Reader Request Week 2013 #5: How to Be a Good Fan
Jessica Schwab asks:
I’d like to know your thoughts on how to be a good fan. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately; how do you manage your social networks to be a connection to your fans, without getting bogged down by it? As a fan, I’m ultimately a consumer of your stuff, but is the relationship (from your perspective) more than that?
I don’t believe that the “fan” relationship is the same as the “consumer” relationship, at least when we are using “consumer” in the common sense of “person who purchases a thing.” One can be a fan of things that are not strictly consumable — I am for example, a fan of the month of October, because it’s (usually) autumn-y without being too damn cold, plus Halloween’s at the end of it, and I’m a fan of that, too. I don’t consume October in any useful sense (or Halloween, either, although I consume a lot of candy because of it), but I experience them.
I think that’s the critical action when it comes to being a fan — the experience. People are not fans because they are consumers, otherwise I’d be a huge fan of Comet cleanser and Glad trashbags and One a Day multivitamins, all of which I regularly purchase but don’t genuinely care about one way or another. If I couldn’t get Comet and had to settle for Bon Ami, or if Krissy came home with Centrum rather than One a Day, I wouldn’t much care. People will actively consume things, however, if the experience of them is something they enjoy, and that is a preferential relationship. If I am a fan of Coke Zero (and I am) because I like the way it tastes, then Diet Pepsi is not an equivalent experience. If I am a fan of Quentin Tarantino because I like the way he writes dialogue, then a Michael Bay film is not an equivalent experience. If I am a fan of Half-Life because of the story craft, then Duke Nukem is not an equivalent experience. And so on.
I have fans who are not “consumers” — the people who only read the blog, for example, for which they don’t pay, or who pick up the books in the library, or who (gasp) have acquired the work through non-legal means. Doesn’t mean they are not fans; they enjoy the Scalzi experience, as it were. My mortgage would still like them to actually buy one of the books at some point, of course. And perhaps they will, because they’re fans. So, yes, there’s something different about being fan than being a consumer.
So how can one be a “good fan?” You know, aside from strictly behavioral things, which simply boil down to “try not to be creepy to the creator or others regarding your love of the creator and/or what they do,” I don’t know that it’s actually something a fan should be concerned with. Or maybe it’s not something I am concerned with, as a fan.
For example, I am a fan of China Mieville’s writing (I like China too; we’re friends. But never mind that for the moment). How can I be a “good fan” to him? Would that be by purchasing everything he puts out? If so, I’ve failed; I have many of his books — and do make a point of purchasing them, because China has to eat too — but there’s a couple of his books I haven’t gotten around to (Un Lun Dun; his story collection). While it’s possible I’ll pick them up at some point, they’re not high priorities.
Would it be by loving every single thing he’s written? Well, I can’t do that, either. I don’t love The Scar, for example. Can’t explain why, because it’s well-written and has things in it that I loved when they were in Perdido Street Station. But in the end it just doesn’t move me much. So it goes. I’m not going to try to pretend to love The Scar just because I’m a fan; that seems silly. The fact is that there’s not a single creative person (or group) I’m a fan of whose output doesn’t include a clunker or two for me. Why? Because they’re human and don’t live in my brain and their creative output doesn’t always line up with my desired creative consumption. That’s life.
Would it be by taking to the Internet and attacking people who dare to criticize his work (or him?). Yeah, no, I’m not going to do that, either. One, I’m forty three, not twelve. Two, who has the time? Three, when it comes to creative stuff, everyone’s entitled to share their experience of it, even if that experience is negative. If I see someone actively lying about China as a human being, I might comment, since I don’t really like it when people slag friends and lie about them. But then, China is actually a friend and that matters. If someone derped out over, say, Daniel Lanois, who I am a fan of but don’t know at all, I’m not seeing why I need to do anything. The Internet is full of people being jackasses about someone else, often famous. You can’t spend your life trying to solve the Internet this way.
As a fan, I can’t think of anything I need to do to be a “good” fan for China (or whomever). The closest thing I can think of is that because I am a fan of China Mieville’s work, he has credit with me — which is to say that I am more likely to automatically pick up the next thing he publishes because of his previous track record with me. And even then, this line of credit is not inexhaustible — I have writers (and musicians, and filmmakers) who have dropped off my “automatic buy” list after too many works that just didn’t do it for me.
Point is, as a fan, I don’t owe China (or whomever) anything. I buy his stuff, I can (and do) recommend it to others, and I’m happy to talk about how and why I enjoy his work. And I suppose that is being a good fan to some extent. But I wouldn’t worry about not being a good fan if I didn’t do it, and China — or anyone else, including me — has no right to expect that sort of thing from fans.
At the very least, I don’t expect it from fans. I think it would be nice if you bought everything I wrote, but I’m not going to judge you if you don’t. I’m happy if you like all my stuff, but I assume at some point there’s going to be something of mine that just doesn’t work. If you want to counter someone being mean to me or my work online, be my guest, but I neither expect it of you nor do I generally need to be defended; I’m a grown-up and can generally handle these things myself.
Basically, if you say you’re a fan of me or my work, great, thank you, and I totally believe you. I’m not going to require you to jump through hoops to prove it.
As for how I handle the fan/creator relationship, well, uh, hi. This is it. I like being responsive to fans, generally speaking, and I’m also someone who doesn’t mind interaction and attention, so for me maintaining the back and forth is not (usually) onerous. I do prioritize; for example, Whatever and Twitter get most of my attention in terms of output and personality, while my public Facebook page and my Google Plus profile are mostly outposts for updates. This is because I have to get work done and otherwise have a life. And when it becomes a little much, or I need a break, I take it; you’ll note the occasional “I’m not here” posts and such.
For me, the key to it on my end is remembering that “fans” are actual human beings and not CONSUMER UNITS TO CONSUME ALL MY PRODUCT AND DO MY BIDDING. Which is not actually that difficult to remember, because, you know, duh. This means that I recognize, just as when I’m a fan, that not everyone is going to like everything I do careerwise (visit the Human Division serial feedback thread and you’ll see some of this in action — and note, please, that I invited both positive and negative comment there), or every story or book, nor that they exist only to drink in my wonderful wonderfulness. Frankly, that would be a little weird. I much prefer fans who have full and complete lives outside whatever I’m doing.
If you assume that your fans are fully functional, generally emotionally mature and productive human beings, then dealing with them is pretty simple: I deal with them like any other human beings, who also just happen to like at least some of what I do. Which is great for me, especially on Whatever, because I’m not always a happy perky shiny person here. Sometimes I’m cranky. Welcome to me! Here I am. When I’m at a convention or on tour I am more in a “Performing Monkey” mode, but even then I’ve found treating fans like people who you would be generally happy to know is pretty much the way to go. Because, I find, generally speaking, that’s precisely what they are.
(It’s not too late to get in a topic for Reader Request Week: Go here for the details and to leave your request!)