The relationship between author and fandom

One of the feeds I follow on my personal Facebook page shared this link today. Brief summary: Kim Harrison, author of The Hollows series, is discussing the fact that her latest book isn’t doing well. And by not well, I mean that she’s apparently looking at the end of her career.

Which is a shame. I’m very familiar with her name, and while I don’t actually like The Hollows, she’s a name I’ve consistently seen in prominent places around the bookstores I frequent on my quest to get the Urban Fantasy I prefer.

But what got me about the post this was shared with was this comment from a fan:

There is a relationship between authors and fans — nothing creepy, it’s often distant and impersonal. But readers trust their favorite authors to continue to produce work at whatever pace, to craft stories they’ll love, and hallucinate in front of a computer for hours a day to do this. And an author should be able to trust their fans to continue their patronage, to take chances on new books, and to not be assholes.

Let’s break this one down a bit.

There is a relationship between the author and their fandom. In this age of social media, this is more prominent than ever. Even I, a burgeoning hopeful, am hoping to develop a web presence that will allow me a connection with any potential fans. But despite the seeming closeness of social media, the immediacy, the relationship between reader and author is one of consumer and merchant. The author has a product they hope the reader will buy, and the reader is looking for the best entertainment for their money.

So that means the second line is true. Fans place a trust in an author to continue to publish works of a quality and style they’ve come to expect from that author. If the author is beloved and well-established, they’ll wait the time it takes to craft the next installment of the series (why, hello G.R.R. Martin). And then they’ll spend their money.

But the last line? There’s an implication there that fans have to do anything when it comes to an author’s product. The idea that because they spent money once, they’ll do it again. And that’s not how it works.

Since this post was in a Jim Butcher group, part of the conversation has been in comparison to The Aeronaut’s Windlass (TAW), which released around the same time as Harrison’s latest book. TAW has done really well in sales. It’s hitting high on bestselling lists. Praises are being sung.

What did he potentially do differently? Well, my feed has been full of call outs to TAW since he first announced it. His personal FB page would talk about it. I’d see it mentioned as upcoming (particularly after he got his cover chosen) in my sponsored content from various publishers. I’d see video about him talking about it and basically fanboying over his own stuff.

He generated excitement. He didn’t expect the readers to just follow him from Dresden to Cinder Spires because he wrote it; he got them excited about it. He had people talking about it. He addressed concerns about the fact that the next Dresden book hasn’t been released yet as he marketed for the new series, and he kept building it up.

And then delivered a great product.

That’s the relationship between author and fandom in a great nutshell. The author has to be a great seller at this point as well as a writer. They have to build and maintain an excitement, particularly when they’re trying new things. Because there is so much out there to buy now, that readers can be fickle if they so choose. Authors should really only expect their readers to not be jerks. Because nobody should be a jerk.

4 thoughts on “The relationship between author and fandom

  1. Hi, Heather
    This is a very interesting read on its own; however, it is even more interesting because it pertains directly to my aspirations as a someday author.

    I have often thought about how a reader needs writers as much as a writer needs readers. As I write, I know I must consider my audience.

    And, woe be to the “new on the block” writer who tampers with the readers’ expectations within a genre.

    The struggle I often think about is the tension between an author’s individual creative juices and the expectation of the world of possible readers. Yet I encourage boldness in authors for to write what everyone wants to hear is to be a cookie cutter. Yet, the people often need a voice; someone to put their feelings into words.

    I have no expectations of my favorite authors. If one writes a book I cannot get into, I will set the book aside. Well, no, I cannot say I have no expectations of a favorite author because I fell in love with Lessa in Anne McCaffrey’s novel “DragonFlight” and remember being extremely angry when Anne threw Lessa under the bus in “DragonQuest” (the second volume of “The Dragonriders of Pern”. In “DragonFlight”, Lessa was feisty, courageous, and a super character. In DragonQuest, she became shrill and nagging. I never finished that second book nor did I read another book in the series. However, DragonFlight remains on my shelf, battered from many rereads as I enjoyed over and over again my warrior, Lessa!

    Sure, Anne wanted to develop new characters; but didn’t she love the Lessa she had created?

    I don’t know how my fans will feel about me; but if I start thinking of them as @!!#*@^s and thinking that they owe a patronage to me, then I don’t deserve to have fans!

    You gave us a lot to think about here and I enjoyed this post very much!

    Thanks so much for sharing! You have a stronger fan now and I will be looking for your next posts!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve thinking about this lately, though not in the same context. I’m not planning to make a living from writing, so I will not require the same kind of marketing a professional author would need. Actually, I wouldn’t consider making writing my primary source of income precisely because I want to have freedom about when and how to do any promotion.

    Of course, if I end up rich and famous anyway, I wouldn’t turn it down.

    . . . Well, I might turn down the fame.


  3. Great post!
    You are right that the relationship between the author and the audience is not just about the author delivering the book, and expecting the audience to buy it.
    What Harrison did for his book is the right thing to do.
    Whether we like it or not, as writers, we also need to be good marketers of our work.


  4. edmondswriter

    I agree that fans don’t have any obligations to an author. It’s up to the author to convince the fans that their next project is worthy of buying. There is so much competition these days that it’s the author who has to produce a great product. And Amen to your last line.


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