suggestive title, and suggestive titles work.
It’s a list. We know Buzzfeed sits on the throne of lists and we’ve been conditioned to enjoy them. A list is inviting because it breaks readers into two groups: those who want to skim (the Blinkist crew) and those who want to dissect. Lists allow you to scroll through and read numbered headlines to extract the information you came for. For the group that dissects, lists are structured to allow you to consume headline specific information. Lists can be quite controversial, so people may read them simply to disagree — but hey, if they’re a member, you get paid.
Titles are digital book jackets for the window shopping scroller. They need to invite and having the word Subscriptions in the title stops a scroll. Subscriptions are something that everyone understands. I could have written apps but the word apps suggests a level of tech-savviness that subscriptions don’t. The title signals to a reader that the contents within could be anything from Disney+ to the Wall Street Journal. Click.
Here’s a cold truth about earning income with your writing. Shitty books don’t sell. Boring writing isn’t read.
On Medium, we’re incentivized by the volume of engagement a story gets, so we must consider writing about topics that appeal to the largest audience. If you were to write about WeWork, the Election, or Iran right now, you’d be checking that box. But if you continue to write about oil changes, planting perennials, and folding napkins, don’t wonder where your engagement is.
There’s a difference between writing for your friends, and writing for the world. If you want any of your published work to have a chance at becoming a $6,000 story, you need to be able to write about interesting topics.
This isn’t meant to contradict suggestions of writing what you know. I wrote about what I know. I use every one of these subscriptions weekly, if not daily, shared my reasoning for selecting them, and chose a non-traditional grouping. The fact that subscription is a buzzword allowed me to cross the threshold of relevancy and maintain my integrity. If we write for our 20 friends, we can’t be disappointed when only 20 people read it. If we want to land a few big stories, we need to address our confirmation bias about what’s interesting, and then write the hell out of something much more relatable.
Writers on Medium live and die by the sword of self-distribution. Unlike placing stories in outside publications where the publication will distribute your work to their subscribers and social media followings, on Medium this doesn’t exist. But there are some boosts available to writers.
There are nine Medium owned publications on the platform and a handful of other majors. Getting published in these is critical. Think of a publication like this: If you have X followers, when you publish a story only X followers will see it. If a publication has Y followers, when you publish in their publication then X + Y followers will see it.
Submit your work to publications.
A few months ago, I spent a weekend identifying all the publications my work is appropriate for and now I’ll go so far as to not publish until I find a publication for my latest stories. It makes that much of a difference.
For my $6,000 story, I chose to submit to The Startup because of its size (556k+) and the demographic it publishes to. I wrote about Tech — people who read The Startup are interested in Tech.
The story you are reading is in Better Marketing because this is the top publication for marketing on and off Medium.
When a story receives significant engagement, editors at Medium will evaluate it for curation. Curation means that curators have selected this story to share with readers in the Medium homepage, app, email digest, and more. This is great.
To best position a story for curation you first want to properly tag it before publishing. I chose “Startup”, “Apps”, “Entrepreneurship”, “Money”, and “Tech.” These tags also make your stories discoverable in search. So, if you want your story to be discovered, consider the tags you apply to it.
The second important prelude to curation is interest. When I publish stories I want to drive as many readers to my story as fast as I can.
For that, it’s time to share the additional steps in my 14-part distribution strategy that sit outside the platform.
I have just over 1,000 people on my email list and when I publish I send them a direct link to my story. Not a friend link either, the real one. The link that will lock them out if they’re not members. If I time this well, which I did for my subscriptions piece, I can direct 1,000 views to a story in its first hours.
This doesn’t cost money. In 2009 Mailchimp introduced a freemium plan for those with under 2,000 contacts.
Next, you’ll want a place to capture contact information so you can grow your email list. In your Mailchimp dashboard, create a Landing Page and make the Name, Email, and Cell Phone fields mandatory. To take this a step further, you can create a welcome email that sends to all new subscribers the moment they sign up.
If you want to see a landing page and experience an automation you’re welcome to sign up for my newsletter and then unsubscribe when you receive the welcome email. What you’ll notice is that I link my latest stories on my landing page and in my welcome email. I also include my landing page in the signature of every one of my writings, so if someone reads any of my 35+ pieces on Medium, they’ll be directed to either sign up for my newsletter or read the story I am featuring on my landing page and in my welcome email. Last month this was my subscription piece.
I manage my own social media channels and push my stories to them when I publish. To leverage social media I encourage you to consider Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and get a Linktr.ee. These are all free. What’s valuable about social media is that it expands the potential size of your audience. I know you may reply “What if they’re not Medium members, I won’t earn anything?” And to that, I say even better and not yet!
A high volume of external views indicates that a story is worth reading and signals to Medium that your story is interesting and should be considered for curation. The other opportunity of driving external views is that any person who reads your work and signs up in the next 30 days, you’ll be rewarded for. Now that external view holds the value of an internal read and you’ve created a loyalist out of them by having your work convert them to Medium, it’s anticipated that they’ll continue to read your work and you’ll earn from their share.
That lesson is important in understanding why I drive external views to my stories, but here’s specifically how I’m using social media.
On Instagram, I’ll either share a main post with a caption that honors my writing and directs followers to the link in my bio, or I’ll share screenshots of my favorite quotes from my latest writing in my Instagram story and again direct followers to read the full piece using the link in my bio. To make best use of the link in your bio and to keep older stories active for longer, create a free Linktr.ee account and populate it with ten of your stories, then paste your custom Linktr.ee URL in your Instagram bio.
Before riding my bike across America alone this summer, I created a Facebook page for myself. It says I’m an artist. An artist of non-traditional Mediums. A creator. Now, I have two Facebook accounts, two places to publish a story. When I publish, I pretty much take the same caption I wrote for my Instagram post, replace the directions to a link in my bio with the pasted URL of my story, and share it on my both personal and artist pages.
For so long I resisted Twitter. Don’t be like me! Twitter is a writer’s dream and it’s where most Medium stories are being shared today. I’ll tweet links to my stories and favorite quotes from my own story. On Twitter, one piece of writing can become 14 pieces of content. Just because you wrote one story, doesn’t mean it only deserves one tweet.
Here’s where I call your bluff. Do you really want to be a writer and are you ready to champion your own work?
Because this is where my distribution strategy becomes a point of difference. Sharing on social media takes three minutes, that’s the easy part. It’s this next part that most people won’t commit to. And when I say commit, I don’t mean for every day for two weeks or for every other story. I do this for every single story, every single day. That isn’t meant to intimidate, nor will it encroach on your rest if you’re efficient, it’s just me channeling Gary Vaynerchuk and informing you of the level of self-championing it took to write a $6,000 story.
For every story that I publish on Medium, I commit to sharing it 500 people who have no idea who I am. I do this using LinkedIn. For every story I write there’s a target audience and every target audience is identifiable on LinkedIn. If I write about meditation, my audience is meditation teachers, employees of meditation app brands, and authors of meditation books. If I write about eating plant-based foods, my audience are those who have the keyword “vegan” in their profile. You can find these people using the search function on your LinkedIn homepage. Finding 500 new people isn’t that difficult. Once my search is returned, I move through sending all the appropriate profiles requests to connect. As they begin to connect with me, I send them a message. In my message I thank them for connecting, compliment them on something from their profile, and ask out of respect for their inbox if I could email them a story I just published because “as a thought leader in the field, I think you’ll enjoy it and also I’d love your feedback.”
When they reply and share their email, I send them the story and direct them to my landing page if they’d like to join my bi-weekly newsletter (See why it was important to create that?). Sometimes, I’ll even send them my Linktr.ee link if they want to check out my other creative work. (I also have these links in my email signature). I do this for every story, every day. I’ll be waiting for your LinkedIn requests!
When distributing this story there were also some nuances that aren’t as repeatable but were critical to why this grew so quickly after the five-day mark.
By day six, I had completed my normal steps, and normally would have published my next piece and pressed repeat. I’d earned $56.14 — I was thrilled. But, this piece had a few things left to activate.
I name nine brands in this writing. Nine tech-savvy, social media-friendly, millennial brands. If you think I wasn’t going to leverage that, then you’re out of your mind!
I went back and reshared this piece in my Instagram story, mentioning each brand. I shared it across both Facebook pages, tagging each brand. I tweeted it at each company and shared the story across LinkedIn, mentioning each brand. Then I found any email address I could for the companies and sent it to them, asking for a retweet, share, mention, or original post.
I then spent days sending Linkedin requests to connect to every person at the companies I mentioned and when they accepted, rather than ask for their email, I sent them the story, told them I was a fan and how grateful I was for their product. I gave permission to retweet, share, mention, or post an original post. The messages worked and someone took the hint, because one by one, these companies began sharing my Medium story from their social media profiles.
And though I say this was a nuance, this was intentional. This works.
In November I shared a story The 25 Drinks Of A Sober Holiday Season and applied the same distribution strategy add-on. I mentioned each brand on all social media, emailed them, and attacked the companies on LinkedIn. Just last month wrote The 6 Types Of Questions You Need To Start Asking People, which found success through the strategy with a focus on LinkedIn (I sent this to HR execs and Life Coaches). This works. It works because in neither of these three stories was I faced with compromising my integrity. I am an independent creator and I use the nine subscriptions to advance my career, the same way as I am two years sober and purchase non-alcoholic beverages, and the way I personally ask discovery questions.
This strategy isn’t always obvious. You may not have mentioned any companies in your story, but the chances are there’s a brand that specializes in what you wrote about. You can mention them in your social posts, email them, and LinkedIn them. Brands are always looking for content, and though they may not be able to publish it, they can share it. Brands have audiences — you want to hijack them.
That’s all for the nuances, but if you’re still with me I want to highlight some other strategies I wish someone had told me when I signed up for Medium over a year ago.
Link your own stories in your other stories. I did this 13 times in this piece with the hope you’d click on one of them and read more of my work. If Medium allocates shares based on monthly reading time members spend on stories, I want members to read more of mine, not just what’s in their hand. Direct them!
At the end of each of my stories, I suggest one or two other stories I wrote that a reader may have an interest in. I do this in a human way — I like to add a few sentences about why they may enjoy it, rather than just “Read This Next”.” We’re humans and we can encourage, not shepherd, our peers. (You’ll see what I mean at the end of this piece.)
Comment and reply
Leave thoughtful comments on the stories of writers you admire. You’ll either get noticed by them, or be seen as a thought-leader by those who read the piece next and they may come to check out your work.
I reply to every story. I wrote about it and you can learn why, but I do this to respect my words and those who are kind enough to reply to them. Our words don’t end when we hit publish, and we can all learn a lot from the dialogue. Engage in it.
I grew from 0 to 1,000 followers in a few weeks doing the whole “follow-unfollow” trick. If you’re going to do this, be smart about it. Only follow those who have green circles around their profile image. These are paying members.
Follow people who engage with stories that share the topics that you write about. Find the most recent story you can in your field, open the list of people who have clapped on it, and follow the ones with green circles. This indicates they are active and engaged members.
Yes, writers are no longer compensated based on claps, but claps do indicate that a story is worth reading. Both giving and receiving claps is still a way to express gratitude for a story. A high volume of claps also informs members who just discovered your story that other members enjoyed it — like a stamp of approval. Depth
Write longer stories. Medium compensates based on reading time. So, if you’re writing on target interesting stuff, write more of it. The longer a member spends reading your work, the more of their share you’ll receive.
Most members don’t read the full story, so if you’re pushing out three-minute pieces, consider doubling them to six or seven minutes.
This is one of the most debated bits of advice on Medium: How often should I publish? I don’t subscribe to the “post every day” strategy and find authors that do are choosing to dilute their art. My ideal is to publish every three days. This gives your strategy room to breathe and you produce about 10 articles per month, or 120 per year.
Find a group of friends who write on Medium and stick together. Open a slack channel or a group chat, share tips, and support each other's stories. It feels good when you publish a story and know a few friends will throw 50 claps on it to support you.
One of my best friends has this tattoo and every time I see her I’m tempted to get it: “Write because you love to”. Pursue fulfillment, not the $6,000 story. I get a rush out of discovering new opportunities to honor my work and I love what I write about. The fact that Medium has organized a program for me to be compensated for it is a bonus.
At the end of the day, great writing is what finds success on Medium.
I wrote this story for everyone. For the members that are discouraged by the monthly update email like I was a month ago, and for the non-members that didn’t realize this should be considered as a stream of income. I wrote this for the marketing associate with tips to share, the graphic designer with a portfolio worthy of love, the college student with something to say, and the musician who has a song to share. I wrote this for the gardener, the entrepreneur, the climate activist, and the widow.
You don’t need to beg on Patreon or GoFundMe, you can earn it all on Medium.
With my strategy, I am constantly working to expand the size of my pool of potential readers, and external views don’t scare me. This strategy makes me an ambassador of Medium and a thought leader for those who are non-members. If I share a story of mine that was published on Medium to 500+ people who don’t have Medium, and several of them become members, we both win. Medium and me. I get new followers, a percentage of their membership fee, which will be higher since they’ve yet to fully explore other writers on the platform, and I’ve created a loyalist.
My distribution strategy is about being your own champion, but unfortunately, this is where I lose most people. Obstacles are meant to determine how bad we want something. If we become deterred by adversity, then we either didn’t want it bad enough, or we weren’t equipped to overcome it. I’ve given you the exact strategy I used to write my first big story, now it’s up to you to prove to yourself and your words you want it. That is how I wrote my first $6,000 story. I can’t wait to read yours.
The difference between Seth Godin, The Morning Brew, and me? I respect your inbox, curating only one newsletter per month — Join my behind-the-words monthly newsletter to feel what it’s like to receive a respectful newsletter.