Here’s it — the hard truth no one else will tell you
Did you think Medium would be a great way to earn money for your writing, but then, wrote a few articles and got disappointed by how little views they got?
Are you discouraged, thinking no matter how often you write, you will never make it up there among the top 6% writers who make more than $100 each month?
I know how this feels. I have been writing on Medium since 2018. I must have published more than 200 stories for almost two years and made only $81 in total (for everything I wrote in those two years).
I knew I had talent. I felt my articles were valuable. They were just not getting the views I thought they deserved.
But then, in May 2020, I made a few changes to the way I spent my time here on Medium, and the results have been amazing.
I made more than $300 in the last 30 days, and the road that I see ahead of me only leads uphill.
In this article, I am going to list all the lessons I made from the many mistakes I made during the first two years when I earned next to nothing on Medium. Here are the ten reasons why your stories are not making money on Medium.
Before we start, if you’re a fan of consuming video content, here is everything in this article summarised for you:
1. You Don’t Have A Compelling Body Of Work
One of my friends told me a few days ago that she was demotivated because her articles on Medium were not earning any money. She said, “Why do I keep writing if I don’t earn anything even after writing so much?”
I checked out her profile, and do you know how many articles she had published till then?
That’s right. She was expecting to be rich after publishing only three articles.
Here is the bitter truth: you cannot write 3–5 articles and expect to make thousands of dollars from them. My first 100 articles probably made 0 dollars. The next 100 must have made $81, and the 30 after that more than $300.
Do you see the exponential growth my earnings on Medium took?
Writing a few stories is like planting the seeds. You cannot expect them to bear fruits within a few days or weeks. You have to be patient, keep writing more and more, and build a compelling body of work. If you are consistently delivering quality content, there is no force in this world that can stop you from making good money.
2. You Are Not Using Proper Tags
Tags help your story appear in front of the right audience. Here are the most important rules you need to consider while choosing the right tags for your story:
Pick from your title
If the tags you chose are not relevant to your story, the Medium algorithm might be confused by the discrepancy and end up not distributing your story to your target audience. You can never go wrong if you follow this simple rule: pick up one or two tags right from the title of your story.
Find your target audience
Once you have chosen two tags from your title, ask yourself this: which section of the audience is going to be benefitted by your article? For example, this post is about making money on Medium. But, I am going to add the tag “Writing” because this is specifically addressed to the writers on Medium. Any person who follows “Writing” is a part of my target audience.
Learn from your stats
After you hit “Publish”, keep checking your stats to know what topics your readers are the most interested in. When you scroll down to the bottom of the “Details” section of a particular story, you will see a part that shows your readers’ interests. This is a screenshot of the stats of my highest-performing story till date-
Going by this, I can see that most of my readers are interested in “Books”, “Productivity”, and “Self”. (Well, “Technology”, “Business”, and “Psychology” too, but those are not topics I specialise in, and so, I am going to focus on the other three).
The next time I publish a story, I am going to use these three tags. You can do the same — analyse the stats of the highest performing stories you have written, and choose your next tags around these topics so you can deliver what your audience expects from your writing.
3. You Used an Improper Cover Image
Before selecting a cover image, here are the points you need to keep in mind:
- Is it a good quality, high-resolution image?
- Is the image relevant to the topic of your article?
- Do you have the right to use the image? (i.e. Is is a duty-free image? If you are not aware where to find good quality stock photos, you can check out Unsplash, Pixabay, or Pexels).
- Have you given credits to the photographer or original owner of the image?
Pro Tip: When you press “Enter” on your Medium article, you see a small “+” sign at the left. Click on that, and this panel appears. From here, click on the magnifying glass (loupe) icon and type your keyword for the image. You will see a gallery propping up. These are high-resolution, duty-free images from Unsplash. Just click on the most appropriate one and both the image and the credits will be added to your article.
4. Your Article Has Bad Formatting
You can read the Medium curation guidelines to see what kind of formatting works on this platform. But, based on personal experience, here are some tips you can use to ensure that your articles perform better:
- Lots of white space: No reader prefers to read huge chunks of text. Break your article down into smaller paragraphs and include lots of white space in between.
- Sub-title: Medium has the option for you to add subtitles. Just select on the text you wish to make as a sub-title, and from the menu that pops up, select the small T. When you click on it, the selected piece of text will become a sub-title.
- Using too many pictures: I know Unsplash has a huge gallery of thousands of eye-catching images, but stick to this thumb rule: use only one picture for every 1200 words. Anything more than that, and the focus of your article is drawn away from the text.
5. Bad Title
The title of your article is the key deciding factor of whether or not people will read it. It doesn’t matter is your content is valuable, if your title isn’t eye-catching enough, your article is dead. No one is going to click on it.
It took me two years to finally understand the kind of titles that work on Medium. Here is a summary of my observations:
- Your title should clearly convey what the reader can gain from reading it. Titles like “Sunday Morning Musings” or “My Journey to Bhutan” don’t work well. Instead, try to include a key takeaway so the reader knows exactly what to expect.
- Use one power word like never again, must-read, greatest, final, etc.
- Use title case, i.e. capitalise each word, except minor words like of, to, the, a, in, by, etc. Do not use ALL CAPS for writing headings.
- Don’t use punctuation marks (question mark, period, ellipsis, etc.) at the end of your title.
Before you hit publish, you can use a headline analyser to see how your headline will perform in SEO. I personally use CoSchedule to see how my headline scores. Anything higher than a 70 is good to go.
6. You Did Not Publish in a Publication
Publications are like Medium’s gifts to writers. If you self-publish an article, chances are, it will get lost in the ocean of new articles being published on Medium each day. But, when it gets accepted into a publication, you can leverage its follower-count and make sure your writing grabs more eyeballs.
The caveat here is that before you submit your first article to any big publication, you will need to have a decent body of work. I would suggest writing five high-quality articles and publishing them on your own profile. After that, you can pick the publication that best fits your intended genre and apply to be a writer.
Here is a list to help you get started:
7. You Are Not a Medium Member
Medium has a membership system where they charge $5 monthly ($50 for one year) so you can read all the articles published behind the Medium paywall. I agree this might different from anything else anyone might tell you, but, here is the truth:
You don’t explicitly need to be a Medium member to publish articles behind the paywall, but, if you’re a member, you are going to earn more.
When you are a member, the treasure trove of all the articles ever published on Medium open up to you. You can read the stories you like, clap for and highlight the ones you liked the best. This way, your feed will get customised after a few days of reading.
Let me tell you something from personal experience: Medium’s feed curation is one of the best I have observed on any website ever. Each article you see on your feed will make you want to click on it. And each article will prove as the basis for research on how you can write similar articles to make sure they get curated and distributed.
When you become a Medium member, you can read the top stories in your niche. Then, you can follow the top writers who write about the topics you are interested in, go through their articles, and take valuable tips about what made their stories work. After that, it gets easier to apply those learnings to your own writing.
I observed a huge spike in my earnings after I became a Medium member in May 2020. I am sure this can be attributed to the huge surge in my reading time on Medium, but, that is an investment I am willing to make.
8. Your Article Does Not Have A Clear Takeaway
Personal stories are great. But, if your article does not have an actionable takeaway for the reader, it is not going to perform well. A good Medium article should do either (or all) of the following-
If you want to write a personal story, go ahead by all means. But, don’t make the article about you. Make it about the experience so that it is relatable to anyone who reads, and not just valid for the people who know you in real life. Add the important lessons you learned and include some valuable insight that the audience can apply in their lives.
Don’t ramble on. Include hooks to hold the reader’s attention. Deliver some value, some food for thought for the reader to chew on. Tug at their heartstrings, teach them a lesson, and they will love you forever.
9. Your Title Was Clickbait
Whatever the dictionary might define it, I call an article “clickbait” if it does not deliver what the title promises.
You might write an article titled “This Trick Will 10x the Quality of Your Life”, but if your insight is not valuable enough, the readers are not going to be very impressed.
In addition, arbitrary titles like these are less likely to be clicked on by readers-
- How to Be More Productive in Your Life
- 3 Keys to Living A Fulfilling Life During COVID-19
- How to Improve Your Lifestyle in 10 Days
Make a specific promise in your title. And deliver on that promise by the end of the article. If a reader ends up feeling cheated, they are less likely to come back to your profile to read more.
10. Your Article Was Full of Spam Links
As a rule of thumb, Medium curators don’t look too kindly upon articles that have a large volume of links that direct outside of Medium. In addition, publication owners don’t prefer you linking articles that were published in different publications.
Don’t promote yourself and the products you are selling too much either. As the Medium curation guidelines state-
Any calls to action (CTAs) in the story should be simple, clear, and brief (under 40 words or so)
Write what you want to write. Don’t try to sell too many products or services in one article. You can keep all the links and CTAs in your profile bio, as long as you keep your stories clean.
The Bottom Line
I am not a Medium expert. But, even with my limited knowledge, I was able to up my earnings from $5 to $300 in 30 days. If you follow the steps mentioned in this article, I am sure you would do great.
Medium is a wonderful place to monetise your writing. I know of no other platform on the internet that values its writers so much. Make the most of it and build a name for yourself.
I have started my journey down that avenue. Hope to see you soon. :)