There can be little about this site more disappointing than writing a Diary, putting your heart and soul into a piece you are proud of, then watching as it plummets down the Recent Diary List and scroll off the page with nary a passing glance from the thousands of readers who might have recommended it, but didn't.
This is even more galling when you look at the Recommended Diary List and wonder how the heck a steaming pile of poo is occupying one of the slots, when your Diary, a work worthy of Hemingway, or Dr Zeus, apparently rose without trace.
There are a number of factors that contribute to a successful Diary and they might not be obvious to a newcomer, or even a Diarist who has been here a while but has only recently plucked up the courage to write, then hit "Publish"
What I'd like to do is explore a few of those factors, in the hope that your next Diary enjoys the wider audience that it clearly deserves. I warn you now, luck plays a role, but you can increase your good fortune.
People write for a variety of different motives. Some do it for personal gain, others simply to educate and inform. For some, writing can be a cathartic experience, and those writers are the rare group who probably care little about widespread readership; they write for themselves and not, primarily, for others.
Few writers on Daily Kos or any other political site are paid for their efforts, and some of them are taking money under false pretenses, a view I do not extend to writers here.
For the rest of us, it is a labor of love, and we would quite like the readers to share the love with us. It is disheartening to put in all that effort for it then to be ignored. For a good working example of this I am more than happy to share my own experience. Taking what you need from the experiences of others might help your learning curve become shorter and less steep. There are some matters to do with the site structure that I will cover later.
I wrote and published thirty two (count 'em) Diaries before I managed to find a few words good enough, or lucky enough to earn a "Recommended" tag. I was beginning to wonder if I was capable of ever writing anything that would resonate with this audience. Tough crowd, and then some. I was despairing of ever being noticed. I sat down one day, wrote a personal story and wrote it as I felt it, with feeling. It went to the stratosphere and remains to this day, one of my better efforts.
The thing that kept me going through the wasteland of words was that the Rescue Rangers selected my third Diary. It didn't help it gain much notice because the system was different then, but it helped me and filled me with a gratitude that has never left me. Those guys were the arbiters of good writing, and if they picked me surely others would eventually. Well they did, and others have, but I have never forgotten, and I never, to this day, hit Publish with any expectation other than that I did my best. If others like what I say, they will let me know.
But Building an Audience is about much more than prolific writing. This is not a newspaper, where feedback might reach your desk, but it will be days later and old news. This place is a community. People form relationships, views of each other and they respond like any other community. That is, if you put in the effort, you will be noticed.
So the first thing you might consider is simply joining in. Read the Diaries of others and make comments, because they too enjoy the feedback. Click that little "Follow" button if you like what you read, because that will put those folk right into your "Stream", and they will probably notice that you followed them ... maybe :) Either way, if you join in then you become a familiar part of the landscape which increases dramatically the chances of others reading your Diaries when they see them in the list. From there it is up to you.
If you are unsure of where to get started, because even commenting can be a daunting prospect when you first arrive ... I know this ... then go seek out Community Diaries, and Open Threads. These Diaries are regular features. Top Comments publishes at 10.00 pm Eastern, and would be a good choice. They are invariably well-written and usually on fascinating, often non-political topics that I have learned much from. I mention that one, but there are dozens of others and many are not so well trafficked, they would enjoy your company. When you comment and read, tip and recommend freely. Even the Diaries that you don't think should be on the Rec List are worth your personal recommend, if you enjoyed the content, or appreciated the effort. The Rec List decision is not really a personal one. Your Recommend is just one, it takes other folk pressing the button for reasons of their own to send a Diary up instead of down.
People will notice when you tip their comments, or reply to them in a positive manner. More than that, all the other readers not directly involved will notice too. All of this contributes to your profile, and name awareness on the site. The more folk enjoy their interactions with you, the more likely they will seek out your name, or at least be pleased to see it on the Recent Diary List. Then, as before, it's down to you, but if your Diary is interesting, and they already like the Diarist, they will tip and recommend your Diaries.
If I can draw an analogy, and I think that I can, then imagine your first day at a new school or college. You knew no one, but more crucially, no one knew you. Slowly you developed a small group of friends, and a much larger group of acquaintances. Sometimes even the teacher remembered your first name. You had gone from a stranger to a known quantity, and Daily Kos is not so far removed. The audience does not come to you, you go to them, and your new-found small audience is the engine that drives the larger one.
Keep your interactions light at first. Don't get "snippy", and don't ever make stuff up. There are people on this site who are so smart, and so knowledgeable that they scare the crap out of me, even after eight years. The bullshit meter is always set to maximum sensitivity, and they will not tolerate fools. There are others who are very high profile, and are decidedly not good community members. For those new to the site, sorting this out can be intimidating, but if you stick to what you know, add to the debate positively and try not to become embroiled in the pie-fights, then your journey should be a trouble free affair. If you are always honest, and tell the truth as you understand it, then you will never have to wonder what might later trip you up, because it can't.
That is an awful lot of "Don't dos". I have to tell you that my experience here has been almost wholly positive. Rarely do I find much disagreement, and when it does happen
the other person is wrong the conversation is almost always cordial. Respect those with whom you disagree, and they will return the favour. If they do not, then all those reading the comments will form a view, and that view will be favourable to you.
There are a number of things I have learned that have stood me well.
It is quite understandable that the Rec List is the ambition of a new writer. Getting your Diary on that list can be both a validation, and increase your audience exponentially. There is a caveat. The Rec List is not, and never has been, an arbiter of taste or good writing. If your Diary doesn't make it, beware of drawing too many conclusions from that. The Rec List is anarchic, often a place to find some of the best writing, on the most important subjects, and equally likely to contain some of the worst writing on subjects that are of interest only to those who enjoy being contrary. It's a mixed bag.
If you want to aim high, then you need to literally aim higher than the Rec List. Above it is another list. Those Diaries are carefully selected for the quality of the writing. If you write it, those guys will find it. If they find and promote you regularly, then you have an excellent indication that you are doing something very right.
I have carefully stayed away from any suggestions of how to write a Diary. That is a big subject, and everyone's style is different even if there are some rules and techniques that can increase the visibility, and response to a piece. Diary writing is a craft, and one that develops over a period of time.
One thing I can say from the heart is that timing and luck play a role too, and you can't a=odds that. There will be times, and as an experienced writer you will know when it happens, that you write something you are rightly proud of, and it will fall flat on its face. This happens, and it happens quite a lot. Roll with it because there will be another day, and another Diary. It won't happen to them all. I could probably point you to a dozen of mine that I felt worthy of a better audience, and they just didn't get one. Fortunately, the new structure of the Community Spotlight helped in that regard. I could equally point to another dozen that stayed on the Rec List for hours, when they were never expected to, they are not that good, and they simply were lucky with either the timing or managed to pull in a few quick recommends, and gained traction from there. Roll with that too.
Then there will be the day when you dash off something born of frustration, in ten minutes with little thought or planning, and it does this. (Do not click that link unless you have a fast internet connection)
It's all fun. The ups and downs, the community spirit and the sharing of thoughts, feelings and information.
Put in the effort, and they will come.