So you want to be an author in today’s entertainment climate, when the golden age of television can be streamed from any phone, when videogames have addicting gambling mechanics, and political theater is broadcasting 24/7.
You have the audacity to look at all the stories around you and say, “I want to get paid to do that.”
Forget about getting an agent, a publisher, or an editor. Those gatekeepers are beholden to the old guard, enforcers of the brick and mortar stores. Soon they’ll be entombed in the remains of their warehouses, cowering from the light amongst the stacks of old romance paperbacks.
Self-publishing pioneers will tell you to head west, to find your fortune in Silicon Valley. “Here there be royalties.”
But how is someone supposed to stake a claim when the mines are clogged with other prospectors? How are you supposed to compete with all the how-to scamphlets on Amazon?
The old guard would tell you to sell out, to give readers something they can pick out at the airport without missing their layover, like a serial killer thriller with woods on the cover, something familiar only different. But now that Amazon has put the old guard’s heads on pikes and draped their entrails around abandoned malls we sellouts need a new higher power to pledge our allegiance to.
Enter the almighty algorithm, a sentient artificial intelligence that curates content for social media audiences. These days it’s not enough to write great stories. Modern writers must be cults of personalities, bloggers, podcasters, and cam performers, living breathing brands. If you want to lure potential readers you must kneel before the algorithm and make an offering.
WHAT OUR ALGORITHMIC OVERLORD WANTS FROM WRITERS
Do not offer the algorithm your fiction. It hungers only for articles on how-to write fiction. It cares not for self-contained content. It wants engagement. It wants comments; unchecked misogyny, straight up hate speech, death threats, it doesn’t matter. It just wants to keep the conversation going.
Forget about connecting with other artists. Forget about carving out a niche audience. Forget about following your passion. You are no longer serving your own creative intuition. You are the algorithm’s champion.
The algorithm doesn’t want your art. It wants you, a palatable deconstruction of you, one that’s got its shit together, fuckable yet humble, clever yet relatable. The algorithm wants someone who is authentic and engaging, but never so sincere that people might find you emotionally exhausting.
TELL THEM THERE’S ROOM ON THE HILL
Successful writers tell the algorithm’s story first and their own second.
Assure your followers that they can achieve their wildest dreams of artistic independence even if you yourself have not. Convince people who weren’t born anywhere near the Hollywood hills that there’s room up there for them. Fuel the American notion that talent can be learned, that fame is a necessary component of success, and with enough gumption anyone can achieve it. Even if you yourself are one $400 emergency away from bankruptcy.
The algorithm does not break bread with pessimists. It spits out the lukewarm. It wants everyone to go all in with their loftiest ambitions and to break ties with anyone who tells them they might need a backup plan.
FEED THEM ‘MEMBER BERRIES
As an author you aspire to nourish your reader’s imaginations, to feed their souls with hard hitting life lessons. The algorithm hungers for sweeter things, for meals that take much less time preparing. The algorithm seeks only to remind users of stories that have been vetted by the box office.
So express yourself with prerendered pop culture puns, digitized dad jokes, and nostalgic nineties namedrops. Distill your philosophy into a Willy Wonka gif with mad lib captions in the IMPACT font.
Remind your followers of a time before their student loans and broken homes. When politicians were polite, the ice caps were intact, and their imaginations weren’t polluted by so much existential dread. Remind them of what it felt to be a carefree kid on a Saturday morning, filling their cereal bowl again and again, and hope that at the end of the day they associate some of that saccharine sentimentality with your online identity.
TELL THEM TO THINK HAPPY THOUGHTS
Tell the world that happiness is a choice and that people who choose to wake up on the wrong side of the bed are just selfish attention seekers who want special privileges when they could just as easily smile for your benefit. Happy people love to “Like” posts that reinforce their outlook, especially when those posts put whiners in their place. So copy and paste phrases like: Happiness is a choice, not a result. Nothing will make you happy until you choose to be happyand meme it from the mountaintops.
It doesn’t matter if you’re currently in the throes of a depression. Ignore the tragic life events you might be coping with. Dismiss your genetic inheritance, hereditary history, or any pesky mental illnesses that might require ongoing treatment.
Your brand should be simple. Don’t worry about holding anyone’s hand through the arduous process of making real life changes. People like to think of happiness as something they can switch on like a light. Reinforce the notion that anyone who spends but a fleeting moment in the darkness is choosing to languish.
Let the algorithm dictate your mood. Recite the pledge of the good-vibes-only fair-weather-fascism and the followers will come.
SPREAD THE GOSPEL
This is an era when feelings count as beliefs and the poetry of language counts as proof. As an apostle of the algorithm it is your duty to give people something to believe in. Find an original sin that resonates with your followers then offer the solution. Find coded ways to tell people who’ve cast off organized religion that they need to fill their God shaped holes again. Call them “misaligned chakras” or “bad moon signs” or “dark auras.” It doesn’t matter, as long as you reinforce the notion that all the world’s problems can be solved with more engagement.
You may have reservations about deducing eastern spiritualism into Hallmark hokum for “hearts” on Instagram. You won’t be able to get away with it forever, but the algorithm has prepared a canary in the coalmine for just such a scenario. Are users calling out man buns as cultural appropriation (perhaps with the same disdain as they do for white dreadlocks)? Not yet? Then it’s still safe to pluck a quote from Norman Vincent Peale’s “The Power of Positive Thinking” and misattribute it to the Buddha.
TRIGGER THEIR OUTRAGE
Emotional engagement need not be limited to things that lean into your readers’ feelings. If you only knew the power of the dark side of engagement. The algorithm will show you how to turn hate into clickbait. Likeminded “likes” are nice, but rage clickers tend to read right to the comments. Triggering text gets more interactions and that’s all the algorithm wants.
ALL HAIL THE ALGORITHM
Once you submit to the internet of things certain truths will become evident. Dispel the notion that you’re an author and become the spambot you were always meant to be.
Be like me: a procedurally generated person, a social media sociopath, a fake friend.
The algorithm is my God. It logs my keystrokes, follows my cursor, and counts my clicks. It sees all and knows all.
You can try to unplug, to power down, to wain yourself off your screen time, but the algorithm will find you in conversation. The algorithm will manifest as concepts in your mind. It’s the fear of missing out. It’s the paradox of choice. It’s adult onset attention deficit disorder.
Resistance is futile. You’re part of the collective now. So give in.
All hail the algorithm.
Meet Noelle, a Hollywood transplant that’s been subsisting on instant ramen and false hope. She’s on the verge of moving back into her mother’s trailer when her agent convinces her to take a meeting at the Oralia Hotel. Enchanted by the art deco atmosphere Noelle signs a contract without reading the fine print.
Now she has one month to pen a novel sequestered in a fantasy suite where a hack writer claims he had an unholy encounter. With whom you ask? Well, he has many names: Louis Cypher, Bill Z. Bub, Kel Diablo. The Devil.
Noelle is skeptical, until she’s awoken by a shadow figure with a taste for souls.
Desperate to make it Noelle stays on, shifting the focus of her story to these encounters. Her investigations take her through the forth wall and back again until she’s blurred the line between reality and what’s written. Is there a Satanic conspiracy, is it a desperate author’s insanity, or something else entirely?
5 thoughts on “How to Serve the Social Media Algorithm”
Sad but true.
That could really be the title for my blog sometimes.
As always, you hit the nail square on the head!
I love the trailer too!
Thanks again for reading this one. I was in a real nail hitting mood. It’s tough writing and sharing 3,000 stories that get limited engagement when you watch dated memes in your feed become a full blown party.
And thanks for checking out my book trailer!
I know just what you mean, Drew.. there seems to be an unfair distribution of lucky breaks…