Making it as a writer: Good writing vs social media

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By Alicia de los Reyes

The first essay I published on The Archipelago reached nearly 5000 pageviews. I kept careful track of this number, because at 5000 I would have gotten an extra $25. ♥

Since it was my first essay, I assumed that this was typical. I hadn’t done much to promote it; I’d sent an email to my family and close friends, because it was about a sensitive topic: my miscarriage. The day it was published, I asked my former professor to share it on my writing program’s Facebook page.

Throughout the day, I saw my friends sharing it on Twitter, even friends I hadn’t heard from in a while who had seen it on Facebook. I was very happy; I wrote this essay to share my experience with others who had gone through it, or had a friend or a loved one go through it. I intended it to be read by many, because I hadn’t read anything detailing the emotional pain of a miscarriage. In my heart of hearts, I hoped that someone like me who had experienced the same thing would be reassured by my feelings.

This wonderful success meant that when I went back to The Archipelago with another essay, I expected similar results. This time, my essay was on the lighter side: why little girls are so creepy. It detailed several funny anecdotes, including a young relative who told me she would kill me and another who drew pictures of horses who slayed small animals.

When the essay published, I realized I had written about a childhood friend who is a successful YA author and has a legitimate following online. I sent her a direct message on Twitter to let her know she was in the essay (with a pseudonym) and she shared it with her followers (more than 2000, about ten times as many as I had at the time). I watched my stats carefully, with less emotional investment and higher expectations; my first essay, which I’d done almost nothing to promote, had reached over 4000 readers. My second essay, which I’d once again sent to family and friends and my writing program’s Facebook page, plus my successful friend, should reach at least that many — right?

The stats creeped up, but they never reached more than 2500. Just now, a few months later, I saw that my creepy girls story has gotten 3300 pageviews, while my essay about miscarriage is up to 5200.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not complaining about 3,300 — but given what I knew (or thought I knew) about “platform,” I assumed I’d sail past 5000 views this time around. I had:

1. Already written for the same publication, meaning maybe a few people recognized my name and would click on the story.

2. Shared the story with the same folks I had last time, which led to great results.

3. Written about someone semi-famous, and she had shared the story with her readers.

I mean, I’d done everything right. Right?

But the fact of the matter was, this story just wasn’t as compelling. It didn’t have the same purpose, the same level of importance. Sure, the fact that pre-adolescent girls are creepy is interesting, and of course I believed in this essay; I wanted to break up some of the myths around little girls as pretty and pink and princess-y. But I think the fact that it was on a lighter topic, one that was less vital to the world in general, just made for lesser writing. There was a really good reason to share my first essay: it might help someone else. My second essay didn’t pack that kind of punch.

I’m not saying that you should only write about devastating things; I’m saying that we can take comfort in the fact that the writing that is most important to us turns out to be the writing that is most important to readers, and even a great connection doesn’t trump that fact. Social media is a tool for sharing — that’s it.

So even if you don’t have a massive following, write what you care most about. Then, do your best to get it read by others. That’s it.


Alicia de los Reyes is the Seattle-based author of DIY Chick Lit: A Writing Guide and DIY Writing Retreat: A Guide to Getting Away. She is working on a non-fiction book about a year in an evangelical church. Find more of her writing at aliciadelosreyes.com.


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