Sunday, June 16, 2019

How Can Authors Go Viral -- & Sell Books?

Everyone wants to be a social media sensation.  On the surface it looks deceptively simple – post some cool images or an attention-grabbing video – or tweet some witty quips – and watch your views, likes, and connections grow by the millions.  But it usually doesn’t work that way.  In fact, most people are lucky to have over 5,000 followers on any platform.  Authors believe they can sell books if they just can just get their social media following to grow.  They’re just one viral post away from being a best-seller.

So what makes something go viral?

Though it doesn’t seem like you can plan it out, there does appear to be a formula for things that generate a lot of clicks, views, shares, likes, and downloads.  So listen up authors, this is what gets things to go viral.  Can you produce such content and share it like a well-oiled machine pumping oil?

First, the basics.  You need to come up with a piece of content that gets posted online.  Determine where you’ll post it (which platform) and what will it consist of:  Video? Photo? Illustration? Text?

Second, what will be the subject matter of the content and will it be funny, sexy, adorable, emotionally tugging, brilliant wit, or something else that is sure to get attention?

Third, do you challenge something?  Rip an institution, person, place, ideal?  Do you inspire, enlighten, educate, entertain, or praise others?  Do you make people feel, think, or act?

So what moves the needle?

1.      Dogs, cats and animals doing human-like things, doing something odd, funny, dangerous or ultra cute. 

2.      Commentary on push-button topics: politics, sex, religion, money, sports, and war.

3.      Something atypical, unusual, risky, empowering, or rare.

4.      Combining things you don’t normally associate together like a tank on a beach or a dog at a strip club or a child addressing Congress.

5.      Insightful comments on news, figures, or events of the day -- both current or historical.

6.      A focus on things we’d like to stare at but feel shamed for doing, such as looking at a car crash, witnessing a crime but not responding, staring at a beautiful person, admiring an enemy, or studying a dead body.

7.      Fantasizing things we can never actually experience or permit.

8.      Artsy images or images distorted via technology.

9.      Things that fictionalize reality or give a sense of reality to non-existent things, people, or places.

10.  Something that relates to things we have a strong allegiance to – God, country, family, city pride, favorite team, hobby, etc.

Look, usually it’s something dumb and replicable, something any of us could do that gets a ton of attention – and yet we didn’t think to do it. Who can’t come up with a dress that gets voted on for its color?  Who can’t post some cute image of a drunk-looking dog or a baby dressed in a suit and tie?

After determining what to post and where – and figuring out how to make the content as unique, timely, and interesting as possible, the two ways to get it to go viral are:  one is luck and the other is intentionality.  Let’s discuss the latter.

You need to go out of your way to share your content with others.  First, you need to post it on your site so the site gets massive traffic when it goes viral.

Second, you must send a link to this content in your posts on all of your platforms – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Linked In, Pinterest and Instagram.

Third, you need to repost it and build up your followers on all platforms prior to posting it.

Fourth, you may need to pay to advertise your viral content, in the hopes to jumpstart it.  The power of the content can drive those who view it to voluntarily share it, but by pushing it out there you expose more people to it who can potentially share it.

Fifth, you need to get your viral content in the hands of influencers.  Send it to those with big followings across all social media platforms. Some may share it organically.  You can determine if you want to pay one or more influencers to reshare your content.

Sixth, think of organizations and groups that have large memberships or online followings.  Is there something about your post that might draw them to it?  Could you ask them to share it?

Lastly, email your content to all that you know and beg them to share it with others, especially on social media.

So let’s say your content goes viral, so what?  Will it translate into book sales?  Will you now be able to cash in on your 15 seconds of fame?  Can you commoditize clicks into a career?

Good questions.

Some people will not see many book sales or financial gain from their efforts to go viral, while others will generate book deals, speaking gigs, bulk book sales, and long-term growth from having something go viral.  So what separates the two?

It depends on what you sent out and how it relates logically to your book or area of expertise.  It also depends on whether your content moves people to go from saying “Oh, that’s interesting or funny” to “Oh, I have to buy her book.”

If something goes viral you now have the chore of posting great follow-up content.  Not everything has to go viral, but you want to sustain people’s interests and keep them coming back for more.  You may get others to pay you to send out their content to your followers as you then become an influencer.  You may also tally up your increased follower numbers and seek to convince publishers to take on your next book. Who knows what may come of your fame?

The ultimate viral content would be something that leads people to your book and encourages them to buy it.  Could you make a commercial that doesn’t feel like one, where your book is worked into it in such a way that people see the content as irrevocably linked to your book?

Think about the principles of going viral.  Even if you never get something to circulate to a million people.  Even if you learn how to get 20,000 or even 2,000 or 200 people to click on your content, you will slowly build up a loyal fan base who will become your go-to market to sell your future books to.

You are always marketing your brand – your persona, expertise, experiences, insights, and content – and as you build up a following you will start to get eyeballs turned on to your books.

It’s not easy but it’s not complex either.  You can go viral with dedication, creativity, luck, and a mindset of thinking big. There are stupid cat videos to prove that anything can go viral.  Why not your stuff?

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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog ©2019. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by as a "best resource.” He recently hosted a panel on book publicity for Book Expo America.

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