Going Viral

Last Friday’s post was about websites that got enough traffic for the writers to turn them into book deals. It’s inspiring, as are the large sales some self-published authors are enjoying through partnerships with Amazon.com.

The situation begs the question: how do you create something that gets that many hits? A totally unscientific, random survey of podcasts, books, YouTube videos and websites with lots of traffic brings a few themes to the fore:

1. Be Funny

If you’ve ever read a funny email with a subject line beginning with “FW:FW:FW:FW:FW:FW:FW:FW:FW:FW:FW:FW:FW” you understand how much people like sharing laughs with their friends. If you can get a belly laugh, you have a better chance of getting traffic.

2. Find a Niche

Niche hobbyists like reading stuff about their interests, and share with others in their tight-knit community. You won’t sell 1,000,000 copies of your book — but you might find 100,000 people to buy every book you write. It’s like owning a restaurant in a small town. You don’t get big city traffic, but you get a lot of repeat customers.

3. Be Adorable

Pictures and videos of kittens, babies and other “warm fuzzies” get more hits than useful videos showing you skills you can use. “Cute sells” is the model behind the Hallmark Store. ICanHasCheezburger.com and similar sites pay testament to the perfect storm of combining adorable with funny.

4. Be Inspiring

This may be a subspecies of the “adorable” approach. Type-A personalities share these messages with their Type-A friends. Though there aren’t as many of these people as those who like pictures of puppies, they tend to have extra money to spend on your books.

5. Be Prurient

People are fascinated by the dirty underside of life — hence the popularity of C.O.P.S. and similar shows about criminals and criminal life. Even people who would never actually look at pornography (yes, both of them) will tune in for a show about the porn industry. If you can bring forward facts about the seamy, the violent, the criminal, the nasty…people will flock to learn about those facts.

On the other hand, the most successful writers deal with subjects they’re passionate about. If you don’t feel like writing about highly successful kittens who run drug rings for clowns with rare neurological disorders, you shouldn’t start a website just because you think it will be popular. Your boredom will be as palpable to the readers as your passion for what you would have written on.

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