A promise I made to myself at the beginning
I received my first payment from Medium for April. It was 4 cents, which made me laugh because it was so absurd that the system would even bother with that. Why don’t they just wait until you hit a threshold, a minimum like $5? In any case, it got me thinking about the role of money in my writing.
Over the weekend I joined a Facebook group about succeeding on Medium and have lurked there, amused by the speculation regarding curation, and getting the attention required to actually make a few bucks. Experiences are dissected and analyzed but as far as I can see it still looks like a black box situation to me. I seldom join writer’s groups and when I do I almost always leave quickly because of the desperation to get published, and the sorry discussions about money and writing wear me out. Medium resolves the desperation for seeing one’s work published in a place that looks like a ‘real’ publication, but this is something you can do with any number of places online that need content, especially if it is free. Getting paid is another matter.
Wanting to get paid doesn’t mean you are selling out. It means you are a professional.
I have heard that there are writers who feel they have sold out if they write for money, a position I can only think of as an outgrowth of some kind of guilt. Either that or they’ve bought into the myth of the starving artist as some kind of honorable position. This is sad and ridiculous because successful artists get paid. Otherwise they are not successful! Yes, I know Van Gogh was broke for his entire brief life, but he was an anomaly because his work was so radical at the time that it was ascribed to madness. An Italian economic historian calculated the net worth of successful Renaissance artists in today’s dollars and it turns out they were often very wealthy. Michelangelo was a multimillionaire. Most of the famous artists of recent times are rich.
My promise to myself when I started writing seriously
When I started writing seriously I made myself a promise: I would not write on spec or for free, unless it was purely for my own pleasure (you don’t get paid for novels you haven’t written!). And for thirty years I have made a decent living as a writer. So, why do I write for Medium if I’m making 4 cents a month after publishing multiple articles? The answer is that this is a new kind of publishing model, one I find intriguing because it allows me free rein to write about anything I feel like exploring, and sharing my experience. But I didn’t really start writing here until I learned about the payment plan they came up with. I wondered if that would work. I don’t have my answer yet.
In the last ten years I would guess I’ve averaged around $.50/word for my non-fiction writing, primarily because of an expertise as a technology content marketer. That rate includes the sum total of my marketing experience in addition to my writing skills. I firmly believe that if you want to make a living as a writer, you have to have a niche and become an expert with a track record to prove it. But what about the high earners on Medium who write mostly about writing or personal trauma, therapy, or self-growth issues?
I won’t name names but these Medium celebrities are not in that place because they are great writers, they are there because they are great self-promoters and Medium supports them- it’s simply good marketing for the publication. I have zero problem with this and if their work gives comfort or helps motivate others, then so much the better. They’ve found their Medium niches.
If there is a problem it is not with those who are succeeding, it is with those who try to use the same playbook to become one of them. Hence the massive amount of writing about writing and the equally massive amount of introspective stories about trauma, self-growth, etc. Imitating might be a niche but it can get pretty crowded in there!
When I think about it and scan the day’s stories I see two patterns. One is writers who write and are read for their ‘voice’, their unique perspective and/or experience. The other is the more journalistic writing that is researched and structured to inform and is typically longer form. This shows up more frequently in publications and resembles the magazine articles I started out writing in the nineties, when you could make a good living pitching articles to national print magazines. In my couple of months of writing here I have tried both, writing about writing and creativity, and writing about the mechanics of content marketing, SEO, and other business-related subjects. I can test the waters because I have a base of writing income from my paying clients. That why I broke my rule about not writing for free.
Running the numbers or obsessing about the numbers?
For my paid marketing gigs I start my day by scanning Google website analytics, looking for patterns. Who is reading what? How long are they staying on a page? Where do they go after reading a post or visiting a product or service page? There are literally hundreds of ways to slice and dice this data. There are seldom surprises and when there are, they usually indicate something is broken. This running of the numbers keeps me on top of what is working and what needs work.
Obsessing about numbers is a different thing. I’m guessing most regular Medium contributors start their day by going to their stats. I know I do. At this stage I’m looking to see what subjects resonate and what fall flat. I’m not really concerned about money, I’m more interested in this feedback. It’s pretty cool to post an article and find out the next day that it spiked your readership. But if you’re not getting there and the stats are making you alter your style to try and make your writing popular, you may be obsessing. Instant feedback is a double-edged sword. It can be uplifting or it can sap your motivation.
I am ambivalent about the prospects of making money with my Medium articles. I know how to make money via conventional writing activities like my marketing work and my books. I post here for the same reasons I write novels- to express my ideas and because I like to write less structured content after writing highly structured content for a living. That’s why the notice that $.04 had been transferred to my bank account made me laugh! If I do make money here, it’s a nice bonus, but I feel there is sufficient other value that keeps me motivated to publish