Medium Curation Jail

And how to get out of it.

Happy Friday,

I want to talk about Medium’s curation jail. Man, I hate that phrase. I’m going to tell you why — and what to do about it if you’re in there.

Curation “jail” sounds like a punishment, doesn’t it? When people get sent to jail, that’s what it is, right? Punishment. Except, it’s not. Not for most people.

Humor me for a minute.

Imagine this. 35 people reading content as it goes up on Medium. Okay?
And around a quarter of a million people submitting stories.

Some weekly, some even less, and others 2-3 times a day. Now, I don’t know the exact number of active writers, but the grapevine says around 200K.

200K writers. 35 curators.
Get the picture yet?

There is no way 35 people can read the amount of content going up daily. Not humanly possible. So they have algorithms to help sort content as it floods in.

Some people always get their submissions looked at. That doesn’t mean they always get curated. But it means they get looked at.

Some people don’t even get looked at. They’re not in the “read” pile.
Because, more content than 35 humans can read.

How to know which you are?

Simple. Go to your stats dashboard and select a story that wasn’t curated. Under the title at the top, you’ll see a line that says “Not distributed in topics” with a little ‘i’ in a circle next to it. If you hover over the ‘i’ it will give you the reason for non-curation.

If you get the “high volume” message, your stories aren’t getting read by curators.
A lot of people like to call this “curation jail.”

I like to call it something else. Reputation.
As in, maybe you haven’t earned one yet.

How presumptuous is it to think one can show up on a site with 100 million readers and 200K writers and just expect to get featured out of the gate? Because that’s what curation is. Being featured.

But apparently, people do expect to get curated. I see it all the time. People going to the Facebook groups and complaining that they’re in curation jail, and when I go look, they have 3 posts, or 10 posts.

No one is owed curation. You know? I wrote for 6 months before I got curated. Mostly because I had no clue what I was doing, or how to earn a reputation that would move me to the “read” pile.

Some people get curated when they’re new. That’s luck. Luck happens. But should we expect it? Like it’s just a given. Hey Medium, feature me.

The hardest part for new writers (and not so new ones) is knowing who to listen to, and there’s a glut of advice posts out there. Of course there is—writing about Medium on Medium is like showing up at the playground with candy.

Doesn’t mean the advice is helpful.
Just means the writer will get a lot of clicks.

What to do if you’re in curation jail…

First, stop calling it curation jail. You’re not being punished. You simply have not yet earned sufficient reputation to have the algorithm push you into the “read” pile.

Pick a topic or two you can write on regularly. Submit to some of the bigger publications. If you’re brave, submit to Medium publications. There’s a few of the smaller Medium pubs that take a lot of new writers.

Often, writing for the bigger pubs and Medium pubs pushes you to the read pile.
If you get rejected, work on your writing and try again.

If you focus on quality writing and earning a reputation by writing for credible publications, you will get noticed eventually.

Which means you’ve earned a look.

Then you’ll stop getting the “high volume” message and have a shot at being curated. Being curated (featured on a topic page) is something we need to earn, not expect.

When you're one of 200K bodies hitting publish, not having earned visibility is not the same as being punished. It's not jail. It's earning your stripes. Just because no one hands out free stripes for everyone doesn't mean we're being punished.

New posts this week...

Clapping Once and 4 Other Dumb Things People Do on Writing Sites
I hate writing about Medium unless I can help. Hope this does.

26 Weak Words That Water Down Your Writing and How to Fix Them
The point isn’t to be a pedantic jerk. It’s to find the fluff with your name on it.

Thanks for reading and have a great weekend.


Let her down gently...

Some advice on getting feedback on your writing

Happy Friday,

A woman I grew up with has an adult daughter. We’ll call them Momma and child. One day, child messaged and said she’s writing a book. Could I have a look, she wondered? Of course, I said. Send it over.

Then I get a message from Momma. It said “Please let her down gently. That’s my baby

Wow, Momma.

The book was quite good. It needed editing, but what first draft doesn’t? She needed some help with technical skills, but what new writer doesn’t? But she had promise, and I told her that. I never told her what her Momma said.

It would have broken her heart.

Crabs in a bucket…

Maybe you heard part of this. If you put one crab in a bucket, it will crawl right back out. Put it back in the bucket, out it goes. You can’t keep one crab in a bucket.

Put more than one crab in a bucket and they’ll never get out. One crab starts trying to crawl out and the others pull it right back down. True fact.

If you look that up on the Internet, you’ll find people talking about how it’s a metaphor for humans who try to undermine anyone that tries to elevate themselves. Wikipedia sums it up as “if I can't have it, neither can you!”

Except, that’s not why crabs pull each other back.

A crab is hard-wired real simple. If you can’t swim out, climb out. So they grab the closest thing they can. If there’s no other crabs, the closest thing is the top of the bucket. But if there’s other crabs? The closet thing is the highest crab.

Interesting, no? The truth is probably a better metaphor for human behavior than the wrong conclusion most of the internet believes. No surprise there. Yay internet.

Be careful who you ask advice from…

So many people ask their loved ones for feedback. And unless your loved ones work in the field you’re asking them about, that’s usually a bad idea.

Lacking field knowledge, they’re either going to try to “spare” your feelings, or they’ll be so biased they can’t see what someone who is objective can see.

If we have an opinion without benefit of education on the topic, we say more about ourselves than whatever it is we’re commenting on.

Just like Momma and her child’s book.

If you really want feedback, the best person to ask is someone who has experience and understands the difference between critic and critique. They are not the same and only the latter is helpful. Critique we could all use. Critics, not so much.

This is especially true if you write on a place like Medium or Quora. If public opinion was any accurate measure of quality, we wouldn’t see a glut of trite and downright bad self-help that inevitably floats to the top.

They’re great places to build an interest-based audience, but they’re not a measure of quality by any stretch of the imagination.

If you’re writing a book or thinking of it, I wrote this for you…

The Top 5 Reasons Self-Published Books Fail

In case you missed it last week…

Writing Tips from Pulitzer Winning Authors

If you click through to read the articles I send every week, thank you. It does my heart good to see those clicks in my Medium stats. And it keeps me writing. :)

Have a great weekend.


A lot of your readers will kind of suck

And that's okay. Here's why

Happy Friday,

Want to know something crazy? The read rate on my last email was double the number of subscribers I have.

Which is… wow.

I have no idea if some people read it twice or if there’s a whack of people reading on Substack, without subscribing. (Please subscribe!) Either way, thank you.

But here’s the thing. A lot of your readers will kind of suck.
And that’s okay. That’s how it should be.

You can’t hit it out of the park every time…

Email marketing is part of my day job, so I’m intimately familiar with response rates that sometimes knock it out of the park and other times, honestly—kind of suck.

Incidentally, my own emails have better response rates than any I send commercially for clients, which I credit partly to carte blanche—and also to you. Thank you. You rock.

You can’t hit it out of the park every time. Not on your blog, on Medium, or email.
And you don’t need to, because that’s not what it’s about.

When you’re writing, whether it’s a post or an email, what you’re doing is looking for the needles in the haystack.

Your people, if you will.

1000 true fans

There’s an old saying that you only need 1000 true fans to make a living doing what ever you want. If 1000 people are happy to spend $100 a year on stuff you make or do, the math is simple—100K income.

Doesn’t much matter if that’s real dollars, or minutes spent reading on Medium.

But that’s an arbitrary number. If they spend $200, you need half as many. If they spend $50, you’ll need to double the number.

The tricky part, of course, is finding those true fans.

It’s not any different than meeting people in real life. Some friendships are instant. You meet someone and just click. Other times, the connection grows slowly.

It’s not just about you. (or me)

Sometimes, people find you and they’re a die hard fan instantly. Other times, it takes a while for that connection to grow. Especially if they’re cynical. And a lot of people are cynical because there’s a lot of dicey people in the world.

Once burned, twice shy.

On top of that, we humans have our own issues. Sometimes we’re not ready to connect. Maybe there’s too much noise in our life. Or stress, or fear. Sometimes, things happen. We lose loved ones, lose jobs, get sick, have family emergencies.

A month after my Mom died, I got an email from someone saying I haven’t read the last 4 emails and click this button or he’ll remove me. I let him remove me.

You know? I was grieving. 4 emails is too short a window to write someone off. Statistics are wonderful things to have, but we need to be careful not to let them turn us into self serving jerks.

A small number of true fans can make a big difference…

When Paul Harding won the Pulitzer Prize, his book hadn’t even sold 7,000 copies. It hadn’t even sold enough to make any bestseller lists.

When he was trying to find an agent or publisher, he got so many rejections and so much bad feedback that he threw it in a drawer for almost 3 years. Then he pulled it out and went to a small indie publisher.

And then sales kind of sucked. Royalties on 7,000 copies don’t amount to much.

But the small number of people who loved it yelled their kudos so long and loud that word of his book reached the Pulitzer team. Only after he won did his book start selling like hotcakes.

He’s third from right in the photo below, and his advice for writers inspired this post.
I think you might like it, whether you’re writing a book or writing on Medium.

If your response rates aren’t great, don’t be discouraged. Keep doing you. That’s the only way you can ever find the people who will become your true fans.

Writing advice from 10 Pulitzer Prize winners


From the archive…

Because archive and graveyard shouldn’t mean the same…

A lot of great writers suck at titles and this is what they taught me about writing

Medium Ultimate Tag Guide

A free gift for people who write on Medium

Happy Friday,

Years ago, my ex bought a yellow truck, and the weirdest thing happened. We started seeing yellow vehicles everywhere. Weird.

Who knew so many people have yellow vehicles? We’d never noticed them before.

Of course, that’s how the human mind works. You don’t notice what you don’t notice. Until you do. Then you see it everywhere.

Same thing happened on Medium. I was reading a post by one of the top writers.

When I got to the end, I looked at his tags and wondered why the heck he used such awful tags. Those tags aren’t going to help get views, is what I thought. Not that he needs the help, with the size of his following.

But some of us do.

Then I saw someone post to a Facebook group, and there it was again... How can I get more reads, asked the person with terribly unhelpful tags. I know because I clicked.

And then like yellow trucks everywhere, I got obsessed with looking at tags when I read anything. And wow, a lot of people sure mess up using tags.

Not that you can really mess up, because you can tag however you want. More that tags are a tool Medium gives us and a lot of people are using them really poorly.

Doing all the work to write a post and using crappy tags is kind of like creating a website and accidentally making it invisible to Google. Oops! There’s tools that can help, but only if you’re using them. You know?

Medium help files weren’t much help.

Occurred to me that maybe I see things like this, how the pieces fit together, how the tools work best, because my brain lives in analytics mode so much of the time.

So, I dug into the help files to see if I could find a good guide.

I was thinking what an easy post that would be. Talk about tags strategy and link to the help files. Hahah. No such luck. Not much help to be found in the help files.

So I sat down and wrote the help file I couldn’t find.

So much for an easy post. Nope, it was a mini writing marathon instead.

Once I did all the work to explain the smart way to use tags, seemed like it would be nicer to give it to you as a gift than just to post it on Medium.

So here you go. It’s a free gift. For now, anyway.

If you read it, I’d sure appreciate feedback.
Just hit reply and tell me if it was helpful…

You can download it here

Before you go! My newest post…

12 simple types of poetry that will make you a better writer even if you hate poetry

Don’t let the title fool you, there’s some great advice about writing in a way that makes people enjoy reading, from the New York literary agent I wrote about last week.

Have a great weekend.


Authors on Medium

Are you writing a book or do you have one already?

Happy Friday…

Medium has around 100 million active users now. 100,000,000. How wild is that?
And they all have one thing in common—they love to read.

Oh sure, Medium isn’t as big as Facebook (2.3 billion) or Twitter (1.2 billion). It’s close to Instagram’s 111 million now. But, I promise you, everyone at Facebook, Twitter and Instagram aren’t avid readers.

100 million people. Who love to read. All in one place. Is there a more ideal place for authors to find readers and build an audience?

So, why are authors struggling to find their audience there?

I can answer that.

Because it’s really easy to get sucked into community culture, no matter where you go. When in Rome, do as the Romans do, right?

So here’s what happens. You start writing on Medium and before you know it, you’re drawn into the lure of curation, claps and playing the approval game.

Before you know it, you become another cog in the wheel, writing for the public appetite instead of leveraging the platform to build your own business effectively.

Ask me how I know.

For the record, I’m not talking about turning into a marketing robot. Buy my book, buy my book. That doesn’t work on Medium. Not well, anyway. We readers tend to ignore the people who are so obviously there to hawk and pitch. We’re there to read.

But still. 100 million readers. All in one place.

So I spent some time working on a strategy. Then I started writing a book. I have the outline done and I’m filling in content now.

It’s a sort of right-brain book, with charts diagrams and things to fill in. So it’s not just theory, but more of a right brain workbook slash planner.

Soon, I’m going to be looking for case studies. It would make me really happy if I find them among my Substack or Medium readers.

But for now, I have a question.

If you are writing a book, or have written a book that’s not selling as well as you’d like, can you shoot me an email? Tell me where you’re stuck. And include your Medium username. If your book is already for sale, feel welcome to include a link.

I think it would be amazing to make this book somewhat interactive. Thanks!

Have a great weekend.


My Newest:

10 ways to avoid writing badly according to a New York Literary Agent

His advice is obviously on point — his clients include Pulitzer Prize nominees, NYT best-selling authors and multiple American Book Award winners.

An Old Favorite:

You know that charming story about the 2 wolves? It’s a lie.

95% of the views on this one are from Google, Facebook and Twitter, so maybe you haven’t read it yet. Enjoy!

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