I Quintupled My Medium.com Earnings This Year
I’ve been writing on Medium for more than two years now. In all this time, I’ve felt like the kid sister, perched at the top of the basement stairs, spying on all the older kids, trying to look chill while hoping to get noticed. And then, all that changed when I reviewed my earnings last week and realized — “Holy cow, I’ve already made 5 times what I earned last year — and it’s only November!”
We all start somewhere
A funny thing happens when you stick with something. Rather than just tell you about about my path, I’ll show you my actual numbers as evidence it’s worth staying the course. I want you to see how I’ve (slowly) transformed some initial earnings into income (and learning) that I’m proud of. I don’t need to tell you how much work goes into the writing life, and my story won’t launch you into Medium’s stratosphere — but it may offer some reasons to keep going.
In the first 10 months of this year, I earned $825.62 from my articles on Medium. Though that’s hardly enough to carry life’s expenses, I’m encouraged by the gains I’m finally making, eager to share what’s working — and what’s not. And as a fun little experiment, check back here again to see how this post performs. I’ll update its earnings regularly:
As of November 9, 2020, this piece has earned $0.00
As of 11/16/20, $0.52
As of 11/18/20, $0.98
As of 11/23/20, $1.01
As of 11/30/20, $3.70
As of 12/3/20, $3.91
As of 12/15/20, $4.01
As of 12/28/20, $4.35
As of 2/18/21, $4.68
As of 3/23/21, $5.09
How To Break Out On Medium
Before you get anywhere on this platform, remember these two essential things: 1) a transactional mindset doesn’t help and 2) earning takes way more patience than you think.
Lose the transactional mindset
It’s important to write for the sake of writing, rather than hoping to be like anyone here. I’m no standout on this platform. I’m no @Susan Orlean. I’m no @Casey Botticello. I’m no @Tim Denning. Sure, I’ve had a few thrilling blips of distribution, but mostly, I’ve been insecure and ridiculously undisciplined, dissecting their articles (and so many others), hoping to “crack the code”.
By day, I eke out a living running my full-time writing consultancy. I’ve published here only when the mood strikes — then felt disappointed when the stats didn’t reflect my emotional investment. The problem is, I’ve had a transactional mindset, hoping to “get something back” for my efforts — be it curation, acceptance in a publication, broader distribution, wider recognition, increased stats, more claps, a higher following, and — above all else — more money. But none of these factors make good writing; it’s our words — and our efforts — that do.
To be sure, performance metrics — especially for us writers — are intoxicating. But when you let yourself rise above that cesspool — and focus solely on your story — you elevate the clarity and quality of our output. And trust me, your stats will reflect your authentic mindset. With every piece you publish — even the ones that fall flat — you’re doing more than just building a body of work. You’re building your stamina and proving to the world that you’re in this for the long haul.
One leap I took — that I highly recommend — is launching your own publication. I launched mine — Women This Way — in 2019, and I’m definitely still learning the ropes. It’s a ton of work to run a digital publication — but it encourages a mindset of giving. I’m constantly asking myself, “What do readers want to see?” “What would make their lives better?” If you want to be a literary citizen, this is an excellent way to build community.
Remember that earning takes patience
Granted, I haven’t yet cracked $1,000 in annual earnings on Medium (yet), but it seems that I’m getting close. And who knows? Maybe this post will change that?
I’ve been writing on Medium since May of 2018, and in the 30 months since then, I’ve published 54 stories (not including this one), and made a total of $1183.49. Divided by two years on the platform, that’s just shy of $600/year — for what I’ve put in — and THAT’s the key. I know I can put in MORE. And I now have more confidence — and knowledge — to publish more often (and with even more impactful) pieces.
The biggest secret on Medium is compounded earnings.
Every time you publish, you learn more about yourself as a writer, honing your sense of what resonates and what falls flat. Every time you publish, you learn what topics are easier for you to write than others, and what your most natural voice sounds like. NOTHING is a waste — not even pieces that don’t “perform” well at first, and I’ll illustrate this point in just a minute. Readers might stumble upon your latest piece, then check your profile, looking for more. Every piece you add to your portfolio impacts earlier pieces. And remember: everything you publish takes on a life of its own — one that just may surprise you.
How Much Can You Really Earn On Medium?
Let’s break down my personal numbers:
- In 2018, I published just 13 stories and earned $186.44.
- In 2019, I published almost twice as much (22 stories) but earned 10% less ($171.43). That totally, totally sucked.
Believe me, after reporting each of that 2019 figure on my taxes, I wanted to quit — but I’m so glad I didn’t give up. This year, through October alone, I’ve increased my Medium income more than 5x, publishing 19 stories and earning $825.62.
So let’s break down the numbers even more:
In 2018, I averaged $14 per story.
In 2019, I averaged $7 per story.
In 2020, I’ve averaged $43 per story (so far).
How I Quintupled My 2020 Earnings
How have I more than quintupled my Medium earnings while writing fewer stories? Here’s what made all the difference:
1. Publish fewer & better pieces
Contrary to what some might tell you, publishing less can lead to more income. As evidenced in the chart above, more published pieces won’t guarantee more money. In 2019, I published 22 pieces and made $171.43. This year? I’ve published 3 fewer pieces — and made more than five times as much.
You might ask yourself, “So how do those numbers even add up?” Good question. Keep reading.
2. Pitch your best work to the best publications — they pay WELL
One of the best decisions I’ve made on Medium was to pitch a story to Better Humans for a flat fee.
Though I’d been curated and featured in Medium publications, I’d heard that some pubs will, after accepting a pitch, offer writers a flat fee for a piece. This intrigued me.
And so, in 2019, having written an epic piece about traveling with teens, I pitched my story to Better Humans, knowing that, if it was accepted, I’d have two options: a $500 flat-rate commission, or standard pay-for-performance. Knowing how long my story was (a 17 minute read at more than 3,000 words with tons of photos and travel itineraries), and that readers tend to prefer shorter pieces, I chose the $500 commission.
My story was published in Better Humans late in 2019, and I received a $500 check early in 2020. Imagine if I’d pitched even more of these (and believe me, I plan to do so). Start by checking submission guidelines for publications you hope to appear in, then start sending your best work.
3. Treat every published piece as an investment
Remember: Your pieces have the potential to continue earning money long after they’re initially published, particularly if they cover evergreen topics. I’ve been especially amazed by the income flow of some of my earliest pieces, particularly as news cycles impact readership.
For example, I wrote a piece in 2018 titled I Had Dinner With A Racist Last Night. This Is How It Went, written from a place of pure and personal emotion. I didn’t publish it with any other intention than to call out blatant racism as I’d witnessed (and addressed) it. Even though the piece was distributed by Medium’s curators, the stats showed minimal readership for more than a year. But check out my stats for that story below…and how they’ve evolved over time:
Here’s what I think happened.
Following the horrific killing of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, massive protests took hold of the country, igniting a much-needed and long-overdue focus on systemic racism in America. As you can see in the stats above, it seems my story’s readership reflects changing public interest. My “peak” readership (between July 4–11, 2020) coincides at a time when police brutality prompted a national reckoning about racial injustice. In the midst of a long overdue national conversation, readers across the globe devoured anti-racist content.
My piece — about an experience that happened a year and a half earlier — suddenly found a new audience hungry for evidence of racism and reflections on white privilege. My personal story, it seems, became part of a larger one, and was widely shared during a worldwide movement.
It’s worth mentioning that, once I reached $300 in earnings on that post, I donated that amount to my local YWCA, whose mission works to eliminate racism. It felt good to take the money I’d earned and put it to work on the very problem I’d written about. It’s moments like this that keep me writing every day.
4. Recognize — and work around — your writing roadblocks
What’s held me back from publishing more — and what tends to hold many of us back — is a three-way, sucker-punch combo of
- Perfectionism (I confess I have 139 unpublished drafts. This is a problem.)
- Frustration (trying to “fit” my writing into parameters I think I have to follow to “succeed”)
- Comparison (“others publish better/more pieces than me”)
The key is to write from your gut without trying to conform to others’ standards. While it’s important to understand the basic mechanics and standards of Medium— including formatting, writing compelling headlines, using eye-catching photos, etc. — it’s essential to make your voice (and not the platform’s expectations) the ultimate priority.
5. Write what you know…and don’t be afraid to explore what you don’t
I’m not a “niche” writer…at least not yet. The truth is, I want to explore all my writing chops right now. I write about a lot of things to see what clicks.
Some of my work is commissioned and outlined, and some is done with little planning or forethought. If someone approaches me with a compelling story idea…or if a topic just gnaws at my heart…or if a subject just begs to be explored — then I let myself go there. Over time, it’s become more and more clear which topics are in my wheelhouse — and which ones remain a challenge to write.
As such, I created this graph of the topics I tend to write about most, rating them in relation to the ease with which I write:
You might think, looking at that chart, that because it’s hardest for me to write about Race, I should stick to writing about the subjects I can cover in my sleep (ie., Anxiety). However, my most widely-read post in my 2 years on Medium is about the time I mentioned earlier, when I confronted a racist:
As writers, we gamble every time we choose a word, let alone a topic. And so, it was a leap of faith to write about that encounter. I was nervous that I’d hit the wrong tone or offend others. I wrote with a mix of anger and vulnerability and insecurity. And the way I moved past those insecurities — and published a piece that’s been seen more than 9,000 times and earned more than $300 — was to write from the heart about the injustice I saw and the way it moved me. I didn’t have to be a scholar to describe what I saw; I didn’t need credentials to convey the evil I witnessed. I just had to be authentic and write from my gut. So I did.
My Medium Earnings Broken Down — By Month
Sometimes it’s helpful to see earnings at a granular level, just to see the slow and steady trajectory of growth. So, if you’re a numbers nerd, here’s a deep dive into my monthly stats:
2018 — Total Earnings: $186.44
Published Stories: 13
Average Per Story: $14.34
# Stories by Month:
• December — 1 ($13.59)
• November — 0 ($13.78)
• October — 2 ($24.53)
• September — 1 ($48.24)
• August — 3 ($45.03)
• July — 1 ($22.04)
• June — 3 ($16.50)
• May — 2 ($2.73)
2018 Monthly Earnings Breakdown:
2019 — Total Earnings: 171.43
Published Stories: 22
Average Per Story: $7.79
# Stories by Month:
• December — 3 ($28.61)
• November — 2 ($30.18)
• October — 3 ($6.85)
• September — 0 ($6.28)
• August — 1 ($21.45)
• July — 0 ($20.87)
• June — 2 ($6.79)
• May — 0 ($1.72)
• April — 5 ($10.76)
• March — 1 ($2.41)
• Feb — 3 ($9.96)
• Jan — 2 ($14.76)
2019 Monthly Earnings Breakdown:
2020 (through October) — Total Earnings: $825.62
Published Stories: 19
Average Per Story: $43.45
# Stories by Month:
• December — TBD
• November — TBD
• October — 4 ($54.98)
• September —2 ($11.30)
• August — 0 ($21.86)
• July — 1 ($83.54)
• June — 2 ($29.90)
• May — 3 ($34.56)
• April — 2 ($17.77)
• March —3 ($20.43)
• Feb — 1 ($20.18)
• Jan — 1 ($31.10)
2020 Monthly Earnings Breakdown To Date (plus $500 payment from Better Humans):
After more than 2 years here, things feel like they’re finally clicking, and I’m glad I never threw in the towel. And if you think you’re not earning enough yet, or rising slower than you’d hoped, give it just a little more time and remember:
- We all start somewhere
- Lose the transactional mindset
- Earning takes patience
- Publish fewer & better pieces
- Pitch your best work to the best publications — they pay WELL
- Treat every published piece as an investment
- Recognize — and work around — your writing roadblocks (especially perfectionism, frustration and comparison to others)
- Write what you know…and don’t be afraid to explore what you don’t
Best of luck to you. And don’t forget to check back now and then to see how this story performs!
Christine Wolf is an author, journalist and writing coach from Chicago. She’s five feet tall and calls it like it is. Follow more of her writing at www.christinewolf.com.