| Mar 22, 2023

The 16-Second TikTok That Made This Author an ‘Overnight Sensation’

When Lloyd Devereux Richards’ daughter posted a brief clip about his debut novel, she proved why real moments go more viral than reel moments.

It’s not just the kids going viral on TikTok anymore. 

Lloyd Devereux Richards published his first novel, “Stone Maidens,” back in 2012 while working full-time as a corporate attorney and raising a family. Then he waited. And waited. But no major sales followed. Just happy to be published, Richards’ debut novel sat on the shelves for years. 

Then the 74-year-old’s daughter, Marguerite Richards, posted a 16-second TikTok of novelist captioned: “My dad spent 14 years writing a book, he worked full-time and his kids came first. But (he) made time for his book. He’s so happy even though sales aren’t great. I’d love for him to get some sales. He doesn’t even know what TikTok is.”

The TikTok went viral and Richards’ book started climbing the charts. In early February, “Stone Maidens,” the story of FBI agent Christine Prusik trying to hunt down a serial killer, hit No.1 in its genre on Amazon. 

The 40-year-old Marguerite described the video she created as a “micro-memoir” of her childhood memories. Her bespectacled father is filmed at his desk, dominated by an old monitor, peering down at what we assume is his manuscript. John Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy” plays in the background. 

Jeff Bezos once coined the phrase (or maybe he bought the rights to it): “It takes 10 years to be an overnight success.” Richards’ promotional opportunities weren’t too shabby in 2012, with Amazon’s distribution infrastructure, and social media channels readily available. But 10 years later, Reels, TikToks, and Shorts are often responsible for how things go viral today — and they make it look easy. 

Making a Moment 

Pets, family members, and ceremonial moments have been going viral long before TikTok, and have broad appeal across generations and platforms. Who can forget America’s Funniest Home Videos? (Actually, it’s still on and is the ABC’s longest-running primetime entertainment show.) These short clips featuring family moments are what makes us feel good, especially nowadays in a sea of content that is pretty sobering. Richards’ TikTok went viral because of the moment specifically. As the view count racked up, viewers in the comment section became a temporary community whose common connection was a sweet old man with an unsold novel. 

As people started buying the book, the original creator soon shared her father’s reaction with the audience, closing the circle and further cementing the budding relationship between the audience and the Richards family. 

It wasn’t just the proprietary algorithms responsible for the virality. As one reviewer said: “Like many of you, I saw the viral TikTok Lloyd’s daughter made. I love supporting those who pour themselves into their work, so I figured I’d give ‘Stone Maidens’ a shot.”

Another admitted: “I was initially drawn to this book through a viral TikTok video where the author’s daughter shared his years-long dedication to the story, which only further fueled my curiosity.”


From Real to Reels

These are testaments to the human values of curiosity and tenderness, but most of all people want to be a part of a moment with others. Now with the creative power at everyone’s fingertips, people are making the organic content that networks and social media apps have been trying to create for years. 

Whether you’ve seen them on Facebook or your iPhone, we’ve all been exposed to some form of robot-generated ‘memory reel’ that pulls from our photos over the years. But the music is weird and the photos are randomly assorted and out of context. Without a real soul in the editing booth, these attempts at recapping the precious moments in our lives are embarrassing at best. 

While social media companies try their hardest to leverage sentimentality, there’s something about these kitschy slideshows that lack the feeling of honest reminiscence. Yes, you may have taken the photos yourself, but the human element of storytelling is missing. 

Perhaps it’s the human touch in all phases of the production, from shooting to editing, that provides the authenticity we crave.  

Storytelling Versus Selling 

Marguerite Richards’ viral video is also a useful demonstration of how stories are much more effective than hard selling. “Rather than coming out and saying, like, ‘Oh, you should read my dad’s book if you like thrillers,’ and kind of making it a book-focused video, I think I put a human story first,” she said. “Just by his appearance, you can see what a kind person he is. And so I think that those combinations of things … is what drove people to connect with it.” 

Audiences need someone to empathize with, so the more background and exposition available, the better. Increasingly, it is being understood that it’s stories, not sales pitches, that really make something go viral — and we are making a collective push to humanize our content. 

Tech companies and social media apps still have a vested interest in keeping people’s eyeballs on the screen. In fact, that’s their only hope. Everything we create for our own entertainment or enjoyment will eventually be adapted and appropriated for their advertising uses. As we have seen with native spots and testimonials in the advertising world, expect more brands to try and produce these heartwarming viral moments, with their focus on making them feel more and more organic with each iteration. Call it organic, or call it native, but everyone pays attention when something goes viral.

Danny Avershal
Danny Avershal

Opinion Contributor, Strixus

Danny Avershal is a video producer and ghostwriter based in LA. He writes about entertainment, technology, and entrepreneurship. view profile


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