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What to do when your writing goes viral

A guide to sorting through agent offers, getting your book proposal just right, and making sure you still have more to say after a million (or more) people read your article.

It is every writer’s dream: You pen an article that catches fire online, drawing so many views and shares that agents suddenly line up to query you instead of vice versa.

But what happens after you go viral? How do you effectively parlay those five minutes of fame into a book – a good book? And what pitfalls should you beware of as you navigate the post-viral party in your inbox?

We spoke with three writers whose viral articles landed them book deals, as well as an agent who has represented writers gone viral. Their insights can help you through the days and weeks after your story lights up social media.

You can’t teach this

First, a note on going viral. Everyone interviewed affirms this is not the best way to try to get a book deal.

It’s not something you can plan. It’s not something you can control. In fact, several agents declined to talk for this story because they didn’t want writers to get the mistaken impression that going viral is a magical way to bypass the hard work authors put into getting a book deal.

“You can’t predict it. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to write an article that catches on like that again,” says Ruby Hamad, whose book, White Tears/Brown Scars, arose from a viral newspaper article.

Virality is often a matter of zeitgeist: perfect subject, perfect timing. But if you have the good fortune to achieve it, you want to be ready for action.

Can your article become a book?

If you’re reading this, you probably want to write a book. You need to ask yourself the tough question, though: Do you have anything more to say about your topic? Many writers don’t, says agent Liz Parker, who runs the publishing side at Los Angeles-based literary and talent agency Verve.

“Sometimes articles feel complete,” she says. “If I’m not furiously Googling to find out more about a subject and I feel satisfied with what was in the article, it’s hard to spin that into a book.”

Adds Hamad, “It’s not enough to have the article go viral. You have to really show there’s a lot of meat to the idea.” Your book has to offer information and analysis your article didn’t include.

Timing is another consideration. Publishing moves at the speed of a sloth trudging through molasses. An of-the-moment topic can quickly become passe. “A lot of what catches fire in the news cycle doesn’t withstand the two years of baking that a book takes to come to the surface,” Parker says.

 

Mental health break I: Trolls aren’t worth your time

Of course, with any positives always come negatives online. Going viral is an intense experience, and the trolls come out to feast when an author receives that type of exposure. Trolling occurs when someone criticizes you for essentially no reason – their points are often unrelated and inconsequential to the focus of the article. They throw jabs just to get a rise out of you.

People of color and LGBTQIA+ authors often suffer the worst of the abuse, something Hamad saw firsthand. “I will forever be grateful to the women of color who shared the article on Twitter,” she says. “A lot of Black, Latina, and Native women saw the deluge of abuse I was getting online and made an effort to lift the article up and lift me up.”

Ignore the trolls, if possible. Engaging with someone who has a different viewpoint can be productive, but trolls only want to antagonize you. Some writers log off social media entirely to avoid trolling, though they risk missing media requests. (You could ask a family member or friend to monitor it for you if that’s a worry – but understand that is a big ask, and they won’t like what they read any more than you do.)