The Power of Poetry and Fiction on Medium
What’s Your Goal? Literary Prestige? Or Real Human Readers?
Medium recently reorganized the curation tabs, and the column that revolved regularly between poetry, fiction and “eye candy” (photography/art), is gone. In the wake of that change, there has been a growing rumble amongst the poets and authors here, with reactions ranging from wait and see denial (that was me), to optimistic plan-making, to quiet murmurings about the “ghettoization” of Medium’s creative writing community. The very talented and popular poet Anna Now recently left the platform altogether. More may follow.
I want to recommend that, before making any hasty decisions, all creatives spend at least a few days reading everything on both the new “Humans” and “Culture” curation tabs. Poetry, fiction, and art-oriented stories have appeared on one or both of those tabs daily since the change occurred. There are, perhaps, fewer such selections featured than when we had a tab all to ourselves, but I think that’s mostly a consequence of now sharing space with creative non-fiction — which many of us also write, and which has always been very much a legitimate aspect of the “Literary/Arts Scene.” Scrolling through those two tabs each day, to me, has the feel of flipping pages in a really interesting magazine, a sort of love-child of The New Yorker and Rolling Stone. My sense is that this new format will successfully hold the interest of readers who used to always click the Poetry/Fiction/Eye Candy tab, while simultaneously helping readers who always disregarded that tab fall in love with writers and writing they might never have otherwise discovered.
That’s a win-win. Good for Medium, good for us.
The rumors of creative writing’s demise on Medium have been greatly exaggerated. Instead of one curation tab, we now have two. It looks like Medium Staff kept us warmly in mind the whole time.
I’ll admit right here that I don’t know much about the “Eye Candy” contingent (sorry!), so the rest of this essay is addressed solely to my fellow poets and fiction writers.
HOW TO BE A BIG TIME WRITER
Ask yourself, why are you here? On Medium, specifically? What is your goal in publishing your work on this platform?
The most common reason I see expressed in response thread conversations goes something like this:
I’m publishing on Medium to get practice as a writer, to develop my voice, to build a following, to earn my chops and pay my dues — all with a goal of becoming one day worthy to submit my work to real honest-to-goodness Prestigious Literary Journals.
A lot of writers here understand themselves to be publishing on Medium as something of a dressed rehearsal for The Literary Big Time.
If that describes you, listen up. I have news for you.
MEDIUM IS THE BIG TIME.
Let’s do the numbers.
THE BAD NEWS ABOUT “PRESTIGIOUS LITERARY JOURNALS”
In short, nobody reads them.
Okay, “nobody” is an overstatement. But it can’t hurt to take an informed look at the actual circulation of those journals we label “The Big Time.”
Let’s start with the biggest bully on the playground — Poetry Magazine, “The oldest monthly devoted to verse in the English-speaking world.” Hard to imagine a more prestigious venue for your work, right?
But guess their circulation. No, really, guess…
A million? 500,000? 200,000?
According to Wikipedia, it’s 30,000. And they’re the oldest, biggest player on the print literary journal scene.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let’s break down Poetry Magazine’s readership even further.
Of their 30,000 circulation, you can bet around a third are library copies that sit, unread, on the dusty shelves of university and public libraries that subscribe in 2017 because they “have always subscribed to Poetry Magazine.” Likely, another third go to “prestige subscribers” who may thumb through their copy the day it arrives in the mail, but who mostly want it to be visible on the coffee table during cocktail parties to impress their guests.
That leaves 10,000. Of those, let’s say 1 in 10 people will read the whole issue cover to cover. And of those 1,000 dedicated readers, another 1 in 10 will linger over your individual poem and really appreciate it for the masterpiece that it is.
That’s approximately 100 people you can expect to engage deeply with your work.
In the biggest prestige literary journal on the planet.
Now let’s examine the circulation of smaller well-known journals — the ones folks like you and me are a lot more likely to submit our work to in the real world. We still think of them as “prestigious,” though.
I’ll stick here with “famous” journals I’ve either sent work to in the past, or have considered submitting to (definitely more of the latter). These circulation numbers are from WritersCafe.org:
AGNI Magazine — 4,000
Alaska Quarterly Review — 3,500
American Literary Review — 900
Antietam Review — 1,000
Antioch Review — 5,100
Boulevard — 11,000
Chicago Review — 3,500
Colorado Review — 1,300
Crab Orchard Review — 2,500
Fiction — 4,000
Glimmer Train Stories — 16,000
Harvard Review — 2,000
Mississippi Review — 1,500
New England Review — 2,000
New Orleans Review — 1,500
New York Stories — 1,500
Night Train — 3,000
Nimrod, International Journal of Prose and Poetry — 3,000
One Story — 3,500
Pacific Review — 2,000
Paris Review — 10,000 (yeah, the freaking Paris Review has a circulation of only 10,000!!!)
Phantasmagoria — 1,000
Ploughshares — 6,000
Potomac Review, The Journal for Arts & Humanities — 1,000
Snake Nation Review — 2,000
Sycamore Review — 1,000
The Chariton Review — 600
The Georgia Review — 5,000
The Gettysburg Review — 4,000
The Kenyon Review — 6,000
The North American Review — 5,000
The Threepenny Review — 9,000
Triquarterly — 5,000
Zoetrope: All Story — 20,000
These are just the ones I recognize at a glance as “prestigious.” They represent only a fraction of the many journals listed on Writer’s Cafe. I filtered only for famous names, and not for high or low circulation counts.
To just ballpark this, that’s an average circulation of 4,365. Forget about the library and coffee table copies for this example. Let’s just say 1 in 10 people will read their copy cover to cover (4365/10 = 436.5), and 1 in 10 of those will engage deeply with your poem or story (436.5/10 = 43.65). So, get published in a prestige literary journal, and you can expect to make a lasting impression on around 44 people. Less than that in individual journals with circulations below the average (which, sadly, is most of them).
Ah, but you can still say, “I was published in XYZ Review!”
Don’t get me wrong. All these journals publish some amazing writing. There is no question of their quality.
But as a writer, I think quantity matters, too.
Is it enough for your writing to appear in one of these prestige journals?
Or would you rather have a significant number of people actually read and appreciate your work?
THE GOOD NEWS ABOUT MEDIUM
GOOD NEWS! PEOPLE READ POETRY AND FICTION ON MEDIUM!
My lowest performing poem on Medium has a miserly 16 views (so I didn’t include it in the screenshot!), while my highest performer is closing in on 21,000 views. Most are hovering in the 100 to 500 views range. Throwing out the top and the bottom, and averaging the middle, my poems so far have averaged 126 views each. If we reverse the math above, 126 views is the engagement you could expect from a print literary journal with a circulation of (126 X 10 X 10) 12,600.
Twelve thousand six hundred!!!
That’s smaller than Poetry Magazine, but it’s bigger than The Paris Review.
It’s bigger than 32 out of the 34 “Prestigious Literary Journals” listed above, and it’s at least double the circulation of 29 of them.
Sure, the latest startup listicle on Medium may get a hundred thousand views. But it’s a much fairer measure to compare the success of our poetry and fiction published on Medium to the literary journals we label “The Big Time.”
And when you do that, the truth shines out:
MEDIUM IS THE BIG TIME.
PUBLICATIONS AND THE MEDIUM FRONT PAGE
Getting your work into publications on Medium will get it onto the “For You” feeds of every follower of that publication. I’ve already mentioned Human Parts, with its over 77,000 followers. Check out these numbers for other Medium pubs (follower counts current as of February 1st, 2017):
The Coffeelicious — 152,321
Poets Unlimited — 30,819
Poetry After Dark — 9,148
Literally Literary — 8,391
Poetry In Form — 3,000
These are just a few of the publications I follow. There are hundreds and hundreds more available.
The Coffeelicious has more than five times the circulation of Poetry Magazine (and yes, they publish poetry).
Literally Literary, which is only a few months old (launched in September, 2016), is already closing in on The Paris Review.
Another great beauty of publishing on Medium, whether you’re in a publication or not, is that if the Medium editors elevate your poem or story to the front page via the Editors’ Picks, Humans, or Culture tabs, you’ll be be discoverable by thousands upon thousands of readers who currently follow neither you nor the publication, if any, featuring your work. That can be a huge boon in followers, views and recommendations for you both.
Also, think about this:
When your poem or story appears in a print literary journal, there’s a finite window of time during which people are likely to read it. What’s the real average temporal distance from the mailbox to the coffee table to the dusty bookshelf? A few days? A week?
Medium collects no dust. All of my poems so far, currently averaging 126 views each, will stay published and available for browsing “on the virtual internet coffee table” forever. They will ALWAYS be discoverable by new readers. It’s not at all unrealistic to expect the current 126 average views, over time, to multiply by many factors.
My point, fellow poets and fiction writers, is don’t lose hope. You are already in The Big Time.
Medium is the best thing going for writers on the internet right now. If you were thinking about leaving — DON’T. Let’s stick this out together.
Anna Now come home! We miss you!
PS: THE PUSHCART PRIZE
Psssst! Hey, editors of Medium poetry and fiction publications. Did you know that as literary small press publishers, you’re eligible to nominate up to six of the “best poetry, short fiction, essays or literary whatnot” pieces you publish each year for the annual Pushcart Prize? It’s free. You should do it. When writers know you nominate for Pushcarts, it automatically boosts your literary street cred. And when pieces you nominate win, and get published in the annual Pushcart Prize anthology, both the writer and your publication enjoy a moment basking in the the warm glow of national recognition. You should do it.
Did I mention you should do it? Click the link below to learn more:
Don’t forget to click the heart! Thanks!
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