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Going viral can be a fluky process.
Once in awhile, you write a piece that seems so-so, which ends up popular with readers. But more often, you think an article is going to be a hit, only for it to be a dud. You pour hours of work into something you think is brilliant. And yet it goes by unnoticed and unappreciated.
All that wasted time and effort feels disappointing.
Why does it happen? How can something that seems promising end up going nowhere? Is there a way to keep that from happening?
Let’s dive in.
Why Articles Don’t Perform Well
Think of a system that runs on cogs, like an old-fashioned clock.
All the cogs are interlinked so that when one rotates, the next cog turns. When all the cogs turn properly, the system operates smoothly. But if one cog is malfunctioning or misplaced, the entire system breaks down.
Articles work in a similar way. When a published article isn’t performing well, it can be from any one reason, or a combination of reasons.
Sometimes, the article isn’t promoted right. The headline doesn’t grab readers’ attention. The article isn’t shared with readers in the first place. Putting up an article usually isn’t enough by itself.
The audience might not be the right fit. Article topic matters here. One audience may be interested in a certain topic or relate to a viewpoint, while another may not care at all. Or, a site might lack readers in the first place.
The article itself might be lacking. The article topic is neither interesting nor beneficial, so people don’t read it. Style could be an issue. The article is too difficult for readers to bother combing through.
If any one of these areas is lacking – article, audience, fit – then the system collapses. In the end, your article flops.
But let’s look at what you hope to achieve from publishing an article in the first place.
What Do You Want?
First, what are you trying to achieve? When you publish an article, what is your primary goal? You’re likely trying to do one of the following:
- Gain more readers.
- Promote a book or product.
- Build a writing portfolio.
- Earn money from freelancing.
Depending on your goal, some sites may be a better fit for your article than others.
When you contribute to a website, you should have an objective in mind. For instance, you might publish on someone’s site to reach a new group of readers. Some sites pay for your writing. Others are unpaid, but allow you to include a byline describing what you’re about and a link.
Before you contribute a website, you’ll have to check for fit. What sort of articles do they publish? Are they open to new contributors?
Many sites have a “Contact” or “Contributor guidelines” page. If the site is open to new contributions and you believe your article is a match, send them a message.
Remember that editors are busy. They go through lots of daily emails and don’t have time to decipher what you want. Your message should have a clear objective.
To get the best chance of response, make life easy for the person you’re contacting. That means reading the guidelines, adhering to them, and tailoring your piece to what’s already published.
When you’re just starting out, reach out to niche sites that are open to all contributors. Don’t begin with the big name sites. It may be tempting, but you’ll likely find yourself disappointed.
Aim instead to practice your writing, learning to email editors, and publishing your work. It’s a skill that you learn and improve gradually. When you work your way up, you build up a portfolio of published articles. These articles build credibility, helping you get published on bigger, busier sites.
It takes time. A mighty oak grows from an acorn. But it doesn’t happen overnight.
Once you’ve gotten the hang of things, you can take your writing to the next step: syndication.
How Syndication Works
Have you ever read an article where the bottom reads, “This article originally appeared on [another website]”? Welcome to syndication.
If you’re casually browsing around, you might not notice it. But the next time you surf the web, pay attention to the bottom of articles on popular sites. Once you look for it, you’ll notice it more.
Syndication is where one piece of content gets featured on multiple sites. When you syndicate an article, that one article’s reach becomes amplified. It’s like putting a loudspeaker in front of your writing.
It takes awhile to reach this stage, though. If you’re still trying to get your bearings, syndication doesn’t work. Why should sites syndicate your work when it hasn’t been proven yet?
Once you’ve gotten your work published on a number of niche sites, you’ll have gained the necessary experience. You’ll have learned how to write, reach out to editors, and publish your work. Then you can look into syndication.
When republishing your work elsewhere, you should first check whether a site is okay with it. Some websites allow it, others don’t. Check the guidelines, or whether the site’s articles appear syndicated.
High-traffic sites often curate articles from elsewhere. Forums are usually fine with republishing articles. Just be sure that original source is fine with their articles being syndicated too.
Sometimes big-site editors will scour the internet and republish articles from other sites. This is how your article builds momentum and gets more and more reads. Success breeds success.
Many Strikeouts, One Home Run
Trying to get your work noticed can be frustrating. You keep batting, and yet you find yourself striking out a lot. You try different things, and things aren’t sticking.
But once in a while, you hit a home run. You write a piece, release it out into the world, and the results go beyond what you had expected. And it’s those times when those failures are worth the success.
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott