Is it Still Possible for New Writers to Make Money on Medium?

An experiment in starting from scratch, right now.

By Shaunta Grimes

I’m working on a secret project.

An experiment, really. I want to find out if I can start from scratch, right now in 2019, and make some money writing on Medium.

Someone asked Shannon Ashleyon her Facebook feed if it was possible and I thought — I really want to know the answer to that.

I came into Medium in 2016 with a solid following already intact. I had a good sized email list and I drove some of my own traffic to my posts. I never really started from zero.

I make a good income from Medium now. Roughly $1000 a week. But things have changed a lot and I want to find out if it’s possible to start from scratch, right now, and get to where you’re making some money.

My question is this: Can you go from zero to $1000 a month on Medium in 90 days, if you start with no following?

In the earlier days of Medium:

  • There was no pay, but there was also no curation to worry about.

  • There was a ‘top stories’ tab that garnered a lot of attention if you managed to land yourself on it.

  • Being published in a big publication used to mean a lot of eyeballs on your work.

  • Medium used to start you out with a following that included anyone on your Facebook or Twitter friends lists who also had Medium accounts (they don’t anymore.)

Things are different now. I want to find out exactly how different and whether or not it’s even possible to still start new today on Medium and get to a point of earning some money.

So last week I started a second account. An anonymous account.

Here are the rules for my experiment:

  • I’ll post once a day for 90 days.

  • I’ll work on building an email list and a publication from scratch.

  • I won’t share my posts with my existing audience — but I will share on my personal Facebook and Twitter, just like anyone would.

  • I’ll send a weekly newsletter to my email list and send my daily posts in letters to my publication followers.

My goal is to see if I can get to where I’m earning $1000 a month (a nice part-time gig) in 90 days.

Here’s what my week one stats page looks like:

It’s pretty early in the day for day seven and I only posted for the day an hour ago, so that post is still pending curation. But so far I have 604 view and 51 fans.

I also have 18 personal followers so far and my publication, which I started on day one, has 28 followers.

My email list has 36 subscribers so far.

What I Did This Week:

In case you want to play along, here’s what I did. It’s a good beginning for anyone just starting out.

  • I started a new account.

  • I became a paid Medium subscriber under that account.

  • I wrote seven posts. (Two of them I deleted when I realized that I really don’t want to be a confessional writer. Three of the five remaining posts were curated.)

  • I started an email list and added a ‘join my list’ type basic invite to the bottom of my posts.

  • I asked a small group of people who I thought might be interested if they’d like to join my email list. (You could do this by asking your friends and family.)

  • I made an Upscribe form and added it to the bottom of about half of my posts.

  • I sent Medium letters to my publication followers (even when I only had a couple of followers for the first letters) about new posts every day.

  • I followed three people every day and read and responded to their posts.

  • I shared my posts on my personal Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

Curation matters a whole lot.

I mean, a whole lot. As I write this, Medium only shares your new posts with your following, unless it’s curated.

If you’re just starting out and no one is following you yet, they have no one to share your post with.

Which makes posting on Medium a whole lot more like posting on, say, a Wordpress blog than it used to be. Maybe you’ll get the SEO right and your post will get some search engine traffic. And you can drive your friends and family there via your social media feeds.

But Medium will not bring you traffic from non-followers unless you’re curated.

One thing that’s hard for me to mitigate is that I’m an experienced writer on Medium. I’ve written thousands of posts here and I’ve already gone through the learning curve.

Your early posts need to be high quality.

Medium has a certain number of curators and they’re responsible for curating a huge number of new posts every day.

I have no real way of knowing, but I’ve heard from other writers that if your stories are passed over often enough in the beginning, they start to give you a notification that they didn’t have time to read them. Which means they’re not being considered.

The curation message of doom. (Screenshot by author.)

It used to be that you could start writing on Medium and learn on the fly. My experiment is showing me that if you’re just starting out now, you’d be best served by really studying their curation guidelines, reading some curated posts, and taking the time to figure out how to write high quality posts from the start.

Formatting your posts in a way that’s in line with what they want matters a lot, too. That means a good headline and subhead, a properly cited feature photo, lots of white space and subheads in your post, and clean copy that’s at least mostly free of spelling and grammatical errors.

Like I said, I’m starting from scratch in a lot of ways, but I know how to write for Medium. You’re going to need to do some work to find out what they want in a curated post and to make your work as professional-quality as possible.

Followers are not a vanity metric.

I’ll never say again that they are.

It was eye-opening to me to post something on Medium and have zero reads. I mean. Zero.

Because Medium doesn’t notify every single person who follows you that you’ve posted something new (thank god, because that would be an avalanche of notifications) — the ratio of followers to reads is low. Even very low.

But it’s not zero.

Before you start writing on Medium, you might consider reading and responding to other posts for a while. Leave comments. You’ll start to build up a following so that when you post your first posts, you’re not sending them out into the void.

Here’s stats (without the titles, because I don’t to mess up my experiment by driving traffic to it from this account!) of stories I wrote this week on my secret account that were curated.

(Screenshot by author)

And here’s a screenshot of posts that were not curated this week, on the same account. You can see what a difference even a few followers made. At least I don’t have ZERO reads.

(Screenshot by author)

A publication makes an early difference.

The reason those uncurated posts have any reads at all is because I put them in my new publication. It’s only been a few days, but because of the curated posts, I have 28 followers. I was able to send them a letter, letting them know I’d posted.

What I earned this week.

Hold on to your horses, folks.

I started my experiment on a Friday, which means that I had two days before the end of the pay period.

I earned five cents.

I’ll try not to spend it all in one place.

My Plans for the Next Week

My plans for week two of my 90 day experiment include:

  • Continuing to write daily.

  • Try to get into at least one other publication as a writer.

  • Send a query letting to at least one of Medium’s own publications.

I’ll keep you posted about how this experiment works.

Here’s my secret weapon for sticking with whatever your thing is.

Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, two dementia patients, a good friend, Alfred the cat, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes andis the author of Viral Nationand Rebel Nationand the upcoming novel The Astonishing Maybe.She is the original Ninja Writer.