Sam Holstein

How to Make Loads of Money Writing for Medium

How to Make Loads of Money Writing for Medium

I’ve been writing for Medium full-time since the start of 2020. (What a bad time to start blogging full-time, let me tell you). It’s been my full-time job to figure out how Medium works: to figure out what makes articles get views, what makes them go viral, what makes them profitable — in short, to find out what makes Medium tick.

Here’s the two-step foolproof formula I’ve discovered to making loads of money on Medium:

  1. Write a good article.
  2. Repeat.

It’s not complicated. There’s no clever keyword research you can do to break through the Medium algorithm. You can’t hire a crafty VA to automate the process away. You can’t find the secret sauce to a passionate niche. But it’s not easy either. There’s just the work: write a good article, then do it again.

Both steps are key. People won’t read your stories if they’re not good, and there won’t be enough stories for people to read if you don’t keep writing good stories. Medium writers are paid based on minutes read, and you accumulate more minutes read when you have more stories that readers can spend their time reading.

When you have a catalog of 100+ articles on Medium, it’s nearly impossible not to make at least $100 or so every month. I think most people with a catalog of 100+ articles are making somewhere between $300 and $500 a month, although it’s impossible to know for sure.

For this reason, the one big goal of this course is to teach you how to write good stories fast.

Don’t Try to Hack the Algorithm (Because it Doesn’t Work)

“I’d never recommend imitation as a strategy. You’ll be second, which is very far from first.”
-Peggy Olson, Mad Men

Some Medium writers don’t put their heads down and do the work. They try to find a clever workaround. They think “since the majority of my income will come from winner stories, I should learn how to write winner stories!” They spend their time analyzing stories that went viral, trying to find similarities in their writing style, structure, so on and so forth. Then they write stories that are tailored to look and sound just like these winners.

I don’t recommend this strategy at all. I’ve tried numerous times, and it’s never worked for me. Medium writer Devon Price published an excellent article explaining why.

On Medium, there are a lot of very popular pieces about how to do numbers on Medium. Writers desperately want to learn the secret formula to success, and a cottage industry of writing about writing has popped up to meet that demand. There are essays about how long to make your titles, which words to put in your ledes, how to format your posts, and which images to use. There’s a whole series of posts dissecting why popular pieces were so appealing after the fact. On Instagram, Twitter, and Tiktok, a lot of similar content abounds, attempting to break down virality to a few core principles and algorithm hacks.

There are several problems with this approach. The primary one is how craven, soulless, and antithetical to making good art it is. Good writing cannot be easily distilled into a few search-engine-optimizing tips. Authentic creativity cannot thrive by following a few publicist-approved bullet points.

I’ve seen my essay Laziness Does Not Exist discussed in several how-to-go-viral listicles, and the advice always misses the mark so obliviously it makes me want to scream. One such piece claimed Laziness (and several other popular essays) went viral because it used the word “not” in its title. The author didn’t contemplate why a lot of popular pieces might take a critical or dialectical approach, resulting in their use of the word “not.” He didn’t probe the actual content of the pieces at all. He simply noticed that we all had a common word in our titles and left it at that.

The truth — that the essay was popular because its touches on core feelings of inadequacy that haunt many of us — is incompatible with an optimizing, content-generating view of the world. My essay did huge numbers because it was a good essay. It discussed a profound and pervasive human problem using a genuine personal narrative. It made a strong argument. Readers got a lot out of it, intellectually and emotionally. These qualities are hard to come by — you can’t force it, and you can’t recreate it by emulating someone else’s style or using a similar title as them. I find it pretty insulting that so many “content creators” on Medium think Laziness’ success was that surface level.

Don’t Stress Out About Your Medium Stats

It’s common for new writers to care about their statistics very much. They check their stats multiple times a day, keeping them aware of every new view they get. It can be addicting to watch your progress, but checking your stats often drags you down as a writer. It keeps you strung out on the stats page instead of relaxed, enjoying life, and writing wonderful stories.

Top Medium writers don’t check their stats very often. I used to check my stats several times a day, if only for a few moments each time, but I recognized that was holding me back creatively. Now I limit myself to checking my stats no more than once per week. Some top Medium writers check only once a month.

Top writers resist checking their stats too often for a number of reasons.

  1. The more often you check your stats, the more your writing changes. Instead of writing about what you most want to write about, you start writing — consciously or subconsciously — what you think will get more views.
  2. Judging your work by your stats performance is a poor way to judge. Seasoned writers know sometimes excellent writing doesn’t get a ton of views and mediocre writing goes viral. There are many reasons for this. Your stats are affected by many variables out of your control, like the global political and economic climate and algorithmic adjustments at Medium corporate.
  3. Since most articles don’t go viral, most occasions of checking the stats page are a disappointment. The more often you check your stats, the greater likelihood any individual check will be disappointing. This lowers your morale as a writer.
  4. Every minute you overanalyze your stats page is a minute you could be writing.
  5. Checking your stats frequently compromises your peace of mind. You end up worrying all the time about your stats. It’s hard to sit in peace and enjoy the moment when your mind is on your stats.

If possible, try to limit yourself to checking your stats only once a day.

If you have trouble doing this through willpower alone, you can configure your computer to enforce the limit for you. Using an application like Self Control for Mac or Freedom, configure your computer to only allow you to the Medium stats URL for five minutes a day. This will ensure you don’t allow yourself to get sucked into your stats.

The Number One Reason People Don’t Make Money on Medium? Giving up Too Soon

Starting any kind of entrepreneurial pursuit — and that’s what writing on Medium is, from a business point-of-view — can easily become overwhelming. You have to learn so many new skills, and you feel like you have to learn them fast to succeed. The sheer overwhelm can cause many people to give up.

This is my message to you: Don’t give up.

Instead…

I would say that if you publish three good stories a week for three months in a row, you cannot fail to build up at least some income on Medium. In my experience, if someone fails to build up an income, they either aren’t writing enough stories or they aren’t writing good enough stories.

But even if it takes longer for you, don’t give up. I’ve been writing on Medium for three and a half years now and I’m only just beginning to feel like I know what’s going on around here. And even so, there are plenty of top writers whose performance dwarfs mine. It would be a tragedy if you missed out on accomplishing your writing dreams because you became discouraged and gave up too early.