Those of you lucky enough to have read these retirement blogs over a period of time (a little irony there in case you missed it) will have noted an on-going theme which loosely translates into – how can I become more popular (my blog that is not me as a human being, that would be difficult)? Or even more pathetic, why aren’t my blogs more popular? These questions came back to me as I read an article in last weekend’s newspaper entitled, “Want to write a bestseller? Use an algorithm.”
I have to admit I’m not entirely sure what an algorithm is, but I take it to be something about feeding lots of data into a computer and by doing so being able to control the future. As a self-confessed control-freak obviously this idea is going to have a lot of appeal, enough anyway to read the article. I don’t have any great desire to write a best seller, I’d be quite happy just to see a book of mine in-print even if it was in the remainder bin. However given the article appeared to be about two of my favourite topics – getting published and being in control – I thought I’d give it a go.
You will quickly realise that I’m not reading it, the article, with a view to writing a best-selling book but rather how to write a fabulously popular blog about being retired, given that I’m not, it must be said, per se, fabulously popular myself. I thought it might be interesting to read the article and see if I could pick up any tips about increasing the readership of this blog. You will know if you’ve read past blogs on this very topic that I’ve tried the usual routes – Guardian courses on blog popularity, SEOs, key word density, advertising in The Oldie, boring anybody I come into contact with, and so on, and on. My readership is growing – slowly – but it surely couldn’t hurt to think outside the box and see if algorithms might be the way to a readership of thousands or even hundreds or even, well you get the point.
So to the article, it reckons it doesn’t matter what the genre is, be it literary fiction, romance, sci-fi, crime or any other genre, there are ‘latent features of a bestseller’ and ‘these patterns are detectable by computer algorithms’. I’m not sure there is a genre ‘boring old fart writes about retirement’ but I’ll read on and see if anything fits. First up it says ‘literary style has a huge influence on how people are going to react’. Hmm, sounds a bit bleedin’ obvious. I suppose I have some kind of ‘literary style’, it seems OK to me but I wouldn’t want to predict whether it helps my popularity. I’d call it steady rather than spectacular but not a deal-breaker or maker.
Next, you ‘have to hit the sweet spot on character, plot, style and theme.’ Again rather bland but let me try to make something of it. Character – that would be me. Hmm, not an encouraging start. Plot – retired man shuffles off of mortal coil with as much humour as possible. Hmm again, it doesn’t scream best-seller but two more left. Style – already done this, still steady, does what it says on the tin I suppose. Last, theme. This isn’t going well – retired guy dies eventually trying to put it off as long as possible by doing as much as possible.
A little chagrined I read on. Later the article says ‘a bestseller has to have an emotional beat. In certain bestsellers there is an emotional high followed by a low, then another high, then another low.’ I’m tempted to say this isn’t rocket science but maybe they have a point. I think I have the ‘emotional lows’ pretty well covered but probably, no make that definitely, not balanced by the ‘emotional highs’. So that may be a problem right there. Should I make my blog more up-beat, more rah rah? Hmm, not sure about this.
Topics was next in the article, there are 500 (sounds a bit reductionist to me) of them computer reckoned. But it’s not good to use them all. Less experienced authors try to pack in too many and hence don’t have a focus. Not sure how the blog does in this area. I think retirement and its half a dozen sub-headings feels about right, so I’ll take that one. But right after this positive they give their version of which topics make for popular reading – human closeness or human relationships. Now clearly this is a biggie and could indeed come into the deal breaker category. Mrs Summerhouse and I have been married for 45 years and together for 50 but by heck, as they say in Yorkshire, I’m sure there aren’t many people who would want to read my droning on about how happy we are and it wouldn’t be true either. Just average* and very pleased for it to be so. But that’s about it, same with family, usual ups and downs which don’t make for best-selling readership. Of course if I ever let myself off the lead in terms of my relationships with other people then I wouldn’t need to look for another blog topic – ever. But I’d have to rename the blog – my little cup of poison. It might work, I think I prefer this option to the rah rah strategy. Cricket commentator, Bob Willis, said he quickly realised, when he retired from playing and became a media person, that he wasn’t going to keep his job for very long if he went round being nice to everybody, so he became a miserable, negative old git and I can identify with that.
So maybe that is the way to an increasing popularity, I become a miserable, back-stabbing, less-talented version of say Gore Vidal. After all it’s clear to me that, having read the article, there’s not much else in it by way of advice as to how to become a best-selling or even widely read author. If rubbishing everything and everybody is the road to the stars, so be it. Wait, what’s that I hear you say, you think I already am the retirement world’s version of Jack Dee. Well thanks very much and don’t forget to tell all your friends, I need all the help I can get. Miserable retirement blog hits bestsellers list.
*Mrs Summerhouse disagrees with this rating she thinks it is above average. Who am I to disagree?