Friday, May 14, 2010
Friends, Followers, and Fans: The Quest for an Audience
Posted by Todd Newton
How many people do you know who have the goal of writing a book? Whether you're a writer or not, chances are you know at least a few, and if you're a writer then the chance is high you know quite a few. But is that goal shortsighted? Why do people want to write books, if not to have people read them?
That's where you come in, and by "you" I mean the royal You. Consumers-at-large. The bottom line.
Earlier this year, author John Scalzi posted a call to support authors in response to issues with Amazon. More recently, Rebecca at Diary of a Virgin Novelist posted a very direct and imperative instruction on precise how to support authors. In both cases, the main tenet is "buy their book[s]." This is helpful in many ways, as you can imagine, but supporting an author goes well beyond consuming their product -- much like supporting a local music act goes beyond buying their LP.
Rebecca goes on to suggest things that fall under the category of "calling attention to the book[s]." If you blog, write about it. If they're a local author, attend their readings and events. If they're not, host a book club, or suggest their book for your existing club. Honestly, though, nothing beats the old fashioned method of just plain telling someone about a book you enjoyed.
Is this post kind of self-serving? Of course it is. I would encourage you to buy, read, and talk about my book, but not just my book, and I don't expect this kind of thing "for free." I support my friends who are writers and authors, musicians, actors, or in whatever else they do, especially if I believe wholeheartedly in their purpose and passion. I morally support them, but I also provide tangible support with mentions, retweets, and money in the name of consumption. In short, I become part of their audience either as a friend, a follower, or a fan.
We all have friends who strive in some type of artistic pursuit. At least I hope we do, especially those of us who strive in one, ourselves. Friends do things that others can't; they provide a cushion against the impersonal world and let us know that people exist who understand what goes on in our heads. Friends are supportive by virtue of the relationship you have with them, but a person can only have so many friends (since a person only has so much time to nurture those relationships). Because of this, an audience absolutely cannot be comprised solely of friends.
That's where followers come in. The word "follower" can have good connotations and bad ones. Good, in the sense that a leader must have followers, a movement must have followers, and a twitter account must have followers. The bad comes in when people assume that a follower has no mind of their own, they are sheep led around by the promise of a carrot at the end of a stick. I prefer to think of followers in the good context.
To me, followers are more like acquaintances. This includes peers in your chosen industry or creative endeavor. More often than not, they are friends-of-friends, who become interested in the aforementioned artistic pursuits by virtue of the degrees of separation. Sometimes they become actual friends, but this is more of an exception than a rule. Followers provide an interest more on a surface level than friends. Where friends like your work because they like you, followers like your work because their friends like you. They can take comfort in becoming part of your following since they're not the only ones who think in that direction.
Fans are a completely different story. Fans can become followers, or even friends in time, but this is the most surface level of an audience. They may know a thing or two about you, especially from reading the About the Author blurb, but their real interest is in your work. Despite Facebook's frivolous use of the word, I believe fans are actually the hardest category of people to acquire into an audience. What? The most surface level is the hardest to acquire?
Yes. The general public has no existing reason to be interested in you, no compulsion to give you their attention, and no perceived loss if they fail to do so. This is especially true in our world of information bombardment. But wait, you say, how on earth do people like Terry Goodkind still have an audience? How do the shows on MTV have an audience? I don't wish to get on my soapbox any more than I already am, but to keep it short these things have fans.
As already stated, fans are people who have no reason to like or prefer something other than their own interest and curiosity. They either heard of, or found on their own, a certain something that they believe in (or that they believe in the quality of). It fits them. They enjoy it, or are otherwise entertained by it, and are proud enough of that fact to say so.
Many fans proclaim their fandom aloud, in blog form, and even in costume form. This gains momentum because, as people see this fanaticism, they get interested in what is so great about X. Twilight is a great example of fanaticism, as recent baby name statistics can attest, and to me it is a great example of how something grows in fame fed by its own popularity. Jersey Shore is somewhat similar, though it has grown more in infamy than fame.
Yet, even with all this (supposed) knowledge, how to win fans remains a mystery to me. Therefore, I continue to search for an audience. I'm lucky enough to have friends, and curious enough to network followers, but fans seem to run off of a unique fuel that I haven't quite found the recipe for. Any ideas?
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