My Vocal journey began at the beginning of 2020.
At the outset, I wasn't sure what my long-term objectives were. All I knew is that I wanted to write about a turbulent time in my personal life as way of helping me 'process' - it was essentially a public therapeutic journal.
In terms of my writing career? Having not written consistently for a long time, I had hoped that trying to write one article or story a week would both 'kick-start' my motivation, as well as ironing out my rustiness. Beyond that, I simply didn't know.
However, I'd just had a break-down; it wasn't the time to be making grand plans.
I'd be lying if I said I wasn't interested in making money - of course I was. But, as I didn't know how the algorithms on Vocal worked, nor what kind of pieces generated the most reads, I was willing to wait and see how that aspect played out.
So I began..
A few pieces about my break-down, and mental health in general, interspersed with the odd article about film, or theatre, or music, or poetry... I enjoyed it all. I could feel myself getting 'better', 'healthier', with every word, and that authorial rustiness was slowly being rubbed away.
A few months in, I wrote a piece about those first-steps on the platform; 'How to Use Vocal' https://vocal.media/journal/how-to-use-vocal. Pleasingly, it got picked up as a 'Staff Pick', and is still my most read article. As I edge closer to the milestone of 2,000 reads, now seems a good time to revisit that piece, and see what's changed.
And, to be honest, much of what I said in that article still holds true. Except, now I can actually back it up with cold, hard experience.
1). Forget about the money. There is money to be made by posting on Vocal. But...
It's unlikely to be achieved through 'reads' alone. Never say never; maybe you can unlock the Vocal algorithm, and - whether through luck or design - find your niche, and build-up a devoted following. Perhaps you might even write that one piece that breaks free of Vocal, and goes viral; it happens.
But, the chances are, if you're going to make money on Vocal, it won't be through 'reads.'
The money-to-'reads' ratio is not in your favor. You'd need all of your pieces to be read by hundreds (if not thousands) to generate a regular income that way. And, honestly? That's not going to happen. The reality is that if fifty (50) people read one of your pieces, you've done well. Very well.
The truth is I've made more money through 'tips' than my 'reads.' And the tips are beyond my control; they're impossible to legislate for. I've written some incredibly personal pieces for Vocal about my mental health, articles in which I've been vulnerable and poured my heart onto the page. And? Zero tips. Nada. Not a cent.
In fact, my review of 'Better Call Saul' earned more in the form of tips than all of my well-intentioned articles about mental illness combined. Why? No idea.
So, in addition to not worrying about how much money your 'reads' generate, don't obsess about the tips. There's nothing you can do to influence them. Instead treat them as the rather wonderful, and often unexpected, bonus they are.
Same for 'Staff Picks.' This moniker will increase the readership of your piece ten-fold. But, you have no power over whether an article of yours will be granted it.
You can try and be cynical, and echo what other 'Staff Picks' have done but that ground has already been covered. If you see an article about vacationing in France has been promoted, your copycat version is unlikely to; it's already been done.
My advice? Forget about 'reads', tips, and 'Staff Picks' - ignore them. Never stop working your socks off, and hoping that the piece you're currently working on could be the one that unlocks the monetary door. Just don't expect it.
In term of the money, there is only one exception...
2). Vocal Challenges; do them!!
The prize money is generous: The field slim. Most Challenges get less than one hundred entrants; when the top prize is often as high as $5,000, the odds are too good to refuse. Much like 'Staff Picks', if you keep plugging away, the chances are you'll win something at some point.
However, most require you to have a Vocal+ membership to enter. Is it really worth it? It's a bone of contention.
I've seen many gripes online about the Vocal+ membership, most along the lines of, "People should pay you for your writing; you shouldn't have to pay them." It's a valid point when you're considering 'vanity', or self-publishing. If someone asks you for money to publish your novel, avoid them like the Plague.
But Vocal isn't a publishing house. It's a website whose aim is to make money. If you're going to moan about Vocal trying to exploit all possible revenue streams, you may as well rail at Starbucks for making you pay for their coffee. It's a business: Of course it's going to offer a 'premium' upgrade - what business doesn't?
So, the question isn't whether Vocal should offer membership; the real issue is whether it's worth it.
My personal opinion is, 'yes.'
It's $9.99 a month. Before you balk at that, it's worth bearing in mind that if you come third in just one Challenge, the least you'll get is $250 - that's already paid for two year's worth of membership.
Plus, writing is a hobby, and hobbies cost money; $9.99 a month isn't outrageous. Besides, I spend more than $9.99 a month on my other hobbies - the gym costs me three times that.
You also get more money per 'reads' being a member, and the threshold for being paid is a lot lower (which is nice). Also, much like 'Staff Picks', coming first, second, or third in a Challenge will give your other pieces a boost. When I came 2nd in the 'Spooky Shorts' Challenge, I saw a subtle spike in my overall stats.
If it's money you're after, the Challenges work, both in the possible prize money, and in the extra exposure you (and the rest of your work) will receive. $9.99 a month isn't a small amount of money, but - overall - I do believe it's a solid investment.
But that's not the major selling point: The Challenges will make you a better writer.
In every Challenge I've entered, I've written a piece I otherwise would not have written. Ghost stories, recipes... it's all ground I would not normally have covered. But, I've been stretched, forced to think 'outside the box', and I've become a better writer because of it.
I've also had to work under pressure - knowing that I've only got a week to write a piece before the deadline passes has shown me how to work when the clock is ticking. It's taught me how to write even when I'm tired and uninspired.
There's no guarantees you'll ever win a Challenge. Just as there is no certainty you'll ever be selected as a'Staff Pick' or write a piece that is read by more than a dozen people. But, in the potential prize money on offer, and in the way they will enable to you improve as writer, I really do believe you need to try the Challenges.
However, just as with the gripes about the cost of the membership itself, there is another issue which has recently emerged online with regard to the Challenges. Primarily that the same names keep on appearing in the list of winners.
But I'm not sure I fully understand why this is an issue. To be honest, it reeks of sour grapes. It's a bit like Donald Trump disputing the results of the election - losers often see something nefarious in their defeat.
If the same people keep winning the Challenges, then it's more likely they've simply kept on producing exceptional work. And that's backed up by the winning entries themselves - they're great pieces of writing.
I'm not sure you can cite foul play when the articles and stories taking home the prize money are as good as they are. You might see the same names in the list of winners, but I really don't think you can dispute their presence.
Just as importantly, the people adjudicating the Challenges obviously know what works for Vocal. Just as on Tiny Buddha, or Elephant Journal, certain pieces, and certain writers, simply 'fit' that brand better than others. The Challenges will be no different.
In addition to being very good, those winning pieces will also reflect the Vocal 'ethos.' They're good advertisements for what Vocal wants to be, advertisements which - in turn - they hope will bring more visitors to the site as a whole.
I truly don't believe there's any favoritism at work, but - even if there was - I also don't think you could really complain about a business behaving in a way that best suits its own interests.
If you're entering lots of Challenges, but never getting anywhere, you're far better off investing your time in reading all the winning entries, and trying to figure what those writers are doing that's making them successful. Why are they 'more' Vocal than your pieces? Why are they winning when you're not?
Trust me - do that, and you'll learn something. Will you stand a better chance with the next Challenge? Yes - you will. Those pieces did something your’s didn't. Trying to figure out exactly what that was is a far better use of your time than seeing a conspiracy that, in all likelihood, just isn't there.
However, all that being said, surely there must be something you can do to increase your chances of being read, or being selected as Challenge winner, or as a 'Staff Pick'?
There's a few things you can do, but - really - you should be doing them anyway...
3). Be Original; be Visual; be Grammatically Correct.
One of the 'buzzwords' on Vocal is 'originality.' And there's no better or easier way to be original than be yourself; there's only one of you.
As long as you're being true to yourself, your work will always be original, even if you're exploring a topic that's been covered a million times before.
Don't worry yourself to death trying to come up an idea no-one else has ever thought of before (HINT: You won't be able to - everything has been done, in some shape or form before). Just be 'you.'
And, whilst you're at it, be visual - put some pictures in! A well-chosen image will support, and elevate, your words. We're not writing a novel here - the majority of the work on Vocal are articles, non-fiction. Images are another tool in your toolbox; use them.
And proofread your work. Please. You can spend days writing a fantastic piece only for a reader to click away from it because there's a typo in the opening paragraph. It's laborious, but vital.
Originality; visual; accuracy - they'll all help. No, none will guarantee success. Certainly not financial success.
But, if that's why you're here, then - sorry to say - you're in the wrong place.
If you're here to make money, then you're missing the point.
You might make money on Vocal. I truly hope you do. But, the chances are, you won't. You just won't.
Forget about it.
All you can really do is...
4). Write for you. That's it. Write the piece you want to write.
If it serves a purpose for you, then good. If it's read, even better. If it's picked up as a 'Staff Pick', or wins a Challenge, and breaks free from Vocal, and goes viral, fantastic; I'll be very, very happy for you.
But, honestly - forget about all that; you have almost no power to make any of that happen. Just write for you.
Write because you enjoy it. Because it makes you happy.
Write a piece because you've got something you need to say, something burning inside you, and you just have get it out.
Best of all, write because you want to exercise your writing muscle, and hone your craft. Use Vocal to grow as a writer, as your 'apprenticeship' as a writer.
If you've got serious authorial aspirations, you're going to have to take the plunge and embark on that novel, screenplay, stage-play, or collected works of poetry, or short stories. At some point, you're going to have to step outside of the Vocal bubble. But, in the meantime, write pieces that you enable you to grow, that stretch you.
Write articles for subjects you know nothing about. If you want to be a writer of romantic novels, try your hand at sci-fi. If you want to be a film critic, try writing about cars. Your pieces may not succeed as much as you'd like to, but you will learn something. Something that will make your future work infinitely better.
Be brave, be willing to make mistakes. Don't think about the money; think about your craft.
Just write what you want, and try to write it well. Focus on the piece itself; whatever happens after you've posted it, happens. Write the best piece you can; that's the only aspect you have the power to influence.
And that's (still) how to best use Vocal.
If you've liked what you've read, please check out the rest of work my on Vocal - https://vocal.media/authors/christopher-donovan
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.