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!)

42 Comments on “Reader Request Week 2013 #5: How to Be a Good Fan”

  1. Performing Monkey Mode is the name of next band. (Is that a meme by now?)

    I often wonder how much social networks have changed the fan – object of their devotion relationship. In the old days, you could send off a letter and hope to get a reply or possibly meet at a convention. Now there are more chances to connect and I get the sense that fans may expect more interaction from the people about whom they’re fannish.

  2. Jack Lint:

    Possibly, although I don’t think they should default to that. Some writers — including some excellent ones — don’t have the interest and/or energy to do the social media thing. I think that’s fine and shouldn’t be penalized for it by fans.

  3. I’m also a big fan of Chinas. Really like the comic he’s doing for DC, Dial H For Hero, lots of fun. Have you read it, and if so, thoughts?

  4. CONSUMER UNITS TO CONSUME ALL MY PRODUCT AND DO MY BIDDING – damn, that’s what I thought I was signing up for. I’m not an individual! Please tell me what to do/think/say otherwise my life is meaningless ;)

    My biggest becoming a non-fan was bloody Lucas and the prequel trilogy that shouldn’t be named – I swore I was not going to give him another bent nickel after Ep1, got dragged to Ep2, and still haven’t seen Ep 3.

  5. I don’t know whether you’d call someone who just prefers (even strongly) one product or one author’s work over another a “fan”. I’m looking forward to the release of Abaddon’s Gate by James S.A. Corey because I so enjoyed the two previous books in the series, but I wouldn’t consider myself a “fan” o his.

    Personally, I have a problem with the idea of a “fan” or “fandom” as I define it much differently than you, John, and use the dictionary definition of “A fan, sometimes also called aficionado or supporter, is a person who is enthusiastically devoted to something, such as a band, a sports team or entertainer.”

    To me, a guy who likes the Star Wars EU, a “fan” are those who go to conventions, dress up frequently as Boba Fett or Storm Troopers and will fall over themselves embarrassing themselves defending or correcting people who get the object of their fannish obsession “wrong”. I, OTOH, can say a particular book in the EU was a pile of crap, but still look forward to being entertained by future issuances (and now that Disney has bought the franchise it looks like there won’t be much more)

    Fandom is creepy, enjoying an artist’s (or group of artists) work isn’t’.

  6. John,
    Been recently made aware of the importance of personal boundaries in a profound way and I’m noticing that you appear to have an awareness and an incredible ability to enforce your own boundaries in a sensible fashion. Is this something you consciously do as a skill (or is it something of an unconscious skill in that you’ve developed it to the point wherein you hardly think of it anymore) and does this influence how you come to understand fannish behaviour in general and how you have chosen to deal with them?

  7. OoOi,

    That reminds me of a topic for “Reader Request Week”: Your thoughts on Disney buying the Star War Franchise. And your thoughts on JJ Abrams becoming the master of all filmed/televised Science Fiction media (Star Wars, Star Trek, Fringe, etc).

  8. As it happens, I’ve been thinking about this lately. Possibly my favorite writer (certainly very high on the list, anyhow) is Elizabeth Peters aka Barbara Michaels. (Real name Barbara Mertz, an Egyptologist who’s written several nonfiction books. In her 80s now, Barbara has released 50-60 novels over the years and is currently working on her next.) She’s also been an influence on me as a writer, having encouraged me since I was very young (19) and first contacted her as a fan. There’s a painting in my living room which is the original cover art I won in a little writing contest Barbara judged via her newsletter, and we’ve been on friendly terms ever since–which is a big thrill for me, to be friends with one of my all-time favorite writers.

    Anyhow, Barbara said a number of times when I was young (and probably stills says it), “I don’t have fans. I have readers.”

    I didn’t understand what she meant by that–but many years later, now I get it. And I’d say that I have readers, rather than fans.

    My impression of my readers, when I meet them or hear from them, is that they’re pretty much like me. Mostly, they read my books; the way that, mostly, when I’m interested in a writer, I express it by reading their books. Sometimes they send me a nice letter or read my Facebook page or attend a reading I do. And that’s where it stops.

    People who read my books don’t attempt to know me personally, and they certainly don’t seem to obsess about me. I don’t become a cult item or personality icon in their lives. I sometimes get letters from people who’ve just completed a marathon of reading almost everything I’ve ever written, since recently discovering my work, or who’ve read a particular book or series of mine 4-6-8 times; and they don’t ever try to befriend me beyond a short, appropriate, friendly exchange focused strictly on my books–they’re people who simply don’t cross the line beyond just wanting to tell me they really appreciate my work. Blogs and clubs and BBs don’t get formed around me or my work. No one ever tries to learn where I live (let alone come here). I don’t recall a reader of mine ever proposing we meet personally. No one attacks or harangues me if they’re disappointed in a book, or frustrated by the unavailability of a book, or confused by an awaited book dropping in and out of the release schedule, etc. I see some perfectly level-headed frustration expressed online, and I receive perfectly reasonably questions about such matters in my inbox. It never goes beyond that or gets angry, hostile, entitled, enraged, menacing, etc. People who hate my work try it briefly and then move on (after, at most, a quick rant), forgetting my existence, rather than hounding my work with bad reviews or angry comments release after release. And as far as I can tell, the only people who hate -me-, as opposed to just hating my work, are people who actually know me–who’ve interacted with me, had conflict with me, etc.

    All these years later, I think that’s what Barbara meant about having “readers” rather than “fans.” And the same qualities apply to being a good “fan,” too, if that’s the phrase one prefers (I, for example, would describe myself as a fan of Barbara’s, even if she wouldn’t). I think it’s just a question of being a level-headed adult with good manners who recognizes appropriate boundaries.

  9. @scorpius: From what I can tell, a good chunk of Glee fandom would take issue with your definition. They seem to despair utterly of the source material, yet continue to put out fanworks of every kind and identify themselves as Glee fans. Similarly, many of my znakomye consider or have considered themselves fans of things like Supernatural or ASoIaF/GoT or Homestuck or whatever, despite heavily criticizing those canons.

    “Fan” in the fandom sense isn’t synonymous with “slavish sycophant”. For that matter, it doesn’t even seem that they are even required to particularly enjoy the target(s) of their fannish attention. Rather, the devotion mentioned in that dictionary entry — the emotional investment — may be expressed through ongoing critique/critical engagement that arises out of a love for some element of the target. (For media, this element could be anything from “the first season of Veronica Mars” to “Scully and Mulder’s ~perfect love~” to “Luna Lovegood” to “the concept of ultra-religious talking mice”.)

  10. John, I’m glad you wrote and posted this. I’m planning to attend your signing in Raleigh next month and I’ve been worried about being to creepy. I’ve only once before met one of my favorite authors and that was Harlan Ellison. I’d heard and read so much about how cranky and intimidating he was to fans that I barely said a word to him! You, OTOH, seem (are?) much more approachable, and I didn’t want go all “OHMYGODILOVEYOURWORKI’MSOHAPPYTOMEETYOU” when I meet you at the signing. I’ll print this and read it repeatedly between now and May. ;)

  11. I think being a “good fan” includes the awareness that I don’t actually KNOW you beyond your public persona, & it’s OKAY to allow you to keep parts of your life private. I also think it’s important that I accept that we are not FRIENDS. Just because I read your work (& enjoy it ever so much, thank you) & follow your blog (ditto), we aren’t friends. I am largely unknown to you, & therefore we do not have a personal relationship. (This would be that line between mature adult & creepy stalker.) A good fan accepts that he/she has no “right” to huge swathes of your life, & that you are in no way beholden or obligated to be a friend, as it were. A good fan actually sees when the professional polite expression (or the sincere pleasure at a fan’s expression of admiration) on the artist’s face starts to turn to glazed eyes, tight smiles, & the beginnings of the “do I actually know this person but had a mini-stroke recently, or are they just overeager, or are they starting down creepy-trails” expression starts to emerge. And the good fan apologizes & says “have a great day, let me wander off before I completely freak you out, love your work, kthxbai” & skeedaddles.

    I think it’s important to acknowledge that you have a right to create in whatever direction speaks to you, & if that happens to diverge from what I’ve always preferred about your work, then I should temper my public expressions of annoyance. It’s okay for me to be upset that we are moving in different directions, but it’s not okay for me to be mad at you for going where you are led & scream & cry & call you bad names because of it, if that makes any sense.

  12. You can’t spend your life trying to solve the Internet this way.

    I’ll stick to solving the world…realistic expectations and all that.

    @ scorpius

    Personally, I have a problem with the idea of a “fan” or “fandom” as I define it much differently than you, John, and use the dictionary definition of “A fan, sometimes also called aficionado or supporter, is a person who is enthusiastically devoted to something, such as a band, a sports team or entertainer.”

    That dictionary definition seems to skew heavily to one end of a spectrum. Lots of people use fan to mean what John means by it, and everyday use is at least as important to a living language as the dictionary definition. Not criticizing your personal definition; just pointing out that it may not be the most common one used in practical day-to-day conversation.

    Fandom is creepy, enjoying an artist’s (or group of artists) work isn’t’.

    What, exactly is creepy about being an aficionado or supporter of something?

    I make a distinction between being a fan – a fan I am of many things to varying degrees – and participating in fandom. For example, I’m a fan of Star Trek, but there are episodes, movies and characters with which I’m deeply unimpressed, I’ve never been to a convention, and there isn’t a spandex uniform to be found in my closet nor a word of fanfic on my hard drive, so I don’t really qualify as a Trekkie/Trekker. I wouldn’t call participating in a community relating to a given product creepy, just a particular form of geekery which I generally don’t partake of due to schedule constraints.

    To me, a guy who likes the Star Wars EU, a “fan” are those who go to conventions, dress up frequently as Boba Fett or Storm Troopers and will fall over themselves embarrassing themselves defending or correcting people who get the object of their fannish obsession “wrong”.

    Since, like me, you don’t go to conventions, I have to question the accuracy of your characterization of fans who do.

  13. @Scorpius – you are, I think, conflating “being a fan of” with “Fandom”, and your impression of “Fandom” is perhaps an uninformed one.

    I’m a Fan of John & his works. I try to interact with him on what I hope is a non-creepy level; we’ve met once. He was gracious. I hope for my part that I didn’t cross any lines.

    I am also a FAN (as is John. You can reference his Best Fan Writer Hugo, or the many interesting and quirky things he gets into at conventions that go well beyond an author appearing on a panel). Most prior-generation SF authors were fans as well as pros (and quite frequently fans before they were pros).

    I’ve never dressed up in a costume for a convention (maybe I ought to try it); I don’t run around correcting everyone about their incorrectness either (possible exception this). I get together with friends I’ve made over the past nearly 40 years to discuss and enjoy things we share in common – and to learn about things I’ve not yet been exposed to and to make new friends who share my interests.

    Perhaps the definition you were not looking for is this: “One who is in organized fandom, other than just reading/watching SF, participates and interacts with other people with similar interests at parties, cons, newsgroups, fanzines, etc. One who has an acquaintance with the history, jargon, and customs of the subculture.” (

  14. One way fans can show their appreciation for an author is to share it with their social networks. If you read a book you love, write a couple of paragraphs about it on Goodreads, Amazon, Facebook, etc. This probably won’t make much of a difference to somebody like John Scalzi (who already has a large readership and the backing of major publishers); but small press, independent and self-published authors (many of whom do Scalzi-quality work) live and die by positive word of mouth. Fans can help authors continue to afford to write by helping others discover them.

  15. If I met Barbara Mertz, I would just go “Squee” and fall silent (maybe some hand gestures that say, “Please sign my Jacqueline Kirbys…”). I am a terrible fangirl when it comes to authors. (Sent my husband to get signatures from Peter S. Beagle and they had a lovely conversation about my then-3 year old, because I totally wasn’t brave enough to go up myself. Said a few sentences that didn’t make any sense once to Esther Friesner. Totally got shut down by John DeChancie after babbling fandom at him when I was a teen–no longer so much a fan of him. Handed my books in silence for signatures to Pete Abrams back when Sluggy Freelance was still good.) I don’t get it– I have shaken hands with US presidents to no ill effect. Movie stars have no allure. But fiction writers, they get in your brain, man, especially the good ones.

    I could totally have a reasonable discussion with Scalzi of Whatever and collected essays. But I will never be able to meet the Scalzi who wrote Android’s Dream and Agent to the Stars, except as a silent loser (quietly holding out books to be signed).

  16. I always tend to feel guilty about being a fan of your work and having read a few of those books from the library. It makes me feel like I’m not supporting you as an author by doing this, it’s just sometimes the best way to actually find the book, or cash is tight.

    I feel an obligation of whatever financial support I can give to keep you making books I love. Reading your stuff for free makes me feel like I’m taking food out of your family’s mouth.

  17. nicoleandmaggie, I think I’m more in your court. I’m a huge fan of Terry Pratchett, which means I’ve been working on a collection of just about anything he’s ever published (including some fairly obscure things through small or university presses), I’ve more signed books than I care to admit, and this year I’m going to my third American convention devoted entirely to his works. And yet, put me right next to him and I lose all faculty for speech.

    I think it’s somewhere between having placed him on too high a pedestal in my mind, and simply not knowing what to convey to an author I admire in just a few sentences. My exposure to most authors is in a signing line*, and what else can I say after, “thank you, I really enjoy your work”? That, I think, should have been my submission to reader request week: what do you say to an author when you’re in their signing line?

    One of the many reasons for which I appreciate this blog is the opportunity it provides to interact with an author on a ‘normal’ level. I can’t call it personal…I’ve never met John, we don’t exchange emails, and I comment so infrequently that if I introduced myself at a convention I’m certain he’d have no clue who I am. But I’ve always felt his tone here was straightforward and conversational, and I feel open to act the same way here in the comments sections. If I ever get to meet him at a book signing or convention, I’ll still probably be at a loss for speech (yay for social awkwardness), but I probably won’t panic quite so much first.

    *Except for one time at the second Discworld convention, when I found myself in the restroom, standing next to Mr. Pratchett. If ever there’s a time NOT TO BOTH AN AUTHOR (actor, musician, or, really, anyone), that’s it. I think I was so quiet, I probably absorbed sound right then.

  18. I hope this isn’t too off topic – I became a fan (of John’s) before I read any of his fiction. Someone posted a link to this blog from another blog I frequent. (the contect was John’s shredding Creation Museum) That lead me to read some of John’s posted works and to buy OMW from the SFBC. I might not have discovered John’s works if it wasn’t for social media and other fans of John linking to Whatever.One thing a “good” fan is someone who enjoys the experience of something and endorses/recomends that experience to others that he/she believe would be likely to enjoy similar experiences.

  19. wow – my spelling/grammar is terrible – must remember to preview before posting. sorry

  20. @Shayde:

    I feel an obligation of whatever financial support I can give to keep you making books I love. Reading your stuff for free makes me feel like I’m taking food out of your family’s mouth.

    Won’t presume to speak for John, but given the multiple posts he’s written about what abso-fraking-loutely wonderful things public libraries are (and rightly so) I don’t think he’ll mind much. Mr. Scalzi will be receiving royalties on the twenty copies of the book version of The Human Division my local library system has on order.

  21. I was kinda hoping you’d touch on how to be a good fan when meeting in person. For example, I know Nathan Fillion used to get so down when fans approached him all the time and bemoaned the cancellation of Firefly, so he said they should just nod at him and say “Cap’n.”

  22. Charles Lint mentions the internet’s effect on this with the “…or possibly meet at a convention”.

    By the time I was 18 I had met approximately half the living speculative fiction authors whose books* I actively read, mostly at conventions. I met most of the rest by 25, but that faded over time as a percentage.

    Perhaps it was inappropriate to be exposed to Harlan Ellison up close at age 16, but there you go.

    * (discounting Analog and Asimof’s authors, where I had read essentially everything from before 1969 to the late 1980s).

  23. I think it would be much easier to specify what it takes to be a bad fan ;-).

  24. Oh, a bad fan would grumpily wander into a “Woo! Hugo nomination!” thread and gripe about the work in question.

    Oh, whoops…

  25. @Richard “absorbed sound” LOVE IT!

    I think my head would probably explode if I stood next to Terry Pratchett. Or I’d implode. Fortunately I am unlikely to meet him in restroom.

  26. Pterry is an entirely reasonable and nice and approachable guy up close. I recall at ConJose at one point my wife and another musician were playing some Irish tunes out in an open area, and Terry walked up to the back of the small crowd, clapped along with the tune for a while, waited for them to finish and the other people around to do their things. And then walked up and asked if my wife and the other musician remembered him from an earlier con he’d been at. Of course!

  27. Had a long comment, but it got eaten in the attempt to post, and then things elsewhere have gone to hell, so…

    Anyway, John, thanks for this post. (Also thanks for your books, which I’m now into the library-borrowing-only-due-to-income-lack mode. I’ve recommended them to others, I bought a copy of Old Man’s War and had you sign it to give to a friend…)

    Laura, I like that designation of reader vs. fan. I’m a reader who loves the work of many authors; I cross into fandom for a few; I’d babble incoherently if I ever got to meet Barbara Mertz.

  28. There seem to be layers of interaction with things possible here. There’s the straightforward consumer, who uses the product, or reads the book, or sees the movie, or interacts with $THING in the most basic manner possible. There might be a little emotional connection, but it isn’t really a deep one – their relationship with X is largely superficial. Then there’s the enthusiast, who might collect a series of books, or get a particular group of toys, or follow a particular sporting team out of form. There’s more of an emotional connection than the consumer, but it’s still largely on a fairly superficial level, and not having access to whatever it is isn’t likely to cause deep emotional traumas.

    Where things start to differ is at the level of “fan”. When you become a “fan” of something, you’re adding a social dimension to your enjoyment of something. You’re adding that item to your definition of yourself, and generally being a fan of something means you’re wishing to share that element of your self-definition with other people. Your fandoms are identifiable to others – other people will use them to describe you. You’ll be “the Dockers supporter”, or “the rev-head” or “the gun nut” or “the one who likes those weird books” or whatever else your fandoms are. Fans tend to enjoy meeting other fans of the same thing – it’s a social bonding mechanism as much as anything else, a way of finding kindred souls.

    I’ll just pause here and point out it’s possible to become an apparent expert about a subject area without necessarily being a fan of the subject – this is the difference, for example, between being the office computer person (as my brother is at his office) and being a geek (which I am). But generally as you get deeper into a subject, you start to express yourself in more fan-like ways about it.

    Generally, if a fan isn’t able to get their “fix” of whatever it is they’re fans of, they’ll miss it, but they can cope.

    Sidebar: being a fan doesn’t mean you’re part of fandom. Fandom is the organised side of being a fan, and it’s where the conventions and things happen. Fandom is much more about the social component of the whole “being a fan” thing. Also, you can still be fans of things which don’t have organised fandoms – the term “fandom” is pretty much a term of art for science fiction/fantasy/media fans. It’s like the difference between being a football fan (and having a team you barrack for) and being an actual member of the club. (/end Sidebar).

    The next step on from the run-of-the-mill fan is the enthusiastic fan. This is where I’d place the “gotta get ’em all” and “gotta know everything” types. They aren’t actually the majority of fans – it’s just they’re the most visible (just like the folks who paint their faces in team colours and carry the huge banners at football matches aren’t a majority either) and the most memorable to non-fans. These are the fans who’ll pine and fade if they don’t get whatever it is they’re fans of on a regular-enough basis.

  29. For me, there are three levels of enjoyment of a given thing/person making a thing:

    1. I like this. I will consume it.
    2. I REALLY like this. I will consume it preferentially over other options, and seek out new means of experiencing it.
    3. This is so amazing to me that I will not only consume it in every possible instance, but spend quite a lot of my time and money involved in it in some way.

    To use an example of TV shows I watch:
    1. Grimm (I watch every ep, though sometimes up to a week post-airing, and follow a couple of the actors on Twitter, but that’s it)
    2. Game of Thrones (I watch every ep live, post about it on various social media, have read all the books, follow several of the actors/creators and watch all the extras on the Blu-Ray.)
    3. Primeval (I’ve watched every ep repeatedly, made a ton of fanworks, flew to London to meet half the cast and help run a street team for the indie film company owned by one of the cast.)

    What level my fandom is on is partly a matter of how much I like the thing in question, partly how much I like the people who make it, and partly how much I like other fans of it. There are quite a few things that never reached level 3 for me simply because the fandom as such was filled with nincompoops. Game of Thrones is one of those things. That fandom is deep-fried crazy, which keeps me from getting any deeper into it than I am.

    And it’s that issue–the behavior of other fans–that often causes me headaches in terms of how I behave. I’m lucky that the majority of my fellow Primeval fans are sensible people (we are small, but we are awesome), but every now and again, we’ll get an outlier: Someone who acts horribly toward the people we love who made the show. Then, because being involved with this is so personal for me, I tend to get a little cranky, and will tell said “fan” to piss off. I get that the creatives in question are (somewhat) used to handling inappropriate fan behavior, but I get angry when I see it anyway. I kind of feel like it’s part of my responsibility as a leader in that fan community to cut that stuff off at the knees before it gets to where it’s annoying the people in question. Next thing you know: flamewars ensue. :(

    I think very few authors have to face the kind of rabid fan that makes the rest of passionate fandom look like lunatics, so maybe it’s not something our kind host has had to face all that much. But for actors and other high-profile folks, there’s often so much dross in with the gold that it’s easier for them to ignore fans in toto than to sift through that. Selfishly, that bothers me because it means it’s not easy for us sensible fans to interact with the people we like, but it also bothers me because it means their experience of feedback on the thing they love to do is tainted. As a creator myself, I can only imagine how I’d feel if the majority of public reaction to me/my work was something wholly uncomfortable, and I felt the need to pull a Salinger or something.

    So the trick, I think, is in figuring out exactly how much policing of other fans’ rude behavior is useful, needed or welcomed by the object of our mutual interest, or whether the best option is just to be the best fan I can be, to give said object at least some example of not-loony fans. That’s not always an easy thing to figure out, however.

  30. Not gunna read the comments because I don’t want to know how to be a good fan.
    (My best fan /ever/ was: ? I was out jogging with my ankle weights on. Saw this clearish
    blue bladed fan in someone’s trash. Took it home, oiled its bushings and it worked great
    for several years. It was pretty, and really moved the air, but an AC is better for cooling.)
    Closest I’ve ever been to being a fan under my own volition is hanging out here.
    But that’s not because of my being a fan, it’s barbecue* I like it here because the proprietor
    keeps a very nice place.

    *I’m hungry and sometimes I love spellcheck, which did offer “because” but I clicked
    the wrong one, and heh, was almost amusing.

  31. Isn’t China Mielville a communist? I think I read that he wrote an economics paper in favor of communism when he was in college. I like his books, but I wonder what would happen if I came to one of his book signings and gave him ‘Capitalism and Freedom’ by Milton Friedman (nobel prize winner) as a gift if that would be considered to be a really bad fan? That being said I do like his books.

  32. Speaking of fans, because of ‘Whatever,’ I am now a fan of “A Mediated Life’s” comments and always take the time to read them thoughtfully. Same with sometimes commenter Julie Barrett, whose blog and FB page I discovered thru this one and with whom I now occasionally kvetch about the weather, traffic, and good places to find proper beer – since we live in the same town. Oooo…layers and layers of fandom ;)

  33. guess: Assuming that disagreeing with someone entitles you to a debate with them (for instance, approaching them in public and doing something deliberately intended to provoke them) qualifies as boundary-ignorance, whether the person is famous or not.

    So yes, I’d say that’d make you a ‘bad fan,’ if for no other reason than attempting to disrupt a book-signing to provoke an argument about an unrelated topic of your choosing is pretty rude–both to the author and to other fans, who would actually be there to talk to the author about their work.

  34. guess: I believe that China Miéville is a Marxist rather than a Communist.

    I have to say that giving him a book as a gift would probably be seen as rather weird, independent of what the book is. That’s probably (?) crossing the fan/author boundary. The fact that it’s by Milton Friedman is secondary (and he might have read it anyway. It’s a pretty well known book and he did get a PhD from the London School of Economics. I’d assume he’s reasonable well read in this area).

  35. There is a range of uses of “fan”. I’m a fan of science fiction. Words on paper; Hollywood is decades behind.
    As the subcategories of product labeled “science fiction” have proliferated, we’ve gotten to pretty narrow market segmentation. I am not brand-loyal in that way, but now there is the usage, “What are your fandoms?” asking which franchises you are devoted to.
    “My” fandom is connected by love for science fiction. Many of the people there are professionals, from authors and illustrators through editors and copy editors to academics. When we get together we talk about what interests us, or what’s going on, or what we’ve read, not about their jobs (usually).
    (I knew a writer who was known as one of the great fonts of the Esoteric, but when we could get together we were much more likely to talk about Orson Welles than about Ascended Masters.)

    So broadly, the way to be a good fan in “my” fandom is not to belabor people about their day job, but just talk with the person. It is said that the proper way to introduce yourself to a pro is, “May I buy you a drink?”

  36. I am currently rewatching Charmed.
    From some of the things I’ve seen on that I’m gunna havta go to the Oxford
    English Dictionary for what “fan” means.

    Character is an empath.
    She sees a hot guy and starts moving air with her fan to cool herself
    down a bit, and has _lots_ of trouble with distinguishing between how he feels
    about her and how she feels about him.

    Still haven’t gotten to the some kind of spell gone [oh crap] where the guy with
    a hole in his chest is dealing surprisingly well with that problem.

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