Trolling for Likes and Tags – Worth It or Not?

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 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.

Aphrodite on Sale

When I was a girl, my housing development had this very nice pool. I was young enough that I spent the majority of my time with my friends in the pool, splashing around, timing how long we could hold our breath, that kind of thing. Around about 6th grade, we noticed that girls just a year or two older than we, spent their time lolling in the sun, slathered in coconut oil, in barely there bikinis. AInd, oh, were they beautiful.

One of these girls was Tina Manfredi.

That’s not her real name. I changed it because this story is about how this girl’s life was so much about how other people perceived her, and I figure she doesn’t need more of that.

At any rate, Tina was gorgeous. She bloomed early and magnificently. She and her brother, Tony, were of blond, blue-eyed Italian heritage. With golden skin. They were like the human version of palominos. Everyone wanted them.

We heard stories about Tina all the time and never thought twice about repeating them. How she wrapped herself naked in Saran Wrap to get an all-over tan for her boyfriend. Who she’d been out with and what she’d done. We spoke about her with envy, fascination and not a little obsessiveness of our own. She moved through the hallways of the school in a cloud of glory. I often thought about what it would be like to be her.

Many years later, like maybe 15 years after high school, I went to a party with my parents. They still lived in the old neighborhood, we’d been out to dinner and we stopped by a house-warming. A daughter of their friends, who’d also gone to school with me, had bought a house in our old neighborhood and a whole bunch of people were there, most of whom I didn’t know.

I got to talking to this one guy who was kind of a computer nerd. Interesting guy and I don’t recall the exact form of his nerdiness, but he was kind of skinny and geeky. At any rate, in the course of tracing why we were both at this party, he mentions that he married Tina Manfredi.

And I was really surprised.

I mean, I hadn’t given her a thought all those years. I don’t think we ever had a conversation – I never rose to those ranks – but I supposed she’d gone on to do exotic things. Like sail off into the sky in a convertible. I didn’t think about it, my adolescent brain kicked in and I blurted out how Tina had been Miss Thing in school and somehow conveyed my shock at her choice of husband.

Instead of being offended, his eyes danced with unholy glee. He starts telling me how much he loves when people react this way. (See? It wasn’t just me.) He went to a school in another state and met Tina years after high school, when they were in their late 20s. He didn’t know until after they married, moved back to the neighborhood and ran into her old classmates, just who she’d been. And he clearly loved this. He was so far under the radar in high school, he confided, that he would never have been able to touch a girl like that.

As he waxed on, I felt worse and worse. Tina wasn’t at the party because they had a new baby, but they lived just a few houses down. I wondered how many of these conversations she’d sat through, where her cohorts recalled her legendary glory and her new husband chortled at having snagged Aphrodite on sale.

I found myself wishing she hadn’t moved back, that she’d gone on to be the new person, who married a guy presumably because he saw her for herself.

I even toyed with stopping by to visit her and her fussy baby. But she wouldn’t have known who I was. And I never ran into either one of them again.

I think about this story sometimes, though. If you’d asked me at twelve if I’d ever feel bad for Tina Manfredi, I would have laughed in your face.

Now I wish I’d tried to be her friend.

More than a Feeling

David loves Pandora. You know, it’s internet “radio.” You plug in a song or a favorite band and Pandora creates a “station” for you of similar music. He hooks his laptop up to the stereo and listens for hours that way.

Yesterday, Boston’s More than a Feeling came on and, like music can, it took me back.

No, I’m not old enough for that song to have been a current, hot hit for me. I was ten when the album was released. I don’t know that I had ever heard of Boston or that song – what got me was the cover. Somewhere around the time I was 13 or 14, I found that record at a garage sale for something like 50 cents. Heavy into sci fi at the time – which had the additional bonus of often including quite steamy sex not discernible from the appearance of the books – I bought the record for the spaceships.

When I played it, though, the opening chords of More than a Feeling sucked me right in.

Something about it transported me, gave me that more-than-a-feeling feeling. It’s added layers now that the lyrics say “when I hear that old song play.”

Around that time I joined the Multi-cultural Club. Oh yeah, possibly the geekiest club in school. It was like I couldn’t help myself – I irresistibly drawn to those social groups who doomed your chances of ever being cool if you went to even one meeting.

Of course, I didn’t think that way.

At any rate, we wanted to do a fundraiser and it was to be a fashion show. I don’t know why. I think to showcase the different national costumes or some such. The club sponsor was a young woman. Early 20s, I realize now. And she was of some kind of Latino or Hispanic extraction. Maybe South American? I didn’t really register it then, but she spoke with a heavy accent and was shy. I said we needed music and she said okay, I was in charge of music.

We did this during lunch, to maximize the audience. How this was a fundraiser, I have no idea.

As we gathered together, this gaggle of geeks, with our various outfits to change into, I eyed the busy lunchroom with trepidation.

This was a really bad idea.

Nobody is cruel like high-schoolers trying to each lunch. Even in my hopeful naivete, I knew this. But we were committed. Our club sponsor happily started the record and I readied myself to step out onto the platform catwalk we’d set up around the room.

Those sweet opening chords filled the room, propelled me forward. I became that girl walking away. Not a geek, but a model on the catwalk.

It was spectacular. They even applauded.

More than a feeling, indeed.

Catch a Falling Star and Put It in Your Pocket

We sit up on a hill, with Galisteo Basin and the densest part of Santa Fe below us. The dramatic reverse of heavy rain after weeks of baking sun, leads to fog the following morning. It flowed in rose-tinted waves at sunrise, up and out, back into the vast sky that brought it.

Apparently I’m in a poetic mood this morning.

I get that way sometimes, where I feel an upwelling of something inside, something sweet and bubbly, and I want to send it out into the world. It can take an odd form, depending on where I’m at.

I remember when I was young – maybe 8 or 9? – and we were on a field trip for school. This makes me think I was 8, because in 3rd grade I was in this experimental class where we spent a whole bunch of time traveling around Colorado learning history. I think it was intended to give us hands on stimulation. That was a strange time for me, because there were only two other 3rd graders in this class, a few 4th graders and a whole slew of 5th & 6th graders. We’d all been flagged as gifted or talented or perhaps just oddball. On bus trips, our teachers would have long division contests and kids who got the right answers received prizes. I always put up my hand and guessed answers, even though I had yet to learn multiplication tables, much less division. I always figured I had a shot of getting it right which, of course, I never did. This practice had the additional bonus of annoying the other kids, making me more of a social outcast than ever. In an odd way, though I knew this, it didn’t really bother me.

But that’s all beside the point.

On this particular trip, the teacher announced that this particular girl – older, pretty, very popular – was moving away. Tomorrow would be her last day at the school and we should all be sure to say good-bye and wish her well. She was one of those people who are inexplicably liked by everyone, as if she carried a bit of sunshine with her and people just liked to bask in it. She was likely 11 or 12, but to my 8, she looks like Bo Derek or Farrah Fawcett in my memory.

I went home from school, put Perry Como on my 8-track player (which would cycle endlessly) and set up my little folding table. I made clay animals for this girl whose name I can’t remember. I made probably a dozen of them. Into each one, I poured my admiration for this girl everyone liked so much.

I dried them in the oven, painted them and put them in a little box to take to school the next day. When my mom asked who they were for and I told her, she said she’d never heard this girl’s name before and didn’t know she was my friend.

My mother clearly didn’t understand that a young goddess like this wouldn’t be my actual friend.

You can imagine the scene. I marched up to her at school and gave her this fairly extravagant gift of a box full of little clay animals. I was reasonably good at it and she was surprised that I’d made them. That I’d made them for her. I still remember the surprise and confusion on her face. The discomfort, because what I’d done was clearly weird. But she was a nice person and thanked me.

Still, I understood that this had been over the line.

Looking back, I think what I was giving her was more of a tribute. Perhaps I hoped for some of her charm to rain on me. Frankly, I hadn’t really noticed her much until I saw everyone gathered around her to say how sad they were to see her go. I wanted that in a way I hadn’t known to before.

I still admire those with the gift of popularity. I can see how their natural charm, their sunny attractiveness draw people to them. Sometimes I try to emulate it. But I still have enough of that weird kid in me, the one who can listen to the same favorite soundtrack twenty times in a row, that I can’t quite get there.

(A boyfriend once cited the same tape loop in my car as one of the reasons for break-up – I’m not kidding. I mean, I would have changed it if he’d asked. It just happened to be my favorite album at the time and I wasn’t done obsessing over it and, well, yeah…)

Ultimately it comes back to that I’m still the one who will put up her hand and ask the uncomfortable question. Sometimes I impulsively give gifts that are too much. too out of the blue. I’m very bad about saying things I shouldn’t. Every once in a while, I envy those with the crowds of admirers. I think it must be pretty neat.

I remember that embarrassed girl, with her box of clay animals. I’m still her.

And that’s okay.