Tag Archives: self promotion

How Writers Can Make Gatekeepers Work for Them

"Nobody can see the great Oz, even I haven't seen him"
“Nobody can see the great Oz, even I haven’t seen him”

The gatekeepers who once decided what art was worth publishing are losing relevance. We need not kneel at their feet to gain entrance to the public square. There are paths in everywhere.

Director J.J. Abrams told the audience at the Anaheim Star Wars Celebration that they could all be filmmakers. “Everyone has a camera in their pocket now… The technology has been democratized. Everyone has access… If you want to do it, the only thing stopping you from doing it is you.” Continue reading How Writers Can Make Gatekeepers Work for Them

The Anti-Clickbait Movement and the Return of Long Form Writing

Fishing for another click
Fishing for another click

Depressed by the rise in Clickbait, One Blogger Does Something to Restore Readers’ Faith in Humanity

Bloggers have it tough, working long hours, paying to play, for an audience that may never stay. The world sees our failure as the punchline to an elaborate joke. As far as they’re concerned, our words are selfies for snobs, journals masquerading as journalism, vanity press that wouldn’t exist without the internet.

Scroll through your Facebook feed, compare the choices to what we’re offering. If readers have to pick between our editorial on net neutrality and a report on the death of The Walking Dead’s lead, it’s hard to compete (Andrew Lincoln is alive and well, but that article will be accurate eventually). Sure, we might have important information on OK Cupid’s psychological manipulation plan, but there’s a report going around that Orange is the New Black has been cancelled again.

There’s new footage of a goat/sheep hybrid. This ‘Geep’ is too cute to be ignored. What are we offering that’s so much more enlightening?

While these eye catching links score the page views our latest efforts becomes old news.

When the person next to us is reading clickbait, it’s hard to imagine they’ll ever read one of our long form articles. They may find the experience more rewarding, but they know it’ll be time consuming. While we offer food for thought, they’re choosing junk food instead.

Plenty of bloggers have come down with a case of viral envy. Seeing our friends post lackluster links, we start ‘share shaming’, combing through articles like ‘Things You Never Noticed About Famous Movies’ for factual accuracy.

Spoofing BuzzFeed's logo to make a point
Spoofing BuzzFeed’s logo to make a point

How this Blogger handles Sour Grapes Over Clickbait is Genius

People enjoy reading lists, but do they ever recognize the authorship? They like the format, but would they ever pay for a book written by a contributor? These sites are tailored for turnover. After churning out top ten lists, where can a BuzzFeed freelancer go from there? How many agents are knocking down their door?

People keep telling me there’s no money in long form writing, but how many of these clickbait contributors are rolling in it? How many of them have a long term plan? It’s hard to imagine there’s job security in what they do. The format is so easy to replicate the satirical UpWorthy Generator could replace the headlines on Upworthy proper.

We bloggers, aspiring to be authors, keep telling ourselves that we’re the tortoise and these viral writers are the hare. They’re beating us in traffic but we have a far better chance of getting to our destination. We just have to keep inching along without the instant gratification of watching our stats surge.

We love Memes, but Viral Content Might Be Making Us Sick

In his book The Shallows, Nicholas G. Carr says all this constant skimming is affecting the way we think. Exposure to the internet changes how our minds work offline. The neuroplasticity of our brains shifts, increasing our appetite for entertainment, reducing our attention spans, making it tough to embrace a mere moment of silence.

We’re hungry for information, but only in bite sized little chunks.

Clickbaiters are at the forefront of exploiting this phenomenon. Their science is in composing titles our curiosity can’t help but click on (i.e. everything in bold in this article). Each page view generates revenue. UpWorthy writes 25 headlines for everything they share, meticulously placing hooks readers can’t ignore.

While UpWorthy’s headlines inflate their videos to epic proportions, other sites resort to outright fabrications. If the internet teaches us anything, it’s that the common denominator can always get a little lower.

3 Click Bait

There’s a New Condition that Causes Sufferers to Confuse Lying with Satire

There’s a gullibility test going around Facebook. The way it works is one of your friends posts a link to an article with a headline that’s too amazing to be true, like:

CONFIRMED: HPV Vaccine Linked to Dementia
Neil deGrasse Tyson: Sixth Extinction Event Will Happen in Our Lifetime
Woody Harrelson Shot and Killed Outside of Vegas Nightclub

Here’s where this becomes a test: do you do a quick Google search for more information, see if the New York times has weighed in on these developments, or do you just hit ‘share’ to inform your friends?

If you hit ‘share’ you should look up, it says ‘GULLIBLE’ on the ceiling.

One of the biggest culprits of this technique is EmpireNews.net. Every article on their home page looks like a scoop, big developments every major news outlets are trailing behind on. The headlines are crazy, but not too far outside the realm of reason.

EmpireNews.net bills itself as “a satirical entertainment website.” Like The Onion without the irony, exaggeration, or social commentary.

Here’s some examples of their “jokes”:

Jimmy Fallon Fired From The ‘Tonight Show’ After Feud With NBC Executives; Will Jay Leno Return?
‘Ghost Adventures’ Star Gets Fired, Reveals Disappointing Truth About Paranormal Television Series
Facebook Announces New Design Changes, Massive Overhaul Coming In October

These are works of fiction, but unlike entries from The Onion they’re too banal to be satirical.

The idea of Jimmy Fallon feuding with NBC Executives isn’t ironic. TV personalities posture for raises all the time. There’s no real mockery. A satirical headline would’ve read:

Conan O’Brien Fired From ‘The Conan O’Brien Show’ After Feud with TBS; Jay Leno to Take Over Title Role.

It would feature a Photoshopped picture of Leno sporting Conan’s iconic red hair, and it would’ve come out over a year ago, when it would’ve been timely. Empire’s title is designed to upset Fallon’s fans, tricking his viewers into sharing the bad news with their friends.

Faking TV show cancellations, celebrity arrests or deaths, is a cheap way to find success. It get’s clicks, but those clicks don’t guarantee engagement. At the time of this writing none of the articles on EmpireNews’s main page feature a single comment. Either no one has anything to say, or the admins delete anything critical of what they’re doing.

Empire News is looking for contributors. Nowhere on their hiring page do they mention humor. Part of me wants to apply, submitting the dictionary definition of ‘satire’ as my writing sample.

4 Click Bait

Long form Journalism is making a comeback, You’ll Never Guess Where

If you visit BuzzFeed’s main page, you’ll find something funny. Above the trending titles, footage of celebrity fisticuffs, and videos of kittens, is news. At the time of this writing, the ceasefire in Gaza is the top headline. Next to that is a thorough article on Uganda striking down its Anti-Homosexuality act.

While local newspapers are doing everything they can to turn themselves into printed versions of websites, BuzzFeed is dabbling in 2,000 + word articles. Two years ago BuzzFeed hired former SPIN and Details editor Steve Kandell to edit their long form content. Kandell’s goal was to produce sharable editorials, after all it’s the title that gets the click, but he realizes that it’s the depth that gets the engagement.

I knew none of this when I started this piece. I assumed BuzzFeed was the big bad and traditional media was picking up its habits. A little research, spun my thesis on its head.

My friends in local news outlets tell stories about editors begging for more top ten lists, drooling at the prospect of getting BuzzFeed’s traffic.

Traditional media is destroying traditional media by confusing reduction with adaptation. By shifting their efforts to quick consumption, they abandon topics worth sharing. By curating someone else’s content they diminish the value of their own. While CNN fills their main page with videos of puppies, in a desperate attempt to beat BuzzFeed at their own game, BuzzFeed is dabbling in real news.

This is something to keep in mind whenever someone tells you, “There’s no room for real writing in a post-BuzzFeed world.”

BuzzFeed doesn’t seem to think so.

Long form writing isn’t a dated practice, it’s a niche, one in need of writers willing to embrace it.

Bloggers, if you can’t fit your thesis into 500 words, go longer. Complete your thought. Your intriguing headline deserves an equally compelling closing argument. It’s easier to get readers to click on your page than to follow it. Show them that you have what it takes to go the distance.

The Myth of the Self-Made Blogger

1. Tipping Point

What pyramid schemers can teach us about blogging culture.

Enter the Pyramid Schemers

I used to work for the retail side of a tech company. Our goal was to demystify technology, to lower the entry barrier, to smooth out the learning curve. It didn’t matter if you’d purchased a device in our store, or if you received it as a gift, if you brought it in we’d teach you how to use it. Since no one worked on commission, we didn’t have to be selling, we spent most of our time informing.

When two giggling women walked in, with a tablet still in its shrink wrap, I was happy to get them going. Claire won her tablet as part of a work promotion, her sales numbers were the highest in her region. Diane was along to drool at her friend’s new toy.

Showcasing the dictation feature, I spoke into the microphone, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

Tapping the screen, I highlighted the sentence, hit COPY and PASTE, replicating the line over and over again. “And this is how you recreate a scene from The Shining.”

I gave them the grand tour of their technology, from photo manipulation to location based notifications. Helping Claire setup her email, I learned she worked for Rodan + Fields selling ProActiv skincare products.

Looking out into the mall, Claire pointed to a kiosk I’d never noticed. Opening the YouTube app, she typed a search for an advertisement. She narrated, “A lot of men use ProActiv, see: Justin Bieber… P. Diddy…”

Diane caught me looking at my watch.

She tapped the screen, “Adam Levine uses it too.” Claire latched onto my bicep like a barnacle. “Oh, don’t you just love that song Moves Like Jagger?”

I shrugged, “Haven’t heard it, but I like Gimme Shelter.”

“Do you like to travel?” Claire changed the subject.

I tapped the map application, anticipating a question about directions.

Claire continued as if I’d already answered. “So do I. That’s why I’m working for a trip across Europe. That’s the great thing about ProActiv, you can work as much or as little as you want. It gives you that freedom. You’re just selling something that helps people at the same time.”

She was giving an essay answer to a question I hadn’t asked. Her lips smiled, but her eyes did not. I couldn’t help but notice that she’d changed from the first person to the second.

Diane tagged in, “The reason we bring this up is there’s a lot of opportunities for men in the company. Men want the product, they know it works, but they want to buy it from other men. An extroverted person, like yourself, would be leading your own team in no time.

Looking at my reflection in a monitor, I counted the zits framing my forehead. Still, these women were telling me I could be the face of their acne treatment.

Tapping the tablet, I realized I was the only one still interested in it. “Before I send you on your way, let’s just review what we’ve done here…”

The pair exchanged a look. Their smiles flickered into frowns. Their upbeat tone took on an undercurrent of desperation. They asked for my phone number, for my email address, and the name I went by on FaceBook. They offered to take me to dinner. When I said I had plans, they offered to buy me lunch the next day.

For someone with an expensive cutting edged piece of technology, Claire acted like she was struggling to earn enough to eat.

I was relieved when my manager called me in back.

These women weren’t interested in buying anything, they were scouting. They weren’t shoppers, they were headhunters. They took advantage of customer service specialists, because we were captive audiences. We had to be nice, we were taught not to use negative language.

These scouts went to retail establishments to push a sales pitch. Exuding positive vibes, they made themselves appear easy to work with. Smiling, they kept on with a steady stream of compliments. Cults refer to this technique as “flirty fishing,” or “love bombing.” Multi-level marketers call this “cold sponsoring.”

2. Whoops

The Hard-Sell Shows up where it doesn’t belong

In America, we’re taught that hard work and perseverance always pay off, that with enough gumption anyone, no matter their circumstances, can pull themselves up by their own boot straps. We’re taught that if someone isn’t a success, it’s their fault for not putting in the effort.

This encounter with the ProActiv pushers shows that’s not always the case. Some systems limit upward mobility by design.

Multi-level marketers make very little off their sales. They give the biggest cut of their profits to whoever roped them into the project. That’s why they work so hard to recruit a team of sales people beneath them. Technically, this isn’t a pyramid scheme, but the cash flows in the same direction; to the people at the top.

This article isn’t going to focus on the quadrilateral shape of these scams, but the tactics used to sell them. When you’re exposed to these methods, you can spot them everywhere.

Working out of coffee shops, I’ve sat next to many multi level marketers, offering desperate people “exciting new careers.”

I hear them give the same pushy pitch, the hard sell, the all expenses paid guilt trip.

Shifting in their seat, the marketer says, “My personal philosophy is that you can have anything in life as long as you help other people get what they want.”

Sounds nice, but to quote Jagger, “You can’t always get what you want.”

The Myth of the Self-Made Blogger

Exalting the infallibility of the system, marketers blame the ones who can’t make it on their own. If you’re a blogger, some of this might already sound familiar.

The myth of the self-made person casts a long shadow over the internet. After all, this is the new frontier, where anyone can launch a self-publishing career.

There’s no shortage of social media gurus, echoing the sentiments of multi-level marketers. They talk like we live in a meritocracy, where talent and ability are always rewarded, setting the expectation that a good blogger will find success early on. You’ll go in thinking your cream will rise the top, your smart observations will corner the marketplace of ideas, and your merits will ensure you the best seat.

Putting in your best work, you’ll assume that an audience will magically discover it. The first person who lays eyes on your prose will share it with everyone they know. Now you’re watching the clock, expecting to become an overnight sensation.

The hard-sellers will tell you that blogging is a full time job, that you should post daily, that no matter what you’re writing you should give it all your energy. If you build it they should come, and if they don’t, it’s something you’re doing wrong.

The gambler’s fallacy has you believing that your loosing streak will turn, so you stay the course, doing the exact same thing, waiting for it to come out different.

I watch a lot of people lose heart, when their following stops growing. I’ve written about how this manifests in Twitter tantrums. I’ve watched people commit social media suicide, telling off their readers for not appreciating them more.

This is what happens when success is the assumption, you refuse to learn coping skills for when it doesn’t come. The short sighted saddle up and ride, assuming no one will ever buy what they have to sell.

Bloggers don’t just make themselves, they’re made by their community. Word of mouth doesn’t spread over night. Going viral isn’t a given, it’s a rarity. If at first you don’t succeed, you’re doing it wrong. Mix up your approach, come at it again.

3. Heads Up

Closing Arguments

Next time you see an article giving you the hard sell, examine the salesperson. Don’t just look at the volume of their followers, but their engagement. What I’ve learned, is that bloggers who say building a following takes years, usually have one.

Many bloggers promote themselves as a resource to authors looking to promote their work, authors who go on to write articles on promotion of their own. Spectators become mentors to other spectators. The cycle goes on, while less of us are actually writing. For a prospective author, social media has value, but a tight manuscript should matter more.

Don’t give someone else bad directions just because it’s the path you’re on. Don’t give someone the hard-sell to justify your buyer’s remorse. There’s more than one way to get to the top of the mountain, don’t say that yours is the surest when you’re still at base camp.

We all glorify do it yourself promotion because that’s the method we’re using, but it’s not the only one worth choosing. We all want to feel like entrepreneurs, but we shouldn’t close the door on traditional publishing either.

Blogging isn’t a full time job if there’s no profits. If you’re not making anything, you can afford to take a step back to perfect your craft. A massive following doesn’t mean automatic sales. It can help, but only if you’ve written something worthy of word of mouth. Hard work doesn’t guarantee success, but good work gives you a better shot at it.

Jack of All Trades: Defier of Convention

As a blogger you’re warned not to be a Jack of All Trades. You’re told that writing about a diverse set of interests will confuse your audience. Social media gurus say, “Keep it simple stupid. Find a pigeonhole that suits you, find a basket to put all your eggs in. Repetition is the mother of a solid brand.”

I say, too much consistency can be a bad thing. If this is something you’re already feeling, dare I ask:

Is Your Blog Haunted by Your Brand?

Blogging your heart can be a tug of war with your brand.
Blogging can be a tug of war with your brand.

Bloggers, when you venture into uncharted waters, does a siren call steer you back to shore? When you go outside the lines, do you feel a push from an invisible hand? When you sit down to write, are you haunted by your brand?

The ghost of entries past tells you to stay on message, not to upstage your previous pages, but to maintain a constant image. Framing your sightline in its claws, it gives you tunnel vision. It’s on a mission to build recognition. It eats at your inspiration. It cuts down on confusion.

While you want the world to know you’re a complex person, your band is the red-eyed shadow that stands in your place. Perception is its passion. Consistency is its conviction. Recollection is its religion.

It hammers your multi-facets into the same round hole. It chops the branches off your skill tree, leaving you with just a pole. It values your parts greater than your whole.

Lost is the tug of war for control of your keyboard. Possessing your fingers, your brand has automated your writing. It toils on an spell to charm your target audience, a formula to fulfill their desires, to keep them coming back for more.

Consistent to a fault, your brand does the same thing over and over, expecting better results. It chants its slogan until it loses all meaning. It paraphrases past works, playing off their success, diluting your statements with each iteration. It’s a one trick pony galloping down a one track mind, a broken record playing the same one note joke. It took a big a idea and rationed it out into several little ones. They’re getting smaller all the time.

There’s a difference between being dependably good and giving your readers a sense of déjà vu. If they have to look at the date your article was published to know if it’s new, you have a problem. Having a recognizable brand can be great for drawing people in, but if it comes at the expense of interesting writing, it’s time to consider an exorcism.

Repossessing your Inspiration

The Triforce of accomplishment
The Triforce of accomplishment

Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

So is mediocrity. After all, there are bad habits too.

If an article is a burden to write, it’s going to read like one. If your brand is giving you writer’s block, give it some wiggle room. Expand it to encompass other things on your mind. Just because you’re an authority on one subject, doesn’t mean you should deny yourself the thrill of discovery.

Bloggers specializing in writing advice should share excerpts from their fiction. What better way to establish your authority, than to show the proof in your pudding? This opens the door to other ways you can bring your audience behind the scenes. Introduce them to types of writing they’re not used to seeing. What better way to teach us how to write a treatment, than to show us the pitch for what you’re working on? What better way to inspire others, than by revealing the bag of tricks you draw from?

Your topic need not be so specific that it’s dogmatic. You should have the freedom to dip your foot in the waters bordering it. If you’re an author who likes video games, why not write a piece that deconstructs the plot devices they use? Why not challenge game developers to improve characterization (especially of women)?

Who says artists should be limited to one medium?

If you’re a writer with a background in photography, give us something cool to see. Good text is served by good imagery. Frame your words with good design. If you can’t come up with a context for your pictures, call them “writing prompts” to inspire your readers. Be a Jack of all mediums, a master of creation.

Once you’ve established your brand, let it branch out into other directions. If you’re afraid an entry will cause confusion, add an explanation that ties it in.

3. Mediums Enlarged

Explore other Genres

Hot on the heels of adapting The Chronicles of Narnia for the big screen, screenwriter Stephen Mcfeely gave a talk for my class. He mentioned how he and his writing partner were offered every fantasy script under the suns (plural), and why they rejected every single one. They didn’t want to be known as the children’s fantasy guys. So they passed on a dozen projects until Captain America: The First Avenger landed in their laps. They wanted their brand to be about more than one thing (granted they went on to work on Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but you get where I was going).

My screenwriting professor said agents prefer writers with at least three screenplays under their belts: one that’s personal, one that’s funny, and one with broad appeal. The theory is everyone has a journal entry in screenplay format kicking around in them, agents need to know that you can write something more. They have to be able to sell your versatility, which is hard if you’re married to just one category.

Writers shouldn’t feel like they’re bound to one shelf in the book store. They need to explore. Their cover models need to be able to swap their trench coats for armor, their helmets for veils, their flowing gowns for mud slicked rags. Put them through the entire wardrobe.

Be a Jack of all genres, a master of fiction. Take two tones and make a warped combination. If your fear of the dark is less than inspiring, why not let your sense of romance in? If your detectives are just going through the motions, why not contaminate their crimes scene with buckets of ectoplasm? If your world is overrun with vampires, isn’t it about time they get a visit from aliens? (If this concept is already a novel someone please point me in its direction)

4. Genre Enlarged

Stretch Your Brand to Fit other Interests

If you’re an author blogging to raise awareness of your fiction, you have a lot more freedom than you might think. Your brand might whisper, “Stick to posts regarding writing,” but you’d be surprised how many of your interests can be made to fit that description. Your brand need not shut you out of these topics, you just need to invite it in.

Pursue a range of passions and write them off as research. Every first hand account is something to draw from.

I’ve written how urban exploration can improve your writing, how memory palaces can play into your pitch sessions, and how the right music can contribute to the tone of your text. These are interests I have outside of my medium, but I found a way to fit them in.

Authors can talk about how their Yoga routine directly impacts their writing. There are connections between exercise and higher brain activity, this isn’t such a stretch (so to speak). Teach your brand to be flexible. Be a Jack of all interests, a master of fun.

My interests could stand to be more diverse, but these were the first ones that came to mind.
My interests could stand to be more diverse, but these were the first ones that came to mind.

Be Your Target Audience

Bloggers are told to have a target audience in mind. This is a good idea when you’re promoting your work, not when you’re composing it. The last thing you need when you’re staring at the blank page is performance anxiety. Writing with an awareness of your audience is like trying to pee at a trough urinal, looking to the ceiling waiting for something to flow. Sure, it can be done, but it’s not going to be your best work.

Write what you want to read first. Be your target audience. If you have eclectic tastes don’t let them go to waste. Sometimes this means mixing mediums, sometimes it means crossing genres, and sometimes it means bringing other interests into the conversation. Variety is the spice of life, consistency is the oatmeal of the internet. Be a taste maker, broaden your audience’s palate.

My brand strikes again
My brand strikes again

Facebook Buys Drewchial.com

Celebration

Facebook is set to purchase Drewchial.com, a blog best known for entries on the burdens of self-promotion, in a $1 billion acquisition. Though the site was created to promote the unpublished works of Drew Chial, Facebook plans to use it as an extension of its platform.

In a conference call with shareholders, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive officer said, “The next frontier of social media is self-deprecating self-promotion and Drewchial.com is at the forefront.”

Drewchial.com is known for articles on the futility of trying to go viral, making insensitive comparisons between self-promotion and panhandling, and premises for film reboots Chial is in no way involved in. Drew Chial himself, is known for being voted “MOST LIKELY TO CHANGE HIS NAME INTO A SYMBOL” in high school and little else.

Baffling analysts, Facebook sees something that’s crucial to its business.

On his profile page, Zuckerberg outlined scenarios where other authors might adopt Chial’s methods, launching smear campaigns against their own work, calling themselves out in a feedback loop of what he calls, “meta media criticism.”

“Imagine getting away with clogging your friend’s feeds with links, because you’ve already blasted yourself for doing it. That’s the kind of experience we’d like to share with the general public.”

This risky purchase is just one of the many bewildering tactics Facebook is using to stay ahead of the competition.

Staggering into the office in sunglasses and a bathrobe, Zuckerberg addressed his developers, “Every aspect of teenagers’ lives are filled with commercials; from the military murals stretched across their lockers, to the Hotpocket coupons in their health books. They tune ads out, skip them on YouTube, block them with plugins. Backhanded brand awareness is the best way to snag those cynics.”

Kicking his chair out, Zuckerberg wobbled to the whiteboard. He lifted a lever in the shape of a dry erase marker. The board spun around revealing a fully stocked bar. Climbing up on it, Zuckerberg pulled several bottles off the top shelf, hopped down and mixed himself a martini.

Swirling the concoction, Zuckerberg took his seat. “Advertisements aren’t cool, but making fun of them is. Drewchial.com comes with its own ridicule built in.”

Downing his drink in a single sip, Zuckerberg slapped the table, “I’m talking about millennials, bitches. That demo is my shit.” Then he collapsed.

Thumbds Up

The acquisition is a huge advance for Drew Chial, who at the time of this writing, does not have a published work to his name. Chial, a self-declared introvert, was surprised to find the social network showing any interest.

“I’ve come to accept that Facebook works in mysterious ways.”

Chial says he plans to use the money to host a martial arts tournament on an island far from the United Nations and their “meddlesome human rights regulations.”

Financial analysts are critical of Drewchial.com’s low reach, low views, and lowbrow humor. They’re concerned by the site’s inconsistent subject matter.

One analyst said, “I don’t get it. Does Drewchial.com promote a humorist or a horror writer? Sometimes it offers writing advice, sometimes it’s just journal entries on how this sad sap can’t score. Where’s the hook? How does the author plan on retaining visitors?”

Flicking off a limo driver, Zuckerberg said, “To truly appreciate Drew’s genius, you have to look at the traffic he’s not getting.”

Unzipping his fly, Zuckerberg urinated on a fire hydrant. “I just wanted to snag his site before Google or Apple got their grubby little hands on it.”

Twenty-Bucks

Facebook does not yet have a business model for Drewchial.com. Chial says he plans to post entries openly complaining about the transition so that his audience can still respect him.

His next article “The Self Righteous Sell Out” promises the same high caliber hypocrisy, and shameless selfies, his audience has come to expect.

The Facebook Bait-and-Switch

How Facebook’s changes have made it tough for an author to build a following.

The Facebook Bait-and-Switch

Introducing the Facebook "Pay" button the only way authors can reach anyone
Introducing the Facebook “Pay” button the only way authors can reach anyone

In the past, Facebook provided a great free service for authors. Allowing us to create fan pages to reach our readers, it let us keep separate accounts for our friends and families. Choosing to “Like” our pages, audiences got updates on projects, saving our other accounts for personal status.

As brick and mortar book stores crumbled at the feet of e-readers, social-network-self-publishing seemed like a viable option. Author pages became a yard stick for agents to measure the worth of a client. Traditional publishers changed their contract criteria. Now it wasn’t about how many awards a writer had won, or how many short fiction collections they’d been featured in, it was about how many smiling icons they had at the bottom of their profile page.

Social media gurus preached, “The keeper of the publishing gates will look at how many followers you have and judge you accordingly.”

We thought we were paying Facebook, by keeping the social network relevant. As far as we knew, money was exchanging hands. Advertisers were paying to reach users outside of the ones who’d “Liked” their product, while we ground along winning ours one by one.

When we shot trailers for our books, Facebook was where we premiered them. Our revenue came from iBooks and Amazon, but Facebook was where we made our sales. Not limiting us to 140 characters, we filled our elevator pitches with the details that gave our stories meaning.

Writers put everything they had into their author pages. Some used them as a substitute for a blog. Why not? Instead of linking readers to an off site destination, Facebook could make that connection. Livelihoods depended on what they were offering.

Facebook gave authors a broad reach, then they chopped off our arms. Why? So they could sell us all prosthetics. They hooked us on a free service. Made it crucial to our business, then made us pay for what it once was.

It’s a classic bait-and-switch grift.

The Facebook Bait-and-Switch
The Facebook Bait-and-Switch

In the span of a month, my posts went from reaching half of my followers, to five percent of them. Rather than entice me with membership only features, they’re charging for ones they used to give away for free.

Why not pay? Because I don’t trust their brand. I could shell out the cash to reach 100% of my followers, but next month they could throttle me back and ask for a larger chunk of change. I’m just building a following, I haven’t even tried to sell anything.

Recently, I wrote an article on how the hate group leader Fred Phelps accidentally struck a blow for gay rights. Despite having nothing to do with the type of fiction I write, I want all of my followers to see the piece. Still, I’m not going to pay to boost it.

I’m not going to pay Facebook to promote my author page either. Why, because I want to represent myself on social media, finding readers through a direct connection. I don’t want to depend on an impersonal algorithms recommendation.

I’ve considered abandoning my Facebook author page in favor of posting on my personal one. It’s a broader audience, a few friends with shared interests are among them, the rest are relatives, classmates, and coworkers. This is a temporary solution that might cost more “Friends” than it gains. I’ve already written about getting flack for it.

Embracing Facebook’s monopoly on networking, we let it step all over us. While social media gurus still sing its praises, this author has been priced out of it.

Face Palm

Authors should consider which social media plates to spin and which ones to let come crashing down. It’s hard enough to balance life and work with writing. Social networking can eat up even more of that time. You need to be selective about which services you invest in.

At this point, I’d tell new authors that building a following on Facebook is like building your house on sand.

Viral Envy

Why writers shouldn’t succumb to Viral Envy. Why bloggers shouldn’t try to become BuzzFeed, and why getting everyone’s attention is a waste of your time.

28 Drews Later
28 Drews Later

There’s a condition going around the writing community, with the power to debilitate an author’s creativity. Systemic of the internet, the higher our public presence, the higher we’re at risk. Inflaming our sense of rejection, it weakens our ambition. Its chronic symptoms, attack artistic momentum. Advancing into its final stages, it has us questioning why we fill our pages.

The warning signs a writer suffers from it include:

* An overly harsh response to lighthearted links.
* An open disdain for their Facebook feed.
* A history of Twitter fits.
* An outright dismissal of the value of social media, even if their careers depend on it.

The condition is called Viral Envy. It occurs when a writer is stricken with jealousy for over shared items of poor quality.

As avid readers, we know good writing when we see it. We are mavens of our selections, curators of our content, stewards of the written word. Our reading lists are hard venues to get into. We seek the best compositions for dinner party conversations. We seek sources to cite in our arguments. We seek eloquence to challenge our intelligence.

Despite every passing fad’s persistence, we’ve built up a resistance. We have an immunity to the whims of the community. We’ve been inoculated to the link they’ve baited. No sensational headline is going to steal our time. No slideshow will make us work slow. While our friends treat captions as the height of conversation, we see viral content as a sign of the world’s descent.

It offends our intelligence to think that journalism is dead, that editorials reign instead, that clickbaiting is the new norm, that tiles full of tiny articles are a threat to the long form. Blogging our deepest thoughts, we see Buzzfeed black holes as competition. Every lunch hour, every commercial break, we’re vying for reader’s attention.

When a viral video of models making out, contaminates our feed, we fight the urge to say, “If you like watching two strangers kiss for the first time, then you’ll love pornography.”

We’re tired of logging onto the lowest common denominator. Comparing our efforts to these shameless campaigns, we’re shocked to see them do so much better. We covet their comments, lust after their “Likes.” We’re ashamed to want their shares. We’ve got a bad case of viral envy.

Is there a cure?

Weakening their immune systems, some writers become part of the problem.

Zombie Portrait 4

Why Going Viral isn’t a Good Goal

The pathology of a web published pandemic is to spread. It’s simple, light, airborne. Readers pass the link along without analyzing it on a molecular level. Attribution rarely leads back to patient zero.

Viral content is indiscriminate. The infected are never targeted based on their tastes. Its made to spread to the most eyes, not necessarily the right ones. It doesn’t care about building relationships or reader loyalty. It’s a quick shot to the stat counter, at the detriment of regular subscribers.

Moving quickly through the brain, thought viruses are easily forgotten. The net is littered with the pus of these so-called phenomenons. The infection passes too fast to leave traces it was ever there. Audiences will find a treatment for their boredom, but not a lasting cure.

If your goal is to self-publish, you want to develop a readership, not coax wayward netizens out of a few clicks. Viral content rarely leads to a second outbreak event. Developing antibodies, the infected’s concentration is inoculated against repetition. Memes, macros, and microorganisms plague the net. Everybody’s been exposed. Everybody’s gotten over it.

There are a lot of things you can do to get the Internet’s attention, but they don’t always translate into sales on Amazon. Ask yourself: am I writing with my own voice, or one I think the world wants to hear? How will this animated Gif get me new readers? How does this captioned vid cap further my career?

Wait, hold on, my word processor stopped scrolling. Great, now I’m getting the pinwheel of death. Let me just poke around on my computer. Ah, here’s the cause. Turns out the Photoshop file with all my “Least Interesting Man in the World” posts was still open. It’s a play on Dos Equis’s Most Interesting Man in the World campaign. They’re self portraits with captions like, ‘I don’t always approach women, but when I do it’s to ask for the WiFi password.”

Now where was I?

There’s a pitfall I’ve watched writers fall into. To compete with the internet they become everything they hate about it. Having built a blog around a one note joke, they try to sing a different tune, but no one wants to hear it. They can’t find a publisher for their long form manuscript, but they’ll get a pilot based on their one good quip. Remember “Shit My Dad Says?”

Do you want your writing career to be a joke-a-day calendar, or the kind of coffee table book that makes guests question your sense of humor?

The cost of going viral, is that everyone gets sick of you.

Wait, hold on. Sorry, it’s happening again. The side bar is stuck in the same position. What is it this time? Oh, looks like I didn’t close my search through my best #YouKnowYoureAWriterWhen tweets. They’re like Jeff Foxworthy’s You Know You’re A Redneck bit, but writer-centric. I’m compiling them all for a collection.

Now, what was I saying?

Zombie Portrait 3

Don’t let Viral Envy Win

In these uncertain times writers have to do whatever they can to get their audience’s attention. The trick is keeping it. We all want to be relevant, but no one wants to come across as desperate as a Simpsons episode with Twitter references sprinkled in.

Shameless writers try to boost their search engine optimization by pumping their articles full of popular terms. Misdirecting traffic with mere mentions, these cynical inclusions piggyback on famous franchises. They figure, if Hollywood can bank on nostalgia, why can’t bloggers?

Wait. There’s a buzz at the door. I think I might have to sign for something. My Chinese hook up got me early access to a hoverboard prototype. This baby won’t hit the streets until 2015.

Damn, that wasn’t it. It was just a Boba Fett helmet with a Ghostbusters insignia etched into it.

Wait, hold on. Now I’m getting a call from my seamstress. We need to schedule a time for me to get fitted for a top secret cosplay garment. Not to spoil the surprise, but Ben Affleck will be wearing the same thing in Batman vs Superman (keep checking this site, bookmark it, tell all your friends).

Sorry about that. Where was I?

Zombie Portrait 2

The Viral Jackpot

In the process of building a platform, many writers become full time bloggers. The potential for validation is higher. More posts means more possibilities. This is a gambler’s fallacy, this notion that one of our annual entries is bound to hit the viral jackpot. If only we could win the literary lottery, then we’d be a household name for sure.

It’s sad to see so much creativity energy go to these desperate self promotional tactics.

Wait, hold on, the green light of my webcam has gone off again. This has been happening ever since I wrote the article on how to increase your web traffic by baiting the NSA. There, I put some tape over it.

Where was I before we were so rudely interrupted?

I’ve watched begrudged writers berate their followers, dissing the discourse, trolling for tell offs. They’d run out of ways to get attention. Their positive energy was depleted. The cost to their time had led to few benefits. Their growth stagnated. They called bullshit on the whole enterprise and the lot of us for feeding into it.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t understand. Hopefully, I’ll know when to politely duck out of the spotlight before I let this happen.

Zombie Portrait

Don’t you hate it when bloggers fill their posts full of links to try to keep you on their site? On an unrelated note: my other articles on over branding and compulsive marketing include:

Begging for Hits
How to Get More Hits by Baiting the NSA
Every Little Hit Counts
Gimme Some Truth
Carnival of Goals
Over Branding Continue reading Viral Envy

Begging for Hits

Facebook's latest upgrade exclusively for content creators
Facebook’s new button exclusively for content creators

Introducing the Facebook “Beg” button, for when you’re not “Liking” or “Sharing” something you’ve discovered, but “Begging” for hits for something you made. Simply click the “Beg” button and your followers will see this message:

(your name here) asks if you have any spare attention for their link, God bless.

The “Beg” button gives your followers something to turn away from, while they spend their time clicking on Buzzfeed lists, misleading Upworthy titles, and misattributed celebrity quotes.

As insensitive as this analogy is (there’s no comparing those with passion projects to the truly needy) self-promotion can come across like panhandling. I wrote a blog about the feeling called “Every Little Hit Counts.” Here’s the premiere of the audio version.

(If SoundCloud is down, download the track)
(Download the instrumental version here)

As a blogger, I’m willing to do what it takes to direct traffic to my site. I have faith that if readers see my work, a few of them will enjoy it. My end goal is to sustain myself writing. Not fame or fortune, just the ability to do what I love for a living. This means I have to build a brand, to sell my work by selling myself.

Lacking a blueprint, I can never get the balance between humility and vanity right. I come across as a passive aggressive narcissist. This has more to do with my fledgling marketing abilities than how I see myself. For authors in the information age, embarrassment is part of the process.

Regarding this uncertain future, Neil Gaiman put it best, “Try everything. Make mistakes. Surprise ourselves. Try anything else. Fail. Fail better. And succeed in ways we never would have imagined a year or a week ago.”

Aspiring authors have to build up an audience before abandoning our books on Amazon. We can’t be too proud to beg.

So I put my hand out, “Every little hit helps.”

Twitter has been generous, most writers understand that tweeting the occasional link is part of the self-publishing process. Facebook has been less forgiving.

Twitter followers, with shared interests, embrace my goofy Photoshop self-portraits, while my Facebook friends require an explanation. I have supportive followers who comment on my entries, and a few proximity acquaintances who don’t care for me clogging up their feeds. Fair enough, you can always select “Hide all” or “Unfollow.”

This is why writers have separate Facebook author pages, that way users have to “Like” the page to see our links. The problem is that Facebook’s algorithm pushes my posts to less than a third of my followers, while links from my personal account get twice as many views. It’s a catch twenty-two, damned to obscurity if I don’t share, declared a self-obsessed self-promoter if I do.

I’m curious how the rest of you handle this. Have you had to lose followers to gain followers? Have you found a magic number for weekly links you can get away with sharing, or do you leave your website in your profile and hope people will discover it? I’d love to hear your answers in the comments.

How to Get More Hits By Baiting the NSA

How far are you willing to go to gain new readers? My plan for getting on the bestsellers list through the watch list.

Tinthumb Proper Formatting

As an aspiring author, I’ve done some shameful things in the name of self-promotion.

Convincing someone I dropped a capsule in his drink, I told him the recipe for synthesizing an antidote was on my main page. Of course, the crucial ingredient was blacked out, until he signed up for my mailing list. One fifth degree felony later and I’d scored a solid hit. Not too shabby.

Calling in an anonymous tip, I said there were glitter bombs planted throughout the city. Thousands of citizens would have to explain why they looked like they had just come from a strip club. I said the only way to find my powder kegs of pixie dust was to listen for clues hidden throughout my podcasts.

Breaking into the morgue, I slipped letters under corpses’ fingers. I kept reloading my stat counter, waiting for the pathologists to spell out my web address. Shopping for a lawyer, I hoped to drag the trial out with the old “alternate reality game” defense. Spending the afternoon with my mother, we put together an outfit we felt a jury would really like. Alas, there was no arrest, no national news coverage, no excuse to model my fancy new duds.

Desperate for a retweet, I played Russian Roulette with one of my followers. Too bad I didn’t realize a victory meant he couldn’t deliver on his side of the wager.

Okay, maybe I didn’t do any of those things, but those are the claims I need to make to attract my target audience.

I’m drawing out people who scan for keywords like lives depend on them. There’s more than one way to grow your SEO. That’s why I’m baiting the NSA to investigate my blog, in the hope of gaining new readers. The patriot act guarantees me a captive audience of inadvertent promoters, provided I use just the right words.

Pie Chart

Sure none of my threatening language has any teeth, but it’s not like the government’s surveillance has produced any solid leads.

Isn’t it about time someone found the rainbow at the end of the PRISM program? Isn’t it about time someone gave those agents a break from playing World of Warcraft all day? Isn’t it about time someone Rick Rolled the government?

Getting on their radar is phase one of my master plan. I’ll have to hook them with national security-centric stories. I have a number of social media shorts in the pipeline. If I can get them to comb through my words, a few might find my writing compelling. If a small fraction of the agency starts following me, I’ll skyrocket to the top of everybody’s WordPress feed.

Most bloggers would think I’d be better off putting out quality work, but they’re just jealous because they didn’t think of this first.

Many Ties

With the explanation out of the way, I’d like to address those of you who are members of the National Security Agency directly. Before you go crying, “Obstruction of justice” remind yourself who’s stepping on who’s fourth amendment rights here. Now that I’ve got you searching and seizing, I might as well show you something. I’m not committing a crime. I’m not wasting your time. I’m taking the initiative. I’m thinking outside the box. Way outside the box.

I figure, if you’re sifting through everyone’s emails, then you’re bound to know a few publishers. Could you put in a good word for me? Sure, I believe that speech should be free, but I’ll leave a PayPal donation button incase you feel like paying a fee. Check out my Amazon wish list while you’re at it. When you’re done transcribing my posts for the record, don’t forget to hit “Subscribe” while you’re here.

If I can turn my pursuers into promoters than I’ll have a street team with more reach than anyone.

I’m taking the tape off my webcam, the gum off my microphone. I’m dialing the operator and leaving the phone on. Talking to myself, I’m letting you in on the plot. I’m waving “Hi” to my Playstation Eye. See anything that you like? Ignoring the flashing red light in my shower head, I’ll strut around naked wearing nothing but a smile and a tattoo of my web address. I’ll leave my iPhone on my pillow in case anyone wants to watch me sleep.

Privacy is dead. We live in public. I’m not hiding my shame, I’m inviting you to look at it.

You can listen to me sing If I Only Had a Heart in my tinfoil hat. Watch me try to fashion my tie into a pinwheel knot. Watch me lip sync Lorde’s big single. This is your intelligence empire, and we’ll never be royals in it, but maybe you could grant an audience to one of us commoners.

In the graph

Waiting at the bus stop, I expect to see well dressed men, reading newspapers, constantly itching their ears. I expect to see reel to reel equipment carted into the neighboring apartment. Watching the ceiling, I’m waiting for drill dust to fall into my hand.

I hear snapping, but I don’t see a fiber optic lens.

I expect indiscriminate delivery vans all the way up the block. Peaking through the blinds, I expect to see red dots on my chest. Taking the dog for a walk, I expect to see drones circling the apartment.

If you can’t be bothered to break out the surveillance scope, then I’ll get the megaphone. If your satellite doesn’t have a clear view, I’ll bust out the chainsaw and make one for you. If you can’t put a tail on me, then I’ll give you FourSquare updates for everywhere I’ll be. This is the information age people. How hard is it to stalk someone?

Come on! Haven’t you been reading my search history? I’ve been looking up, “How to turn napalm into orange juice concentrate.” Why isn’t anybody investigating me? My mom says I’m surveilable.

I’m calling in an anonymous tip on my sparkling wit. How many Guy Fawkes masks do I have to order to get some attention around here? How many times do I have to say, “Snowden” in front of the mirror to get an audience to appear? I’m yelling “Crowded theater” in the middle of a fire. I’m threatening bombs with wire cutters. The president and I, are threatening Death with his own scythe (the bald personification of Death as seen in The Seventh Seal and Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, not the condition).

If that paragraph doesn’t get your algorithm’s attention, nothing will.

Good Numbers

Come on and get your snoop on. I’ll even give you a reason. The First Amendment has limits, and I’m skating on the edge of them. The time has come to settle up my tab with the Bill of Rights. My stories meet all the requirements for my freedoms to be regulated. Watch I’ll prove it.

I direct hate speech, at colorful adjectives and purple prose. I show religious intolerance, to warlocks from parallel dimensions. I issue true threats, to fictitious characters. I use inflammatory language, to describe the swelling of their limbs. I bring about a condition of unrest, as a plot device. I use words that wound, beloved supporting cast members. Treasonable talk, comes from my villains’ tongues. I use sexual harassment, as a cheap trope to get my audience to root against underdeveloped men. I use slanderous, obscene, fighting words, in my dialogue. My verbal attacks, often come without character attribution so I don’t have to break up the pace. Imminent lawless action, gives me a great cliffhanger to end my chapters on.

I’m exactly what the Supreme Court had in mind when they rendered that decision (for those of you who didn’t major in Constitutional Law and English Literature, the preceding paragraph had a lot of inside jokes in it).

Tinthumb salute

I will wave to my oppressors. I will link bait Big Brother. I will troll the secret service. My path to the bestsellers list will start with the watch list.

I’m putting in a surveillance request on my novel, bug that thing inside and out, and then tell me which parts you liked the best. You can be the Gawker Media to my Quentin Tarantino. Take a sneak peak at my first draft. You have the technology to give some feedback to me. I mean, what else are our tax dollars paying for?

May my review section light up with glowing endorsements like, “This book is a clear and present danger to your free time.” I aspire to write intelligent stories for the intelligence community. Something so good, rogue agents will prefer it to stalking ex girl friends.

Many of you intelligence operatives are artistically inclined. You can be my legion of ghost writers. If you can take over my keyboard, I’m open to suggestions for my Highlander fan fiction. If there’s a copy editor among you, feel free to correct me when I use “heel” for “heal” or “decent” for “descent.” Hunt down my adverbs, and take them out with extreme prejudice.

Maybe I harbor a fear that you might take me up on all this, broadcast my shower cam, and send in Seal Team 6 to wash my mouth out with soap. Maybe you’ll have my citizenship revoked, and ride me out of town like Jonathan Swift, just for few modest proposals.

That may be the case, but I say satire that doesn’t take risks is ridiculous.

So to my fans at the NSA, who might black bag me for a private signing, I might go and cry on the shoulder of the ACLU, but at the end of the day you know I love you.

Besides, if you do detain me that could be great publicity.

Author Interview: Drew Chial

@akmakansi did an interview with me on her website. I get very candid on the sins of self promotion. Check it out:

Author Interview: Drew Chial.