There’s this trope in the movies – especially a certain kind of teen movie – where someone pays/bribes/coerces one of the popular kids to pretend to like/love/date the nerdy kid, thereby conveying that special magic upon them and elevating the unpopular kid into the lofty ranks. You all have seen this movie, right? Inevitably it turns out that everyone loves the previously unpopular kid and the formerly golden kid has plummeted in the rankings because everyone now sees them for who they truly are, whatever that may be.
Of course, we understand from this that popularity is A) not a real thing, B) easily created and destroyed and C) a false goal that leads only to pain and suffering.
Popularity very often is a mysterious thing. Why does everyone think that one cheerleader is the prettiest? Or that one guy is the one everyone wants to hang with? It’s easy to put it down to money, the right clothes, personal charm, luck. In the end, nobody really knows the answers and, after a certain point, we all leave high school and we don’t worry about it so much anymore. It is what it is and popularity doesn’t really matter.
Unless you’re engaged in a field where you’re trying to get people’s attention.
Then you’re plunged right back into the social frenzy. Why does one book get passed around and talked about while another languishes? How come everyone seems to LOVE that author, that book blogger, the one agent who everybody knows is really kind of smarmy? But they do, we still don’t know the answers and now, unfortunately, it really DOES matter.
Recently on a number of the author loops I’m on, people have been engaging in “Like” and “Tagging” parties. People ask for “Likes” on their FB author pages. For example, here’s mine https://www.facebook.com/Author.Jeffe.Kennedy. You can see there’s a “Like” button (which is at least way better than the old “Fan” button). If you click, then you see my posts. And look! it’s a measurable indicator of popularity! There’s a similar deal on Amazon, which is arguably more important to the book’s success. For example, if you look at Rogue’s Pawn on Amazon, you can see the little thumbs-up symbol under the title, which is meant to show how many people liked the book. If you scroll ALLLLL the way down, below the reviews, you’ll see “Tags Customers Associate with this Product,” – again, meant to be a way for customers to rate and describe the product.
Well, there’s all sorts of mutterings and schemings about how a book needs 25 Likes to make it into Amazon’s recommendations. And that the tags are EVERYTHING if you want to sell books. Of course, a lot of this is trying to discern the system behind the curtain and make it play for us. So what are these authors on my loops doing?
They’re attempting to create the appearance of popularity. “I’ll like your book if you’ll like mine” is just the grown-up iteration of paying the popular kid to sit with you at lunch. And there’s a certain logic. Hopefully real readers – and by this I mean, people who’ve actually read and liked the book, as opposed to clicking to do you reciprocal favor – will see all those frisky likes and think “Hey, look at all the people who like this, it must be good! I want to be one of those people!”
But, in the end, though the number of Likes might look much better than it did before, it’s still not a real measure of anything. You’re kidding yourself. I suspect that at some point, like the kids in the teen movies, we realize that popularity cannot be bought, sold or traded. That it comes down to who we really are or, in the case of our books, what kind of reading experience we offer.
And it is what it is.