(Thursday interviews will return next week, I promise!)
I’ve noticed something over the last year.
I have fans.
I don’t say this to brag — I certainly don’t know that I deserve to have fans and I know of many great writers who do. But the fact remains that a number of people over the last year have identified themselves to me (via e-mail or tweet or even in-person) as “fans.”
Not readers. Not my “audience.” Not… y’know, people who just follow the blog.
It bakes the noodle, it does. What the hell did I do to deserve fans? And just to be clear, I don’t use “fans” as a pejorative — I consider it a somewhat exalted (and certainly lucky) state to have your audience interact with you as more than just a passive audience and as an active and interested fanbase.
Readers help make a book. Fans help make a writer’s career.
So, this is not me looking down on fans but rather, looking up in wide-eyed weird-ass wonder.
Part of the reason this is crystallizing for me is this Guardian article yesterday.
The article, by Damien Walter, asserts that (from the article’s title): “Fandom matters: writers must respect their followers or pay with their careers.” It’s for many authors a rough and troubling assertion — in it is the suggestion that the book (or movie or comic or whatever) is not enough (and, taken to an illogical degree, may not even matter). I don’t know that I’m willing to say that a good book isn’t enough, nor would I put it all on the line to say that you need to have a fanbase or your work will be born into this world DOA.
You’ll also note that, to my shock and awe, I am name-checked in the article. (Thanks, Damien!) Specifically in regards to this blog right here and the success of the next Atlanta Burns book, Bait Dog.
What I will say is that, having fans really really helps. Because you have people who identify with you, who join with your… I dunno, your creative ecosystem, let’s call it. Again, these aren’t readers of a single book or viewers of a single television show. They’re folks who will follow you from project to project, regardless of what it is. I know that I’m a fan of certain creators (a quick-and-dirty list: Robin Hobb, David Fincher, Robert McCammon, Joe Lansdale, Christopher Moore, Jane Espenson) that whatever the hell they do, I’m there. I’m there with a big shit-eating grin and a tub of popcorn and a big wad of whatever money they want. I’m there because I love their work. I’m there because I dig them as creators, too — I think they’re interesting on a level beyond just the work they put out as auteurs.
You might say, “Well, what’s different now? This isn’t new.” And it’s not that the phenomenon is new — I’m sure Aeneas and Homer each had fanbase of which to speak (“I FUCKING LOVE SCYLLA AND CHARYBDIS DUDE”). But the opportunity to engage with audiences and earn fans (note that keyword: “earn”) is bigger, now. You can in fact earn those fans long before you have a proper “[insert commercial creative project here]” to release. You have Twitter. And blogs. And Kickstarter. And all kinds of as-yet-unforeseen grottos and cubbyholes online in which to earn those fans one at a time (and that’s how they come to you, I think, slowly, over time). That’s what’s different. Our connectedness makes finding an audience and interacting with them easier and weirder and harder all in equal measure.
And it does mean that there’s an increasing burden to be more than just an author or a filmmaker or a [insert your creative title of choice here]. It means that you may find advantage in doing more than just creating your work in darkness and delivering it out of shadow while remaining hidden. Audience are becoming increasingly interactive. It’s the author’s job — or at least one of the author’s potential jobs — to meet the audience in the playspace, in the sandbox, in the fucking Holodeck that is a growing fandom.
As to how you do that? Well. I suppose that’s a post for another time and I haven’t yet gotten my slippery mind tentacles around it. But I know it involves engagement, authenticity and diversity. And I know that at the heart of the thing it’s still about creating the best damn thing (book or movie or comic or game or animated GIF or pornstache or sentient nano-hive) you can create.
Oh, and just so we’re clear: you guys out there? Who read this blog? And my books? And my insane half-drunk Twitter feed? And who bring me dead chipmunks and chocolates?