Just like many other creators here, I was contemplating hard if I should enter the #200 challenge. Self-reflection is useful only when you need to change something drastically, and I am quite content with what I have achieved here so far.
However, I've finally decided to enter at the 11th hour because of several recent developments that seem significant to me.
A little bit of a backstory: I joined Vocal in June 2021 with the Taiga Encounter story I submitted for the dystopian "heart-shaped locket" challenge. I obviously have not placed in the challenge, but in Vocal I found an outlet for my stories which I had been looking for a long time. It was like a breath of fresh air I lacked during the pandemic. I also got encouragement: my Mirrow horror story was the finalist in the annual fiction challenge and gave me a year of Vocal+ subscription.
I've published a total of 190 stories here. I do have a full-time job as a college professor, so my publications on Vocal have a pattern: I post more often when I am on breaks and in travel. Last year, I tried to keep myself on a goal of posting a story a week, and on average I believe I've managed to have kept up with it.
I write under a pen name here, as I explained elsewhere. At first it was out of security reasons (death threats for my political satire), and now it's more out of habit because I think my pen name is pretty cool and classy and it stuck even with the friends and family. I have another nick name - Sherrie Strawberry - that I one day will use to write parodies of women's romantic novels. You've heard it here first, and I will claim a copyright violation if I see another writer using it for the same purposes.
But I digress. For about two years on Vocal, I wrote mostly for a closely-knit circle of friends and family, which felt like writing into a safe with access for only trusted people. But when Facebook changed its algorithm to suppress posts with the outside links and my friends and family couldn't see my Vocal posts anymore, I joined several Vocal-related Facebook groups to promote my stories and connect with other creators.
That helped tremendously in terms of both growing my readership and increasing my visibility. Since August 2023, I've had at least one Top Story every month (sometimes even two), which is a great achievement in my book, given my limited presence here. I hope I will be able to continue this pattern in 2024 and also hope to win a challenge. Not having hopes for this one, though :).
Even though my presence here is limited, I like Vocal a lot. To the extent that I bought its shares on the stock exchange and participated in the crowdfunding investor rounds, which could be shooting myself in the foot if the conflict of interest rule kicks in, preventing investors from placing in the challenges.
I have yet to decide what to do with my shares: last year, the VOCL stock lost 99% of its value, and just this week it was merged and got a new ticker - VOCLD. I'm still at 97% in the red with the restructured stock, and it lost some more cents sliding to $2.75 per share today, but because I am a small investor I can just watch what happens and hope for the best in the future. And if it all dwindles away, it won't break my bank.
Did I say already I like Vocal a lot? From the start, I've been a Vocal+ member as I fully bought into its business model as a subscription-driven platform for creators. I really liked the way it responded to creators' suggestions in introducing comments and notifications. I applauded its efforts to eliminate bots from the platform, which I believe resulted into the decreasing "reads" statistics that many creators noticed and complain about. To me, it's better to have a quality platform than hyped-up bot-driven readership.
I also understand Vocal's limitations and possibilities. It's biggest limitation is that it is not doing anything to promote the creators' work, shifting the burden of promotion and readership base growth onto the creators themselves. Why is it a limitation now, not a strength? Because I believe that Vocal outgrew a boutique creator subscription business model but does not know it and thinks it can still continue with it.
The truth is that in the today's world where there are more writers than readers in the first place, the subscription-based model results into the platform where writers are reading other writers. And a huge churn: there are thousands of creators here nominally, but how many of them actually write regularly? Many try the platform out, get frustrated with slow results, and become passive or quit altogether. Very few figured out how to cover the costs of subscription, and even fewer - how to make meaningful money.
This explains why many of us have hundreds and even thousands of subscribers but very little (minuscule, as some creators say) true engagement, with only a handful of people commenting on each other's stories. It's a lot of work and time that many of us have in limited supply.
So, here is my aspiration for Vocal in 2024: this fine platform needs to start behaving more as a publisher, taking some of the responsibility for producing and promoting creators' works. I wouldn't of course expect it to turn into a Penguin Random House or Hachette Book Group overnight, but Vocal could start out small and expand its voice and presence.
As someone who teaches public relations, I can see an obvious small step: start publishing an anthology of Vocal's best stories, even via Amazon self-publishing mechanism. It can be done annually at first, and as the demand and interest grows - bi-annually, quarterly and even monthly. The stories can be selected from various Vocal communities, either through popular vote or professional panel voting. This is a cost-effective model that has many advantages and almost no risks.
The demand and interest will not grow by itself, so Vocal needs to invest time and effort in promoting these anthologies on GoodReads and other digital reader communities. Vocal now has enough clout and brand recognition to do that, so all it would take is a dedicated staff who knows how to work with readers. Again, low costs for a lot of output and increased visibility and recognition.
I, on my part, pledge to continue writing (mostly) high-quality stories here on Vocal and hope that at least some of them will make it into the future Vocal Anthology.
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
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