From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Monday, January 20, 2014

3 Key Ingredients for Going Viral

Our goal as writers is to tell good stories, and tell them beautifully. Simple as that. However, writing stories will do us and the world little good if nobody reads them. We all hope to get our books out to as many people as possible, and as we writers in the modern digital age know, the job of doing that falls increasingly to the authors themselves. Meaning us. The most important thing we do is write, of course, but its also part of our job to get that writing out there in as big a way as we can manage.

That means going viral. As viral as possible. Infect to the north star! Okay, sorry, I'll stop. But seriously. None of us would say no to that kind of wildfire word-of-mouth spread that happens sometimes, right?

Clearly there is no, like, secret formula or anything for making something go viral or we would all be doing it. However, in his awesome TED talk, YouTube's trend manager Ken Allocca talks about three common traits in viral YouTube videos. And yeah, even though he's talking about YouTube video's specifically, we can apply these three ingredients to everything from direct book marketing to any social media we might do. Because everything helps, right?

So, without further ado, here are the three key ingredients for going viral:

1. Trend-setters: It's no secret, going viral can be a bit of a catch-22: you go viral by being viral. Celebrities and big names get the types of hits on all their content that we mere mortals only dream of. If you're Justin Beiber, every thing you say goes viral. What I'm saying is this: one of the quickest ways to go viral is to get a nod from one of these big-name trend-setters. Rebecca Black's 'Friday' video didn't go big until some big newscaster tweeted it.

How does this apply to writers directly? This strategy includes stuff like getting big-name reviews of your book or a big-name twitter mention. Obviously there's no guaranteed way to do that, and the worst thing you can do is become obnoxious about it (we've all seen what that looks like). So really I guess this one comes down to creating good (or otherwise noteworthy) content and praying for some luck.

2. Trend participation: Going back to the 'Friday' video. There were quite a number of people who got some big numbers by making parody videos. I'm sure you've seen a handful of them. Now, I am definitely not saying you should write to trends. There have been innumerable posts around the blogosphere about why that is a terrible idea, and I wholeheartedly agree. What I am saying is that you should find all the niches your books fit in and participate fully. This strategy also comes heavily into play as you do your social media marketing. Use appropriate Twitter hashtags and write blog posts about relevant news and trends. In short, find applicable discussions and find a way to join in. The higher quality your contribution to the discussion, the more attention it is going to get. In other words, this also comes down to creating quality content and praying for some luck.

3. Unexpectedness and remarkability: In another wonderful TED Talk by Seth Godin he uses the example of a purple cow. We see cows fairly often, while we're driving down the road, right? We don't particularly notice--or remark--them. However, if one of those cows were purple, we would stop and do a double-take. But then, if all the cows became purple, purple cows would cease to be remarkable. See what I'm (he's) saying?

You know those horrible videos where there's a peaceful scene, like a truck driving down a lush country road, and it goes on for a minute or so and then a terrifying witch face comes screaming onto the screen? So, those are obnoxious examples, but we need to do our best to be something like that. We need to create content that people remark on--that they remember, and talk about with there friends. That's how you get the ball rolling in the first place. This applies to both our book marketing and our books themselves. Make tweets and blog posts and YouTube videos and paid advertisements and interviews and, most of all, books, that are remarkable. Meaning this comes down to--you guessed it--creating quality content and praying for a bit of luck.

So yeah, if there were a secret ingredient to all this, it would be luck. My grandpa used to say luck is when preparation meets opportunity, and these three ingredients will help us take best advantage of all opportunities.

What are ways can you think of to use these three ingredients in your book marketing? Can you think of any great examples of people who have done this?

Sarah Allen


  1. I need some purple cows...
    That definitely makes one think. Standing out is so difficult.
    And this would've been great for the marketing symposium today.

  2. Yeah, I think a big dose of luck is needed. Even the big name publishers, with all their research and marketing skills and $$$$ to get a book in front of the public eye, do not always back the right ones. Sometimes they say, THIS one is going to be big --- and they are wrong.

  3. Excellent advice, and you've got my brain buzzing in a few new directions. Thanks for this!

  4. Interesting tips. Luck is really what it all is about. And creating great content everywhere from blog posts to FB updates has been my goal since I started. It really does make a difference and speaks volumes of you as a writer, too.

  5. seth has some great thoughts on this...and i have really appreciated his books as well..i think there is an element of luck and timing...but i think we can control it a bit as def takes energy and effort...

  6. I guess we are indeed called on to be innovative aside from our writing. It's not always easy to come up with a super-cool idea that will work, but I guess since I'm on a journey, I have time to come up with some ideas.

  7. What a great post with some really awesome advice. Now off to look for some purple cows....


  8. Excellent tips and I yes, your Grandpa obviously said some smart things in his time:)

  9. The only thing viral about my, unfortunately is the cold virus I get every Christmas. Oh yay.

  10. Great advice, now to make it happen, purple cows huh! Excellent!

  11. You've raised a lot of interesting and helpful points. Thanks! Keeping them in mind. Oh, and I also loved what your Grandpa said. I totally agree. :-)

    The Musings of a Hopeful and Pecunious Wordsmith

  12. Your grandfather is a wise man. Rebecca Black's Friday video went viral because it is SO bad. But that can be an effective way to get attention...

  13. stupendous post!
    i always wanted to make a you tube video. an author friend of mine tried creating some buzz by doing "nude readings" - he also did a parody of the upcoming star wars movie to promote his book. he's crazy, but crazy creative comes through sometimes!

  14. Great ideas. I know it's more than a catchy title and great cover art. The hardest has been writing the great blurb that will capture attention. I think that is my purple cow.

  15. I tend not to market my stories very much. I may start trying to with the next one I publish though, we'll see.

    I think I treat my marketing like I'm a celebrity, then I scratch my head when every precious word I utter doesn't go crazy popular. I want to jump up and down and shout at people, "It doesn't matter what I said, what matters is who said it! ME!!"

    Can't figure out why that isn't working for me better.

  16. Very sound advice. Now, to make it work for me. ::smiles, thinking hard::

    Anna from Shout with Emaginette

  17. This might sound silly, but I'm excited because the inside of my new oven is cornflower blue. I already know i'm going to enjoy cooking so much more, just because the oven is pretty on the inside. Purple cows it may not be, but when we had to go oven shopping last weekend, this one caught my eye in a hurry.

  18. going viral can definitely be a scary thing. you never know how it's going to go! so glad I found your blog! newest follower, hi!!

  19. Where can I find those purple cows? I think I might need a few on my book cover . . . wait, it might not work to have cows on a sword-wielding adventure. Hmm. Or maybe it would? :)
    Great post. I think the unexpected in the midst of a trend is a good way to go. :)

  20. Wow, I am really enjoying these marketing posts! Finding some great new blogs and learning through others' experiences- win, win, win.
    I love that Seth Godin quote. Just think "purple cow" and there you go.



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