Medium: One Hand Clapping?

Many Zen Buddhists read my stories. Well, it’s one way I can explain all the one hand claps my stories are getting. It’s in stark contrast to other responses where the same story, poem or essay has got 40+ claps from people whose response might be judged as frenzied, in contrast.

While, as a writer, I must confess myself humbled and grateful for any perusal, cursory or not, of my scribblings, I just think some rationale must be introduced, particularly since the introduction of the Medium Partner Program, ostensibly designed to provide something more tangible than a heart/like/clap in appreciation of your work.

My personal experience with Medium since I joined, two months ago, is partly my motivation for this story. A few weeks ago I read a post by Rahul Misra regarding the whole process and etiquette of ‘clapping’, in Medium terms. In that story, Rahul made a resolution, From November 1, he wrote, Starting today, I will put to use the full potential of the Medium applaud button.

In a private exchange of views, I suggested Medium clapping is like tipping, a gratuity for service rendered and measured in entertainment, functional and informational value. The one handed clap, I suggested, amounted to a Zen insult and he agreed, ‘Because one clap isn’t even applause. By the time you turn around to face it, the sound has already evaporated.’

This is important, considering the general Medium experience which, like most social networks — even if it presents itself as the very antithesis — thrives on the competitive nature of its participants. So the goal becomes to get ‘more claps’, ‘more fans’ and ‘more followers.’ Until the site’s primary goal, the promulgation of quality writing and opinions, becomes, at very most, secondary.

The Medium legend at the bottom of a story reads, ‘

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.’

Rahul suggested there’s a 50 clap limit per story but I couldn’t find the Medium story to confirm this, it might be true. It does make sense since it could limit excess and ‘followers’ padding others’ Members Only stories to boost their income potential. His own experience came from being a compulsive low count clapper until a Pauline conversion while listening to a busker brought him to the conclusion it was time to end the ambivalence, ‘If you’re a low clapper, the writer doesn’t know you’re a low clapper. She doesn’t know that if you gave her 3 claps, that means you thought her writing was amazing’.

Then I read another story by someone who was certain they’d worked out how the claps are counted and how he had earned $342 from one story. I can’t find the reference, I thought I saved the story but he knows who he is as, no doubt, all those people who clapped for his story do, too.

Then I got an email from Medium, extolling the advantages of the Medium Partner Program which, they say, four weeks after its introduction, they’ve enhanced even more to promote more readers, clappers and, by extension, members.

Having worked as a freelance journalist for more than 15 years, there are a few harsh truths you learn very quickly, if you’re to succeed. Never write anything until you’ve sold it was one of the golden rules and if you can’t sell the same story thrice, think twice. Now these same rules don’t apply to creative writing, particularly poetry. As I said to Rahul, ‘as someone cursed with the compulsion to weave words, rhyme and rhythm into poetry, I am fully aware of the irony of my art; people rarely read or listen.’

Which segues neatly into the other danger of writing for the tail that wags the dog. If your primary concern is your writing, its quality and the quality of its content then you must be wary of tailoring your writing simply so it gains more applause. There’s no doubt this happens just as there is little doubt you can find a plethora of stories telling you how to get more claps and list stories telling you 3,5,10 things you’re doing wrong. The inference is you’re not popular, your stories/poems/essays are not popular and, by extension, no good.

Strangely, I doubt James Joyce would’ve written Ulysses if he’d followed the criteria of social popularity. Every writer writes for the need, desire and absolute compulsion to write. They struggle to find a voice to express their thoughts and hope then their story will find readers who find some resonance in what they write that might connect to their own experience or give them a window to a world they didn’t know but can experience through your writing.

Getting that audience is of primary concern for a writer, an audience who want to share that experience through the medium (pun intended) of their writing.

So that brings us to building an audience and, with any luck, getting paid for it. Harking back to my experience as a freelance journalist and I was quite successful at it, selling stories to newspapers, magazines and radio stations around the world, it was never good enough to supply good stories, it was important to be reliable, too, in terms of punctuality, style and delivery. But there are inherent ‘catch 22’ situations, like you can’t get your foot in the door until they know you and they’ll never know you until your foot’s in their door.

My Medium Partner Program experience has highlighted some of these. To build an audience, get published by some Medium associated publications. This is a route to a ready made audience. Some, like Resistance Poetry or P.S. I Love You cater for a very specific audience and you must target that material, accordingly. Others, such as Other Voices , The Creative Cafe , Literally Literary and The Junction have their own criteria and if your content doesn’t match then your chances of finding an audience there is slim.

Which brings me to another Catch 22, getting paid by a publication since many of these have either no relation with the Medium Partner Program, take all the money the story might earn or else have declared their own partner program with their writers, i.e. they’ll take a percentage to cover costs and then recompense the balance to the writer. No writer would begrudge a publication a share of what they earn in exchange for giving them an outlet but taking it all, without acknowledgement, seems a tad excessive.

According to the first Medium Partner Program pay out for last month,

  • 58% of authors or publications who wrote at least one story for members earned money. The average amount earned for the month was $122.
  • $2,171.67 was the most earned by an author, and $5,677.45 was the most earned by a publication.
  • $1,403.19 was the most earned for a single story.

Smaller publications are almost ‘mom and pop’ operations, slavishly working to give their publication some status and distinction and often without any recompense remotely commensurate with their effort. Others are not.

Some of my poems, like Colour Me in The Creative Cafe or Waking Nightmare in Resistance Poetry have been well received. I became a ‘Top Writer’ in the History category for three stories, ‘Dublin: Cutthroats, Murders and the Gates of Hell’, ‘Little John’s Big Shot’ and ‘El Zorro, the Irishman’ but they’ve earned a paltry $24 so far, hardly the average monthly earning rate of $122.

In other cases, my timing’s been wrong. My short story, Brown Bread in The Junction, is about a wounded soldier, dying in a field hospital, slipping in and out of consciousness from the hospital horror to the comfort of a fond memory, his mother’s baking. The title is a play on the rhyming slang phrase for ‘dead’. It’s received 59 claps but might’ve done better if I’d waited until Veterans’ Day for publication.

Equally, a couple of poems that I consider among my finest, like City of Thoughts or Social Fretwork in Other Voices, have gone unnoticed, making me second guess myself because these poems are very personal yet, I think, address wider issues relevant to writers, artists and their relationship with the world around them.

So that’s my tuppence worth on Medium. If anyone would like to join or add to this discussion, be my guest. All, bar trolls, are welcome.

If you’d like to read more of my stories, check these…

or these…

Novellist, poet, blogger and ex-journalist. ‘If the cap fits.’

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