If you have been anywhere near Facebook or Google advertising, or indeed anywhere near the internet, you’ll probably be familiar with the term ‘algorithm’, defined by the dictionary as ‘a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer’ and familiar to us as the complex programming behind the way social media and search engines work.
Writers interested in selling their published works often engage with Google Ads or Facebook Ads or the like, and try to come up with magic formulas for ensuring that their books are placed in front of mass audiences, especially those most likely to buy. It’s all about chasing the ‘metrics’, the esoteric web measurements which indicate ‘success’. Many writers then engage in chasing the results of various tweakings and 'split-tests' by examining daily the charts that appear on such sites as Google Analytics. This can become obsessive - indeed, perhaps the emphasis should be on the ‘anal’ in Analytics after a while. If you’re like thousands, perhaps millions of others, you’ll find yourself looking at something like the savagely sharp mountain ranges of the above diagram: the figures soar steeply, getting the observer excited that at last something is happening, only to plunge steeply the next day, most commonly. The worst is perhaps when the writer sees a gradual build up over a few days, only to despair as the mirror image of that build up - the painful decline - occurs over the following week. And Google Analytics seems designed to confuse - even the ‘beginner level’ videos made to try to explain it to newcomers leave the average viewer spinning with confusion in the first minute.
(I always look at the ‘mountain ranges’ of analytic graphs like that above as a kind of image of standing on a mountain top and shouting about your product. All you get is the echo from the surrounding peaks.)
There’s another problem too: even if, by some miracle, you hit in a winning combination of factors and your graphs consistently climb, showing that the algorithms are working for you, Facebook or Google or any other social media or search engine giant can change the algorithms without notice and shatter everything you’ve built in an instant.
There go all your ‘metrics’, defined as some number you can calculate that is supposed to mean something about the power of your marketing. Metrics that are pushed include the number of visitors to a website or ‘hits’. Then there were Facebook ‘likes’ - the more people who ‘liked’ your page, the more money you were supposed to make in the end. People (not only writers, but anyone trying to sell anything on the internet) started to believe this to the degree that they began to pay for likes. You could hire someone on the internet to get you some likes, and this was supposed to result in more people being attracted to your site and therefore more income. The same thing was said of the number of Twitter followers, or followers of a blog, or e-mail list subscribers, and so forth: ‘more equals better’ was the myth. A whole host of ‘tricks’ or ‘magic formulas’ or ‘secret techniques’ followed, just to boost these numbers.
And then along came Google or Facebook and changed the ground rules, and bang went all these metrics, even if you had managed to acquire them.
It’s all nonsense anyway.
For writers, there is only one metric that matters, and it cuts right through to the heart of your story then spirals out to the outer edge of your marketing campaigns. And that metric is this:
How much fulfilment are you providing for readers?
If your fiction is designed to give joy to readers - from its central ideas, down to its characters, plot lines, style and structure - and if these same principles are extended into your marketing strategies (as outlined in my book A Marketing Handbook for Writers, Part 1), then you will gather all the other metrics you need over time: ‘likes’, positive reviews, sales, testimonies, fan mail, requests for interviews, you name it.
All of those things are the ‘outer metrics’ - easily measurable in numbers - for the ‘inner metric’ which is harder to define. How do you measure an ‘amount of fulfilment’? It’s very difficult. But it’s also not possible to pay someone to get you more (unless of course you pay people to write positive reviews of your work, which would be a short-term means of faking it, doomed in the end to fail). The truth is that, when you focus your efforts on creating fulfilment - joy, emotional release, satisfaction, whatever is appropriate for the kind of tale you’ve written - in your readers, you will never again worry about any other algorithm or metric. Another truth is that Facebook, Google and Amazon and all the rest are trying constantly to adjust their algorithms to reward genuine fulfilment, because they know that that is the only sustainable way forward as a business. So every time Facebook or Google ‘messes you around’ by changing something in the way they work, you can rest assured that they are making another attempt to remove some more fakery and inauthenticity from their formulas.
They are trying, believe it or not, to support genuine rightness, because only genuine rightness will support them commercially, in the long term. Rightness - joy, satisfaction, happiness - really is at the heart.
Everything else is a house of cards.