Jenny Justice, your piece broke my heart as it is way too close for comfort. At some point, I will write more about the vital role poetry now plays in my life and how Medium made this all happen for me.
But today, I want to address something else. The problems you outline aren’t poetry-specific, alas. I have years of journalism experience, have been writing on Medium since July 2018, and no matter how many hours I dedicate to my craft, the financial returns remain ridiculously low.
Trying to parse this through observation, I’ve come to the conclusion that ours is the kind of content that is too niche for a platform that has consistently placed a premium on quantity over quality, allowing the most prolific of writers to gain a large following despite the shoddy editorial quality of their work and the absence of original thinking.
Meanwhile, those of us who insist on writing something that means something (to borrow an old marketing campaign slogan from The New Yorker) have always struggled because thinking and quality writing takes a lot more time and effort than typing out whatever is going through one’s head.
To compound the problem, when you reach critical mass you no longer even have to worry about quality. At that point, it’s pure maths: put out any kind of garbage and you only need a small percentage of your following to read it to make bank.
In short, interestingness gets drowned out by the blogging behemoths hell-bent on monetizing every brain fart. There are formidable writers who hardly every get any exposure despite doing excellent and thought-provoking work (like Marley K. or ATrigueiro, for example, and they are only two people among hundreds).
I was hoping the new Medium changes would help surface interestingness but as far as I can see, they haven’t but perhaps it’s too early to say? Instead, the online garbage patch is getting out of control and poetry is getting lost in the noise.
As for publications, the self-hosted ones (as opposed to the official Medium ones like Elemental etc…) remain a popular way to bury bad work as one can never tell whether content has been curated or not (something I’m aware rarely happens to poetry, for some reason I cannot explain. Lack of curation manpower, perhaps?).
Like you, I’m at a loss as to what to do, Jenny.
I cannot for the life of me sacrifice the ethos that has always guided my work — writing as service — and churn out clickbait and voyeuristic crap even though this is what pays and I know how the sausage is made.
So where does that leave those of us dedicated to the craft of writing? As you said, we’ll write anyway but I’m afraid the alienation we’re experiencing could eventually cause independent quality writing to disappear from Medium altogether.
Perhaps Emma Smith can enlighten us here as to how best to go forward without losing heart and hope?
For now, please hang in there, Jenny.
Poetry has never had mass appeal but I truly believe Medium is the kind of place where it could enjoy an unexpected renaissance as there’s no shortage of talent here, some of which I’ve watched blossom for the last year or so.