Why it’s so hard for writers to be discovered in the online world

Ever wondered why you don’t get as much traffic as you’d like on your blog? Or why your book’s vanished without a trace of sales on Amazon? I did some checking. In this wired world, the web is one crowded place. Every second, people put:

23 posts on WordPress
463 posts on Tumblr
5700 tweets on Twitter
54,976 posts on Facebook
5757 +1’s on Google+
And over 3.4 million emails are sent.

Woah! That’s quite apart from the growth in those services over the same time-span. I only have figures for Twitter – which gains 11 new accounts a second. Doubtless some are bots, but that’s not the point. What this underscores, for me, is the key issue bedevilling activity on the internet – especially efforts by authors to get their cut of the 51 items sold in that same second by Amazon.

That issue is discovery. Being found amidst the noise.

You spend an hour prepping a WordPress post. In that time, 82,800 other posts have been put up. In the five seconds between clicking ‘publish’ and having it go live, 115 posts have gone up. Promote it on Twitter. In the 15 seconds you spend writing the tweet, 85,500 other tweets have been sent and 165 new accounts have joined the service. Got your publicise function set to push your WordPress post out to Tumblr? While you were writing the post, 16.6 million Tumblr posts went up. And in the 3715 seconds between starting your post and finishing the publishing process, Amazon sold 189,465 items, most of them probably books. Any of them yours? No? Mine neither.

Progress, nineteenth century style; bigger, faster, heavier... more Mordor.
If internet traffic were real and needed carrying. I’m standing next to a Haulmax – 100 tons in one go, uphill. A giga-truck. I’m about 185 cm in the hat.

Ok, I’m a geek. But those numbers tell me that promotion by spam attack on whatever social media sites happen to be at hand isn’t going to make the slightest lasting difference. It’s a drop in the bucket against the quantity flowing through the internet – but a very toxic drop for those on whom it’s inflicted.

What those numbers also tell me is that the system, en masse, is anonymous and transient. Found a blog you liked, didn’t click ‘follow’, and never found it again? Happens all the time. Potential readers of yours, meanwhile, might miss your wisdom in the stream.

But you know the most important thing? The people who’ve found you through that incredible ‘noise’ – the like-minded people who find common ground and keep in contact regularly online over months or years, where you comment and ‘like’ each other’s posts, swap stories and tweets, and stay in touch – become real friends. Not artefacts of a transient 54,976-post-per-second ‘friend’ function, but real people you come to really know.

Just like our parents and grandparents had penfriends who they knew only remotely, but who became real friends. Of course we do things faster in the 21st century…

This is really what social media is about. He Tangata, He Tangata, He Tangata – people, people, people.

People are important.

As for that ‘discovery’ issue – well, more on that soon. Though I will say that those numbers – again – point to the obvious conclusion that pushing discovery through social media isn’t the answer. I don’t think you can sell that way either.

Time to deploy the Lateral Thinking Hat. Muahahahahaha.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014


41 thoughts on “Why it’s so hard for writers to be discovered in the online world

  1. Sober stuff. Lots of noise out there…. clearly the trick is to do what you love, keep expectations low, and your chin up. Great post.

  2. I guess it is how I found you haphazardly. Happy that I did. You are one very interesting person. I feel like I know you too. Thanks for the wonderful info on social media. It is mind boggling, my online friend.

    1. Thank you – and it’s good to have made contact. The wonder of modern tech – the fact that like-minded writers from opposite sides of the globe can meet, virtually, and discuss their craft, interests and challenges! Yes, I was blown away when I dug up the figures. I knew the internet was big. I just hadn’t quite realised HOW big… 🙂 When you think that there are 1.2 billion on Facebook alone, it’s truly humbling. I am going to have to dig out some historical population stats to get a proper handle on this in human terms…blog post coming.

  3. I can’t tell you how often people ask if I make money from my blog. The question always catches me off guard because the thought never crosses my mind. My answer is always the same – I’ve found a community money can’t buy 🙂

  4. Sobering but true. If one simply loves writing, one can not just stop! In the long run, one’s blog defines one’s personality. Gradually, a networking of like-minded persons does take place. Quality of comments scores over the number of likes.

    1. Quite true. Comments are the life of a blog – and its interaction. Very important and, I agree, materially better than ‘likes’. Though, I have to admit, they’re good too… 🙂

    1. I’m certainly glad we’ve made contact – I don’t quite recall exactly how, now, either! 🙂

      That Pennystock utility is certainly an eye-opener. Figures that can only grow, of course, with all that this implies for the issue of discovery.

  5. Yet another confession, Matthew: I spend a lot more time than one hour prepping a blog post but I no longer wish I didn’t. I spread it out over the week (as you know, I publish weekly), which works best with my writing process. I mention this only because your posts on writing have helped me remember that my writing process is, well, mine…. I was really struggling with blog posts but reading you–not only your writing posts–has returned me to writing fiction as well as given me the courage to stay with a writing project that may actually see the light of day.

    As you say, it is about people exchanging ideas thoughtfully. What else is the basis for friendship? The stats are incredible but not overwhelming. Great post, Matthew!

    1. This IS how people make friends, absolutely – and isn’t it wonderful that, in the 21st century, that friendship becomes possible across the world. Our parents’ generation had penfriends – my mother had a penfriend in Minneapolis in the 1960s, who became a firm and lasting family friend. It took years to develop simply because correspondence times were measured in many days even by airmail (I recall the blue paper). The internet is massively more immediate but something, I suppose, that those born this century will take for granted.

      I am humbled by your thoughts about my blog and advice – thank you! Yes, I sometimes spend much more than an hour on blog posts myself – and it’s sobering to think about the volume flowing by across even WordPress during that time. On the other hand, as you point out, those who DO read it may well draw something from the material. And that’s what makes it worthwhile.

  6. Great post, Matthew. The exchange of ideas and information (thank you so much for the amazing stats) is what builds relationships online. Finding like-minded people trumps demographic targeting every time! 🙂

  7. Yes, sobering thoughts… the kind that might send one back to bed BUT you said you’d address the “discovery” issue soon. Please make it very soon!

  8. Those numbers are staggering, and it’s impressive that we end up with people reading our blogs at all in the midst of all that, but I suppose the odds make those who choose to read and stay seem even more spectacular. Although it’s cool to see “numbers” go up as far as popular posts and so on, it truly is the people who keep coming back and interacting, or even just stop by once to let me know that a particular post helped or touched them that makes it worth continuing to do.

    1. It is indeed impressive in every respect – both the numbers, and then the fact that any one of us (all tiny specks by this standard) can then attract a readership. But we do – and the fact that this represents an interaction with like-minded people makes the experience all the more valuable for all involved in it.

  9. Great article. So true. I agree. Many of us will end up with 2000 followers on FB but only 50 of those people will be vested in our careers . . . or interested for that matter. Thanks for sharing.

      1. Please do! And thanks for checking first. I very much appreciate your asking. I should add, I was blown away to realise the actual scale of social networking. I knew it was big – but man, the numbers are incredible.

  10. Very interesting thought and crazy numbers! Its definitely hard to find new followers through social media besides those you already know. Short of spending money, it can be hard to get recognized.

    1. Even spending money, I suspect, does little against the volumes we can see here. But the plus side is the positive interaction we have with the people who we have found – our own circles, who we get to know as people. And to me, that’s by far the most important part of the whole thing.

  11. Friends. Friends. Friends. I found this blog because a friend posted the link on Facebook. I am glad she shared. Your numbers make me wonder why I blog, but they are not enough to make me quit. In fact, they encourage me to get back on the spinning wheel. I have been off it for a few weeks because of family illness. Here I go. Ready, set, jump.
    May I also reblog this post?

    1. Yes, please do reblog. And I very much appreciate your courtesy in asking. Thank you. I have to say that the nymbers are indeed daunting. But not insurmountable. And it is the ‘friends’ phenomenon, I hink, that makes it possible. Certainly this helps bring like-minded people together. And I very much think that it is this community rather than raw stats that counts. All the best for your return to blogging.

  12. Gosh, what amazing figures. It really does prove that social media and the internet is taking over the world. At least I feel better about my stats now! Thanks for this wonderful post. Really enjoyed it.

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