A chance meeting with Otto Fong last year led us to a discussion on how to make the popularity of a work go viral. He told me his books sell when he goes on publicity tours in schools, but he hopes that their sales can take off on their own, like the Harry Potter series. He doesn’t want to be like a char kuay teow seller who has to be there personally all the time.
Some professions, according to Nassim Nicholas Taleb, cannot be scaled – ‘there is a cap on the number of patients or clients you can see in a given period of time’ if you are, say, a doctor or a prostitute. An author like J.K. Rowling, however, ‘expends the same amount of effort to attract one single reader as she would to capture several hundred million’. In scalable professions like writing and music recording, ‘a few can take a large share of the pie, leaving others out entirely at no fault of their own’ because of the inequalities produced by the random nature of such professions. Chance plays a big part whether you succeed or fail.
Like a smartass, I suggested to Otto that he needed more publicity – in all forms of media and not just by going down personally to schools – to draw more attention to his works. But he already had lots of publicity, through the net and in newspapers and magazines both Chinese and English. He didn’t need more publicity.
I believe a lot of it comes down to chance, assuming there is ability (or the complete lack thereof – think Rebecca Black). What we can do is to maximize our exposure to those chances and be prepared for them.
I’ve been a finalist in the Singapore Blog Awards for 3 consecutive years, in 3 different categories. My blog traffic increases temporarily during the competition period, then goes back to base level. I too, feel like a char kuay teow seller.
It’s a symbiotic relationship. The seller (me) benefits, the eater (you) benefits, and the person renting out the stall (organizer omy.sg) benefits. Do vote if you have the time.