The Real Purpose of Publications
Whenever I speak with writers who are new to Medium, the absolute first thing that puzzles them is the publications.
Publications represent one of the biggest differences separating Medium from something like a Wordpress. They organise like-minded stories around a central theme, and really make reading through Medium a far simpler process.
For most of us, publications act like another writer in the long list of those we follow. It’s as if we’re following a single person who only writes on one topic, and has potentially hundreds of unique voices and opinions on a single issue.
When organised well, a good publication is a godsend for the reader. I know that certain publications make my reading experience far better, especially the ones that update multiple times a day.
Unfortunately what’s good for the reader is rarely good for the writer. That’s why I’d like to discuss the elements of publications that are great for writers, and those that aren’t so great. These points differ wildly depending on whether you write for your own publication, or submit to someone else’s.
So what’s bad?
I love publications updating throughout the day, because it means that every time I’m on my homepage I see something different.
For the writer this is awful. Writers who submit to a popular publication may wait days or weeks before they’re finally published, something that’s excruciating if your content is time sensitive.
You spend weeks waiting for your content to go live until… Hooray! I’m live! Except oh no, only hours later you’ve left “the list”.
The list is that tiny group of stories that sit under a publication’s title on the homepage.
If the publication is updated too frequently, you’ll be kicked off that list before too long. Once you’re off the list, you’re only visible to those who visit the publication page and scroll through it like a magazine.
Although depending on how many stories they feature on the homepage, you’ll likely join the archives before too long anyway.
This is why distribution matters (in spite of what people say). So long as you’re distributed in a topic that people actually search for, your article is likely to take on a legacy over the coming months.
Without distribution, the chances of your article holding its heartbeat are slim.
Visibility is far better if you’re submitting to a publication that you own.
Those that are subscribed will only see your articles on ‘the list’, so even if an old article is kicked off, the new one replacing it is one of yours.
It also feels really nice to see a story go live the minute you’re ready, rather than when someone else has finally queued it.
Another great bonus is that writers also have their own ‘list’ that appears on followers home screens.
If you’re submitting to your own publication, both you and your publication are appearing on people’s Medium feeds. Double exposure is a beautiful thing, although that exposure is going to be limited if your follower count is low.
Big publications have large amounts of followers, and that’s not nothing. Even if you factor in abandoned accounts, the numbers are still large. Articles have a larger chance of blowing up if exposed to a larger audience, even for a small time.
However the best thing about submitting to a publication has to be the extra pair of eyes.
You can’t undervalue the importance of having another person read over your work and check for the weird idiosyncrasies in your writing.
You may never see that your spelling you’ree incorrectly. I’ve seen the most ludicrous mistakes in people’s articles that I’m sure would never have made it onto the screen if it weren’t being submitted through their own publication.
I’ve also gone through past articles in my own publications and experienced unbelievable horrors that I didn’t spot at the time of writing. This article itself is bound to be full of nonsensical shenanigans.
The editor of a publication giving you their eyes for 5 minutes before hitting ‘publish’ is worth it’s weight in gold.
Speed versus Gold
It really comes down to what you prioritise when it comes to your writing, and I don’t believe in a wrong answer.
If you’re looking to write pulp non-fiction and pump out 30 stories a day, why not? Saturate Medium and make a living earning a teeny-tiny piece off every article. They all add up.
However if you’re looking to spin articles that really affect peoples lives, you either need -
- A writing club
- Incredible self editing skills that most of us don’t have
- A fierce best-writer-friend who’s brutally honest with you
- Or submit to publications
I personally like to do both. I write articles such as this one that I hope you’ll read, enjoy, and think about every now and then.
I also write articles I really hope will make some difference, and with those I try to ensure that someone reads it and gives meaningful feedback before publication.
There’s no right or wrong way to scratch out a living on Medium, as long as you’re writing.
The audience will always find what they want in the end, and hopefully your style lines up with the interest of enough people to turn a dollar. If the world wants what you write, they’ll tell you with their eyes, and Medium will turn that into money.
So what’s your style?