I joined Vocal+ for the Doomsday Diary challenge.
Like many, I was disappointed when I didn't win. Like many, I have also been disappointed in subsequent challenges. Like many, there have been times that I probably could have been nicer, or at least less bitter, about those stories who did place over my own.
"Best story" is a very subjective concept, and the judges are human, with their own preferences. With as much as Vocal has grown recently, I do think they could benefit from more judges/moderators and updating the review and judgement process to reflect numbers and avoid burnout, but that's just my opinion. As humans rather than automated bots, they're doing a great job.
Could Vocal be better? Could it be improved somehow? Of course it could; no hosting site is perfect, and there's always room for improvement. (Personally, I'd love the ability to leave gushing comments on other stories...)
On the flip side, Vocal is at least willing to listen to its users, having recently sent out a survey, swiftly followed by introducing the ability to subscribe to writers. More improvements to follow, once the coding is developed, troubleshot, implemented and de-bugged.
(My partner works in IT; I've heard the rant about systems that are implemented before being adaquately tested more times than I care to count. Let Vocal take the time to do it right.)
Vocal's big draw is undoubtably its Challenges, and the Winning Prize Money. Mostly limited to Vocal+ paid members, whose subscriptions pay for prize money, Challenges run on a monthly or fortnightly basis, with three winners and several thousand disappointed writers who didn't make the cut.
Vocal's other draw is that you are paid per read, other members can leave tips, and there are a number of bonuses that will earn money on top of that. Being selected as a Top Story, featuring on Vocal's social media, and assorted milestone bonuses are how most Vocal writers make a lot of their money.
The biggest drawback is that, outside of being a Top Story or winning a challenge or writing something good enough to have another member rave about you on Facebook, it's honestly up to you to generate your own traffic. Vocal doesn't do paid promotions or ads; you have to promote yourself and your work. That's a constant, and you're competing for visibility with hundreds of other people promoting their work.
Then you have to decide which story you're going to promote. Do you link the one that is most similar to the post you're commenting on, in the hopes of a heart or a tip based on their assumed preferences? Maybe you add a hashtag or two to the story that was just approved and could use more attention than it has so far. You've just entered another challenge, and you want to rack up the views; maybe you should focus on that one, today.
The more stories you have, the harder it is to choose. Not all stories will appeal to all readers, and not all readers will tip or leave a heart. It's the same with any platform; you'll get far more views than you will Likes on Facebook, Kudos on AO3, or reblogs on Tumblr or Instagram.
Welcome to Indie life.
A lot of people join Vocal with big dreams, then let disappointment get the better of them when they find themselves struggling. I entered for the Challenges, fantasised about winning, then moped when that didn't happen.
Then I picked myself up and kept writing.
Maybe I'll win one day, maybe I won't. If all I ever manage is the ability to take my partner out for dinner once a month, that's still better than I expected. Writing on websites, and honestly writing in general, is almost always a passive income, not your main one. Yes, some people break the mould and can write full-time, but you shouldn't count on that until it actually happens.
If I'd won my first challenge, that would have been great, but I would have had to keep winning and winning and winning for that money to last more than a month, between Home Loan payments and other bills.
So far, I've made $11 in tips, $10 in Top Story bonuses, $5.75 in reads, and $30 in other bonuses. I withdraw my earnings at the end of each month, to make record-keeping easier, and aim to improve on last month's reads. I have good days and bad days, and I expected that.
Vocal never claimed that it would do the work for me, and I never expected it to.
What you see on the tin is what you get.