Dear Zulie…Should I Avoid Publishing in a Medium Publication?

“I’ve noticed you don’t publish in publications very often. Is there a reason for this? Are we better off self-publishing?”- Rose

The good, the bad, and the ugly of Medium publications.

When I first started writing on Medium, back in September 2018, the prevalent advice was to submit to as big a publication as you could. The Startup. The Ascent. Big publications with hundreds of thousands of followers.

I did this religiously, never stopping to question why or look at my results. I was promised that Medium publications would bring me those coveted views and dollars. I cheered when I was accepted to The Startup, The Writing Cooperative, and other big name publications. The idea is that even if people don’t follow you, they’ll follow these big pubs and get exposed to your work.

But then I started to want to publish on my own terms – when I felt like it, rather than waiting for up to a week in some cases to see my story accepted. I started seeing some publications publish increasingly irrelevant content. And I started self-publishing instead.

Initially, I worried I’d see a dip in stats. Instead, I saw the opposite: my numbers grew. As I grew unshackled from writing only about topics I thought publications would accept, and started writing about things I thought were interesting, my writing voice grew far more developed and personal. And people liked that.

Plus, I could publish regularly and consistently on my own schedule, rather than waiting for a publication’s timeline.

Stories free from publications often did far better than those within them.

In this article, I want to break down the reasons you would publish with a publication, and why you might not want to.

Don’t do it for the numbers.

The Startup is a prime example of this. They have close to half a million subscribers, but what would you say they write about? They lack consistency and coherency, which in publications is a big failure in my opinion. I’ve seen all kinds of stories in that pub and as a result I unfollowed it. I think a lot of other people felt like that too, because the last time I published in the Startup, I got around around 100 views. Only 100 of the half million people who follow that pub saw my story. That’s wild to me.

Smaller publications often give far greater rewards. Why? Maybe bigger publications used to matter, but they don’t seem to much now, unless your story matches exactly with their niche. Smaller pubs meanwhile, have a committed and dedicated fanbase.

Do it for the fit.

I do still publish in some publications – Storius is a great example of a clear message, a defining idea, and writers who are obviously passionate about that. When I have a story I think will fit, I’m keen to submit it here. Likewise with publications like P.S. I Love You, or Jane Austen’s Waste Basket, the publications have a more modest but much more eager fanbase.

Because they know exactly what they’re getting when they click on a story from those pubs, readers are far more excited and eager to see what’s in it. P.S. I Love You only publishes great relationship content. JAWB only shows hilarious, wacky humor posts. Even though it has just over 1000 followers, I often get better results from JAWB than I do larger publications.

Give yourself a platform.

The advice back when I started writing was outdated. Numbers in a publication are ultimately unimportant. Unless they happen to feature your story, you’re unlikely to get much traction.

It’s more about the fit – does your story fit with their pub? Submit it. If not? I believe you’re better off self-publishing.

Now, the advice is to create your own publication. This is because Medium doesn’t guarantee that people who follow you will see your content, due to their topic-focused algorithm which favors recommending content by topic rather than author.

A lot of folks like Zach Payne and Shannon Ashley instead self-publish on their own publications, which lets them access the publication letter feature and email all publication followers, something a regular writer can’t do.

Ultimately, like many things that are so great about Medium, there’s no gaming the system. There’s no publication that will make your story take off. There’s no magic number of followers that will give you a regular monthly income. The best advice is the simplest: publish with publications that are in line with your story. If not, you’re better off going it alone.

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