My husband and I have a favorite breakfast place that we go to every Sunday morning. It’s small and the tables are all cramped together, but we love the food.
Enter the “loud guy”. You know the type: they’re usually completely unaware that the whole room can hear them as they take center stage amidst their silent table companions. Just to be heard, people at the surrounding tables have to raise their voices.
One noisy pebble in the sea creates an increasingly loud ripple effect.
The growing sea of online noise
An author friend of mine recently bemoaned the amount of marketing and promotion required just to be noticed and, in spite of all the effort, the hoped for stampede for their latest book never materialized.
And it’s not just with books. People are fighting to be heard above the noise and the ends are starting to justify the means of noisy behavior.
On social media, you see it a lot in streams of automated posts. What they’re really shouting is, “Hear I am! Read me! Love me!”
And then there’s the new pop up, only now it’s called a ‘pop over’. Making it sound like a dessert pastry doesn’t make it any more appealing to me.
There’s a reason why browsers provide us with the ability to block pop ups, but these new boxes fly under the radar and pop up and over willy-nilly. More and more, my reading is getting interrupted because the writer gets more subscribers for their list that way. Frankly, it just annoys me.
Automated social media posts and pop overs are only two of many noisy behaviors, but I’m going to stop ranting now. My point has been made. It’s the noisy people in the restaurant all over again, only it’s online and in our faces.
Why it’s happening is really what we need to think about as writers. We are smack in the middle of an age of information excess, or ‘content shock’, and everyone is fighting to be heard in a sea of noise that gets louder every day.
Content shock by the numbers
“By 2020, the amount of information on the web is expected to increase by 600% … The challenge of cutting through [this] content shock and earning a share of the limited customer attention span is the marketing challenge for the foreseeable future. … The conversation on the web will turn from “content” to “ignition”—how do we get our message to cut through and compete?” ~ Mark Schaefer
Schaefer is just talking about web content. What about books?
Worldwide, approximately 2,200,000 books are published each year, according to UNESCO. Remember, these are just the books that are registered by organizations like Bowker, (the publisher of Books in Print and the official source for ISBN numbers in the U.S.).
A firm number of books published per year doesn’t exist, but it’s safe to say that 2.2 million/year is a gross under-estimation. Consider all the books not assigned an ISBN—a recent estimate suggests that that’s 30% of books published just in the U.S., never mind globally. Can we even begin to estimate how many books were published in 2014?
What’s the point?
I know the numbers can be a downer; if I start dwelling on them, I quickly start to feel like a tiny, insignificant spec in that sea of noise.
But stay with me because I’m not sharing all of this information to depress or discourage you.
Far from it!!
As with anything, the more clearly we see where we stand and what will challenge us, the better we can respond with creativity and innovation. The ostrich with his head buried in the sand is nothing but stuck.
Do you have to be louder to stand out?
No. (I don’t know about you, but I’m so relieved!)
When I didn’t publish a blog post last week, I started to worry. Will I get even more lost in the noise if I’m not in it?
I turned to Feedly, my new favorite online tool, to see what others do—in particular, the writers who stand out from the crowd.
One of the features allows you to look at the historical lists of posts, and from that list you can learn things like the frequency.
I found that some writers have a consistent pattern and some don’t. Post length also varies:
- Seth Godin, with a following in the hundreds of thousands, writes daily. His posts average at around 300 words.
- Maria Popova of Brainpickings, also with a monstrous following of somewhere in the 100,000 range, has daily posts too. The average length is closer to 1,000 words.
- Leo Babauta, of Zen Habits, is another one with a following in the six figures. The frequency of his posts varies from 2 to 10 days, and they are typically over 1,000 words long.
What I was seeing started my wheels turning. The more I looked, the more I realized that it was okay to set your own schedule and post length. But that’s not all that dawned on me.
This is where it can get exciting for us as writers, so hang on and keep reading.
The best solution ever: be utterly unique
Let’s go back to the restaurant for a minute.
I’m sure you’ve seen and heard it happen. There is a point when the noise suddenly stops. It’s when something unexpected happens, and it gets the attention of enough people that everyone stops making noise and looks for the disruption.
Or, consider when you’ve seen that effect in a larger crowd, like the classic marriage proposal at a hockey game. A stadium full of people all stop to watch a relatively quiet but significant event in two stranger’s lives. It’s unique. It’s beautiful. It’s memorable.
[bctt tweet=”In a cacophony of noises, those that are noticed are different. They disrupt.”]
We humans can be rather odd: we make the unique famous and then, in moments of self-doubt especially, we do our best to emulate them so that we can be just like them. We forget that it was their uniqueness that enraptured us in the first place.
In the writing/blogging world, this often translates into a sort of hero worship of those who have achieved independence and six figure incomes (or more). True, they can have much to teach, so it will never hurt to learn what they did to get there.
But, when you feel yourself getting lost in the noise of the online crowd, don’t lose sight of what makes you unique. Put your own spin on what you’ve learned and make it your own.
More than the frequency or length of their posts, as I looked at the writings of the people I mention above — Seth Godin, Maria Popova, Leo Babauta — it was hard to miss what mattered most. From the moment they started, they were disruptive. They were unique. Memorable.
[bctt tweet=”Be unique. Do what only you can do, and do it well. Make the crowd stop and look.”]
Don’t try to be louder than everyone else. By being unique, you can stand out, and maybe even make everyone stop and look … at you.
I’m going to close with a couple of quotes I found in a recent article on Brainpickings. I was in the middle of writing this piece when I read them and I loved how they fit:
“The pressure to be quick, to appeal to the broadest possible public, to be sensational, to seek easy celebrity, to be attractive to corporate sponsors—these forces multiply online … a conversation dominated by executives, academics, and entrepreneurs.” ~ Astra Taylor
However, as Maria Popova adds, there are those who disrupt:
“Some artists, of course, are raising their heads and challenging the this-is-how-it-should-be-done-because-this-is-how-it-has-always-been-done paradigm of culture’s relationship with commerce.”
Ultimately, trying to make the same kind of noise that someone else makes, only louder, will only get you so far and you won’t make the unique contribution that you are here to make. Don’t do something just because they tell you “this is how it has always been done”.
If everyone keeps trying to do the same thing, it’s just going to keep getting noisier.
Finally, I wonder … if we spent less time trying to be like someone else or to do what we’re told we should be doing, how much more time would we have to become who we are supposed to be?
I hand it over to you. Do you ever feel like you’re drowning in a sea of noise? Does it give you any sense of relief to think that you can be your own unique artist self and still be heard? Do you even believe it’s possible to be heard, without “doing what has always been done”?
Comments are now closed, but I always love to hear from readers so feel free to contact me!