The curious intersection of the publishing business and the Internet has forced authors to moonlight as social media mavens. This is true regardless of whether you self-publish and predates oldpub’s collapse.
Since every author is now a serious internet businessman, how to build a social media following has joined nuts & bolts craft tips in the standard writer shop talk repertoire. Every “how to write” book now has a chapter on running a Facebook author page, and every Millennial YA author with a slick self-hosted WordPress site is now a blogging guru. It comes with the territory.
This phenomenon is by no means exclusive to writers. Some of the hijinks the top YouTubers get up to makes us look like tee-totaling schoolmarms. People have been poking the hornets’ nest for attention since the second caveman loped into the sunlight. Human nature doesn’t change, so stirring up trouble remains a popular way to attract eyeballs.
This tactic’s popularity makes a lot of sense. Ginning up e-Drama is probably the fastest way to break out on the web. If you’re good at raising controversy online, you can rapidly build a following–provided you’ve got the creative chops to back up the talk.
For the rash and the inquisitive, here’s how the basic play works. Find a scene in or adjacent to your thing and get involved. Human social dynamics being what they are, conflict will inevitably arise; either within the group or with a rival out group. Start throwing bricks at the other guy’s window. Whoever throws hardest, farthest, and with the pithiest notes tied to his brick wins. Repeat when the next outrage comes along. It really, really works!
Don’t take that explanation as too ringing an endorsement, because like all shortcuts, stoking e-Drama comes at a price. We need look no further than the aforementioned YouTubers for object lessons.
A curious phenomenon from last year–an eternity ago in Internet time–was the Internet Bloodsports fad. You had a clique of popular YouTubers who’d go on each other’s streams and spend hours talking trash to one another. It was like a much cruder round table Friars Club roast every day.
What makes the IBS scene more remarkable than your garden variety internet smack talk sessions is that a handful of participants actually amassed major followings and minor fortunes.
But that was, in a quite literal sense, so last year. Look around now, and almost all of the old IBS stars have suffered precipitous falls from grace.
Probably the best example is Matt Jarbo, who actually rose to prominence during #GamerGate as Mundane Matt. He gets points for honest branding. His most remarkable achievement was gaining a large audience for what amounted to rather banal movie reviews.
But the internet gods exacted a heavy toll on Matt. One year ago, he was publicly caught snitching on his IBS rivals to the YouTube police. Now his subscriber count is in the gutter, and he’s selling rocks and driving for Uber to pay the mortgage.
More recently, former Twitch streamer Paul Denino, who goes by the handle Ice Poseidon, got raided by the FBI and saw his following implode.
This spring, once-rising star Andy Warski landed himself in serious legal trouble when one of his co-hosts brandished a handgun on a public Florida street.
here is the clip for this pic.twitter.com/zU3mjk05RC
— Bobby Shill (@shill_bobby) April 14, 2019
The spectacular series of career suicides prompted internet gossip monger Mister Metokur to aptly note that e-Drama peddling has a limited shelf life. If you live by the sword, you’ll die by the sword; probably within a couple of years.
It’s the Old West gunfighter’s dilemma. Everybody wants to be the fastest gun in the West, but attaining the title means walking around with a target on your back.
There’s a lesson here for content creators of all kinds, including authors. Back in the Sad Puppies days, I enjoyed mixing it up with the cretins over at File 七百七十 as much as the next guy. I got record traffic every time I tweaked Scalzi’s nose, for example.
Eventually I noticed a pattern. A good portion of the followers I gained from e-Drama left when I got tired of it and moved on to more important topics. They weren’t reliable book buyers, either.
That’s the e-Drama trap. The followers you attract with it aren’t there for your art. They’re addicted to drama. Like all addicts, they need ever higher doses to get the same buzz. Trying to supply their fix becomes a Sisyphean ordeal, only the boulder keeps getting bigger as you strive to push the envelope further and further. In the end, the rock either crushes you or becomes too heavy to roll.
In either case when you can’t give them their fix, the drama junkies abandon you for those who will. It’s as old as Lady Gaga eclipsing Madonna and Marilyn Manson.
Your grandfather was right after all. Slow and steady wins the race. Build your following by consistently offering people intrinsically valuable content. Conduct yourself with integrity and professionalism.
You may not get a hundred thousand subscribers or a million monthly page views. But if you can draw and maintain an audience of two thousand solid readers who’ll show up for every launch, and you release $25 worth of merchandise a year, they’ll give you a decent living.
Which reminds me, the Indiegogo campaign in support of the third volume in my thrilling mecha series Combat Frame XSeed – check it out!
Originally published here.