Social media is changing the way we connect with others and the way we think about ourselves. It’s also created a whole new way to find your “15 minutes of fame.” Viral social media posts can travel the globe in seconds, putting news — or a joke, or an embarrassing moment — in front of the eyes of millions of people. Tons of books and articles advise readers on how to go viral. But what about what happens after you go viral? These books about going viral, both fiction and nonfiction, show a broader picture of how quickly your life can change after a popular post.
Some of these books are memoirs sharing what happened to the real stars of viral posts after their unexpected fame. Others are fictional stories about characters whose lives were changed by a clickbait-worthy post — or characters who change their lives in pursuit of viral stardom. Whatever the journey, each of these books contain perspectives on both the good and the bad of success on social media. We all know that having an online audience comes with some extreme drawbacks. But given the chance, would these viral stars take back their 15 minutes of fame? Well, you’ll have to read the books to find out.
Memoirs/Nonfiction Books About Going Viral
Unfollow Me: Essays on Complicity by Jill Louise Busby
After years of working on nonprofit diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, Jill Louise Busby posted a one-minute video on Instagram about whiteness and faux liberalism. It gave her, or at least her online persona @Jillisblack, a bit of internet fame. But after years of running the @Jillisblack account, Busby started to wonder about the performative nature of social media and the complicated dynamics at play in online discussions. In this essay collection, Busby takes a hard, critical, honest look at what she learned about progressive communities, modern racism, and herself as an internet sensation. The result is thought-provoking and unique. Although it doesn’t provide any clear answers or easy lessons, it’s a crucial part of the conversation on online activism.
Well, That Escalated Quickly: Memoirs and Mistakes of an Accidental Activist by Franchesca Ramsey
Franchesca Ramsey is a comedian, writer, actress, and activist who seems to be all over the place. But it all started with a viral video called “Shit White Girls Say…To Black Girls.” In this memoir, Ramsey shares just how much her life changed when she started getting online attention. She became a sought-after voice on race, intersectional feminism, and pop culture overnight, and she had a steep learning curve. Beyond telling her story, Ramsey also shares tips on social media, from how to deal with trolls to tips for actually moving the dialogue forward through online confrontations. It’s sure to make you laugh and think about how to use your platform for good.
Better Living Through Birding: Notes from a Black Man in the Natural World by Christian Cooper
Christian Cooper was far from a public figure, instead spending his days quietly birdwatching in Central Park and working as a writer. Then he was verbally attacked by a white woman in a video that went massively viral. In this memoir, Cooper talks a little bit about that video and its place in his life and in our greater cultural conversation. Beyond that viral moment, Cooper is a very talented writer with a fascinating story that would have made for a great memoir without his unexpected fame. Cooper shares his travels and love of nature, tales of his time writing for Marvel, his experiences growing up in a family full of activists and sci-fi nerds, and so much more. And through it all, of course, he ties everything back to birds. In addition to his cautionary tale on social media, Cooper does a fantastic job of showing what birds can teach us about ourselves and the world around us.
You Could Make This Place Beautiful: A Memoir by Maggie Smith
Maggie Smith had been writing poetry for years without much recognition when suddenly in 2016, one of her poems, “Good Bones,” went viral on social media. It changed her career — and it shifted the power dynamics in her marriage. You Could Make This Place Beautiful is a memoir-in-vignettes of Smith’s marriage falling apart. She talks about how the spotlight on “Good Bones” made her see her own poetry differently, how it advanced her writing career, and how it made her recognize just how much her husband belittled her work. It’s a deeply personal and nuanced story of what happened, professionally and personally, after viral fame.
Fiction Books About Going Viral
Homebodies by Tembe Denton-Hurst
Mickey’s life was finally going according to plan, and her flashy media job was bringing her dreams of being an influential writer within reach. But then she got fired. Furious enough to reveal the anti-Black racism she’d faced in her job, she posted a searing open letter online…which no one read. It isn’t until Mickey returns to her hometown and considers giving up her dream that her letter finally ends up in the spotlight, tied to another social media scandal. Homebodies is a quiet, complex, vulnerable novel about the real people behind viral moments. Mickey is messy and deeply imperfect, and this novel takes place during what might be the lowest point of her life. By the end, we see how going viral offers Mickey different paths forward, either directly into the public eye or into obscurity.
The Society of Shame by Jane Roper
Kathleen’s life is thrown into chaos when her house catches on fire and she finds out her politician husband is having an affair with a younger staffer. But the real scandal that Kathleen can’t escape? A leaky tampon. When a photo of a menstrual stain on her pants goes viral, Kathleen becomes the center of a huge debate, with trolls mocking her on one side and feminists starting a #YesWeBleed movement on the other. It’s a wild ride through the messy world of social media, including the good, the bad, and the bloody. Written with a great sense of humor, The Society of Shame will make you laugh out loud and look at social media scandals from a whole new perspective.
The Subtweet by Vivek Shraya
Neela isn’t interested in social media fame; she wants to make original, groundbreaking music. Rukmini’s music career is driven by online fans. When Rukmini covers one of Neela’s songs, it’s far more popular than any of Rukmini’s other songs — so popular that people start to question who should really get the credit. Neela and Rukmini connect on Twitter, forging a friendship and creative partnership tinted with jealousy that pushes them both to consider authenticity and originality in art. Soon, their listeners and the rest of the world will be asking the same questions. It’s a fascinating story about online friendships and what happens when art and social media collide.
Dykette by Jenny Fran Davis
This satirical novel about modern lesbian culture isn’t so much about going viral as how the desire to go viral can warp your perspective on yourself and your relationship with the people around you. Sasha thirsts for social media fame, so much so that her partner Jesse has pushed her to take a break from being online. When Jesse and Sasha are invited to spend the holidays at a rich, older lesbian couple’s country home, they’ll also have to spend it with another couple, one of whom is an influencer Sasha deeply envies for her ability to turn her queer femme antics into high art. As the three couples’ relationships with each other become tangled and Jesse works with the influencer to craft a secretive viral art project, Sasha’s jealousy and ties to reality spiral out of control.
Your Plantation Prom Is Not Okay by Kelly McWilliams
In this YA novel, teenager Harriet and her historian father live and work in what was once a Louisiana plantation and is now one of the only museums dedicated to the history of enslaved peoples. Everything they’re trying to do and all the history they’re trying to recognize is threatened when a white mother and daughter buy the property next door, planning to turn it into a wedding venue. Harriet is determined to change their minds and stop the offensive Antebellum-themed celebrity wedding they’ve already confirmed for the space. But it becomes clear Harriet is in over her head when her school announces their plans to hold prom at the historical plantation next door. Determined to stop this romanticization of a violent history, Harriet takes to social media. Can she make her plea go viral — and even if she does, will it make a difference?
Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade
There’s going viral, and then there’s going viral in the great wide world of fan fiction. In this delightful romcom, April has been hiding her love of cosplay and fanfic for years. She decides to go public with her cosplay of Lavinia from the popular TV series Gods of the Gates, and she goes viral with a divided audience of people who either love or hate her plus-size take on the character. When Marcus, the star of Gods of the Gates and secretly a fanfic writer himself, spots April’s picture and sees the trolls she’s facing, he asks her out on a date. It turns out they’ve got a lot more in common than they thought: they’ve been reading each other’s fanfic for years.
We hope this list helped you add some exciting new books about going viral to your TBR! You might also enjoy: