Guy Hasson is an SF author and a filmmaker. His latest books are Secret Thoughts by Apex Books and The Emoticon Generation by Infinity Plus. His 45-minute epic SF film, The Indestructibles, which he wrote and directed, will be released on the web in a few weeks, and his start-up New Worlds Comics will go live in July.
A few days ago, I got a phone call from an unknown caller.
“Am I speaking to Guy Hasson?” The woman was cordial.
“Yes,” I said, wary.
“I read your guest post in SF Signal,” she said as if we’re old friends. “The one about the zombies.”
“I’m sorry, what?” Strangers don’t usually call me about these things. There’s a reason God created email.
“And I saw no one left any comments,” she continued.
“Yeah?” I said, warier and warier.
“We can help you with that.”
My mood made a 90-degree turn in a split second, like those bikes in Tron. I got the sense I was going to experience something new. As an SF author, I couldn’t pass that up.
“How can you help?” I said, sounding interested in whatever product she was shelling.
“My name is Mary Belle, from Digital Kingmakers.”
That’s a blunt company name. Do they really think people will fall for that promise?
“We believe in meme-makers, and science fiction authors like you are the meme-makers. We offer solutions to meme-makers like you who have great ideas but don’t know their audience. We’ll optimize the way you talk to your readers in various blogs. We know your audience. We can make you go viral.”
My brain was going ding-ding-ding. One year ago, this was science fiction. Some people who’ve never heard of this may think it still is.
“Would you like to set up a meeting?” she said.
I made a mental note to bring a hidden recording device.
“We’re going to talk about your readers,” Mary Belle told me. “We’re going to talk about GPO.”
This was half an hour after I had come in. Mary Belle had greeted me as if I was her best friend. She’s a 29-year-old CEO of her own start-up company, in the 20th week of pregnancy, a fact that hasn’t seemed to slow her down even a little.
She’d walked me through her company: three teams clicking away at social websites I’ve never heard of, two graphic teams hammering at creating marketing material for Digital Kingmakers, and one team of analysts and data miners.
We sat in the conference room and she began her PowerPoint presentation. Its subject: GPO – Guest Post Optimization.
Her analysts have guest post readers – i.e. you, the people reading this guest post -completely figured out. DK can ensure a post will have a more than 500% increase in comments and stickiness. If I follow their instructions to the letter, she promised me 95% of my guest posts will go viral, reaching as many as 200,000 readers in three days. For science fiction guest posts, those are good numbers.
“The first thing you have to understand is that your readers are stupid.”
“Your readers, as a whole, should be considered to read and react to posts at a third-grade level.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” I said. “My readers read science fiction. They’re the savviest and smartest reading group there is.”
She wasn’t having any of it. “Perhaps one by one. But as a group, they’re stupid, even infantile.”
I’d forgotten about my fact-finding mission and jumped out of my seat. SF readers are smart, period. My best friends are SF readers, I’ve met fans in conventions, I follow some of their blogs, and I am one. They. Are. Smart!
“You’re thinking about it all wrong,” she answered. “SF readers are not SF readers when they’re on the web. They may look for smart things in your books, but they’re looking for dumb things on the web.”
I let the drumming in my ears subside. I was here to find out what she was about. From this point on, I’d keep my feelings to myself. I let her continue.
“Follow these rules,” she continued calmly, “and you’ll see the number of reactions and readers skyrocket.”
“What are the rules?”
“Rule one: Keep it simple. Do not write at a level aimed higher than a third grade reader. Do not talk about subjects, other than sex which is always good, that a third grader would not find interesting.”
I gritted my teeth and listened on.
“Rule two: The thing they love most is when to talk about themselves. Find a way to make it about them, about how they talk, how they live, who they are. When you talk about them, they comment and comment and comment, like there’s no tomorrow. Do you understand?”
I nodded and bit my lip.
“Rule three: Find a way to pander to them.”
“Pander? Are you serious?”
“You see it all the time in stand-up. The best way for a performer to get an audience on his side is to say to them: ‘You’re the greatest audience ever!’ It always gets cheers. Always. No matter what you’re writing about, find a way to pander to them.”
This was ridiculous. SF readers are way too smart to fall for that.
But she didn’t agree. She kept on giving me stats about readers, about articles DK has helped write that went viral, and more.
By the time the presentation was over, I knew what I wanted to do. I said, “Let’s test your theory.”
“I’m going to write another post for SF Signal. I’m going to write about you, about Digital Kingmakers, and our meeting here. Theoretically, what happened here follows every one of your GPO rules: It’s not hard to understand, it’s completely about the readers, and if I add my side of things, then it supposedly ‘panders’ to them. If I’m right,” I continued, “the readers will react with the same silence they did when my other post was published. That post was very good, and the new one can’t be much better.”
“And if I’m right,” she quickly countered, “there will be, um… five or more comments. Five comments is a lot for SF Signal. And if I’m right, and I will be, I’ll be getting your business from this point on.”
“Done,” I said. And we shook on it.
That’s what happened. And I wrote it the way it happened. And now it’s published.
Now it’s up to you, readers. Prove one of us wrong.