There are three very simple steps to becoming a successful writer online. (It helps to have a well-shared platform, but it can be done even with a small publication or a blog. You never know what's going to take off.)
If you would like to be a successful writer on the internet, follow these instructions on repeat for the rest of your life:
1) Write things people hate.
2) Don't care that people hate them.
3) Write more things people hate.
So, as simple as these steps are, they need a bit of explanation, a bit of context, a bit of background.
When I started out writing, I wanted to write things people loved. That's how it used to be done. That's how you used to define "successful." Winning prizes for beloved, well-thought-out, important pieces that spread messages and information the public really needed or wanted to hear. Expanding horizons. Educating those who did not have the time or resources to do the research themselves, but wanted to go about their day informed and aware of certain issues.
It's a lofty and great goal.
It fails on the internet.
Of all my pieces, the ones I put the most hours in on--the investigative, the scientific, the health stories that I spent my sweat and tears on--they remain the pieces I am personally most proud of. But they languished in relative obscurity. I'd get a few thousand shares, and maybe 20 supportive comments. End scene.
The only reason I still write them at all is because they remain my personal reason for writing. And don't make the mistake of thinking success on the internet is why many writers write. Not true. It's just a necessary evil to keep yourself relevant as the wheels of internet debate continue to spin.
The pieces that propel an internet writer's career (and help it get into print) are the pieces everyone hates. They're provocative. They spin facts and figures to support an opinion that's controversial. They often exist just to attack something a set group loves illogically. (That group, for me, changes with each piece. Usually I'm pissing off conservatives, but I've made exceptions for Bernie Sanders supporters and liberals in general on occasion. I've pissed off people who like a certain show, people who like a certain brand, people who like boys to be boys and girls to be girls, transphobes, homophobes, classists, racists, and more. The point is, I'm always pissing someone off.)
Those pieces are usually shorter. They don't delve into the particulars of the situation as they should to be legitimate journalism. They ignore certain arguments to concentrate on one probably off-to-the-side point. They make strong assertions that would be seen by supporters as well-conceived, but lack the evidence to back those assertions up (usually not because there is no evidence but because that evidence is not needed to further the end-goal, which is clicks and shares so editors and publications continue to acknowledge you as a force on the internet). They're fun to write, and not difficult to write. They're fairly quick. A dash of oil on a fire already burning.
I wrote a piece about the Gilmore Girls two days ago, for instance, enraging fans everywhere. 11,000 shares so far. I wrote a piece on the Ferguson Riots, enraging conservatives everywhere, 40,000 shares. Meanwhile, my piece on groundbreaking stem cell research garnered 387 shares. My piece on human trafficking within door-to-door magazine sales groups got maybe 1,500 shares.
Write things people hate.
Okay, on to the second step. Rejection, either by editors or readers has never bothered me at all. In order to really excel at this business, you have to not care what people think about you. Remember, you're the one who keeps getting published. There's got to be something to that.
I've been asked how I manage to brush off the hatred, anger and malice tossed my way every single time I'm published, and here's what I've come up with. It can be a combination of any or all of these things for each piece that goes up.
Here is my fool-proof way to not give any fucks about what people think about your writing:
1) Don't care about the topic about which you are writing.
2) Care about what you are writing so much that you automatically assume haters lack reading comprehension or common sense.
3) Think that nothing you do is important, therefore comments from strangers on things you do must be absolutely miniscule.
4) Firmly believe that no one looks at bylines but you, and that a commenter who tells you to kill yourself over a piece about network television is probably the same commenter high-fiving you over a piece you wrote about Target.
5) Be used to people thinking you are worthless, and take pleasure in proving them wrong by being more successful, ambitious, tenacious or awesome than them.
Using these five methods, you should have the mental strength to pump out a piece that's been hate-shared 50,000 times along with comments like FIRE THIS WRITER, or GO PLAY IN TRAFFIC YOU DUMB CUNT, brush it off, and pump out a piece the next day that will anger an entire other population of people.
Do I wish this wasn't the case? Absolutely. I want to write enlightening, well-researched, bullet-proof tomes on important social issues of our times.
But that's not going to cut it. Not on the internet.
Good luck, soldier. We're in this together.