NoSleep averages around 100 original posts per day. During that 24-hour period, 1-4 stories will jockey for the top spot on the feed, which provides anywhere from about 1k reads to 5k reads any given week. Occasionally, a post will catch fire and climb to 10k-15k+ reads over the following hours and days. The top post of all time on NoSleep accumulated 43.6k upvotes (Reddit’s method for measuring engagement) before it was locked in after six months.
The potential to have tens of thousands of readers interacting with your story will cause a lot of typewriters to start salivating ink, but keep in mind that the vast majority of stories posted to NoSleep don’t get traction. If 1-4 per day compete for the top spot, maybe 15 or 20 will rotate through the top 10, each getting somewhere from 50 to 500 upvotes. The remaining 80 or so stories usually won’t break into triple digits. So how can you make your submission stand out in the crowd? The first step is a vivid title.
You may be tempted to take extreme measures with your titles: all caps, no caps, writing the words backward, puns, promises, poetry, paragraphs, or wingdings. Know that all of those methods are on the table but if used indiscriminately, all you’re going to end up with is noise that readers will avoid. Clickbait, i.e. titles that provide a short summary of the story plus a hook, are extremely popular on NoSleep. Thematically, it makes sense; the subreddit is an online campfire for swapping scary stories, only with screens and hyperlinks instead of...bears.
If you were telling a friend a ghost story, you’d probably lead in with something along the lines of, “When I was the night security guard at a haunted muffin factory, I found a list of freaky rules.” Clickbait also incentives a reader to, well, click the story to find out what happens. I understand why the style is popular on NoSleep, but I don’t believe it’s at all necessary.
Looking back at some of the top stories of the past, a few trends leap out. The majority aren’t pure clickbait, which I’d categorize as two more sentences containing a set-up (I’m a semi-pro waffle whisperer with a heart of gold and nothing left to lose
), and a pay-off ending in a hook (You won’t believe the dark future my breakfast warned me of this morning)
. There’s an eclectic mix of traditional lit titles, usually containing a few words, with a hybrid style between lit and click. Those titles often contain a single sentence posing a question or other subtle catch. The stories have a soft gravity, pulling in your attention without force or demands. Some of my favorites:
- Have you heard of the Left/Right game?
- A shattered life
- If you’re armed at the Glenmont metro, please shoot me
- I knew a woman who never took off her wedding dress
Even the popular titles that use multiple sentences tend to exercise restraint.
- All of the women in my family die at age 27. I turn 28 in 2 hours and 32 minutes.
- My girlfriend talks in her sleep. She's been saying the most horrible things recently…
- The previous tenant of my new flat left a survival guide. I’m not sure I want to live here anymore.
There is no formula for perfect titles that will always catch readers but try to create something that feels like it fits the story. Add some mystery, don’t be afraid to experiment. If all else fails, screw it, ALL CAPS TITLE. My favorite title of 2020 was simply titled:FUCK ME,
by Max Voynich.