Going viral – the problem with authors being discovered on the web

I’ve got a question to which I don’t – yet – know the answer.

One of the biggest problems with the new publishing paradigm is the fact that the tools publishers have to make themselves known by are common to all social media and internet users. Any individual voice consequently gets lost in the noise.

Hence we see the phenomenon of some really good books – the blood, sweat and tears of really talented authors – often languishing, purely because there’s no way they can be discovered.

Essential writing fuel!
Essential writing fuel!

It seems to me there are two ways for everyday people – such as writers – to get prominent in the web. One is to ‘go viral’ – something that happened to a couple of my posts three times in the last fortnight. Suddenly my blog was flooded with hits at ten times the usual rate. But after leaping about the house a few times going ‘woohoo’ – I remembered that these things don’t last. A ‘Redditlanche’ in particular is really only good for about 12-24 hours.

Virality is driven by a particular quirk of human psychology and which doesn’t bestow lasting discovery, because the same phenomenon that provokes ‘virality’ also provokes transience.

Virality is really about quick entertainment and sharing the fun. And to some extent it’s also about the gladiatorial spectacle of watching the reactions of somebody who’s had no training in media relations, no experience of fame, and whose contribution (inevitably) doesn’t reflect long-practised talent but is often some chance off-beat moment. The key feature is transience. Warhol’s fifteen minutes of fame, these days, is more like five seconds.

There are one or two exceptions to this – people who’ve gone viral and then leveraged that to go further. But they are the exceptions that prove the general rule. That’s not really the answer for writers – or any other artist – wanting longevity. The other way people get ‘famous’ on the web is because they’re already well known outside it – thus, in effect, have access to promotional tools that aren’t those of social media.

People go looking for them on the web – they don’t have to promote themselves so much. There’s doubtless a fair degree of synergy there too; once you’ve got established prominently, your voice is a bit louder than that of everybody else on the web. That works for some authors, of course. But most authors aren’t prominent in their own right, and they – and their publishers – struggle to get the material shifting via electronic means.

What’s the answer? As yet, I don’t know. I’m working on it. You?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015


13 thoughts on “Going viral – the problem with authors being discovered on the web

  1. I haven’t managed to get any post of mine to go viral yet, but I find the most helpful aspect of social media is building your support network. Because I post about what I’m writing or ask questions about possible plot points and suchlike, my Facebook community feel involved. They are more likely to share my posts and help build my readership because I’ve proved over the long term that I’m serious about being an author. It’s that ‘strong online presence’ the books tell you about.

    Now if only I could get my head around Twitter! My Facebook posts are tweeted automatically and I get a couple of new followers every time, but damned if I can make the effort to spend time on Twitter itself to take advantage of it. Oh well, something else to work on…

    1. I ‘do’ Twitter. However the essence has changed in the last year or two and it’s got a lot more like the classifieds pages. Previously it had a certain level of chattiness between followers, but that’s gone.

  2. Well, Matthew – another thought-provoking article. And yes, I agree. Like a virus, viral is temporary. I would have thought that you have enough ‘credibility’ to be sought after. Surely your niche is not so narrow… or are people not interested in history any more?
    Keep writing, and keep blogging. (Although how you find time for both is a mystery LOL)

    1. Thanks. I do get a fair number of visitors. I don’t know how well known I am in reality. ‘Not very’ is the likely answer. The web is a crowded place. For me, the real value of blogging isn’t the number of hits posts get from anonymous passers by, but the interaction with a wonderful small community of ‘regulars’ such as yourself who visit, discuss stuff, and are great to be in contact with. I’ll definitely keep blogging. When time presses (as it often does) my other social media goes by the board. But not my blog.

  3. I got a little taste of that last year when I wrote on my humor blog about something I learned. It was that Ray Davies, back in the 70s, would go ‘incognito’ in after show parties by dressing in the costume he’d worn during the shows, which is so wonderfully childishly delightful I can’t believe it. This got attention from the KindaKinks fan site, and they pointed what came to be a couple hundred people at my comments over the next couple days.

    It didn’t last, of course, and nobody was amused enough to write a defense of Davies’s behavior or anything. I don’t think it made a lasting bump in my readership. But for a few days anyway I felt wildly popular.

    What really seems to make blogs go viral is somehow knitting together a community, people who’ll amuse one another with only some connection to whatever the original post was. But goodness knows how you make that happen.

    1. I don’t know either. I have a small community who comment on my blog – which to me is fantastic. But some blogs have very large communities. I’ve even seen a blog where the community rules: the blogger sets out a proposition in his post and invites comment. It’s a sf/dieselpunk themed blog so I presume that content and theme play a large part in building the audience.

  4. I do believe that were someone to ask me how to become a successful blogger I’d point to what I’ve done in the past and what I’m doing at present and suggest they avoid all of it. My eclectic approach matches my thoughts, but I couldn’t describe it as a plan.

    1. That’s basically what I’ve done – I do stuff that I’m interested in, and it covers quite a range of things. But to me that’s a good thing. If other people like it – that’s great. I think doing things that way has more authenticity to it than trying to ’emulate’ what others might ‘like’.

  5. Hoping to get to the book stage myself. My topic of emigrating to Ireland 13 years ago and subsequently being diagnosed with MS laced with loads of people, love for Ireland, illness and inspiration, is rather broad I suppose, so I’m hoping for a miracle!

    1. It’s worth having a go at writing it – as they say, a bad first draft is better than no first draft! 🙂 You don’t know what doors will open for you, writing-wise, until you try; and it’s been said that the way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. So a few words each day. Jack Kerouac summed up how – ‘write in recollection and amazement for yourself’. If you do that, you’ll likely find people will want to read what you write.

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