So What's A Post With 24,000 Facebook "Likes" Get You?

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 3.618% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

On Monday, I posted my essay “Oh, For Fuck’s Sake: A Gentle Talk With My Republican, Democrat, And Undecided Friends.”  By this morning, it’s up to 24,000 Facebook “likes” in a viral politigasm.
Which is weird. I’ve gone viral before, most notably for my essays “Dear Daughter: I Hope You Have Awesome Sex” and “Can I Buy You A Coffee?”  And I’ve found that those who haven’t gone viral have the wrong impressions about how this works, so let’s bust a few impressions:
1)  You Don’t Get Famous.  The Essay Does.  
The next day, I wrote a followup to the “For Fuck’s Sake” essay called “Why Your Presidential Protest Vote Is A Wretched Idea,” and as of now that essay’s got 170 likes on Facebook total.
That demonstrates that when you go viral, 99.9% of the people show up for that essay, read, and leave.  Hardly anyone goes, “Oh, I’ll read what else this fellow had to say!” and proceeds to trawl your blog.  You’re a one-stop entertainment, worthy because someone’s friends linked them there, and then you go.
It’s nice to have that level of attention for a while, but people tend to think, “Oh, you’re famous!”  No.  That essay has been widely read.  I doubt most of its readers could pick me out of a lineup.
2)  A Viral Post Doesn’t Sell Your Books.
You may note I have my three books for sale, and I didn’t notice any significant bump in sales on the Amazon sales rankings.  (Well, okay, I saw a bump, but that’s because my book Flex is on sale for $2.99 this week.)  Again, people liked what I had to say, but most of them ghosted afterwards.  Which is normal.  (And fine with me.  I don’t write essays to sell books, as a rule.)
Now, sometimes, if a post blows up huge, you’ll get offers related to that post.  When “Dear Daughter” passed half a million likes – still my high-water mark! – on the Good Men Project and the Huffington post, I got an agent asking me if I wanted to turn that essay into a book, because they had a publisher who’d expressed interest.  I told them “No, but I have this novel” and they went, “Nah” and disappeared.
3)  …But It Kinda Does.  
If you’re looking to sell books, blogging is the long con.
See, when I published my webcomic “Home on the Strange,” I noticed a weird pattern: I’d have a huge hit, with 10,000 people linking to our Doctor-Who-As-Jesus strip or our alternate ending to Harry Potter, and then the next comic would be bare-bones normal in terms of traffic.
But the overall numbers kept creeping up.
Eventually, I came up with my “Pepsi machine” theory – which is to say that a fan is like a big, cumbersome Pepsi machine that you’re looking to tip over.  Hardly anyone tips over a Pepsi machine in one muscular push.  No, you gotta rock them, a little at a time, until eventually they sorta wobble over.
Likewise, most people – me included! – have established habits.  I hit the same six webcomics every morning.  Adding a new webcomic to my list?  For no apparent reason, that seems like an effort.  But if a webcomic keeps getting linked to by my friends, with each visit I’ll think, “Oh, I should come here more often!” and then I don’t.
Eventually, I accrete enough good will that all right, I’ll add this to my regular trawl, and suddenly I’m a fan.
Likewise, I have a lot of fans (comparative to the normal person, not at all comparative to a true celebrity), but they’ve all arrived in dribs and drabs; some liked Home on the Strange, others liked my essays, others liked my books.  Most of them had to see me around a lot before they eventually started reading me regularly, for whatever definition of “regularly” counts.
I’m not going to have 24,000 fans tomorrow.  But I’ll probably walk away from this with maybe fifty people who now read me regularly.  Maybe five will read my book, maybe two will like it enough to recommend it to other people.
That’s actually a decent ratio.
Which is why I wouldn’t recommend this method if you don’t actually enjoy blogging. It works, but it’s like panning for gold; lots of time knee-deep in mud, a few flecks.
Better enjoy the outdoors.
4)  Hardly Anyone Knows What Goes Viral.  
There’s a couple of people who know how to go viral easily – I see Chuck Wendig churning out essays once a month that everyone seems to link to, and I go, “Man, even accounting for his larger audience, that guy knows how to connect.”
The rest of us have no idea what connects, or why.
Look.  “Dear Daughter” was an angry essay I wrote in fifteen minutes on my lunch hour, and that writing will probably be referenced in my obituary.   “For Fuck’s Sake” was a Sunday evening writing which I put a lot of thought into, but I’ve written a lot of thoughtful pieces and I still don’t quite know why that one took off.
I just write a lot, and about once every eighteen months, one catches fire.  And I assure you, if I knew how to craft essays that consistently drew 24,000 Facebook “likes,” I would.  Even now, I have no clue why that “For Fuck’s Sake” essay launched into the stratosphere versus my usual political rantings – it feels about the same to me, but it resonated with others.
Every so often on FetLife, some moe without an audience will get a wild hair up their ass, belligerently bumping chests with people who do have an audience to say, “Why don’tcha write an essay anonymously, HANH?  Why don’tcha prove that it’s the WORDS that make you popular, but your AUDIENCE?”
Well, first off, why the fuck do you think my audience – such as it is – sticks around?  Because I’m writing things they think are shitty?  Come on.
But secondly, if you think “writing an essay” is “one shot, one kill,” then you’re wrong.  I’ve written probably ten thousand essays.  Of them, three have gone viral enough to spread across the Internet.  The Venn diagram between “What I consider quality” and “What resonates with people” is a mystery indeed.
Oh, I’m confident that if I wrote a lot of essays under a pseudonym, I’d eventually regain my current levels of notoriety.  But expecting one essay to be as popular as, say, “Dear Daughter”?
The only person who could say that is someone who doesn’t fucking write.
5)  Your Reputation Sticks With You, Though.  
As mentioned, maybe people couldn’t pick you out of a lineup, but they get a rough impression about who you are.  There’s a lot of people who don’t read me who know that I’m loudly polyamorous and sex-positive, I’m left-of-center even though I’d like to be considered center, that I’m depressive and occasionally psychodramatic.
Lots of people really don’t like me for any of those.
So when I meet people at conventions, I sometimes have folks doing the stop-and-stare moment of “Do I want to talk to this asshole?”  They have formed an opinion of me from my writings, and they do not like me.  Sometimes they make excuses and GTFO.
Which is why I’m always baffled when people are like, “Oh, Ferrett just makes up shit to start controversy!”  No, man. I get enough side-eye for the things I believe.  There are real-world consequences to my writing, and as a dude with social anxiety I assure you I feel every one.
There are doubtlessly people who do start up controversies for “fun” – I’ve met them, scrappy assholes who want to start “a feud” to “get traffic” – and they’re usually people with small audiences.  And I wonder whether they’re so enthused over these mock-fights because they’re never planning on going out in public where their rep is attached to their face.  And after a couple of thoroughly faked essays, I wonder if they’ve lost any friends.
But me?  I put my face and my books on these essays, because if one goes viral and I wind up getting shit on by a thousand people for some opinion I’ve opined, I want that shit to be from people I actually don’t like.  I’ve got enthusiastic Trump supporters leaving insulting comments, but hey, I’m okay pissing off those people.
Like I said: most people can’t tell what’s going to be a hit or not.  So pretending to be an asshole in the hopes that someone pays attention to you?  Seems like small pay for idiotic work.  You probably won’t go viral, but you’ll have real-life people who read you – if you have real-life people – believing you’re either a genuine asshole, or a manipulative fake asshole, and I’m not sure what’s worse.
You may think I’m an asshole, but at least it’s for things I believe.
 
 

3 Comments

  1. awibs
    Jul 27, 2016

    Holy crap. I’m so glad you’re still playing at this long con. It’s been somewhere between 10-15 years since we’ve interacted on the internet, and I’m super glad that your continuing to shout your best personal rendition of quality into the void is slowly getting appreciated more and more over time.

  2. Jacqui Bennetts
    Jul 27, 2016

    “Oh For Fucks sake…” on FB lead me here, I read more. I discovered a book (bough it, NOT on special (thanks Amazon) half way through it- thumbs up!) read some other blog posts, liked the cut of your Gib and added the blog to my feed and re posted to FB the “Why your protest vote…” blog post because you said it better than I ever could and I have been getting high blood pressure from all it idiots and I don’t even live in the US. I really do hope that follow up post goes viral too.

    • TheFerrett
      Jul 28, 2016

      Aww, thank you! I hope you enjoy the book all the way through!

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