At first I thought that Facebook had a glitch.
How else could I have gone, in a matter of days, from having 700 Facebook fans to having over 4000?
To be clear, the fans weren’t technically mine. They belonged to the Facebook “fan page” of a book I published two years ago, called Shut Up, I’m Talking. Like every other author, I had been repeatedly told that social networking was crucial to promoting my book, and so when the book came out, I dutifully created a Facebook fan page, and the page slowly began to gain fans.
The first 100 or so were friends and family, but from then on, a handful of strangers who had read the book would join every week, until I reached about 700 fans a few months ago. Which is why, as I stared at my computer screen recently, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. 4000 fans? Who were these people?
Two years after I had created it, the page seemed to have suddenly gained thousands of fans literally over night. Grasping at straws, I wondered if this sudden burst of interest in my book was the result of some positive – if very late – book review that had been published somewhere. But unable to find one, I decided that a technical problem with Facebook was the most likely cause. So I logged off the site, and went about my day as normal – unaware that all the while, my sudden legion of fans was growing at an exponential rate.
By the time I checked in that evening, expecting the glitch to be resolved, there were 1000 more fans, bringing my total to over 5000. By the next morning there were 7000, and this explosive growth rate continued in the days that followed. Soon the day-to-day increase started doubling regularly, until it eventually hit a steady stride – at which point I was gaining more than 25 000 new fans on a daily basis.
Keep in mind that the fan count had by now far surpassed the number of copies of the book that had actually been printed. So those weeks when over 100 000 new strangers would inexplicably join my Facebook fan page were maddeningly confusing.
And just plain maddening. As the numbers soon crossed the quarter million mark, I started to feel a bit under siege. Was this some kind of elaborate prank? Who were these 250 000 people (and counting), and what did they want from me? Should I send out a Facebook message to them? If I did, what should I say? I had no idea what kind of message I wanted to send, and so I kept silent. But the whole thing was increasingly unsettling, and making me paranoid.
Meanwhile, the numbers just kept shooting upwards. Very quickly, I had passed celebrities like Brad Pitt (55 000 fans) and Spike Lee (67 000 fans), as well as entire countries (Spain: 25 000 fans). And as time went on, my book’s page overtook ridiculously famous authors like J.K. Rowling (95 000 fans) and even Dan Brown (499 000 fans). Soon, my book had more fans than New York City (510 000 fans). It was mind-boggling, bizarre, and unnerving, especially since it was unclear what was driving this.
Only when I noticed that some of these fans had been posting messages on my page’s “Wall” did I realize what was going on. Their quotes were along the lines of:
“Yeah, I was saying something and my mom broke in, and I was like, ‘Shut Up, I’m Talking!’ LOL!”
“Cool page! I hate it when people talk over me!”
Perhaps you can see what had been happening. Even though the fan page shows the book’s cover and its synopsis, and informs visitors that it was published by Simon & Schuster, the vast majority of these supposed “fans” were somehow totally unaware that it was referring to a book at all. They had simply joined because they were fans of the phrase “Shut Up, I’m Talking.”
They were the sort of people, I soon discovered, who were also fans of such inane but popular Facebook fan pages as “Punching Things” and “I hate it when I get fingerprints all over my phone.” But each time one of them would become a fan of Shut Up, I’m Talking, their circle of Facebook friends would blindly do the same – causing its frighteningly viral spread.
When I described this odd phenomenon to my editor the other day, she was as baffled as me, but noted that it was strangely in keeping with my book itself. Shut Up, I’m Talking is a memoir about how, when I was twenty-five-years-old, I accidentally stumbled into a job as a speechwriter for the Israeli Government, first at the UN and then in the Prime Minister’s Office – despite not even being Israeli. Until she pointed it out, I hadn’t thought about how my inadvertent Facebook popularity was actually of a piece with those random events, but there’s obviously some truth to her observation.
Although the daily growth rate has slowed somewhat, the page now has almost 700 000 fans. That’s more than The New York Times (626 000 fans), but there has been something unsatisfying and almost bittersweet about the experience. At one point I had 700 fans who had read and presumably enjoyed my book. Now I have one thousand times that number, but most of them have never even heard of it.
I still haven’t sent a Facebook message out to my army of accidental fans, because I don’t know what to say. To be honest, if I wrote what I really thought about them, it probably wouldn’t be too flattering. But I guess that maybe it’s time to make contact and at least let them know that I’ve written about them here.
These days, like anyone involved in almost any enterprise, authors are assured that the path to success lies online. But while a Youtube video of a man tripping over a dog and falling headfirst into a toilet can become wildly popular, carefully orchestrated and well-funded online advertising campaigns for politicians or Hollywood movies can fail outright – making it seem impossible to predict what will get traction in the wilds of cyberspace. Still, it feels like we have no choice but to soldier on, and publishers and authors continue to pin our hopes on somehow figuring out a way to properly harness the internet.
With publishing in such precarious shape right now, I suppose authors should embrace any kind of attention they can get, even if it’s completely misguided. But if my online fans can’t even grasp that the fan page they’ve joined is for a book, I’m not particularly optimistic that they’ll read the book in question – or any books at all, for that matter. Since Shut Up, I’m Talking’s paperback comes out later this summer, though, I have to hope against the odds that even a tiny fraction of them will check it out.
Maybe you should too. After all, 700 000 fans can’t be wrong.