Taking cues from every media title around this time of year, I thought I’d compile a “best of 2012″ list out of my own pieces and while I’m at it identify some of the trends in my writing.
These were my five most popular articles, as measured by Facebook likes. Admittedly this is no exact science seeing as the popularity of a piece will be weighted by how much promotion the editor decided to give it and the readership numbers of the title.
1. China Has Hipsters, Too, The Atlantic (1,100 Facebook likes)
A look at the much maligned subculture in China, and the way it differs from its American counterparts. I suspect the word “hipster” is a traffic driver for all publications. And getting to write about hipsters AND China basically covered my two favourite things from this last decade.
2. Chinese ‘tweeters’ misunderstand PM’s apocalypse message, Daily Life (957 Facebook likes)
I break the story of our Prime Minister “Ji La De”, as Gillard is called in Chinese, going viral on the Chinese internet. Few realise her apocalypse video is a spoof as this kind of “larrikin” behaviour coming from the country’s most powerful leader is literally too strange to be believed.
3. The child and the pop star, Daily Life (928 Facebook likes)
I wasn’t the first English-language media to report on this, that honour goes to Tea Leaf Nation, but I was the first to cover it for a mainstream media title. After I wrote about it the story ricocheted across the internet, with sites like Perez Hilton, Gawker and Jezebel stripping away all my careful nuance, leaving nothing but the scandalous tale of a 24-year-old pop star and a girlfriend half his age.
4. Leaving Australia for good, Daily Life (571 Facebook likes)
My musings on leaving your home country for good. This piece was really different for me, a blend of interview with first person thoughts and some fairly descriptive passages. It was an experiment that I think resulted in a piece that is far from perfect, but seemed to strike a chord with a lot of friends and readers.
5. How much is a man’s virginity worth?, Daily Life (265 Facebook likes)
The tragic tale of a young Russian migrant living in Sydney with crippling social anxiety. In desperation he participates in a reality film where his virginity would be auctioned off to the highest bid.
The best performing pieces tended to be breaking stories with quirky details. And just narrowly missing the top five was my slideshow gallery on “Candy stores around the world”. An editor once told me photos of chocolate, sweets and cakes are huge traffic drivers. They’re the “boobs” of lifestyle media.
Getting more nerdy on you now, I completed 37 pieces over the last 52 weeks, which puts it at one piece every 1.4 weeks. Discounting the slideshows and a 1600 word outlier, all my pieces had between 800-1200 words. My hope is that next year I can write longer and thus probably fewer pieces. Also less news analysis and op-eds and more long form feature writing, personal essays and literary non-fiction.
I wrote for 11 different titles, two were print, the rest online.
I was paid for 20 pieces, four were unpaid, and 13 were part of my day job and therefore not included in the graph below. For the paid pieces my rate ranged between 15c – $1/word. Altogether I earned $7,750 (US$8,000). Definitely not enough to live on!
Anecdotally I can tell you that the two pieces that led to the most number of Twitter follows were ‘How dating is different in China‘ and ‘Leaving Australia for good‘. Both are first person pieces (although the first came out of an interview I conducted).
But mining one’s life and using the first person is a dangerous thing for writers. You risk losing the respect of your peers (particularly the hard nosed journos) and even editors. And as we can see it doesn’t even guarantee popularity – four of my top five pieces were written in the third person. It’s a powerful tool to be used with moderation (I dub it “strategic pantie flashing”) and only when it serves the subject matter. I think most pieces really don’t require the author to insert themselves in the picture, because the world is far more interesting than they are.
Here’s a breakdown of my pieces by subject matter, and by country. Note, not all pieces were country specific, and most pieces had more than one subject matter:
I’m so fascinated by the idea of the quantified self I once wrote a short story about it. I sense one can learn so much by identifying the patterns that lie in your day to day acts, if only one had the time and patience to enter in the data (or felt comfortable with the idea of tools that tracked and measured automatically).
Undoubtedly my background as a web producer – where we are trained to analyse traffic stats with a rather terrifying amount of detail and work under the mantra “everything can be measured” – has contributed to my fascination.
Of course one has to take all this number crunching with a grain of salt. And it’s important to keep throwing in a few wildcards and taking risks. Perpetually writing by numbers would be pretty boring!
And because I’m just that kind of person, I turned this data into an infographic: