5 Reasons I Don’t Try Very Hard to Get Into Publications on Medium
You may have heard that Medium recently sent out bonuses of $500 to 1000 writers who had high member engagement during the month of April.
I published 20 articles during the month of April. 18 of those 20 were self-published, meaning I did not submit them to publications that operate on the Medium platform.
I got the bonus anyway.
That advice a lot of the top writers (especially those peddling courses) give you — that you HAVE to be in publications to be successful? It’s not universally true. The month I had in April is proof. I’m not to the point of making quit-my-job money yet, but I’m making paid-my-rent money. Without being in pubs.
Today I’ll discuss why I don’t care a whole lot whether my work appears regularly in publications. However, I’ll also list a few reasons why you might come to a different conclusion for your own writing career.
I’m tired of writing for others’ approval
I remember the senior term paper I wrote for AP English class. It had to be about British literature, which I hate. I had my choice of using footnotes or endnotes, both of which I hate. I hated everything about that paper. But I had to do it well, to earn my teacher’s approval and get a good grade and move on to college.
My years as a web developer actually did involve some writing — I wrote documentation for the applications I created. I worked hard on it so that I could get “exceeds expectations writing documentation” on my annual review and get a 4% raise instead of a 3% one.
When I came to Medium, I felt a sense of freedom. The only people to evaluate my writing would be my readers. If they liked what they read enough to stick around for a bit, I’d be financially rewarded. There was no one central authority figure to impress.
Except, I was told, “To succeed on Medium, you have to be in big publications!” Suddenly, there were authority figures I had to impress — publication editors. That is, if I bought into what the so-called experts were telling me, which I didn’t.
I don’t need external validation that I write well
Many writers who come to Medium are complete novices. Others show up here with professional experience. I was neither.
I had never previously been paid for my writing, other than a few piddling dollars I made on a site called Squidoo 13 or 14 years ago. So I was by no means a professional when I got here.
On the other hand, I was far from a novice. I’ve been writing a personal neighborhood blog since 2004, and four of those years it won “Best Blog” in our local arts & entertainment newspaper. So I didn’t come here seeking the validation of being told I’m a good writer. An entire city already told me so.
Intuition told me to focus my effort elsewhere
Mind Cafe has long been one of my favorite publications to read. The things I have learned about myself, as a result of applying the lessons its writers have shared, have been life-changing.
During my second month of writing, I made it a goal to try and get an article accepted into Mind Cafe. I read dozens of that publication’s articles. I re-read the submission guidelines several times. I had a very good idea of what they were looking for…
… but something just felt wrong. I felt like it wasn’t my voice. It was me, mimicking the voice of a Mind Cafe writer. It isn’t what I wanted to spend my time doing. And my intuition told me, not through words but through feeling, “This is not your path.”
Self-publishing as frequently as possible, connecting with other rookie Medium writers, and reverse engineering the methods of top writers — those were the things that gave me a warm fuzzy feeling. The message I got from my intuition was, “This is your way.”
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my years on this planet, it’s this: When your intuition and advice from “the experts” conflict, always go with your intuition. Always.
I tried the “get in large publications” thing and it didn’t pay off
Toward the end of my first month as a writer, I had an article, Prepare Yourself to Know What You Want After College, accepted into The Ascent. I was so thrilled! It was — and is — one of the largest pubs on Medium, and one of the quickest-growing. I thought, “I wonder if I’ll make hundreds?”
Sure enough, I did — I made hundreds of pennies. To be specific, I’ve made 289 of them in the 7 and a half months that article has been online.
In my third month, I landed an article entitled Tech Support: How to Save Time and Prevent Stress in The Startup. Numero uno — the top active publication in terms of followers.
I went to the bar and bragged to all my friends about my accomplishment. Unfortunately, that accomplishment didn’t pay for the beer I was holding. To date, the tech support story has netted me $2.25.
Two months later, I was back in The Startup with networking advice for introverts. That piece has yet to clear the one-dollar mark.
To be fair, I have had much better luck in small and medium-sized publications. I would especially like to give shout-outs to the following pubs in which my writing has found financial success:
Self-publishing hasn’t affected my curation rate
Between February 1 and May 6 of this year, I published 65 times. Only 17 of those articles (20%) were in publications.
59 of the 65 articles (91%) were selected for further distribution AKA curated.
“Publish in publications and you’ll get curated more” may have been valid advice at an earlier time. In 2021, though, it doesn’t seem to matter.
4 reasons “Don’t try very hard to get into publications” might not be the right advice for you
What has worked for me won’t necessarily work for you. Here are reasons you could benefit from submitting to publications.
You need practice adapting to a particular writing style
At some point, I want to use my Medium writing as a springboard into the world of freelancing. Of course, that’ll lead me back to seeking someone’s approval — my writing will have to be good enough to satisfy my clients if I want to get paid.
In the months prior to breaking into freelancing, I will finally submit an article to Mind Cafe. I’ll want the experience of adapting my style to a particular audience. I’ll probably go back to submitting to some of my favorite smaller pubs with targeted audiences, particularly Wholistique and Age of Empathy.
Feedback from editors can be valuable
If you’re a novice writer, the faster you get feedback, the better positioned you’ll be for success.
Now, some of the time, you’ll get a rejection that’s something of a form letter as a private note. “This is (editor’s first name) from (publication). We appreciate your submission. This time we’re going to pass. We do, however, look forward to future submissions from you.”
On the other hand, sometimes an editor will see raw potential in your article — an idea that’s new, or a unique way of explaining an issue. They may let you know, “We can work with this, but it needs to be polished a bit.” Those kinds of interactions are opportunities for tremendous growth.
Even if you’re not a novice writer, but you’re new to Medium, advice from an editor can get you quickly adapted to the nuances of this particular platform.
Your intuition tells you differently from what mine told me
Remember what I said earlier. If ever the advice an “expert” gives you differs from what your intuition says, always go with your intuition.
If ever you read a publication and you get a feeling of, “This. This is where I can express myself fully,” go with it. We are all wired differently. Identify what works for you and do it.
You may find your tribe
Putting your work out there, especially in publications that accept articles in a particular niche, can have benefits that extend beyond just making money. You may get commenters who say, “This spoke to me on a deep level,” and then you read their stuff and feel the same way, and a lasting friendship is formed. You find the people who get you. You can have a support system that extends around the globe.
Of course, this doesn’t happen only through publications. Just putting the right tags on articles can facilitate finding your people. Publications can certainly help, though.
I hope I’ve convinced you that publishing frequently in publications is not a prerequisite for success on Medium. I’m living proof of that.
I do admit I may be something of a unique case. That’s because
- I’m done seeking approval for what I write, beyond that of readers
- I was an accomplished writer (although not a professional one) before I came here
- My intuition told me publications were not my personal shortest path to success
- I didn’t find financial success in the large pubs that get a lot of submissions
- I learned you can get curated plenty often without being in pubs
If any of that resonates with you, you might try self-publishing more often. I will admit that you should consider publishing in publications for the following reasons:
- Writing for a publication can be good practice for writing for clients
- Editor feedback can level up your skills as a writer
- Your intuition may tell you pubs are your path to success
- Publications can help you find your tribe
How do you feel about publications? A key ingredient in a writer’s success recipe, or optional? Let me know in the comments.
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