Likes and Comments Aren’t Just Applause

I’ve heard people express discomfort when advised to be more active about clicking ‘like’ or commenting on Facebook posts and other social media, and I can certainly understand. For one thing, I don’t think it should ever be an obligation. Personally, I like what I want to like. I also get the idea that people sometimes see it as nothing more than applause, something to make the subject of the post feel good (not that there is anything wrong with that). However, likes and comments do serve another function I think is important to remember, particularly with respect to participation in the literary community.

I’m talking about the prioritization of posts in places such as update feeds. Consider a post where a fellow writer announces the publication of a new piece and provides a link. If we see that post, we can merely lurk and just read. That’s fine. However, if we click ‘like’ or comment (even to just convey congratulations), more happens than mere conveyance of moral support.

Interactions with posts are often taken into account by the algorithms that decide ordering and selection of posts for presentation. The more likes, comments, and so on that a post has, the more likely the post will be selected to be presented to others. We can share to support posts about publications and other things that we care about, spreading the word, but we can also support by simply liking or commenting.

I’m not trying to convince anyone to like and/or comment on everything that pops up, or make anyone feel obligated. I just want people to think what a like or a comment might do for a post that they do want other people to see. It’s an easy way to participate in the literary community. Just remember that it’s an option.

A Personal Example of the ‘Always Say Yes’ Rule

When recently participating in an alumni panel on ‘Life After the MFA’ at the summer residency, Sarah McKinstry-Brown (author of the award winning Cradling Monsoons) gave some advice that happened to strike a personal chord. In telling people how to get involved in a professional writing life after graduation, she advised that they should “always say yes.” The context behind this was that we never know when a writing-related opportunity that doesn’t sound like what we want can often end up leading to the very ones for which we’ve specifically been searching.

The reason that this struck me was it reminded me of a situation I encountered only a few months prior. A blog editor of [Pank] (as well as author of Women Who Pawn Their Jewelry and A Woman Traces the Shoreline), Sheila Squillante, shared a submission call on Facebook for a Two of Cups Press bourbon poetry anthology: Small Batch.

My first reaction was to dismiss the idea because I don’t really write poetry. However, though I don’t drink anymore, bourbon is something to which I’ve been quite close. I have a reverence for bourbon that made me want to get involved (even though I don’t really write poetry). Unable to help myself, I wrote what I believed to be a witty comment on Sheila’s post to the effect: “I thought bourbon was already a poem.” I felt very self-satisfied and thought that was it until a saw a follow up comment: “Looks like someone has a submission.”

At that moment, I sat back from the computer. Did I have a submission? Since I actually responded to the prompt, however flippantly, should I actually try to sit down and write a poem?

Well, I did. I didn’t just stick with that line, instead making an actual effort at turning it into a real (though short) poem. I kept it simple, trying to recreate what I felt from when I saw the post to when I gave what (I felt) was my koan-like response. Then I submitted and decided that the experience itself was something I needed even if it didn’t go anywhere further.

However, I then got a reply to my submission. They loved “A Bourbon Poetry Submission.” They wanted to include it in the anthology. More surprisingly, they wanted to use my poem in the forward to the book. I was surprised. I was flattered. Heck, I was ecstatic.

This all came back to me when I heard Sarah’s words at the panel. I need to take her of advice more, but this popped into my head as proof of what can happen when you do what she said. Say yes to opportunities that you hadn’t really considered, because you just never know what is going to happen.

*****

David S. Atkinson is the author of Bones Buried in the Dirt and the forthcoming The Garden of Good and Evil Pancakes (EAB Publishing, expected spring 2014). His writing appears in Bartleby Snopes, Grey Sparrow Journal, Interrobang?! Magazine, Atticus Review, and others. His writing website is http://davidsatkinsonwriting.com/ and he spends his non-literary time working as a patent attorney in Denver.