What If Your Fans Strike Back
Previous parts in this series on Targeting a Readership (writing specifically for certain markets) are indexed here:
So today we look ahead in your writing career to the point where you have hooked a large number of fans, and then somehow disappointed them.
There is a very well written, tightly reasoned blog article that has made an online splash that you should read and think about. I flatly disagree with the premise, yet can easily see how it might be considered plausible. I adore the title, Fandom Is Broken. And I must admit that if you target a readership, expect them to target you back.
So read this essay By DEVIN FARACI .
This article on Fandom Is Broken came to my attention when a fan of my novels and non-fiction posted a link to it on the Sime~Gen Group on Facebook, where I replied I had to write a whole blog about this topic because I flat out disagree with the premise that fandom has changed in any way at all. The "national character" of fans is to be loudly, inconsolably acrimonious, utterly possessive, and completely proprietary where fictional characters are involved. That's the way it is supposed to be. It is the nature of who we are within the matrix of mundane society. Our ferocity knows no bounds.
My credentials for disagreeing with the premise that "fandom is broken" are rooted in being part of active fandom since 7th Grade, and continuing to be involved in the online fan community as well as fans of my own work (a hair raising experience as you can imagine having someone else write your characters or re-cast your themes.)
Just pause a moment and visualize what will happen after you've got your science fiction or paranormal Romance published. People will read it. People will react. What will they say to you or to each other behind your back?
Depending on the Readership you have been Targeting, your fans may react in a number of ways, very likely a few will gravitate toward each of these reactions, while most will come back at you with one or another of them.
A) Just find another writer to follow
B) Vociferously denounce you in Amazon reader comments etc.
C) Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Tumblr, etc etc tirades (example)
D) Personal threats and attacks to "force" you (and/or your publisher, producer, editor, etc - the whole commercial fiction delivery system which your work must please before it can reach that targeted readership) to re-plot the direction of the story (make one character gay, make another go from hero to villain, or villain to hero)
E) To H*** with you, and post fanfic demonstrating that you wrote it all wrong, and THIS is how the story must go!
Obviously, I am of the Part E) attitude.
Possibly the author of the essay FANDOM IS BROKEN thinks attitude E) is un-fannish, or a sign that fandom is broken. But the truth is, insisting the story go your way, even if that differs markedly from the author's way, is fannish.
He should have been a fly on the wall while I was talking to Andre Norton about her writing a sequel to STAR RANGERS (telling her the plot for her novel) and she told me that I should write it, whereupon I did and sold it as the Dushau Trilogy (and won the first Romantic Times Award for Science Fiction!) It took a trilogy because I didn't use her universe, but recreated the salient parts in an original universe.
Or maybe he should have listened to me telling Gene Roddenberry why he was "doing it all wrong." Of course, being who I am, I didn't vilify or threaten either great writer, (just not my style), but extreme vehemence ladled on thick over an adamant attitude is my style. As a double-dyed Fan, I will have it my way! (with Romance!!!)
When "they" (NBC and Paramount) cancelled Star Trek, I and hundreds (actually thousands) of others just wrote more and published on paper, in fanzines, sold to each other at conventions at which Gene Roddenberry was often a Guest.
I engineered the Kraith Series
to invite people to contribute to this alternate Star Trek Universe and over time, 50 other very creative people did that -- and several fanzines appeared carrying my alternate universe into yet another variant. Kraith was the subject of an article in the New York Times Book Review.
Kraith was designed to prove the theories I presented in the Bantam paperback STAR TREK LIVES! which blew the lid on fandom and fanzines -- garnering the attention of the New York Times and arousing vast public interest (both in deriding fandom and in becoming a creative, active fan).
In April 2016, France 4, a public station in France, aired a documentary on fan fiction partly based on a book I have an essay in, titled Fic: Why Fan Fiction Is Taking Over The World. It shows the Professor who compiled this book teaching Kraith to a University class, then clips of an interview with me, and then some French fanfic fans. Trust me, fandom is not now broken. We've only barely begun!
My first novel in my own series, Sime~Gen, titled House of Zeor,
was cited in STAR TREK LIVES! in a footnote, offering further proof that I understood why fans loved Star Trek (faults and all). I sold House of Zeor with a money-back guarantee to Star Trek fans who loved Spock. 60 hardcover copies went out on that guarantee, none were returned.
To show that Kraith was not an accident, just popular because it used a TV Series as a platform, I created more novels in the Sime~Gen Series to appeal to that same "Part E" segment of Star Trek fandom. The proof appeared as paper fanzines (at one time there were 5 Sime~Gen fanzines), and later made the transition to the Web where printed stories are now posted for free reading alongside millions of words of never-printed-on-paper fan fiction.
Now, several contributors to Sime~Gen, some professional writers, have created a professionally published anthology of Sime~Gen stories, and one writer is expanding her posted fan fiction into a professionally published novel trilogy.
So, you can see I am well acquainted with how fandom started (having known those we call First Fandom, who started science fiction fandom in the 1930's), with how it morphed into TV/Media online fandom, and with many fan-feuds and bitter controversies lasting decades.
I know "fandom" from two sides -- having been a lifelong active fan, then grown up to be a professionally published writer whose fans have written in my universes, both with and without my permission or knowledge.
It is not just the business model being morphed by the new communications media, social and anti-social as they may be, but also the content, form and function of fiction in general -- genre fiction in particular.
We are looking at a feedback loop phenomenon -- where there is no chicken/egg problem, no actual origin (storytelling goes back to the beginning of language; bees dance their stories of where to find pollen!). Fandom is part of a dynamic process.
It did not have the name "fandom" until the 1930's, but I am certain this feedback loop between story-consumer and story-producer has been revving up since shamans inspired audience around camp fires.
The term "fandom" has its origin in a word-creation process much used by science fiction fans. It blends the word "fanatic" which is the derogatory for "enthusiast" with the word "domain" or "kingdom" which is the place you live and defend with your life.
Fandom created the first "cyberspace" using the old purple gel spirit duplicator invented for offices, restaurant menus, and school tests to make quick but perishable copies.
Fans wrote essays like blogs do today, discussing (lauding or excoriating) books, their authors, as well as editors and publishers. They mailed their essays to a "publisher" who mailed copies to other fans. The price was money to cover paper and ink (or sometimes just free out of the editor's pocket) or a contribution to be printed for which the writer would get a copy. In other words, the face-to-face "bookclub" experience was extended nation-wide via the U.S. Postal Service because nobody knew anyone in their neighborhood who read "that stuff," too.
This bookclub discussion group type "fanzine" publishing grabbed onto each advance in publishing technology and expanded its reach -- via hand-cranked mimeograph, electric motor driven mimeograph, and then with the much larger readerships gathered by Star Trek Fandom, on into offset press, and today fanfic.net etc etc.
Today, even full live-actor productions of fan-written/acted/produced unauthorized episodes of Star Trek are thriving.
Huge amounts of current fanfic are uncritical of the original material, approving, or wallowing in a romantic sea of unmitigated adulation for the original.
But as extreme as approval has gone, there is likewise an extreme of disapproval, a critical attitude that rips the original to shreds and/or injects incompatible ideas into the basic theme of the original.
Fandom has spanned that whole spectrum of responses as far back as I can remember, and as far back as those who founded science fiction fandom have told me they can remember.
The article FANDOM IS BROKEN acknowledges the tension between creator and consumer, between writer and customer, but glosses over the innate rancor, and fiery temper which is the signature of the science fiction the fannish personality:
There's always been a push and a pull between creator and fan, and while it can sometimes be negative it was, historically, generally positive.
No, historically, the reason fans grow up to become professional writers is that the Relationship with the writers they first read was not generally positive.
The proto-writer personality reacts generally with, "No! No! THAT IS ALL WRONG!" and then proceeds to do it their own way, which is "right" in their way of looking at things.
Fans used to raise their voices to save canceled TV shows or to support niche comic books, but now that we live in a world where every canceled show comes to Netflix or gets a comic book tie-in or lives on as a series of novels the fans have stopped defending the stuff they love and gotten more and more involved in trying to shape it. And not through writing or creating but by yelling and brigading and, more and more, threatening death.
Well, the writing and creating part does come later, true. First comes the screaming in anguish, and today that is magnified in the Twitter echo chamber.
Yes, STAR TREK fandom is traced back to Bjo Trimble's famous write-in campaign (which failed to get the show revived and earned nothing but contempt from Paramount until the Conventions swelled into national news events).
Other groups have tried to recreate that, and in fact "Hollywood" now pays some attention to fans (if not out of respect for their taste in story material at least out of greed for their money.)
One thing Bjo Trimble's "how to write to Paramount" mailings emphasized was that calm, reasoned statements were more effective than threats and insults, and that 'defense' of what we love in Star Trek was not going to convince a network to pick up the show again.
The reason for that is simple. Network TV does not select or shape TV Series around "content" -- fiction is just there to glue eyeballs to the screen during commercials.
Today, that's changing as the subscription-model replaces the advertising model -- Netflix, Hulu, even YouTube and Amazon are dabbling in the subscription model delivering fiction uninterrupted by commercials.
The subscription model can foster more emphasis on content - but only popular content because video production is still expensive (way more than purple spirit duplicator copies). To make a profit, they need large numbers to subscribe, so the content of the fiction will conform to the "lowest common denominator" taste.
Read this quote from later in the "Fandom Is Broken" article siting other instances of current fan outrage:
It's all about demanding what you want out of the story, believing that the story should be tailored to your individual needs, not the expression of the creators. These fans are treating stories like ordering at a restaurant - hold the pickles, please, and can I substitute kale for the lettuce? But that isn't how art works, and that shouldn't be how art lovers react to art. They shouldn't be bringing a bucket of paint to the museum to take out some of the blue from those Picassos, you know?
The AV Club's piece ran a day too early, it turns out. The same day the piece hit the internet exploded in another fan outrage, this time coming as a result of Steve Rogers: Captain America #1, a new Marvel comic that revealed - dun dun dunnnn! - that Captain America had actually been a Hydra double agent his whole life.
The Fandom Is Broken article seems based on the assumption that "the internet exploded in another fan outrage" is a new, or "broken fandom", phenomenon.
The assumption seems to be that fan-outrage is somehow "non-fannish" or a new characteristic that has appeared because something changed, something broke.
The opposite is true.
The nature of those who become "fans" -- not FANATICS mind you, but FANS -- includes an ensemble of characteristics that pretty much define the difference between fans and "the lowest common denominator" central market film makers must aim for -- the market large enough to support a video production at broadcast quality, nevermind theater quality.
1) Sharp Intelligence
2) Vivid Imagination
3) Strong Sense of Personal Identity
4) Unswerving Determination
5) Clearly Reasoned Opinions
6) Independent Minded
7) Collector of trivial facts by the thousands
Any two or three of these traits can be found at peak values in vast numbers of mundane people.
Fans call non-fans, mundane. Mundane is the previous jargon term for muggle. There's nothing wrong with being a mundane -- they just don't understand you when you talk about what matters to you, especially if you're "exploding in outrage" over a story-development.
I derived that list of traits from people I know. I know a lot of people, writers and readers, who have all 7 of those traits at the maximum strength any human can have. They're fans -- not necessarily of science fiction per se. Fans of Romance or Mystery genre have the same profile. Even fans of God -- people who are into Religion or Mysticism -- max out all 7-traits in that profile.
So if you, as a writer of science fiction and/or paranormal Romance, or any mixed genre, have that 7-trait profile all to the maximum degree, chances are you will write for others who have that profile.
Here's the problem.
That profile is rare.
As I noted above, any 2 or 3 of those traits are maxed out in huge numbers of people. People who have all 7 maxed out are very rare.
TV or even online Video fiction Series are expensive to produce.
Self-publishing a book is much less expensive today, but still a big capital investment: A) time to write, rewrite, polish, edit, lay out, book design, B) buying cover graphic, C) crafting promotional campaign that can involve buying ads, D) fixing mistakes. If you only sell a few hundred copies, you won't make even $0.50/hour on that investment. Even selling to a publisher who does most of the work, you still won't make more than $10/hour unless you sell hundreds of thousands of copies.
If the Readership you are Targeting is rare, you will sell a few hundred copies, and that's all, over years. So to be a professional writer, you must broaden your "reach" -- how many people will find your work satisfying. That's what editors do to "almost" manuscripts:
So there is a financial barrier to fan-made fiction Series for the online video audience, but as the cost of video equipment goes down, and the knowledge and skills to get the most out of the cheapest equipment (a cell phone for example) becomes more prevalent, online video fiction or fan-fiction will proliferate.
Even so, to break even or make a profit, the audience targeted has to be larger than the "rare" market of fandom.
And that is the view from the Traditional Publishers skyscraper offices, or from Hollywood. Fan outrage simply does not register, not because the outrage is not real or well expressed or legitimately based, but because that "rare" personality is RARE -- it is just too small a market segment to MATTER.
Fandom is not broken. Fandom has always operated this way -- taking personal possession of the fictional material doled out by Publishing (or now Production), taking proprietorship of that which has been created by others, and insisting that the fictional material conform to personal expectations.
In the 1930's and 1940's the "outrage" against professional science fiction writers was aroused by errors in scientific fact -- or a failure to imagine (imagination being one of those 7 traits) far enough out or failure to incorporate the very latest discovery.
Even through the 1950's and 1960's any professionally published science fiction or fantasy writer who displayed ignorance of the then-current scientific facts (or in the case of Fantasy, the pantheons of dead civilizations, or the "rules" of magick) would get heaps of letters complaining about the mistakes (on a par with making Captain America a Hydra double agent his whole life - an error of fact in the audience's reality on a par with not knowing the difference between the Solar System and the Galaxy.)
If a science fiction story with an error of science was published in the magazines, the editors would get heaps of letters and publish some of them, sparking long, arcane and heated arguments about how to extrapolate current scientific fact to account for the story's premise.
Note that one of those 7 traits is the propensity to collect trivia -- the geek who is a nerd with an eidetic memory at least for certain stories. As a writer in any sub-genre of science fiction, you must understand that the target readership will notice every single mistake you make. They collect trivia. Collectively, they know everything.
Many professional writers talk to each other about their fans who know their universes better than they do. I have quite a few of those!
The FANDOM IS BROKEN essay makes the point that the modern, online fan has a new attitude developing: because they buy the story, pay money for it, they are therefore "entitled" to satisfaction, as the consumer of any product would be.
Think, for example, of a car owner with Takata Airbags -- after all the recalls and so forth, news broke this past Spring that brand new cars are still being built with the defective design airbags. Having paid so very much for a car, wouldn't you feel entitled to an air bag replacement that is NOT defective enough to kill you?
So, after paying such an unconscionable amount for a theater ticket or to a cable TV/internet provider, don't you feel entitled to fiction that satisfies?
As a writer, you must keep putting yourself into that mindset every time you drift out of it. You are writing to satisfy the reader - not yourself. "The Reader" includes people like you, with all 7 fan traits maxed out, but most of them only have a few of those traits, and they pay the bills, so satisfy them, too.
What satisfies those who have all 7 of those traits maxed out would bore or distress the more ordinary folks. So learn to keep scenes very short - 700 words maximum.
Another thesis in the FANDOM IS BROKEN (really, you must read this long essay, including the quoted death threat) is the following:
I don't want to pretend that this is some sort of generational shift; if that death threat above is to be believed the guy who made it is either in his 40s or fast approaching his 40s. This underbelly has always been there in fandom, going back to Doyle and beyond. There are new wrinkles for younger fans, a group that seems uninterested in conflict or personal difficulty in their narratives (look at the popularity of fan fics set in coffee shops or bakeries, which posit the characters of a comic or TV show or movie they love as co-workers having sub-sitcom level interactions. I had an argument with a younger fan on Twitter recently and she told me that what she wants out of a Captain America story is to see Steve Rogers be happy and get whatever he wants - i.e, the exact opposite of what you want from good drama), but while the details change the general attitude is the same: this is what I want out of these stories, and if you don't give it to me you're anti-Semitic/ripping off the consumer/a dead man.
Do you realize what the writer of this essay is saying?
Read that quote above again.
"what she wants out of a Captain America story is to see Steve Rogers be happy and get whatever he wants - i.e, the exact opposite of what you want from good drama) "
THINK ABOUT THAT!!!
What she wants is ROMANCE and an HEA for an Action Character.
For me (and likely you, too) real drama is in becoming and in being happy - especially ever after!
Isn't that what we write? Isn't that what we seek out to read? What do you mean, Romance is not dramatic????
Romance is what life is all about, bonding, children, family! I can think of any number of great TV Series and films that embody the Action Hero happy amidst FAMILY LIFE (after a hot-steamy strife-ridden romance, of course).
Think of a few of your own. Here's the beginning of a list:
1) Little House On The Prairie
2) The Waltons
3) Daniel Boon
6) Star Trek -- especially DS-9 - any of the ensemble shows where the ensemble becomes family
7) Murder She Wrote (Perry Mason, or almost any Police Drama with ensemble cast).
8) Lois And Clark
9) Beauty And The Beast (TV Series)
Science Fiction, Action, Mystery, and Romance genres mix and match very well. That was proven beyond a doubt by the way science fiction fandom gobbled up Star Trek and produced endless millions of words of "Get Spock" stories and then generated "Slash" which has since proliferated to almost every other TV show. Keep in mind that before Star Trek fanfic, all science fiction 'fanzines' contained nothing but non-fiction about the books people were reader, cons they went to, other fans they knew.
If you don't think Action Genre goes with Romance Genre perfectly, go watch the very old movie, African Queen.
Fans love adventure, love the lone-wolf, the unattached hero (Kirk, Spock, McCoy), but the reason they love them is that these action-hero types are in the process of pursuing the Happily Ever After ending - the goal of adventure is to get home, and live a quiet and secure life raising children! To get home, one must leave home. The stranger who comes home makes home strange. Or better yet, pioneering to make a new home. Right now, N.A.S.A. is rumbling on about a Mars or Moon colony.
The author of Fandom is Broken apparently does not see Romance as Drama. But as I've noted many times in these blog entries, every story needs a Love Story.
Take the Fan Profile of 7 traits and manifest that identity as a Romance Reader, the very strong personality (male or female) who understands that Home is the destination of every Adventure, that peace is the destination of Action, and then you can see why this one woman on Twitter was in a passionate fury to see Captain America finally get what he deserves -- His H.E.A. ending. And we want the whole story of what happens during that ending. Remember BEWITCHED? Peace and happiness are not the opposite of good drama.
Remember how Superman "grew up" when they finally let him get together with Lois? Lois & Clark is THE TV Series Superman for me.
The growing fury of media fans, fueled by the fast-cheap communications on social media, is going to produce a radical change in the Fiction Delivery System, and perhaps in all reality.
After all, it was college Gamer folks who pushed the networking of computers between campuses, and someone from the other side of the Atlantic created HTTP ( the markup language concept that lets your browser translate computer code into stories you can read.)
The fury and rage pointed out by FANDOM IS BROKEN is not a sign that fandom is broken, but rather fandom shows a gathering determination to change the world (again).
This is the way fandom always functions. The energy gathers, becomes defined, gets targeted, and manifests as a sudden shift in the reality the mundanes live in (Star Trek in animated for kids, in films, on the air again (and now yet again!). The first orbital flight. The International Space Station. Orbital telescopes. Maybe "hyper-loop" travel NY to CA in a couple hours.
Robert Heinlein opened a kid's novel with a guy riding a horse, and his phone rang, so he opened the pommel of the saddle and answered a call from Mars. That was decades before cell phones. Now iPhones! It took 70 years, but look at the change! Fans of Robert Heinlein prevailed in changing the reality mundanes live in. That's what fan fury accomplishes.
If the quote -- "what she wants out of a Captain America story is to see Steve Rogers be happy and get whatever he wants - i.e, the exact opposite of what you want from good drama) " -- is a good definition of the target this time, then Science Fiction Romance is the genre that will prevail.
Love and Romance and the extreme-drama-HEA will become the warp-and-woof of the fabric of mundane reality. We might even have Peace in the Middle East!
So if you disappoint your fans and they try a hostile takeover of your Work, that is as it should be (as long as you get paid if only in publicity and homage -- I'm a big fan of copyright, but as a fan I know that homage is coin-of-the-realm) Just consider whether you want to disappoint your fans on purpose or by accident. Then think carefully about which segment of your audience you are willing to disappoint -- the ones with all 7 traits maxed out, or some of the others?
Fandom is not broken. Fandom is functioning perfectly. Fandom is revving up to change muggle-dom. Again. I want to see the change be toward increased respect for Romance Fandom.