Breaking down the elusive phenomenon of birthing a cash cow
When I first started taking Medium seriously, I tried to imagine what my earnings would look like way into the future.
I figured that eventually, I’d be making some sort of income on the site, and that this income would be pouring in from every single story I’d ever written. Each story would contribute its own little amount, and together they’d make a tidy sum that I could use to achieve financial freedom.
My goal was to reach $1,000 each month. I figured that as long as I could earn $30 a day, I’d achieve my dream.
What I didn’t realise was that earnings on the site are anything but consistent, and striving for neat would drive me insane.
Right now, I live in China and work a full-time job. Even if I wanted to give up my job and live on my Medium income, it’d be impossible if I still wanted to keep my visa and avoid being deported back to the fires of hell… aah I mean Australia.
So any income I make from writing on the site is instead sent to New Zealand where it’s invested in a range of shares and bonds.
Instead of living on my wildly unpredictable Medium earnings, the money is redirected into investments which then frees up my salary to be spent as carelessly as I choose.
“Yes I’ll have the gold-plated donuts, thank you.”
But while my earnings are increasing every month (thanks Medium, you’re the best), the money is never flowing in from every story evenly.
In fact it’s only a couple stories at a time that are really pulling the load, everything else earns either next to nothing, or absolutely nothing.
I call these high-earning stories my juggernauts, and they scare the crap out of me.
Make Way for the Juggernauts
If it weren’t for my juggernauts, I would’ve earned only about a tenth of what I’ve earned so far on the site.
My first juggernaut blew up in December and resulted in me achieving my first ever month earning more than $100.
The juggernaut article earned almost $300 over the month, while the second highest-earning scored only $3.
Things have become a little less extreme since then, with gaps not being so wildly enormous. But I still only rely on between 1 and 3 articles at a time to make almost my entire Medium income.
*(I count an article as a juggernaut once it’s earning 8x more than the highest-earning non-juggernaut article).
What scares me is that I haven’t nailed down why these articles are blowing up.
I can’t quite figure out what the secret sauce is, so I have a limited idea on how to replicate it.
If I knew, I’d be ballin’, but instead, I’m stabbing in the dark and just blindly hoping to draw blood again.
So far I’ve been very lucky that a juggernaut hasn’t expired for long before another rises to take its place.
Because of their consistency, I’ve managed to make some observations that may help in generating more of them in the future.
The Gods Must Smile
The first thing is curation. I’ve never had a juggernaut that wasn’t curated, although not everything that’s curated becomes a juggernaut.
I have about a 10% curation rate, which is very scoff-worthy for the truest writers on the mountaintop.
But among the articles in the elusive 10%, the vast majority of those only see a modest bump in stats, never juggernaut status.
One of the trends I’ve noticed among juggernauts is that they’re never the articles that’re curated weeks after being published.
Juggernauts share a curation timeline that occurs within 4 hours of appearing online.
So if an article is chosen for curation weeks after publication, I will always celebrate, but it’s never cause to pick out a new diamond sceptre for my collection.
Except for one exception, I’ve never had a juggernaut show its true self within the first three weeks of being online.
My most recent addition to the juggernaut club blew up immediately and started earning its keep right away, but all the previous juggernauts seemed as ordinary as any other article during the month they were written.
It wasn’t until the following month that they all turned into money-monsters.
So if an article is curated quickly but doesn’t start earning money right away, I’ll never rule it out as a possible juggernaut. It’s only an egg at this point, the day of reckoning is coming… probably.
Another trend that seems to follow my juggernauts is that they address an issue that’s currently taking off on the internet as a whole.
Jumping onto a trend has never worked for me, because by the time I’ve noticed and have written something that joins in, the trend is on the decline and no-one cares.
Instead, my piece needs to already be live and contributing to the conversation in a way that’s valuable to people.
It also needs to be online during those critical early moments when a wave is gaining momentum, but before anyone knows that a conversation is really building.
So how can you predict a conversation-wave?
It seems to me that you either have to become so well connected to the world as a whole that you can see things before they happen, or become psychic. (Not the late-night TV kind, the comic book floating off the floor kind).
I’m neither of those things, so whenever I’m part of the conversation during the critical early point, it’s always accidental.
I write on an enormous variety of subjects, and always take a position within that subject.
Often my position isn’t a popular one, so I’m no stranger to courting controversy; but I take so many positions on so many issues that occasionally I’m just in the right place at the right time.
I’m not firing into the darkness with a pistol, I’m unloading an automatic keyboard that fires in every direction.
To Sum It All Up
So how can you achieve the birth of a juggernaut? I don’t have any clear direction to give. Instead, all I can tell you to do is write often, write on a variety of subjects, and stick to Medium’s formatting rules.
No matter what anyone says, you want to be curated. I’ve never made more than $50 on any article that wasn’t curated. Getting curated is a magical combination of good formatting, good writing, and good luck. But judging by my curation rate, you may want to turn to someone else for your curation advice.
My last tip is to be unafraid with your writing. All my juggernauts take strong positions on issues, no matter how trivial the issue.
Let the readers know where you stand and why, and make sure you’re as informative as possible.
Draw the reader into your mind and your world and inspire thought. Try your best, but don’t despair when things don’t work out.
We can do everything right and still fail to write a juggernaut.
Luckily (as far as we know), Medium isn’t going anywhere, so we still have lots of time to get it right. There’s no time limit and no limit on posts, so post often and keep at it.
Most people give up before reaching the tipping point, so don’t be one of them. Keep going, and eventually the article you least expect to blow up will transform into a juggernaut right before your eyes. And when it happens, the feeling is indescribable.