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How to Write a Top Story for Vocal

by Josh Lowe 22 days ago in how to · updated 15 days ago

Tips and tricks to help you reach that extra special milestone

How to Write a Top Story for Vocal
Photo by RetroSupply on Unsplash

Even if you're brand new to Vocal, chances are, one of the first things you saw when you popped onto the site was a list of Top Stories that had been published within the last few days. Generally speaking, these stories are selected because they're the most likely to attract reads and appeal to a broader audience.

Of course, if you're a creator, just because your story wasn't selected as a Top Story doesn't mean it wasn't great, or that it won't win Challenges or be advertised on Vocal's Facebook or Twitter. But with that said, it is nice to have a Top Story now and then, and there are a few quick tips and tricks I've learned along the way that will increase your chances of being selected. But before we delve into how you can do this, you're probably wondering why you would even want your work to be selected as a Top Story in the first place.

Why should you aim for a Top Story?

  • Sometimes it's nice just to get some recognition for your work. Getting that extra email congratulating you is probably the most encouraging and rewarding part of the whole process. But if that's not enough to convince you, then I suppose the monetisation which follows will have to do.
  • You get a $5 bonus for each Top Story you publish!
  • As I alluded to earlier, the Top Story page gets a lot of daily traffic, so having just one of your stories up there for a day or two can really help increase your read count (and therefore your Vocal income).
  • More subscribers (and therefore, more reads). For the same reasons mentioned above, you'll have more people reading your stuff and therefore more people will be subscribing to your work.

So, now that we've got the why covered, let's get straight into the how. Keep in mind that this is just a general guide - I'm sure there are plenty of approaches that will work just as well, but these are some quick tips that I know work first hand.

How to get a Top Story

There are a LOT of things you can do here, but I'll break it down into 6 small points to keep it brief.

  1. Pick an interesting topic. It sounds rather obvious, but if you don't have a good topic/approach from the start it'll be a lot harder to produce an interesting and engaging piece. You want a topic that is common enough that it's relevant to a broad audience but unique enough that it stands out. This requires a bit of practice, but we'll look at some examples to explain this further in a moment.
  2. Start off with a bang! Make sure you have a paragraph or two at the start that is both interesting and exciting, but also prepares readers for what your article/story is actually about. In other words, you want to convince your readers that this article is relatable for them.
  3. Make sure you use a good structure and format. I've tried to incorporate this into this article with headings, bold text for key points, dot points and neat paragraphs. This really goes a long way in improving the readability of your work.
  4. Pick an interesting title and cover image. The title is probably the most important string of words you'll write in your entire article. If people don't like the sound of your title, or don't really understand what it's going to be about, they're probably not going to click on it.
  5. Triple check grammar and spelling. Having one or two minor typos in your work won't stop you from getting a Top Story, and it's easily fixable thanks to the new Quick Edit feature once your story is published. But with that said, having too many typos can really influence the readability of your work. I would recommend putting your work through Microsoft Word (or another equivalent program) before uploading it to Vocal to make use of multiple grammar-check systems. It's a bit tedious sometimes, but it is really effective for helping you pick up any typos. Alternatively, you can just read through your Vocal draft a couple of times if it sounds like too much messing about.
  6. Make it memorable. You're probably thinking at this point, "That's the vaguest $#!+ I've ever heard." Unfortunately I can't really give you specifics here because every story is going to require a different approach, and every author can (and will) find a way to do this differently. The good news is, if you've ticked off the other 5 points above, chances are you've already created quite a memorable piece. So this point is really just a final check to review everything before you submit. A final note here is to make sure you invoke the right emotional response: if it's a satirical/humour piece, then make sure that has come across; if it's a horror story, then make sure it's scary.

Some examples from Vocal's past Top Stories

This is a beautiful short story overall, but let's take a look at the reasons why it was selected as a Top Story in terms of the 6 tips I've listed above.

  1. Pick an interesting topic. The author turns what would have been a very generic 'office-romance' short story into an incredibly engaging and quite hilarious narrative by adding a simple twist - zombies! I think the icing on the cake here was that it was published right around Halloween which made it a perfect, and well deserved, Top Story.
  2. Start off with a bang! My initial advice was to start off with a really solid first paragraph, but you don't even need to read the first paragraph of this piece to become fully engaged because the title and subtitle really rope you in right from the start. Who wouldn't want to read a story about someone's zombie colleague?
  3. Make sure you use a good structure and format. The structure used for this short story is beautiful. Spaced out paragraphs, clear transitions, and excellent use of sectioning to split up the timeline of the story.
  4. Pick an interesting title and cover image. The title is really interesting. Just by reading it, you instantly want to know more about it. The image the author chose not only fits the theme, but is eye catching as well thanks to the model's intimidating gaze.
  5. Triple check grammar and spelling. Grammar and spelling is on point! Not much more to say here (but don't let that fool you into thinking this isn't important).
  6. Make it memorable. Was it memorable? Well I can't speak for everyone but it definitely was for me. Why? Because it was unique, well-written and engaging, and the 5 points I've outlined above provide a great summary of why this was the case.

This is another great example of how to implement the 6 points of advice I've listed, but in a different style. Here, the author has written a "How To" article, but ultimately still ticked all the boxes really well.

  1. Pick an interesting topic. Job interviews are something pretty much everyone can relate to, plus you have the added twist of social anxiety which a lot of people can (unfortunately) also relate to. Right away you can see how this article would have a broad appeal given that it offers to provide a solution to a very common issue.
  2. Start off with a bang! The opening paragraph concisely summarises the article's topic, but in a way that really grabs your attention, "Job interviews are horrible, and even the most confident person in the world doesn’t like them. The fear of the unknown and the immense pressure is enough to send anyone a bit off-center. But when you suffer from social anxiety, job interviews don’t just make you nervous, they make you genuinely scared."
  3. Make sure you use a good structure and format. As per the previous article, the use of small paragraphs, headings to enable signposting, and well spaced out sections makes this piece quite aesthetic to look at and read.
  4. Pick an interesting title and cover image. Ok, so the image and title don't exactly pop out of the page for this one but they are extremely effective at providing an accurate summary of what readers can expect from the article, and since the title suggests it will be providing solutions to a very common issue, it's going to get the attention of readers.
  5. Triple check grammar and spelling. Again, this article is pretty much squeaky clean when it comes to grammar and spelling errors.
  6. Make it memorable. If you read something that changes your outlook on a topic or teaches you something new, then it's going to be memorable. This article certainly achieved this. Next time I'm applying for a job, I'll be thinking of this advice.

And that's all there is to it.

If I can leave you with some final pieces of advice though, I'd highly recommend joining the Vocal Creators Social Societies which provide invaluable opportunities to connect with other Vocal creators and to get feedback on your work. Sometimes a friend's critique can help you see things you hadn't noticed.

And the last thing is don't rush to publish! I get so excited when I finish a story that I sometimes submit my work too quickly. Resist this urge, trust me. Taking your time will allow you to chisel your article into the masterpiece you want it to be. But if you really can't wait to submit, then at the very least, take a break from your laptop (or phone, or other device) for 10-15 minutes after you've finished, then come back and do a full read-through before you submit. The amount of errors I've picked up in my writing after doing this is phenomenal.

Ok that's all (for real this time). I can't wait to read your Top Stories!

how to

Josh Lowe

Neuroscience student from Brisbane, Australia. Just looking for a little creative outlet. Thanks for taking an interest!


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