On The General Weirdness Of Having “Fans”

(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.

Fans.

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?

YOU RULE.

Thank you.

40 comments

  • Hey, Chuck. I’m new here in the comments section, but I’ve been reading your blog for awhile now. This post resonates with me in regards to my recent (and long-term, as well) thoughts on the whole celebrity culture thing. For the most part, it disgusts me. I get the marketing and branding shit, and I grok the fact that when you’re hot, the spotlight will find you. My question, to be brief, is this: If you are providing a product, and you have customers, do you need Fans? Does Stephen King care if I want to be his fanboy, or is he happy with me paying thirty dollars for his latest bit of backstory? (Yes, I just finished his latest). Sure, I would accept his invite to dinner, but I don’t hang out at his front gate (or kitchen window). I respect his right to privacy. So, in my roundabout way, I guess I am saying that fandom is generally courted, once a certain level of success is reached?
    Or not. For every Terrell Owens, there is a J.D. Salinger. Or somesuchshit.
    Keep the real rolling…

  • no, thank YOU. This is timely because the other night I turned to the wife and said: “It just occured to me that I’m a ‘True Fan’ of Wendig! I read all his blog posts, follow his twitter stream, participate in his kickstarter, buy anything he publishes…holy shit, I’m a TerribleMinds FanBoy!” to which she rolled her eyes. seriously tho, I’m a big ‘fan’ and love what you do, even if I am not actively posting comments. keep up the great work!
    (fucking loved Blackbirds, btw)

    • Thanks, @Ian! I appreciate that.

      And to @Dave — I don’t know that “fan” necessarily needs equating with “obsessive.” Meaning, I’ll read anything Joe Lansdale writes but it doesn’t mean I hide in his trash can, y’know? I think writers are (or should be) happy to have any level of engagement, whether that’s as a reader or a fan. I just think fans are the ones that help a writer have a real career instead of just a few books out on shelves, y’know? Stephen King exists because of his fans. People who see his name on a book or a comic or a movie and without asking what it’s about go and drop some cash.

      – c.

  • Um, I have only been sticking around — although admittedly not particularly actively in the comments section — because some time ago we were threatened with some form of weaponised disease if we didn’t play ball!

    Also, there was a cute baby involved which apparently needed us to be able to eat.

    I… I don’t know, I get confused easily. Where are we?

    *cough*

    But really, you’re awesome, Chuck! For me at least it is your very (very, very) unique ‘voice’ and presence in your writing. There doesn’t really seem to be anything or anyone else out there like it, and I love it!

  • Honestly, I had never heard of you. I didn’t know what “Blackbirds” was, I didn’t know you had other books out there, hell, I didn’t know a damned thing. Then I stumbled across your blog. After reading the current post at the time, I then went and read all of the previous ones posted. I liked the way you wrote them. You weren’t all highfalutin’ and preachy. You spoke in the words and explicatives I understood and used daily. And, the best part was, you made the idea of writing simple. That was gold! Not that the process is simple, I understand that. I understand that there is blood, sweat, and tears put into every project (completed or not). You are the first person to get through my thick skull the idea of “if you are going to write, write. Don’t talk about it!” You also touch on topics of interest like online publishing and the price of an ebook. These are both topics more people should be asking. You punched both topics in the face and waited on a response. I thought that was great!

    The first books that I purchased were the 250/500/500 and I am still reading them. Once done, “Blackbirds” is next. After reading the reviews and synopsis, I can’t wait to read it. I haven’t been this excited to read a book since the last (and next) Dresden book by Butcher (I tend to tear through them in about a day, maybe two).

    I guess what I am getting at is you seem genuine, real, and don’t apologize for your thoughts and ideas. A regular Malcolm Reynolds of authors. Keep up the good work!

    • @Shane:

      Welcome to the brood. HERE ARE YOUR CULT ROBES.

      Please drink the Flavor-Aid which will force you to run to Amazon and buy 70 copies of Blackbirds now for your own “church.” Which may just be a bunch of cats in your living room. That’s totally fine.

      (Seriously, though, thanks!)

      – c.

  • No. YOU rule. :) I still go back to “Confessions of a Freelance Penmonkey” for writing tips/advice/don’t-do-that-bad-dog…and for giggles. :)

    I don’t think there needs to be a whole blog on garnering fans, though (although you could do it). You summed it up very well with three words: engagement, authenticity and diversity. If you don’t engage your fanbase, they’ll stop caring, or not even get involved. See George R. R. Marting, or better yet Joss Whedon. They engage their fans pretty regularly, either via digital medium or face-to-face. And you have to be authentic. As history has shown, especially in the media realm, unauthentic interest is immediately identified and can destroy a career. People see that that person really doesn’t care, that it’s just a facade for money/fame. And finally diversity/creativity wraps it up. It’s not very good if you just recreate something already made, especially if it’s done poorly (see: live action Street Fighter movie). Diverse ideas give people something to think about, stimulates the noodle, introduces them to something new and exciting.

    Just my two cents. Earning fans is still something I’m trying to wrap my head around. You’ve seem to have the right recipe, though, Mr. Wendig. :)

  • I think one of the best things about “fandom” as it exists now is that it *is* so interactive. There’s this thing I feel where I get excited because the people who I am a fan of are, in general, encouraging and…I don’t know, available isn’t the right word, but it’s something in that neighborhood. They create, but they also want to see me (and other people) create, and it feeds this whole creation based system.

  • I love your voice and your “insane half-drunk Twitter feed” always crack me up. I absolutely agree with you about the “connectedness,” It makes interacting with people (fans) fun and fucking hard—especially when your own voice is cracking because you’re still going through literary puberty.

  • May 10, 2012 at 9:20 AM // Reply

    Hi Chuck. I read that guardian article and I’m not sure he’s right. Insofar as I think there is still the option of growing an audience by just writing fab books. I am a huge fan of an Australian author called Kerry Greenwood. She writes cosy mysteries FWIW. She has no Internet presence at all. She does book launches and interviews and is a darling, but she is not constantly out there. But she has legions of fans because they love her books. That can still happen.

    Here’s the difference, though. You, I found through your blogging. I love what you do here. It’s real and pithy and valuable and I think you rock for making it so. (also, for inventing the term ‘pen monkey’. Just sayin…)

    Because of that, I will support whatever you do, EVEN IF I’M NOT SURE I’LL LIKE IT. To feed bdub and keep you in uniporn ( and writing the blog) I contributed to the kickstarter, even though I don’t particularly like Atlanta Burns. (I’m sorry! I do like Miriam!)

    So, I guess my point is, fans work in mysterious ways, their wonders to perform. But either way, you have to write stuff first. Then, maybe they will come and you can feed each other.

    • @Imelda:

      UNIPORN SWEET UNIPORN

      Ahem.

      No, I think that’s it exactly — I don’t agree that writers NEED that level of connectedness, but I do believe that These Modern Times allow writers to reach audiences in ways that go beyond just a single individual creative iteration (book, movie, whatever).

      – c.

  • Maybe it’s all these years I’ve spent writing about business shit, but you say fans and I say return on investment.

    Chuck, what you have is the accrued interest earned on however many years of daily, or damn near daily, blogging. I mean I have a blog, have had for a few years now, and every so often I’ll go on a little binge, pump out posts on a quasi-regular basis, but then I’ll hit the wall and the blog will sit fallow for a week or more at a time.

    But you’ve filled this sucker up every damn day or near to it, and by and large have filled it up with stuff worth reading. Not only that, you maintained your focus on writing almost exclusively. Me, I’m likely to wander off into politics or taxes or who knows what.

    You became a channel. You became a reliable, steady stream of quality content focused in one area of interest. So you earned an audience. And, because you also have a perverse . . , eh, I mean profane . . eh, make that DISTINCTIVE voice, a portion of that audience went from liking the content to identifying strongly with its author. They became fans.

    That’s not an accident. It’s the predictable result of hard work done well on a regular basis and for a long time.

    So, all of you writer types out there who are thinking “yeah, fans, that’s what I need.” All you gotta do is start today and then keep it up every day for, I dunno, what has it been Chuck? Five years? More? Say its five. That’s 1825 days. Let’s say your not quite as prolific as Chuck, ’cause lots of his blog posts are seriously long, but let’s say you manage 500 or 600 words a day. That’s 1 million words, or thereabouts. That’s better than ten novels worth of words on top of your “real” writing. Oh, and they have to be good words, entertaining words, and about something some audience somewhere gives a shit about.

    Hell, this fan shit is easy.

    • Heh.

      I’ve actually had this blog for… over 10 years now, but I didn’t have metrics for it or anything until I switched to WP and started blogging somewhat religiously about three years ago. So, three years of solid bloggerel (blog + doggerel).

      But it has been a helluva lot of words.

      I think you could achieve similarly through, say, novels or comic scripts or some other “thing,” but point is, it takes a lot to build readers or fans or human investments or Soylent Green Walking Meat Buttons or whatever you call them. Slow and steady wins the race, or something like that.

      – c.

  • May 10, 2012 at 9:36 AM // Reply

    Hell yes, Dan! What you said!. If you write it, they will come! One way or t’other, it’s earned.

  • I keep saying you’re awesome Chuck, but it’s the fact that you still stay humble about it with REAL people that really seals the deal.
    I appreciate all the advice and all the laughs I’ve gained from your blog, and the unique and often twisted insight into your brain. Keep being you!
    Speaking to you on twitter makes me feel like I know you. Not in the hiding outside your window at night with a camera watching you sleep and hoping the guy chained in the basement doesn’t point me out… That’s not me. That’s someone else. Ignore the girl behind this post…
    What was I saying? You’re awesome. That’s what.
    Liz

  • This is funny. I just posted on geekdom and how people don’t want to admit their rabid enthusiasm about artistic works or artists for fear of seeming like nerds or sheep. But it is only human to be a fan, and to get obsessive and analytical about the details of one’s emotional response to a body of work or a character (and the artist him/herself can play the role of a “character” in a “story” just like Edward Cullen) is to have a lit-up, engaged, working, sparkling brain.

    Whether you gain fans who go apeshit over your first book or your public persona–which makes them want to buy your book–it’s all art, human engagement, and finding success. Marketing and fandom have a bad rap, but sometimes they are based in authenticity and quality. And that’s solid gold. Congrats, Chuck!

  • A fan, to my mind, is anyone who appreciates your work and will read every offering you create. My favorite authors ( I like Chris Moore, but I LOOOVE Terry Pratchett) I will read every book I can get my little hands on and if one of them is, for whatever reason, somewhat disappointing, I’ll hold on and read the next just in case it was a phase. It’s harder to alienate true fans and they’ll appreciate whatever weird, experimental thing you try to do. They might suggest, ‘well, this sucked and here’s why,’ but I think they’ll still read your work. People become fans because the work resonates with them. Makes them feel good, or shares insights they’ve never thought another person on the planet could identify with. Fans are generally likeminded, or if not, they are introduced to something new and inspiring.
    I have maybe not always been a ravenous fan, bit I have enjoyed it since I first heard you read. I knew you would be successful as a writer b/c you have always had strong opinions and a willingness to share them. Not necessarily in someone’s face, but in an unapologetic this-is-me sort of way. You have always been brave, always been the weaver of amazing tales. I miss hearing them, so I must satisfy myself w/ reading them. While I don’t always like your prominent blue streak, the rest of your vocab and manner of arranging it has long been something I’ve admired. If you have fans, you ought to recognize that you’ve earned them.

  • I don’t know what I love more… This article or you for writing about it! Kudos !!! I have quite a different fan base but those who follow my writing, make me want to do it better!

  • “I certainly don’t know that I deserve to have fans”

    Psh, what? Your fans are well-deserved. You write good fiction, you give great advice, you share your expertise with others and rarely ask for anything back. You’ve worked damn hard to get to this point, and it’s finally paying off. Good on ya Chuck.

  • So very true. All of it. The weirdness. The necessity. The bond between creator and audience is a strange and wonderful thing. One of the first things they teach you in communications classes in college is that communication isn’t one way. Someone has to send a message and another being has to receive that message for it to be communication. I guess what we do is kind of the same way. It doesn’t matter if you are sending out the squiggly mind vibes of your tentacled frontal lobe if no one else wants to interpret or enjoy them. Biggest reason I’ve kept writing: you die, the stories die. Get them out while you can so you can share them with others. Other thing I’ve learned: oddly enough there’s an audience for everything out there. Someone, somewhere will love what you do. Not everyone, certainly, but definitely someone.

  • Well, what can I possibly have to add to the wealth of truisms already trotted out in the posts above? I think Shane summed it up the best – probably because I too
    discovered the ‘glittery little glass pony’ (your words dude!) of awesomeness, that is the Church of Wendig, in much the same way he did.

    I’ll be honest with you. Up until earlier this year, I had never heard of you, Mr Wendig. That’s not trying to take anything away from the multiple literary and online accomplishments you already had sitting snugly under your belt, sir. No, I’m just kinda new to the whole online writing community thing full stop and it was only because of one of those chance, link-tastic-adventures-in-internet-wonderland that I came to find this place at all.

    You know how it is: you find yourself sat up till the wee small hours, eyes bloodshot and the smell of 15 year old Bowmore single malt threatening to ignite if you so much as think about sparking up another cigarette. You’ve been looking for something to help restore your faith in the creative process; something to make you feel like you’re not alone in this demented desire to nail tiny pieces of your soul to a blackboard and offer them up to the masses for inspection. So you go online.

    You find a blog, read some posts, like some, hate some and then click on one of the links to the blogs THEY like to read and so on and so forth until you find yourself in some weird, disjointed, dark corner of the internet, with no trail of breadcrumbs to help bring you back to where you started. And you panic, but then you stumble upon a link to Terrible Minds and suddenly everything makes sense.

    Like the blog-esque equivalent of Jack Nicholson in OFOTCN, there stands a lone beacon of sanity, speaking the truth, showing up the craziness for what it really is and trying to lead the rest of the lunatics out on one really fucking awesome trip that they’ll remember for the rest of the their lives. Seriously dude, that’s what it was like. I swear, there was a boat and an evil looking nurse and everything. (Naturally, we have to end that tenuous metaphor right there before the esteemed Uncle Chuck ends up being lobotomised by some kind of allegorical publishing overlord, only to be rescued/smothered/freed by the Indie-Indian and a pillow, but I’m sure you know what I mean. And if you don’t then I seriously need to think about approaching the keyboard only in moments of sobriety in future. Ahem..)

    Your words here stood out because they were real and honest and true. Not for you the predictably beige, politically correct blog posts that in their attempt to offend no-one, end up saying nothing of value at all. No sirree bob. Nor was there any of the sanctimonious, trite, repetitive bullshit you find in any number of hastily cut ‘n paste how-to-write ebooks available for 99c on Amazon. No, this was the raw, bleeding, gutted entrails of a pen-monkey, gouged out and smeared on the wall for all to see, smell, touch, taste and treasure.

    Your words here online made me want to read everything you’ve ever writte, so I promptly snapped up all the 250/500/pen-monkey tomes I could find – and subsequently pissed myself laughing on the bus into work the next day as I stupidly read them in the presence of mere muggles who just wouldn’t understand….

    Yeah, I know, I’m rambling, but there is a point to this meandering diatribe – honest. You see, discovering your published works AFTER having come here and got to know your online presence, is kind of ass-backwards in comparison to how the whole ‘fan’ thing used to work. It used to be that you went to a bookshop or a library and bought a book, either because you liked the cover, were sold on the blurb or had been given a recommendation by a friend or a literary review. If you liked the book, you then went on to read more by that author before maybe learning a little about your latest obsession, bit by bit in press releases or interviews or the occasional online feature.

    Now though,the whole book publishing industry is in a bit of a tail-spin what with the ebook revolution, indie publishing, the end of the Net Book Price Agreement etc. Those of us who want to see our name in print have all manner of new options available to us, but now also have a whole new labyrinth of protocol and procedure to navigate if we ever want to get that esteemed prize they call a ‘fanbase’. (And no don’t worry, I’m not about to get into the whole ‘why it is that we even pick up a goddamn pen and write in the first place’ thing!)

    Reading your blog/books have not only given me the almighty kick up the arse I needed to strip away the other bullshit and ‘just write’; they have also provided an essential insight on just how much work needs to go into establishing oneself as a tangible, identifiable online presence in a world where every other blogger is a writer – and every other book goes unread. You have shown that it takes a real talent for writing (foremost) as well as an engaging personality, relentless hard graft, constant interaction, integrity, bravery, shameless self-promotion, the ability to come up with new and interesting ideas and content every day, along with a wicked sense of humour and massive dose of humility, if you want to succeed.

    You’ve shown each and every one of us here, just how much hard work/effort/dedication it takes get to where you are today. Gone are the days when an author could just secrete himself away in an attic, submit to an agent and hope for a publisher to take it onboard. Gone are the days of massive advances and a marketing strategy completely taken care of by the nameless faces behind the scenes. This here is the real deal: the new, scary, path-less-trodden that today’s multifaceted wannabe authors will have to take. And we have you to thank for the educating us.

    I really didn’t want this to turn into a hideous simpering fanatical diatribe of tripe that you would roll your eyes at in disgust – really I didn’t. But this particular topic today has given us all the opportunity to tell you how much we appreciate all the words of wisdom we’ve come to demand of you on a bidiurnal basis. I’m sorry for clogging up your comments board with my sycophancy. It won’t happen again. Honest. But for now, I just want to say that I, bad_girl_bex am very much a ‘fan’ of you Sir Wendig and I love that I got to discover a new author I love, in this new-fangled, ass-backwards way on the world-wide-web!

    Here’s to doing things differently, and succeeding!

    Bad Girl Bex
    (who actually yelped out loud on the day she got a reply from Uncle Chuck on Twitter, much to the amusement of her long-suffering other half!)

  • As a “fan” who finished “Blackbirds” and is looking forward to “Mockingbird” , I noticed a writer’s tic in “Blackbirds”…the word “greasy”.
    FWIW
    (BTW, should we refer to Miriam as your Katniss Neverclean?)

  • Well I guess this is the perfect opening for me to admit that the dead squirrel was from me. Or rather, my pet cheetah. He’s a big fan.
    Out of all the reasons why I love your books and like your style, your graciousness to “fans” is what makes me loyal to your work. You really deserve fans, Chuck.

  • Can I have those cult robes please?
    Just found your blog few days ago so I dunno if that already counts for a cult robe. But! I read Irregular Creatures and dragged my sister to read it so I guess that should earn me a point ;)
    //signs to the fanbase

  • I was a King fan even before there were King fans. I would patiently wait for the next “Cavalier” men’s magazine (70s sleaze fest. Porn pre-internet) for the mere possibilty of one of King’s shorts. This tends to make me think that fans don’t necessarily legitimize an artist, but are merely the “effect” in cause and effect.

  • This post made me get Blackbirds immediately. I appreciate its thoughtfulness. I look forward to being moved to send you a dead chipmunk.

    I confess some discomfort with the word ‘fan’. It conjures images of screaming Bieber fans or scary stalkers. I do think of myself more as a ‘reader’, but I DO follow my favorite writers’ projects, follow a few blogs, follow a few on twitter, even told a few how much I loved their work. I do so because the first book I read of theirs blew me away and trust the next will be just as good, even better. Even if it’s not, I still trust they can blow me away again.

    It seems you have fans because you’ve earned it in any of the many ways you can earn a following. With this post, it doesn’t surprise me a bit. I’m eager to join the ranks, in a non-Bieber, non-stalker way.

    Thank you for providing a counterpoint for the negative image of what a ‘fan’ is sometimes. I agree that a good book CAN be enough and that a fanbase is not a guarantee. But having a good book and a fanbase means you’re covered on all fronts.

  • Now I can’t imagine why there aren’t more Homeric fansites where people argue vehemently about whether or not the Scylla and Charybdis marked the point in his career where he jumped the shark. Or “rode the fridge” or whatever idiom kids are using these days.

    But until that day happens, thanks for all the words, sir. Cheers.

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