The Viral Article Experience
The Eau Claire Leader-Telegram just announced that my article, “Speaking Spanish in America,” was their most read article in 2016. I feel a substantial amount of pride in having written something that connected with such a large number of people both in the US and Latin America. According to the statistics published in their year end review, the article was viewed 242,000 times. The review states, “It’s an astounding amount of views when considering the No. 2 most-read story on LeaderTelegram.com got 43,265 views.” Curiously, the Leader-Telegram declined to publish my follow-up to the article, although Volume One magazine did publish it here.
It’s a strange and random experience when something you write happens to get caught up in a social-media whirlwind. The popularity of the “Spanish” article, lead to a spike in book sales of Reckless Traveler, and my publisher, Janet Morris, sent me a message stating, “Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it!”
I have to say that the two week period when this article was causing a frenzy was a hectic time. I was inundated by messages and friend requests on Facebook, and did my best to answer the comments posted directly on the article. I felt a real urgency to harness and organize the people who were moved by the words, but social media platforms don’t make that easy. After a day spent replying to comments, Facebook’s algorithm blocked me from leaving further messages and the moment slipped away. Still, a month on, I still keep in contact with many people I met during those weeks.
There is always an inclination to attempt to recapture the magic of a viral article, but it’s very difficult to do. I think several factors contributed to the popularity of “Speaking Spanish in America.” As a nation, we were in the early stages of coming to grips with the imminent Trump presidency, and I think collectively we were scrambling and vulnerable.
My original title was “Speaking Spanish in Trump’s America,” but the editors at the Leader-Telegram elected to shorten it. Whether that eventually helped or hurt the article is up for debate, but one of the quirks of the internet is that people are more inclined to click on an article title that makes them angry. I do believe that many people clicked on “Spanish” expecting to read something that would make them mad, and were relieved to stumble upon a reasonable argument.
I personally did very little to promote this article, instead relying on the Leader-Telegram platform (the article also appeared in the print version of the paper). I didn’t even know the article had been printed until I saw one of my friends share it on Facebook. At that point, I shared the article with the Facebook group “Pantsuit Nation” but I never had confirmation as to whether or not they promoted it.
Virality is a strange beast to quest after. Many of the articles that you see cycling through your Facebook feed are heavily sponsored, so it’s tough to break through with something that goes legitimately viral. When “Spanish” hit 500 shares I already considered it a great success (it sits at 86,000 at this writing).
I am fortunate to be part of a wonderful community of writers, and that is a huge help for breathing some life into essays and articles. A great, inexpensive way to support your favorite writers is to leave comments on articles, share them on your Facebook page, and also click the like buttons on the page where the article is published. You can even share articles to the walls of friends who might be interested in reading them. There is no law against sharing these articles on multiple platforms, and as the old saying goes, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” Of all of these things, I think the comments are the most important. There is nothing more gratifying as a writer than to see strings of dialogue organically spring into existence on something you have written. I learn a lot about writing, and myself, from these comments, so please keep them coming!
I will continue to publish developments on the “Spanish” article and other projects on my web page Streets Of Lima. If you haven’t already, please sign up for my monthly newsletter there. I will be reviewing Tom Barczak’s novel Mouth of the Dragon, very soon as well as I, the Sun by Janet Morris. I’ve also been contributing regularly to Silent Sports magazine, so check out their web page and subscribe to the magazine if you have the means (letters to the editor saying how great I am don’t hurt either). Silent Sports recently set me up for an interview on Wisconsin Public Radio and you can listen to that (for free) here. Lastly, if anyone’s curious what my prediction is as to what 4 years will be like under President Trump, look no further than my dystopian fantasy novel “The Reader of Acheron.” In many ways, I think that book is all too close to the world we currently inhabit.
Reader of Acheron is a cautionary novel of a dystopia in which truths are hoarded and reading is illegal. Set in a future which could very well become our future, Reader of Acheron shows us how easily the dreams of some become the nightmares of others.
Thanks, everyone, and best of luck to you in 2017!
Walter Rhein’s incomparable Reckless Traveler is the book about adventuring in Peru and other South American destinations. Half guide-book, half memoir, it’s available in trade and digital formats from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other book stores everywhere, or from Perseid Press at theperseidpress.com