Diversify Your Writing
When I worked in fundraising, I learned how crucial it is for nonprofit organizations to diversify their revenue streams. Relying on just one donor type (corporation, foundation, individual) for funding is risky, as there’s always a chance that a sponsorship will fall through, or a grant won’t be renewed, or an individual will pass away. And if said sponsorship/grant/individual is the organization’s primary source of income, it could hinder its ability to serve the local community.
It’s a lesson that can be applied to many areas of life. You’d think I would have used it in my current writing career, but no.
Needing that Dopamine Hit
When I switched from employed grant writer to freelance writer, my plan was to publish on Medium occasionally while also working on other forms of writing. I figured I could use Medium to build a portfolio, gain followers, and make connections, but it would be more of a side project, something I’d do between writing for print publications.
In little time, I grew addicted to the platform’s nearly instant feedback loop. With Medium, I can publish something and within minutes see that little bell at the top of the page light up green. A new reader! A new follower! A new comment!
Soon, publishing through other mediums (no pun intended) seemed, well, boring.
So, I have to submit this piece to an editor and wait weeks to find out if they’ll even publish it? And then it could take up to a year to appear in print? F that. I’m posting this article on Medium right now.
I kept writing and kept posting, and every Wednesday I’d check my dashboard to get the latest update on how much money I’d made. Each week the amount ticked just a bit higher, leading me to believe this was a rational formula. The more I publish, the more readers I’ll get, and the more readers I get, the more money I’ll make. This is amazing!
I shoved my long-term writing goals aside for a short-term dopamine fix and kept adding egg after egg into my Medium basket.
Then, the basket fell.
Last night I checked my dashboard. Despite posting an article every day last week and increasing my stats (followers, readers, claps, highlights) significantly, my earnings were way down.
Through a quick check on Facebook, I learned I wasn’t alone. Across the board, writers are on track to make less this month than they have in prior months.
For me, this is a harsh wake-up call.
The Medium Mystery
Theories abound as to why money is so low this month, with most believing that the new year brought resolutions to write, which meant an influx of writers joining the site.
And with more writers, there’s less money to go around.
The hope is that eventually, as resolutions die, the herd will thin and those of us who stick around will go back to making more.
But that’s all just guesses and hopes. The reality is, no one actually knows why this month’s pay is so low. The Medium Partner Program guidelines are vague as to how the allocation of funds is determined, which means not only could the pay stay low for the long-term — for all we know, this is the new normal — but we’re not being paid a steady, or sometimes even reasonable, amount for our work.
With most forms of writing, you know up front how much you’ll make and whether you’ll be paid a flat rate or per word. Even before submitting a bid or a query, with research you can often find out how much a publication pays and choose in advance whether to bother establishing a relationship. Perhaps your minimum is $1 per word; if a publication pays no more than $0.50 a word, you’ll know to avoid it.
But with Medium, you don’t know what your income will be until it updates the weekly dashboard. And you may end up making pennies for an entire article.
I spend hours writing each of my pieces and then additional hours promoting them through social media and my website. If you divide the amount I’ve made by the hours I’ve worked on any given piece, the return on investment is so low it’s embarrassing.
Get More Baskets and Move Those Eggs Around
If this is a career you want for the long haul, you have to diversify. Figure out where else you can publish. Pitch articles to magazines. Submit personal essays to newspaper columns. Look for paid guest spots on blogs.
Do more than just use Medium. Because the reality is, none of us know what goes on behind the curtain. We don’t know if the money will increase, decrease, or plateau. We don’t know which of our pieces will be curated, or which will be ignored. Top Writer tags are taken away just as quickly as they’re given and there doesn’t seem to be any rationale as to why some articles gain traction and others don’t.
I’m not saying not to publish on Medium. I love it there. I’ve made friends on the site— other writers whose work I admire and enjoy reading. We support one another, engage in conversation through the comments, and applaud each other’s work. It’s a nice community and I’m grateful for it.
And yes, the pay is helpful. Whether you make enough to pay your rent in full or simply cover the cost of a good cup of coffee, it’s a nice ego boost. If nothing else, you can call yourself a paid Writer, and that counts for something.
But community and ego boosts don’t pay the bills, so eventually you have to publish elsewhere. Start moving those eggs around and let Medium be just one of many baskets you use.