A few days ago, I got my first piece of fan-mail.
Someone had seen my work on Vocal, had really liked it, had sought me out on Facebook, and wondered if I could answer a few questions they had.
Of course I would, I replied. Of course! You’re a fan!! Never had one of those before!! Ask away!!
However, my excitement was short-lived.
Although they were lovely, and ever so polite, they didn’t want to know where I got my ideas from, or whether I had a particular approach to editing my work…
All they wanted to know is if I made any money from the work I post on Vocal.
I told them, truthfully, I earn peanuts on Vocal.
“But is there a way you could earn more?” they asked. “Was there any way of increasing how much you earn?”
And, again, being honest, I replied…
No; not really. Granted, it’s not impossible to suddenly increase how much you earn. It’s just incredibly unlikely.
"Why?” came the inevitable question.
It’s unlikely because, like any other platform, earning money is not just simply about the quality of your work. There’s a vast amount of material on Vocal - making your work stand out among so much other stuff is amazingly hard.
Yes - if you write well, and regularly, you will build up a following. Trust me, that will happen. And that following - albeit small - could be used as a springboard to further your overall writing career (but more on that later).
But will Vocal itself make you serious money? Maybe. Maybe not. It truly is in the lap of the Gods.
For you to make good money, you'll need your writing to tap into some hitherto-untapped part of the zeitgeist. And there’s just no way of doing that consciously. The chances are that, if your writing takes flight, it won’t be because of anything you’ve done. It simply won’t.
There’s a parallel to be had with memes.
Every so often, one comes along that takes hold. Although most were not created with any dreams of fame or fortune in mind, and - indeed - although most vanish as quickly as they appear, the occasional one almost breaks the Internet.
Yes - you can argue that one particular meme's stratospheric elevation into popular culture relies a lot on how social media is utilized: There are scientifically proven ‘key’ times to post on Facebook and Instagram - post something at the right time, and there’s always the chance of it spreading like wildfire. But, for every meme that becomes popular, there are a million others, no less or more entertaining than that one, and posted at the same optimal times, that hardly anyone saw.
The fact is no-one really knows why one soars, whilst many, many more crash. It just happens.
And it’ll be the same for your writing on Vocal.
If it’s good, it will be read: Quality always wins. And if you've got a good presence on social media, and can promote your work on it, then even more people will see it. And if you can encourage your 'Followers' or 'Friends' to share, then you're looking at a very respectable audience.
And that audience might, by the end of the year, have generated enough 'reads' to buy yourself a nice present to reward your efforts over the previous twelve months.
But will your work soar? No idea. Really - no-one knows. The odds are steeply stacked against it.
But no-one knows.
"So, if you can’t make a guaranteed fortune on Vocal, why use it all?’
Well, for a start, if you even need to ask that question at all, you’re in the wrong place.
If all you want to do is be rich, pick another job or hobby. There are a billion easier ways to make money than from writing.
If all you crave is financial security, then you’re better off tidying your notebooks away, and enrolling in a class on coding or investment banking. Because the hard truth is that for every Stephen King, there’s a gazillion Christopher Donovans (that’s me, by the way). Writers are very rarely rich, and the ones that are didn’t make their money on Vocal.
My advice was simple: Don’t even think about the money. Just don’t.
"So what should I think about?’"
Glad you asked…
Use Vocal as a way to improve as a writer.
Because that’s it’s beauty, that’s what it’s there for. The moment you stop thinking about the cartoon dollar signs flashing in front of your eyes, and see this platform as a chance to grow, is the moment you step into another world. A world that may - ironically - actually improve your ability to make money from your words in the long-term.
And this growth is four-fold:
1.Write (and then post) regularly.
There’s nothing original in this - successful writers have been saying this for hundreds of years; to be a writer, you simply have to write. Look on your writing ability as a muscle - the less you use it, the quicker it will atrophy; but the more you use it, the stronger it will grow.
And Vocal gives you the perfect chance to exercise that muscle.
Most of the articles or stories on here are short - somewhere around the 3,000 word mark. Even with rewrites and editing, you should be able to churn out 3,000 words in a week. If you set yourself a deadline (and, trust me - creativity loves a deadline) of producing one piece a week, you’ll be giving that muscle a very thorough work-out.
And, yes - you could do that privately; of course you could. But, knowing that what you will produce is going to published, gives you an added impetus. Knowing that your words are actually going to read (even if the size of the audience is small), pushes you that tiny bit more. Take my word for it - it does.
Now, one thing you have to accept is that the quality of what you write will vary. It just will. As you get more experienced, those peaks and troughs will smooth themselves out. But, in the early days, when you’re trying to produce one piece a week, you will write a lot of rubbish. Don’t worry about it. Write it and then post it anyway. It’s a learning curve - ask yourself why it didn’t work, why that piece didn’t take flight, while others did. Process the lessons, and then go again.
At the end of your first year on Vocal, you won’t be rich. But you will (you will) be a far, far better writer.
And one of the reasons for that is because you’ll learn another skill, one that is just as important as writing. You’ll learn…
2. The Importance of Editing.
Writing isn’t easy - it’s hard. But, editing your words so that they make sense, so they capture what you truly want to say, so that they evoke exactly the emotion in the reader you want them to… that’s the tricky part.
Film editors like to say that a movie is truly made in the edit. It’s the same for writing; it’s all about the editing, baby.
And there’s no better way to practice this skill that by doing it.
One of the best things about writing 'short' pieces is that you don't have the time or space to be irrelevant. If you're trying to keep to a (for example) 3,000 word limit, every word you keep in has to serve a purpose. You quickly learn to say a lot using the fewest words possible. Or, rather, you learn to edit so that you're saying a lot in the fewest words possible.
You learn than Faulkner was utterly right when he said, "kill your darlings." You learn that, although you might be madly in love with a particularly well-written paragraph, although that collection of sentences might be the finest you've ever crafted, if it's not serving the piece, it goes. It's a harsh lesson, but a priceless one.
Until I started posting regularly on Vocal, I didn't really know how to edit. I do now. And I'm already a far better writer for learning this.
Write freely; edit ruthlessly: Vocal gives you the opportunity to do both.
3. Find your voice.
Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones - perhaps you know exactly what you want to write. Maybe you’ve always wanted to write horror from the moment you discovered ‘Carrie’ as a teenager. Maybe that urge to craft a play was inspired the very first time you saw Shakespeare brought to life on a stage. If you fall into that camp, good for you - now get on with writing those things.
But, there’s a lot of us who don’t know.
When I first started out on Vocal, my aim was write about my admission to a psychiatric ward, and my attempts to rebuild my life after discharge. That's still my primary focus. But, I've also written a few poems, a few short stories. I never planned to; I just felt compelled to try something different. However, I'm enjoying the way that trying new genres is taking me out of my 'comfort zone', and stretching me as a writer.
I still haven't decided where I'm heading yet - I'd love to write a novel, but I also had a breakdown at the end of last year: this is a period of consolidation for me, and shorter pieces are simply more practical for me at present. A 100,000 word novel might be pushing things. However, although I'm not quite sure what my literary ambitions are, I also know that I'm slowly developing my own 'voice.' One that grows stronger, and more unique, with every piece I write.
I may not know where I'm going, but the journey is improving me day-by-day.
Try it. Write and post pieces in genres you've never thought of before. You'll be better for it. Trust me: you will.
4. Grow your audience.
The final thing Vocal will teach you is an element you need to master as a writer: Self-promotion.
Yes - if people like your work, they will seek out other pieces of yours. They will. But, to grow your audience, you also have to be pro-active. You can't just write an article or short story, and expect everyone to simply find it.
Not everyone will come to you; sometimes, you've got to go to them.
Over the past few months, I've learnt how to grow my following on Instagram; I've learnt what kind of 'posts' work in enticing readers, and what turns them off; I've learnt how to create an effective Facebook page, showcasing my work... In short, I've learnt how to 'sell' myself.
And more people are reading my work because of it.
Because of that, if I ever do decide I am going to write that novel, there's perhaps already people who might be interested in reading it. If not, then I think I've finally got some firm ideas about how I might be able to reach them. Ideas that I simply didn't have before I joined Vocal.
"So I should just forget about the money, and write?"
Yes, I told my (solitary) fan. Write and post; edit ruthlessly; try out new things; and learn how to promote yourself. If you work hard, you'll make some money. Not a fortune, but some.
However, more importantly, you'll get better, and better.
That's why I'll keep on posting on Vocal for a long time to come yet.
And I hope they do too.
If you've liked what you've read, please check out my other stories and articles on Vocal.
If you've really liked what you've read, please share with your friends on social media.
If you've really, really liked what you've read, a small tip would be greatly appreciated.