One poet-journalist’s review of Medium in 2017
I’m disappointed you don’t “get” my work. We can still be friends.
Update: I wrote this before Medium began allocating most of its financial resources to celebrity and print published writers, and have since moved most of my work to my own member platform using Mighty Networks over at creativeonion.me.
Since Medium invited me into their initial fold of paid writers early in 2017, first under the editorial team’s curated content, then in the first wave of Partner Program writers, writing for Medium has given me the impetuous to clear the clogged ductworks of my creative faculties and expel some of my best poetic and essay work to date. It’s prompted me to re-examine how I consider and approach categorizing and publishing my work — most notably opening my eyes to the wild west of self publishing, which I now understand to be the only reasonable path forward for nonconforming authors like me.
Writing on Medium has, perhaps most notably of all, forced me to build community with my peers, which I’m not naturally inclined to do — but which has been an incredible boon. The tenacity, the wit, the self-education, the host of synchronous ideas my peers have demonstrated to me have been largely responsible for my evolution into an honest, authoritative, autonomous author.
Scholars like Joshua Hehe, who are peeling back the layers of the cosmos with studied humility; empathic imagineers like Jack Preston King who sets the gold standard for self-publishing as a networking, work-promoting machine; digital fiction pioneers like John Metta, who doubles as a brilliant social journalist (as do most Medium writers, let’s be honest); fearless voices who speak the truth of desperately underrepresented perspectives to power, like Jordan Bray; local activists like Briana L. Urena-Ravelo, who constantly challenge us to consider the lens of our reality — and who mirror this challenge in their own individual growth.
And, of course, all the fantastic writers I’ve been privileged to publish over at COSGRRRL, the nerd publication I launched here on Medium a few months back.
It’s a privilege to create and interact with such diverse perspectives, and such universal enthusiasm.
Which really is the magic of Medium: the enthusiasm of its community.
We have, for the most part, honest, but genuinely civil dialogue in our comment threads. Yeah, the trolls slip in. But there’s some hella constructive shit going down in some of those threads. And also a lot of love and encouragement and sharing of experiential wisdom.
As a publisher, I find Medium’s tools to be absolute revelation to the industry, which we’ve already seen have hugely positive repercussions in the world of independent media.
So yeah: that’s all been fantastic. I’m grateful for the opportunity for creative outlet and community building, which have been immeasurably valuable, and the tools for building digital audiences.
Here comes the flip side.
As a publisher, as a poet, as a journalist, and even as a reader, I’ve become annoyed to the point of near ambivalence.
My endgame has always been to write promote my creative works first and foremost. Journalism and essay writing is something I’ve fallen into rather haphazardly, mostly because there’s a much higher demand for journalism than poetry, and it’s been the most direct way for me to translate my personal experiences and knowledge into tangible value for my community — and for me to grow my career as a writer.
Poetry is harder to penetrate than prose, but it also gets the point across much more directly. I can say more in one nine-line stanza than I can in a 2,000 word essay. But it might take the same amount of time to comprehend. Which digital readers aren’t used to. Quite the opposite: Medium’s regular Partner Program updates have made it clear that Medium readers actually prefer more longform content, and the editorial team has been curating in that direction, as evidenced by “Longreads” having its own section in December’s release of the mobile Audio feature.
It occurs to me that poetry is almost like the polar opposite of longform: it’s a super condensed snapshot you have to sit with. It’s small but takes up a lot of space.
Anyway, it’s no surprise that poetry is always one of the toughest sells of the writing industry.
But here’s the thing:
great ideas can change the world when you create a welcoming space for them. That diverse perspectives deepen our understanding of complex issues. And that lots and lots of people have a hunger for depth and knowledge — a hunger that is being underserved.
We believe people who write and share ideas should be rewarded on their ability to enlighten and inform, not simply their ability to attract a few seconds of attention.
So, we are shifting our resources and attention to defining a new model for writers and creators to be rewarded, based on the value they’re creating for people. And toward building a transformational product for curious humans who want to get smarter about the world every day.
I’ve naturally assumed, based on Medium’s mission, that creative writing was a part of that vision. Fiction, poetry, genre-bending magical realism and creative nonfiction. After all, diversity of genre is just as important as diversity of content, is it not? Because they allow us to see through lenses which illuminate what our regular lenses cannot.
But so far: I’m not seeing it. Quite the opposite.
Sorted by total views, I have to go to #7 to find the first of my poems, which is a silly throwaway poem. The next closest is at #10, then #25.
Check it out:
So, basically, to sum up, we’ve got:
- Great essay
- Great journalism
- Stupid rant
- Good journalism
- Happy poem
- Happy rant
- Great journalism
- Great poetry
Do you see how “great” and “happy” tend to gravitate towards the bottom of the pile, while “stupid” and “clickbait” fall towards the top and middle of the deck?
Yeah. That’s the trend. It’s obnoxious as fuck.
Medium readers, in some regards, are proving to be just like all the other audiences on the Internet: they love them some clickbait.
I have digital marketing analytics brain, so I could ramble on ad nauseum. Whether I sort them by fans or by reads, the lion’s share of my poetry and more substantative works trend towards the bottom of the stack.
Poetry has consistently underperformed all other writing genres. The vast majority have gotten less than 50 reads, with many unable to crack 20.
In other words: my poetry has gotten jack shit for visibility.
With that analytics brain, I immediately think of what variables that could cause this. Really, it boils down to two: 1) the content is not engaging audiences well enough to trigger visibility, or 2) Medium doesn’t have a method for promoting the visibility of poetry.
As to #1, I can safely rule this out. The only way to make my poetry float to the top of my stats is to sort by read ratio. My poems consistently sport 80–100% read ratios, with fan-to-views ratios which make the engagement rates of essays and journalistic works pale in comparison.
Also: I’m an excellent poet. I have a combination of innate talent, formal educational training, and a diversity of experiences as a professional writer. And, most important of all: I have something important to say. My work is good. I’d venture to say probably some of the best poetry on Medium, and I’d hold it as equal to any published or graduate work in the country.
That’s not egomaniacal, to say that. I’m just stating facts. It’s ok for me to know that my work is good. It eliminates the nail biting bullshit. I can weed that variable out.
So that leaves us with variable #2.
Dan Belmont wrote a really nice summary on the topic of Medium’s weird relationship with the creative writing genre a few months back. He gets into the nitty gritties of Medium’s cramming all of fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, and everything in between into one “Lit” subcategory, which is not included in the homepage’s menu nor featured sections.
What seems odd to me is the decision to dedicate so much space to literature on creativity when promoting literature itself is not one of Medium’s priorities.
What’s the point, then? Why would you feed users with countless articles on how to become a creative writer if their creative writing will then be overlooked by the same website where they learned how to become creative writers?
This is not a matter of quality: it’s a matter of editorial choice. …Can you imagine what would happen if Medium showed as much interest on the output of creative writing as it does on the creative process? With a little push from Medium editors and the partner program as a selling point, I’m sure this could become the go-to place for poetry and fiction online…
It’s almost like…Medium just doesn’t know where to put poetry.
I won’t go into Medium’s recent over-reliance, in my view, on high profile/celebrity authors with pre-established audiences, and on the exclusive nature of their audio section’s curation (the only way to record your own audio is to be invited to their studio). Whatever. If Medium wants to try to incubate a crackpot news editorial team that serves up mass media shit alongside independent journalistic caviar to show how “balanced” they are, while reserving studio time for the politically cool kids, bully for them.
But why not ALSO have an editorial team that’s curating Medium’s deep well of brilliant creative writing?
Why the obsession with news and politics? We’re all tired of the news, and we’re waking up — now is the time, if there ever was one, to embrace creative genres which expand our minds in alternative ways.
Come on, Ev Williams. Where’s your focus been, man? I say this out of love. I really do genuinely love you (I know that sounds weird, but it’s true). And I know you’ve been doing your best. But I think that in your quest to do your best, you’ve gotten distracted by the toxic anxiety of current events. At least, if Medium’s focus on current events is any reflection of your own focus. Yeah, there’s a LOT in politics and tech and economics and current events to talk about. But there’s a LOT in other corners that we’re missing while we’re trying to keep up with the daily cycle.
I mean — think about it for a second. “Self” sits alongside “Productivity” on the main utility bar, and there isn’t even a dedicated section for poetry within the “Lit” category? How many articles do people really need to read about self improvement and hitting a daily word count?
It’s the shower principle, basically. Our conscious needs to rest, so our subconscious can work, and solve problems the moment we relax and stop trying.
It’s trying to split that vibrational frequency that constantly rings in your head into two tones, then suddenly you realize you’ve been meditating for 25 minutes.
It’s science, bitches.
That’s why creative writing is important.
Whatever. Ev: be you, baby, and Medium, be Medium. I’m gonna be me, which includes expanding my work and audience and connection with other quality writers as much as possible — and leveraging my talents, which include audio recording. And right now, it’s clear that while Medium is a brilliant home for me to advance my voice as a journalist and essayist, and to plug in to a community of writers, it’s not a viable outlet for my poetry and more creative works — nor for some of my more radical ideas (my piece on DMT still hasn’t cracked 100 views).
So here’s what I, personally, am going to do:
- Enjoy the fact that I am a medical marihuana card holder in a state that allows medical marijuana, and celebrate the wonder of this magical herb by smoking down, and being quiet and listening for a few moments.
- Start a new podcast (or two), cross-posted on YouTube. Invite sweet guests. Get witchy on air. Invite cannabusinesses to sponsor my shows.
- Independently publish a book of poetry and a book of essays (probably on Amazon). Promote these to Barnes & Noble, local, and indepdendent bookstores. Holy Grail goal: Powell’s Bookstore.
- Begin publishing COSGRRRL as a quarterly print subscription. Promote to local comic book stores.
- Continue publishing journalism, essays, poetry, fiction, and whatever else here on Medium, and using Medium’s publication platform to share and promote podcasts and videos.
- Hold out hope that one day Medium values creative writing enough to hire dedicated editors for fiction and poetry.
In conclusion, and for posterity’s sake (it is New Year, after all), here’s a ranking of my top 10 most important posts from 2017.
I think 2018’s going to be a good year.
#2: Essay journalism
Instead of silencing Ayahuasca users, demand the legalization of DMT
The real enemy is the prohibition of human consciousness
I am reminded / that the bomb / also / is a flower / dedicated / howbeit / to our destruction. / The mere picture / of…
out of this world
what if our hearts were arc reactors that could beam our feelings into the Universe cutting — or welding, depending —…
#5: Pop culture essay
Stranger Things 2 is about facing your pain
In a DnD analagy, pain isn’t an obstacle; it’s the pinnacle of the story.
#6: Pop culture essay
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a lovesong to the real Resistance
And like it or not, it’s canon AF
#7: Poetry series + photo essay
all this has happened before, and all of it will happen again
It’s funny, isn’t it? We’re all God, Starbuck. All of us. I see the love that binds all living things together.
#9: Ancestral fiction
Ancestral Yarn # 1: The Davis Clan
A letter, found among my great-great grandmother Eva Davis' belongings, reads as follows:
#10: Essay journalism