2,000 Reads: What I've Learnt From Using Vocal
Erotica and Writing
I've hit the 2,000 reads mark.
Granted, small change for E. L. James (any one of the 'Fifty Shades' books probably reaches that milestone on a weekly basis).
But, for me, someone who's just starting out, and finding their feet, it's an achievement I'm proud of.
And it's one I want to build on.
It's time to reflect, and see what I can do better, to try and evaluate what works, and what doesn't, so I can keep on improving.
So, what have I learned? Well, lots.
However, for now, I've got the following five points. And, although I write erotica, all five are relevant to both writing, and using Vocal, as a whole.
1. It's an obvious place to start, but you've got to trust your instincts.
For example, when I started on Vocal, I'd convinced myself not to write any BDSM-flavored pieces because - obviously - everyone is sooo bored of all that now thanks to the afore-mentioned 'Fifty Shades.' I know I was.
However, by telling myself that, I was not only denying myself a number of potential readers, but also a topic I could actually write about. Me not writing about BDSM is like someone else telling themselves they weren't going to post about Black Lives Matter, or Covid, or mental health, or Brexit, or the US Presidential Elections.
Yes - those issues are everywhere. But, if you have a genuine interest in such events, and therefore have something genuinely interesting to say, then why not?
And, as for me? I like bondage - both doing it, and reading about it, or watching, it. I'm kinky and proud. Why shouldn't I write about it?
As time progressed, I did want to test myself, and see if I could write about sexual activities or issues I wasn't instantly familiar with. Nothing ever grows in your comfort zone, and I certainly want to grow. But, at the same time, I like BDSM; I know that world - it made more sense to write about it, than not.
Ignoring the reasons against writing stories or articles set in that environment, and just doing so because I wanted to, was - initially - a battle. But, gradually, I've learnt to trust my gut, to write about the things that interest me, to write the kind of pieces I'd like to read.
I'm at the stage now where I won't always know why I'm writing a certain piece; the mere fact that it simply 'feels' right is enough.
Plus, on a more logical level, yes - we are all probably a bit tired of 'Fifty Shades' now. However, we were interested in BDSM, and all it's accompanying side-dishes, long before Christian and Anastasia; after all, there's surviving bondage images from the Victorian era.
And we're likely to all still be intrigued by it for a long time to come. If E. L. James has finally managed to make us all ambivalent about it, when the likes of Irving Klaw, and John Willie couldn't, then she's a purveyor of an impossibly powerful kind of magic.
No - for as long as we're having sex, we'll also still be tying each other up. It doesn't matter how many other people are swimming in the same waters; the ocean is big enough for us all. Write what you want, for the reasons you want: You won't go too far wrong.
However, related to that...
2. Yes - write from the heart. Write for you. Don't try and be too clever, don't over-think it all, and attempt to second guess what will be read, and what won't; to be honest, there's absolutely no way of predicting that with 100% certainty anyway.
After all, my initial thought that people are bored of BDSM was proven to be hideously wrong - the number of reads my stories about bondage receive have shown me that.
But, if you do want to maximize your reads, there are two things you can do: Post regularly, and look at your stats.
Now - time for a bit of honesty: Vocal won't make you rich.
It just won't.
If all you want to do is make money, then you're better off investing that time in another activity. The platform is great for people like me, writers who are starting out, and want to hone their skills. I might make a bit of cash, but - really - that's not why I'm here.
I'm here to get better. To improve as a writer.
However, let's also not pretend otherwise: We all still want our work to be read. And, if you do want to try and get more reads, firstly, try and post as much as you can.
No - don't over-post with a number of weak pieces just to get your name 'out there.' If your work is bad, people won't read it, no matter how much you've saturated the site. But, if readers enjoy your pieces, they'll want to read more; so give it to them.
Try and build some momentum, nurture your base of readers.
There's so much content on Vocal that, if you don't post regularly, people will just forget about you, and move onto another writer/s. So, once you're in the groove, keep going.
In addition to growing your readership, posting regularly is also great for your development as a writer. Your writing 'muscle' is getting a good work-out, and you'll get better. As a result, as your work gets better, you'll get more readers - it's a 'win-win.' You will only become a better writer by actually writing: So do it.
It'll also teach you how to write on those days when you're tired, and uninspired.
If you're working (or studying) full-time, raising a family, AND trying to post one piece once a week, there's going to be lots of times when you simply won't have the energy or inclination to sit down and write. Learning to push on through such days is vital for your growth.
The muse won't descend everyday - if you want to be a writer, you need to know what to do when she doesn't make an appearance. You need to learn how to produce something even when every word you type is like pulling teeth; painful, and laborious.
The only things that can make such times productive is routine, and discipline.
Posting regularly will teach you both of those things.
The second thing to do is to study your stats, and look at which pieces of yours did well, and which sunk.
Now, you need to take what you see with a pinch of salt, because there's no scientifically definitive answers to be unearthed, as there can be a huge amount of luck when it comes to one piece getting a lot of reads, and another getting none.
For instance, most days writers submit a lot of work to 'Filthy', just as they do to most other sections; sometimes a story you're really proud of just gets 'lost' in the dozens of other stories going live. Also, you can have no idea what anyone else is writing about; some days you'll just be unlucky, and your story about a medical role-play will be the 10th one along such lines submitted that day.
It might be wonderful, but there's only so many times the readers want to read the same thing. It happens.
The converse is also true: For every busy period on 'Filthy', there are fallow, quieter times - sometimes a piece of yours could remain on the 'front page' for a few days due to the low-volume of work being submitted. It might not be your finest literary hour, but the exposure it gets means readers can find it easily. Again, it happens.
So, don't get too bogged down in your stats. But, at the same time, you might be able to find some clues in them.
For instance, do certain 'kinds' of articles or stories - consistently - out-perform others? It was bit of an eye-opener, but I found my stories about 'normal' people indulging in extra-ordinary activities, did far better than my pieces about seasoned practitioners doing something they were experts in.
My pieces about people who have obviously been into BDSM for years, and employ all the niche terms and vocabulary, do well. But my two most read pieces about that 'world' were 'An Apology' (https://vocal.media/filthy/an-apology-fc3g605u9) about a husband and wife trying domination for the first time, and the two-parter, 'Keep the Customer Satisfied' (https://vocal.media/filthy/keep-the-customer-satisfied-part-one) which charted a woman's (nerve-wracking) attempt to fulfill her long-held BDSM sexual fantasy.
'Ordinary' and 'normal' people trying something 'kinky' and 'new' works for me. I'm not going to exclusively write such stories, but I also know that, if I'm struggling to generate ideas, or to know what direction to take a specific piece in, playing around with those four words ('Ordinary - normal; kinky - new') will give me something to build on. It seems to be a strength of mine, and it's only fair I should exploit when I can.
Just as usefully, it's also given me some food for thought about where I can improve. Yes - luck might have played in some of my pieces not connecting with readers, but looking over the ones that didn't, it's impossible not see ways in which you could improve them.
And, I'm pretty certain that if you looked at your stats, you'd see something fairly similar.
3. However, if I am getting better as writer, it's not just because I'm writing regularly, and evaluating the relative success or failure of my pieces. It's also because of those times I have strayed out of my comfort zone. It's been those days when I've wrestled with a sexual predilection I know little about, characters who are entirely figments of my imagination, and locations I've never visited.
I can write about BDSM in contemporary England until the end of days. But, a foot fetish story, set in America? That was a challenge.
And that's when I knew I was getting better.
So stretch yourself.
Take a look at the sub-sections in the 'Filthy' section, and try to write something for each of them. One of the pieces I'm most proud of (despite its seeming simplicity), and the one I probably most enjoyed writing was a piece on John Willie (https://vocal.media/filthy/the-godfather-of-bondage-john-willie), an influential figure in the BDSM world.
But it started out as no more than an exercise to try and write something for the 'Vintage' sub-section, a section I wouldn't naturally gravitate towards. Yet, it honed my writing skills, and gave me a huge confidence boost.
As have other 'experiments' in writing pieces on subjects, and for sub-sections, that - normally - I would not have gone anywhere near.
An added bonus is that, by exploring new areas, you'll get more ideas. The John Willie piece alone generated a list of possible articles and stories I might never have thought of had I not dipped my toes in the waters of 40's and 50's BDSM.
Stretch yourself, try it - it works.
In terms of the actual pieces themselves, I've only got two pieces of advice:
4. For articles, please (please) have something to say.
Don't just regurgitate something from somewhere else - tell us what you think. Be prudent - we're talking about sexual health here, so be considerate of subjects which might be considered 'taboo' or that are just naturally flammable ones.
But have an opinion, have a voice - the only thing we can't (as readers) get from anywhere else is 'you.' It's your view, your attitude, that will set that article apart.
Put a little bit of you in every sentence. Sprinkle 'you' all over it, and that article will instantly be a thousand times better.
5. For fictional stories, in addition to (again) making sure 'your voice' is evident, also stick to traditional narrative models. It may seem incongruous to cite it here, but the ideas Aristotle laid down in his 'Poetics' millennia ago still hold true.
Give your story a beginning, a middle and an end.
Give your main characters a goal - let's be honest, in erotica, it's probably going to be reaching sexual climax. And then show us how they overcome the obstacles in their path to either reach that goal or not.
Of course, push the envelope, and stretch yourself. Play around with structure; experiment with writing characters who aren't instantly likable...
But, at the same time, remember that the structure of stories is pretty universally accepted. It doesn't matter whether it's 'Fifty Shades' or 'Hamlet' - the template works. It's worked ever since we started regaling each other with our tales of how we defeated the mammoth whilst we crouched around the fire.
And it'll probably endure until the end of civilization.
Again, it works.
So, that's it.
Follow your instinct - write about the things that interest you.
Yet, occasionally, delve into unfamiliar waters. You'll learn something new, and develop as a writer.
Post regularly, and look at your stats.
Have a 'voice', and - if in doubt - read your Aristotle.
Here's to the next 2,000 reads - I'm not sure how I'm going to get there, but I'm excited by the thought of the journey.
And I wish you the best of luck on your's, too.
If you've liked what you've read, please check out my other stories on Vocal.
If you've really, really liked what you've read, a small tip would be much appreciated.