From $5 to $200 in one month — If I can do it, so can you
I get it. $100 is no big deal.
But, did you know that in the general Medium writer population, typically only 7%-9% of all active writers earn more than $100 in any given month?
This data puts me in the top 7–9% earners all across Medium in May 2020.
So, how did this happen?
I have been writing on Medium since 2017, but, I never considered it as a platform to earn money. In fact, when I enrolled in the Partner Program back in 2018, I didn’t have any hopes from it. Since that time, I have published 4–5 articles each month. Some of them would get curated, but never make much money. In fact, from July 2019 to April 2020, I had published around 100 articles and made exactly $81.25 (INR 6150 for 100 articles, which equals INR 61.5 per article).
Paltry, if you ask me.
But then, on May 14 2020, I published an article that went insanely viral.
Within a few minutes of publication, the article was selected by the Medium curators for distribution in Books. But then, as I mentioned before, several of my stories had been curated before and until now, the maximum I had earned from a story was $20. So, I had no reason to expect this article would perform any better.
Needless to say, I was in for a shock when I opened my stats page the next day. Before May 14, I had been averaging at 120 views per day, and because of one article, the daily views shot up to 900 on the first day and 1500+ thereafter.
My earnings skyrocketed too, and within eight days of publishing, the earnings from the article had already crossed the $100 mark. For someone who made $80 from 100 articles, you can imagine how much of a shocker earning $100 from a single story (and $200+ for the whole month) was.
In this article, I am going to analyse my first $100 article on Medium and share with you the lessons I learned from it. If you are a new writer on Medium, this is an excellent place for you to take that pen and paper out and start taking notes.
What Made This Article Work
Dumbfounded as I was, a careful analysis of the article made me realise it was significantly different from all my previous articles. Here are the aspects that worked in my favour-
You can’t deny: a list of 10 books spanning various genres that can be finished reading in a day is valuable content, even though I had no idea at the time of writing that the audience would appreciate my recommendations so much. A random book recommendations list might not have worked (they don’t. I tried to replicate its success, but haven’t succeeded), but people want to read books they can finish in a day.
Here are some other things that worked in my favour:
- Medium loves listicles (articles that list items, like mine listed 10 books)
- I chose 10 books and each of them was from a different genre, thus taking care of the varied taste of a wide range of readers.
The title I chose was simple and effective.
- There are no fluff words. It clearly conveys what the article is about.
- I used the title case (capitalising each word) that makes it more appealing to readers skimming the website for content.
- There is no clickbait. The story delivers exactly what the title promises.
To be honest, the first draft of the article was nowhere close to what it is like today. I owe my success to the wonderful Nicole Akers and Clay Akers of Publishous who spent a lot of time and effort in helping me format it properly. Here are the changes that were suggested as we worked on the article in each round of editing-
- The titles of the books were linked to their Goodreads pages. If readers wanted to know more about the books, they could click on the links and read the blurb and a few other reviews.
- An image of each book was added adjacent to the review. This not only adds colour to the article and makes it more visually appealing, but also gives the reader an additional idea of what to expect from the book by looking at the cover.
- In addition to simply writing the book reviews, I added a little bit about what the reader would gain by reading each book. This was Nicole’s suggestion and I couldn’t have been more thankful — a lot of readers commented saying they loved the little personal anecdotes I added of how each book affected me.
The cover picture
When I first started writing on Medium, I never spent much time on selecting cover pictures. But with this article, I realised that having a good cover picture increases the chances of a reader clicking on your article. Here are some important points to note-
- The picture should resonate with your article and clearly convey what the audience can expect from it.
- It should be a high-resolution image and visually appealing.
- Make sure you have the right to use it. There are several platforms online that offer high-quality images for free, some of them being Pexels, Unsplash, and Pixabay.
The publication matters
As I had mentioned earlier, most of the stories that I wrote in 2019 were self-published. Only recently did I understand that publishing your story in a publication pays great dividends. My first $100 article was published in Publishous which is one of the biggest publications here.
When you publish a story in a publication, there are chances of it being shared with all their followers. Also, getting selected into a publication increases the chances of the story being curated, which brings me to…
I have been talking about curation from the beginning of this article, and if you are confused, here is what Medium has to say on the topic-
When a story is curated, it becomes eligible to be distributed to readers across Medium surfaces — on the homepage, on topic pages, in our app, in our Daily Digest newsletter, and in other emails — and shared via Medium’s recommendation system.
When my story was selected for curation, it was distributed among a wider audience, bringing in a viewership larger than any I had ever seen in my time here on Medium. Without the curation-enabled high views, I doubt I would have been able to reach almost 13,000 views.
If you are wondering what it takes for a story to be curated, you can check out Medium’s guidelines on curation.
Lessons I Learned From This Article
Now that I understood what were the things that worked for this article, here are some interesting trends I observed-
If readers like your article, they are going to follow you. That is the great thing about Medium — it builds a strong, mutually sustainable community of writers and readers. After this article went viral, I gained almost 300 new followers in 15 days.
Older articles get traction
When people appreciate your content, they will head over to your profile and check out your older articles. I observed that several of my older stories that I had almost forgotten about started popping up on my Partner Program Dashboard. Once again, the power and generosity of the reader community on Medium surprised me.
What Did I Do To Follow Up
Writing has always been my passion. But, I never knew it was possible for me to get paid so generously for a single article. Needless to say, I wanted to replicate this success and keep the traction going. Here are some steps I took to recreate the grand, unexpected success of this article-
Inspiration to create
The first few days following the curation and the blowing up of my stats, my chest was filled with a constant adrenaline rush to write more, to create more articles that would not just entertain, but deliver value. Quality fuels quality and I wanted to keep this fire burning. I ended up writing 14 new articles in the next 16 days, 7 of which got curated.
Also, since I discovered that Medium loves listicles (and more specifically, book recommendations), I wrote three more book recommendation listicles, all of which were curated in Books.
These articles have performed fairly well and even now, the views keep increasing daily.
And then, I wrote another one about how I managed to get so much reading done. Even this was curated in Books and is quickly closing in on 5000 views-
Around mid-May, when I had earned more than the $50 yearly subscription fee from a single article, I opted to become a Medium member. This opened up a world of possibilities for me in terms of the sheer quality of the articles that were now unlocked for me to read.
I devoured articles on how to get curated, how to make money, and how to engage with readers. Some of the authors who taught me a lot are (you should definitely follow them if you are not already)
- Ayodeji Awosika for the kind of content I should write and how to format a killer article. I even joined his email list and I would not be exaggerating if I said they are the reason I am the most excited to check my inbox each morning.
- Sinem Günel, who is my inspiration behind writing one article every day. Her articles are gorgeous and filled with positivity. She never forgets to remind you that since she succeeded on Medium in late 2019, you can do it too.
- Jessica Lynn for inspiration on how to keep increasing your Medium earnings month after month. Also, she has only been writing for a year on Medium and already earns in four figures each month.
- Michael Leonard for tips on how to make a living by being a freelance writer. His tips on getting clients are super helpful and inspire you to try for your own and see how it works.
- Sumit Garg for kickass tips on how to draft articles that make hundreds of dollars. His articles are filled with data so you can see for yourself what kind of content works on Medium.
There are many more brilliant writers I am sure I am yet to discover. But if you want a refresher course on how to be a Medium celebrity, you can start by following them.
Engaging with readers
A response on Medium is precious. It means that a reader took their time to read the article, and then invested even more time to write out a thoughtful comment. My first $100 article has 11 comments as of today, and I have replied to each of them.
A habit I learned a few days back from the articles of one of the Top Writers I mentioned above is this: Engage with each comment. If a comment is particularly valuable, go to the profile of the person who left it, read through their stories and follow them if you find their writing suited to your taste.
Remember: responses from Medium comes from real people all across the globe. Building connections with such an eclectic bunch is valuable and is going to pay dividends in some form or another.
The Last Big Question
If you have read so far and are inspired (or can’t wait to write and start writing and making money), there might be one question bothering you: How do I make money if Stripe isn’t available in my country?
I made a YouTube video covering the topic. You can watch it here.
The Bottom Line
Inspired by the huge success of this article, I have decided to take up a “30 days, 30 articles” challenge and write at least one article for every day of June. I know (from all the articles by all the talented people I have read and from the law of attraction in general) that if you want something and you really truly work for it, there is nothing on this planet that can stop you from getting it. I am confident that very soon I will write another article titled “What I Learned From My First $500 Article on Medium”.
As Jen Sincero wrote in her brilliant book You Are A Badass,
All the stuff we’re so worried about creating and fixated on becoming is already right here, right now. The life you want is right here, right now.
So yes, here is the grand takeaway, the conclusion you have been waiting for: In two years, I never made more than $20 in one month. And suddenly, because of just one article, I made $200+ in the month of May. Since then, I have been writing religiously each day and hope to breach the $500 barrier by the end of June.
If someone like me can do it, so can you.
Start writing and keep at it. Read, research, repeat. And don’t shy away from dreaming big.
Here is another article that might help you as a beginner: