Don’t let a misunderstanding stop you from doing your best on Medium
Curation has been a hot topic in Medium ever since the concept was revealed. My very first curated story, written September 25th, 2018, has gone on to earn me $184 and unlimited amounts of external validation. I have been chasing that holy grail ever since.
Along the eleven months of writing, praying, and scheming, I ran into several misconceptions about Medium curation. With its reputed power and the air of mystery around it, it’s no surprise the curation process has developed its own mythos. So I asked around, ran some tests, and debunked the most common Medium curation misconceptions. Let’s dive in.
1. If your story is not curated at once, there’s no hope.
This one is a common one. People wait for hours, refreshing their stats, praying like hell that the Medium curators grant them their heart’s true desire. Then, they get the dreaded message that curators did not distribute this story.
However, it’s not the end of the world. The story above was rejected on the 25th and then curated — three days later instead. How can you make that happen?
- Wait. I didn’t do anything for this one — I’d written it off and moved on to my next story idea when I happened to see it retroactively curated. I believe Medium has a second round of checks they do for curation — I’ve had curation removed days after being granted, tags changed, and, as seen above, bestowed when I’d lost hope.
- Email Medium support. Yourfriends@medium.com is a wonderful and active support squad who has never let me down. If you sent them a polite email asking if there’s anything you can do to improve your curation chances, there’s a chance they’ll look at it and distribute it. This has happened to me and several other people I know of.
- Have a friend email in a tip. A while back, Medium invited readers to send in their favorite stories to firstname.lastname@example.org. I tried this a few times myself with a pal, and had some mixed success. It’s not guaranteed, but it’s worth a try. Ask a friend to write an email explaining what they like about the story and why they believe it should be curated.
2. Tags help curators decide what topic to distribute the story in.
This was one I actually emailed into Medium support staff to ask about. I wanted to know if there was a better strategy for tags to help curators kind of “distribute” or “assign” stories for curations.
Andy at Medium Support quickly got back to me to say that curators don’t actually see tags. They simply read the story and pick from the list of topics to distribute it in one, several, or no topics.
What can tags actually do? As far as I’m aware, not much. Medium does not use them to recommend stories to other readers. However, tags are used to generate the tag pages and are used when assigning Top Writer status. How much good those do is still up in the air, but I have had several folks tell me that they browse the tag pages when looking for good stories so you might be getting readers there.
3. Engagement helps with curation.
I’ve seen this so much — people believe that if their followers read, clap, or comment on a story, its performance encourages curators to be more likely to distribute it.
This isn’t true.
When curating, Medium curators are shown a completely naked story — no metrics, no tags, nothing but the story itself.
In my opinion, this is a good thing. It means that no matter how many or how few followers you have, you still get a fair shot at curation. And my experience shows this to be true.
I’ve had very popular stories that went completely uncurated despite getting hundreds of views and fans in the first hour or two, whereas stories with just one or two views went on to be curated in five topics.
Engagement still definitely helps with payment! But don’t fret that just because nobody has seen your post, that you’ll be shut out of curation.
What should you try to do instead? If you’ve already published it and you’re waiting in the queue, have a read of your title, first and last paragraph one more time. Read them aloud. Curators have thousands of pieces to read, so make it simple and straightforward.
Plus, I have a sneaking suspicion that stories that are easy to catalog into topics are faster to be curated. Ensuring that your title, intro, and outro are clear might mean a curator knows exactly what your story is about and can easily classify it.
4. If you write anti-Medium posts, you get put onto a curation blacklist.
Like I said, the air of mystery around curation has led to lots of people develop deep conspiracy theories to explain why they don’t get curated and others do. One of my least-favorite theories is that Medium has a list of writers it doesn’t like and refuses to curate them.
I can’t believe I have to say this, but this isn’t the case. I know of several folks who have written anti-Medium posts and gone on to be very successfully curated before and after.
Frankly, Medium curators don’t have the time. They don’t have a spreadsheet. I doubt they remember authors from one story to the next. They might not even be shown the author’s name.
The truth is that if your post is about Medium, they won’t curate it, whether that’s positive or negative.
I believe that’s so they’re not seen to favor or promote content about how to “Make it Big on Medium” and also perhaps to disincentivize people from only writing articles about how to game Medium for money.
At the end of the day, what we have to remember is that Medium is trying to become the go-to place for thought-provoking stories. They won’t blacklist anti-Medium stories because they just don’t care enough, but they won’t promote them either. They’re going to focus on what they believe are high-impact articles.
5. Curation is a static, unchanging process.
I used to think I had curation all figured out. I had a 66% curation rate, steady as a rule. It didn’t go higher and it didn’t go lower. I suspected that was simply the cap for curation.
Then Medium changed the game. First, in December-January time, they started emailing people to let them know they’d been curated which was a brand new development.
Then, in May, lots of other authors reported that they were able to be curated much more often, while my own curation rates skyrocketed to 95% or higher. I really thought this was the beginning of me leaving my fulltime job to focus on Medium.
Alas, it was not the case. Although curation rates increased tremendously across the board, engagement rates dropped. Curation used to guarantee much more engagement, money, claps than uncurated stories. Multiple curation used to mean that your stories would go twice as far as uncurated ones. Now? Sometimes there’s no difference.
The biggest change is that curated stories have a much, much longer lifespan.
Here’s a curated story’s stats over the past month:
And here’s one that wasn’t:
As you can see, the initial number of views is more or less the same for both. However, the curated one continues to receive views, reads, and fans over time. So even though it may not make a difference initially, curation now grants stories much more money over a longer period of time.
And in the future? Who knows where curation will go. I’ve had some authors tell me that Medium curators are contacting them directly to say they’d love to curate a piece but are missing X. Maybe this signals curation is about to become much more transparent. Maybe they’ll do away with it altogether one day. There are no guarantees.
6. Curation means make or break for your story.
One of the hardest things about writing on Medium for me is that I offer all my writing up to the ever-insatiable curation gods who, with a finger, decide whether my story is worthy or not. And when they decide it isn’t worthy, it really, really sucks. It feels like objectively, that piece was bad. After all, trained curators decided it wasn’t good enough to distribute. Who was I to question that?
But curators can be wrong. You know how I know? I routinely republish my stories. The exact same uncurated story, once republished, earned me over a hundred dollars and was curated in four topics. I didn’t change the story, I didn’t even change the title. Once around, the curators decided it wasn’t worthwhile, and the next time it was.
Additionally, sometimes curators make mistakes. The story I linked above was shared on social media and was widely distributed through those channels because people found it resonated so much with them. It’s also on the first page of google’s search results for “ghosted best friend.” It’s a good story, and I stand by it — the curators just didn’t agree that time. Maybe if I republished it they’d curate it.
Honestly, there’s a lot about curation we just don’t know, and perhaps we never will. I find the best attitude is to keep my head down, keep writing, and to keep believing in my stories. Spending time hypothesizing about how curation works or doesn’t won’t lead to any breakthroughs. Complaining about how fair or unfair Medium’s curator team is won’t help your writing.
The best thing you can do to improve your curation chances is to read a lot, write a lot, and write from the heart.