How To Win a Vocal Challenge!
A complete guide from someone who’s done it six times and counting.
Let’s be honest: it’s downright impossible to make money off of Vocal through views alone. Some writers have successfully found ways to earn passive income from this website, but it's usually because...
A) They already have a successful blog/social media page and are using Vocal to post additional content for fans.
B) They've hit the algorithm lottery and have that one successful article which shows up first in a Google search and garners 1000 views a day, or...
Well, there is no C. Those are literally the only two ways to make good, quick money through views alone.
You can be like Brian Anonymous and work hard for two years to reach your minimum Stripe payout of $35. But by then, the money isn't worth much. Why would you want to grind for two years when there are other websites that will pay more in a day just to publish your article? It seems like an unnecessary amount of work. And you? You are a serious writer. To quote my favorite fictional author, Jo March...
But you don't want to quit Vocal! It's easy to use, the categories are cool, there's many great creators to discover, and you can write about any topic you want! (Except maybe religion in politics. Learned that the hard way after pulling a useless all-nighter typing my very Catholic opinions about Trump's bible photo-op stunt.)
For the rest of us common, unlucky writers posting original content for our beloved Vocal.media, there's only one way - besides racking up $1 tips from generous viewers - to make money through this website...
Like most creators on this platform, I too discovered Vocal through an Instagram ad. It was over a year ago, and I was intrigued by a challenge called "Eight Years Later." It was created in response to Game of Thrones's eight-year run. The series had just ended, and the prompt was to write about how the show changed your life for the better.
I had no job at the time and was desperate for extra cash. So I wrote two articles for the contest, one of which I submitted at the very last minute. Astonishingly, the latter article wound up winning 1st prize, and I used the $500 cash reward wisely that summer.
I didn't write on Vocal again until February of this year, when the pandemic hit and I was laid off from my internship. With Vocal opening up more contests for writers, I figured playing the game again was worth the time. It took me nearly three months and gallons of coffee until one of my articles placed first in another challenge.
A month later, I was notified my article, My Groundhog, Ciabatta, won the grand prize in the Pets Welcome challenge. It was something I wrote on a whim, but through trial and error, I figured out a strategy that could at least get the story to Staff Pick status. Using that same strategy, I placed second in the following month's 2020 Anthem challenge with my story, Jimi Hendrix & a New National Anthem, and later placed first in the OG Celebrity Crush challenge with my memoir, I Worked With My Celebrity Crush. Just the other week, I got a third place spot in the Dinner Party challenge with my piece, Forcing My Fave Celebs to Play a Real-Life Game of Clue.
Through Vocal challenges alone, I've earned a total of $3,750 in prize money. Not as much as other writers on here, but at this point, I can place in a challenge so reliably, prize money helps pay my monthly bills.
So...do you want to win a Vocal challenge? Let me answer that: OF COURSE YOU DO!!! There's a hefty cash prize even if your story comes in third place, and there are other great benefits like...
- Increased exposure from Vocal's Instagram account, as well as from the winner's page once a contest has concluded.
- Higher likelihood of receiving tips and likes because of said exposure.
- Increased likelihood of being featured in one of Vocal's Creator Spotlight articles.
- The ability to use your win for a job resume. More awards as a writer = better career opportunities outside of Vocal.
- And of course, the bragging rights!
Keep in mind: some of these tips may not work for every contest. Each Vocal challenge is different. Some are partly based on other skills such as photography, playlist-making, or a stellar knowledge of pop culture. But for the most part, they are all judged the same. If you know how to write complete sentences and know how to write them well, you can win a Vocal challenge.
Before I get into it...you may be wondering why I'm publishing this article for everyone to see when I could easily keep these tips to myself and rack up more cash. Well, it's because I live by the motto, "secrets secrets are no fun unless they're shared with everyone." Winning all the time gets boring. I want to give my knowledge away so competitors can take me by surprise! Life is more fun when it's played on hard mode! Mwahahaha!
But all jokes aside...I'm just tired of seeing talented creators work their butts off for very little reward. We all deserve better.
So without further ado, here are eight tried-and-true tips for getting your challenge article noticed by the judges.
1. Subscribe to Vocal+
Okay, so I know this is definitely not what you want to hear when you're trying to learn how to make money instead of spend it. But hear me out on this one. If you want to take winning a Vocal challenge seriously, you absolutely must subscribe to Vocal+. Truth hurts, but it's the truth.
Back in the good ol' days, Vocal used to have more contests open to non-Vocal+ members. But now, the majority of challenges are exclusive to us $9.99'ers. Which means the very few challenges open to all Vocal members are flooded with entries. And more entries in a contest = a lower chance of yours winning. And you want to win a challenge, right? That's why you clicked on this article!
I like to think of it this way: you have to spend some dough to make it. If you want to be a painter, you have to buy a brush, a canvas, and the paint itself. If you want to be a professional photographer, you need to buy a high-quality camera. And if you want to win a Vocal challenge, you need to pay a monthly entrance fee.
Trust me, that $9.99 a month or $99 dollars a year is a small price to pay when you're getting $1000 back in prize money. I know it's hard, but if you part with one Hamilton a month, you'll be feeling like Hamilton every day.
2. Think Outside the Box
You see a challenge you like. A challenge whose prompt you think you can answer well. And you have the perfect idea for your entry. You're about to write that story today, and submit it within the next few hours. But let me stop you right there.
Are you sure your idea hasn't been taken? Because in my experience, the second idea is often more profitable than the first.
The hardest part of competing in a Vocal challenge - and the part of the process which should take up most of your time - is the brainstorming. You’re looking for an idea that isn’t just good, but unique.
Let me give you an example of what I mean. When I saw the entries streaming in for the Pets Welcome challenge, it came to my attention most stories were about competitors' adorable cats and dogs. Those are common pets, after all. At first, I was discouraged to enter the challenge, as I do not own any cats, dogs, or other kind of domesticated animal. Then, I remembered the groundhog which pranced around my backyard. We had already given her a name, Ciabatta, and although she wasn't "ours" per say, I knew enough about her to write an article on her. I used the article to prove that despite not owning Ciabatta as a pet, we still had a special bond. I even compared our affection from afar to social distancing.
It turned out to be an unexpected hit.
So yes, walk the path less-traveled when picking the subject for your challenge entry. A good way to see if your idea is unique or not is to wait until the deadline's close to submit it. When you're involved in a challenge, you want to be constantly reading the other entries to see which ideas are taken. Not only does it help you distinguish an original idea from an overdone one, but it helps your fellow challenge writers secure reads for the week!
3. Follow The Prompt
However, be wary in your brainstorming; there is such a thing as thinking too outside the box. If you want to stay on track, re-read the prompt on the left side of the challenge page. Like writing an essay for school, the Vocal team will usually leave questions they expect to be answered within your story. The better you answer them, the greater the likelihood you will place in the challenge. To give you an example, here are the requirements for the Like, Share, Subscribe Challenge...
So, we want to know not only which YouTuber is your favorite, but how they’ve kept you captivated and why you can’t get enough of their content. How has this YouTuber helped you beyond their YouTube channel? What makes them a stellar creator? Enter the Like, Share, Subscribe Challenge to share why you're this YouTuber's biggest fan and embed a link to their YouTube channel or their video in your story. Then, tell us what about them or their videos makes them your favorite and how they've impacted you beyond the platform.
From this paragraph alone, we can boil down the challenge to four main questions you must answer in order for the judges to consider your story...
1. Who is your favorite Youtuber?
2. Why are they your favorite?
3. How has this Youtuber helped you beyond Youtube?
4. What is the link to their Youtube channel?
That's it. All you have to do is answer those four questions. You must answer them creatively and in detail, but just by addressing those four questions, you have a major leg up against most of your competition.
You can't imagine how many challenge entries I've seen where the creator's story was amazing, but they forgot to embed a link to the media Vocal asked to see. Or entries where the creator included many pictures and videos of their subject, but did not talk about why they personally liked said subject. Vocal challenges are like pages in a coloring book: you want to make your page unique and pleasing to look at, but you need to stay inside the lines.
4. Tell A Story, and Make It Personal
Write what you know. It's that famous phrase all writers say, and believe it or not, it applies to Vocal challenges.
Personal stories tend to do better. That's just a fact of life. Keep in mind...when I say "stories," I mean a piece of writing with a clear beginning, middle, and end. Remember that graph your high school English teacher would draw on her chalkboard when she gave lectures on story structure? Y'know, the one with exposition, rising action, a climax, and a resolution? That sh*t matters in Vocal challenges, especially if you're telling a true story.
When you have the option to tell a personal story for a Vocal challenge, always go for it. Even if it's something really emotional or embarrassing, it's probably worth it. The more vulnerable, the better. Say the challenge prompt is to share your favorite song of 2020. People would rather read a story explaining how your song helped you overcome a specific adversity rather than an article saying, "oh yeah, this song's nice and this band's good, go check it out." It's all about depth.
I'll give you two examples of times when going deeper paid off for me...
The prompt of last month's OG Celebrity Crush challenge was to reveal your first celebrity crush, why you liked them, and how they affected you - pretty easy. I knew my sexual awakening was Orlando Bloom's "Will Turner" from Pirates of the Caribbean. I was ready to write an article about him...until I realized there wasn't much to say. I first saw Pirates of the Caribbean in my aunt's car while on a road trip. I thought Will Turner was cute. The End.
I thought about celebrities who evoked deeper memories for me. Not the first people I think of when someone asks, "who is the hottest celebrity in Hollywood," but stars who I genuinely admire and who have taught me important lessons about myself or society. And preferably, someone who I've met in real life.
An acquaintance of mine, Jared Gilman, fit the bill. Jared was the star of Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom, and I had the opportunity to work with him last year on an NYU short film. Jared was not my first celebrity crush, nor have I crushed on him hard enough to hang a poster of him on my bedroom wall. But I was starstruck while meeting him for the first time, had memories of seeing him on-screen when I was a kid, and yeah...from his impressive performances and personality, I felt some kind of way. It was a tiny crush, but a crush nonetheless.
I knew there was conflict within my story: trying to get him to like me while working on the short film. Plus, I could use my story to talk about fame, taking risks, and expectations vs. reality. There were even similarities between my true story and Moonrise Kingdom itself.
There was too much gold within my idea for me to waste it. Thankfully, it wound up earning a gold medal in that week's challenge. Socially, it was a risky thing for me to post, but sometimes risks are worth taking.
My first Vocal challenge (Eight Years Later), I submitted two entries. The first was a comedic piece about learning the truth behind Hodor's expressive aphasia while doing research on him for my high school psychology class. The second was a memoir comparing my seven-year battle with a jaw disfigurement to Arya Stark's journey with the Faceless Men. The latter came in first place.
I believe the second entry did better because thematically, it went deeper than the first. I'm not saying funny stories can't do well in Vocal challenges, but you need to make your pieces compelling to an audience if you want to win. The higher the stakes within your story, the more engaged your readers will be.
People are afraid to share personal stories because they fear their experiences are too specific or inconsequential for others to enjoy. But if there's anything I've learned from studying memoirs in college, it's that the personal is the universal. Your unique voice matters. It matters to me, Vocal readers, and most importantly...it matters to Vocal challenge judges!
5. Make It Relevant To Current Events
Just like how personal stories tend to do better, stories that brush on current events have higher chances of winning. I won't say this is a rule for every challenge - how do you talk about the upcoming presidential election when the prompt is to write a story about funny cat videos? Not every challenge entry needs to talk about politics or social issues to do well. Still...relevancy always helps.
In the three articles Vocal picks to win their challenges, there's usually one that holds a theme relating to something going on in the world today. Whether it's the BLM movement, LGBTQ+ rights, climate change, or that hilarious meme trending on Twitter...if you can somehow shed a light on something current within your challenge entry, go for it!
One of my favorite instances of tying current events into a challenge entry is Hannah B's piece, Life Four Months Ago. It was a part of May 2020's Virtual Postcard challenge, which asked contestants to describe their dream vacation. Hannah wrote a satirical advertisement-like story which explained that her dream destination was a time before the coronavirus. It's very clever and funny as hell. It wound her a third place spot in the contest.
I was able to tie current events - like the 2020 pandemic and BLM protests - into a challenge article I wrote on Jimi Hendrix. The name of the challenge was "2020 Anthem" and it was released the same week as Fourth of July, so I also focused it on the United States national anthem (in particular, Jimi Hendrix's rough and revered "Star Spangled Banner"). Comparing the past to the present paid off, and the article landed me a second place spot in the challenge.
6. Presentation Matters
The phrase "don't judge a book by its cover" exists for a reason. Humans are visual creatures, and aesthetics do matter! While challenge entries with words alone have won in the past, typically, Vocal likes to award stories that look like magazines rather than novel pages. To win a Vocal challenge, not only do you need good content, but a solid presentation to go with it.
By "presentation," I don't just mean stuffing your article with pretty pictures and including links. I'm also talking about using headers, correct spelling, grammar, punctuation, and easy-to-get-through paragraphs. You want your story to look nice on the page. The neater it looks, the easier it will be for your audience to scroll through it. And the more it will appeal to judges.
The same goes for cover photos. Keep in mind: Vocal likes to share the winners of their challenges on Instagram stories. High-quality pictures get more clicks than a pixelated photo with bad lighting.
If you’re struggling to find a good picture, use Unsplash! While it may not have everything you search for, the pictures always look very professional. Give it a try!
7. Aim To Be A Staff Pick
This isn't so much a tip as it is something to be aware of. Vocal challenge entries that are staff picks have slightly higher chances of winning than other entries. This is because of two reasons...
1. Vocal curators liked the story enough to grant it increased exposure.
2. More exposure = more likes and reads, giving the article an edge if a tie occurs.
While not every challenge entry deemed a staff pick places in competition, there have been several instances where articles on the home page make it to the top three. Life Four Months Ago was a staff pick before it placed third. My memoir about Ciabatta the groundhog was staff picked before it came in first. If you browse through the staff picks on any of the 34 Vocal topics, chances are you will come across a few articles with little medals posted on the top right part of their headers.
If you want to get good at winning Vocal challenges, study the entries that are also staff picks. If it's a staff pick, it means the author did something right. Not only can staff picked challenge entries show you what the judges are looking for, but they may even provide last-minute inspiration if you're on a time crunch.
All I can say is this: if your entry becomes a staff pick, be proud and enjoy the wave of views and likes...but don't get your hopes all the way up! And if your article isn't a staff pick, don't fret. There's always next time, and who knows - you may still place in the competition!
8. Use Social Media To Your Advantage
When I say social media, I mean Instagram in particular.
Like I mentioned in this guide's introduction, most people find Vocal through their Instagram ads and account. Their profile boasts over 112K followers, and they post to their story daily.
When a challenge is closed, Vocal posts links to the first, second, and third place winners onto their story. If you win a challenge and have an Instagram account they know about, they will tag you in said stories.
As I mentioned in the previous tip, likes and reads factor into your entry's score if a tie in the challenge occurs. Therefore, it's smart to share your challenge articles on social media if you can. Make sure to tag @vocal_creators in your posts, too! If you have friends and family you trust, spread the word about your work and ask if they can like your story. There's no guarantee exposure will help your story place in a challenge, but it never hurts.
I don't share all my challenge entries on Instagram, but when I do, I've noticed the story either has a higher chance of winning or gets chosen as a staff pick. I'm not sure if it's a coincidence or if Vocal does a quid pro quo where spreading the word grants you a slight advantage. Just the other week, I shared a challenge entry to Instagram and put a link to the story in my bio. A few days later, it received third place in the challenge.
While I'm not sure what the answer is on that one, it's still cool to share your challenge entries to Instagram regardless of competition. Vocal is diligent about liking anything you tag them in. It fills me with so much joy whenever I get that notification saying @vocal_creators liked my Insta story!
That's it for my tips. It's what I have so far - if I discover any more tricks from my challenge writing endeavors, I will be sure to let you know in a future article.
Vocal challenge writing isn't for everyone. It can get stressful, time-consuming, and there's a lot of rejection involved. It sucks competing against other creators is the only semi-reliable way to profit from writing on this website, but at least it's faster than waiting for that $35 from views.
Still, competing in Vocal challenges is quite rewarding. Besides the monetary gain, competing in challenges has definitely made me a better writer. It's taught me the importance of time management and sticking to a deadline, being original in my creative work, and knowing rejection does not mean I'm untalented.
I hope this article taught you something new. If you've been thinking about participating in a challenge, I hope my tips have inspired you to go for it!
You never know what could happen. ;)
I'm so happy I finally got to publish this! This guide has been several weeks in the making, so any likes are greatly appreciated! If you have any questions, comments, or additional tips I could use for a future article, DM me @katyisaladybug on Instagram. I'll try to respond as soon as I can.
Keep in mind, I donate all my Vocal tips to the BLM Network. I encourage everyone reading to donate directly to the organization, but if you choose to tip me, please know that is where the money will be going. I also add $1 to every contribution made. (So if ten people donate, that's $10 from me.) From Vocal tips, I've been able to donate over $60 to the network so far. Thank you for your contributions!
Click here to read more of my stories. I only profit off this website through reads and challenge wins, so your curiosity is greatly appreciated.
Thanks for reading, and until next time. :)