Help me understand fandom

I don’t really understand fandom.

I don’t mean that in any sort of insulting way to fans of anything. I love my fans (as surreal as it is to think that I have any), I have just never had that gene in my own personal life. I have favorite writers, bands, games, TV shows, etc. — but I know nothing about them, the people that make them and the process they use. I know very little beyond the fact that I enjoy these things. It never occurs to me get more involved.

I don’t know the names of the writers, or the directors, or even most of the actors in my favorite movies. I don’t know which band worked with which producer, or anything about the success of their singles and chart positions. I don’t know who writes my favorite TV show (does Supernatural even have writers these days, or is it all just improv between instances of Sam and Dean slamming each other against identical motel room walls?) I don’t know what other projects my favorite authors have, beyond their books. For example: I love Murakami. Read every single one of his fiction novels. Read absolutely none of his essays, interviews, or experimental screenplays. I have no idea if he’s doing a reading in my town, or if he collaborated on some anthology. I just never had it in me to delve deeper than the surface, and in an odd way, I was always a bit envious of the people that do it.

I have many friends who will sit there and reel off six pages of facts about what went on behind the scenes of their favorite action movie. The anecdotes, the commentary, the on-set spats and original drafts. And all I can contribute to the conversation is “I liked the part where the guy’s balls exploded.” It must be nice to be a fan, but I just fundamentally don’t get how people go about it.

And yet it is vital to my job and everything else that I want to do with my creative life that I understand fans, what they want and how to cultivate more of them.

Admittedly, pretending like this is a problem I have to worry about right now is, at best, naively optimistic. We’re at the early stages here. This site does maybe 30k uniques a month, and that’s when I’m updating it. But I am supposed to head off next year for promotion of my first big book series, so with any luck, that number will grow. If you’re reading this, consider yourself an early adopter. You’re a beta tester for Brockway Industries, and I could use your advice: As a fan, what do you want see more of in an author? What makes you stay, makes you get involved or spread the word? I’m very grateful and appreciative every day that you’re here, but I just don’t know what I can do for you, beyond try to write stupid books about phallus-obsessed ghetto kings and math angels. And I’m already doing that. And you won’t ever stop me. So what else do you want to see?

27 thoughts on “Help me understand fandom

  1. David Dietle

    I think it’s a sense of connection to the creator/creative process. It’s almost like a way to take some ownership for it. Notice fans are proud of what they are fans of; although they did nothing to create it, they feel the same pride the creator is assumed to have felt, vicariously.

    Although that sounds more like emotional vampirism, but trust me, it’s a good thing. For me personally, it ties into my love of research as well as my love of being creative. If I like something, I want to know more about it. It makes it seem less intimidating, and for anyone who aspires to be that thing, it makes it more “real” when you get to know more about how it was done and who made it.

    Which is why I hid all those cameras in your house.

    Reply
    1. Robert Brockway Post author

      Objectively I can understand the thinking – it makes more sense than what I do, which is mindlessly consume and move along, then wonder why I can’t find any good things by the folks I like. I guess I’m saying two things: How do you break out of that, and if you’re somebody in a position to deliver to those people, what do you deliver to them?

      Reply
      1. David Dietle

        As far as breaking out of just consuming, I have no idea. I think that is more a facet of who you are than a learned habit, but I could be wrong. Have you tried reading anything that “expands” the fictional “universe” of something you enjoy? Hell, if you haven’t try watching a movie with the commentary on. Plenty are boring as shit, but a good number of them are insightful and genuinely entertaining. Joss Whedon’s for the Avengers was pretty good, and John Carpenter and Kurt Russel’s on The Thing was as entertaining as the movie itself.

        I think some of the other responses gave good suggestions on the second part. And if you’re feeling ambitious, you could always set up a wiki for your stuff. I have one for a bunch of shit I never even finished writing:
        http://zombiechops.com/zcwiki/index.php?title=Main_Page

        I use it to flesh out background details for myself, and it could be a cool way to bios for characters in your fiction and/or expand information that you couldn’t include in EIGTKE. Just a thought.

        Reply
  2. Joe

    As a fan of short fiction, I’d be interested to see you do some shorter length stuff, maybe a compilation of short stories. I’ve always enjoyed your video game reviews, so expanding that to other topics you’re interested in (craft beer, facial hair grooming products, effective Sasquatch repellents) could be entertaining too. There’s my two cents. Keep doin’ what ya’ do.

    Reply
  3. Bunchy

    Honestly? Pretty much what you’re already doing. We love the “Behind the scenes” stuff, but more than that, the fact that you’re around and you interact with us is what’s really awesome. Also, are you coming to Australia for the promo? I will buy you Whiskey.

    Reply
    1. Robert Brockway Post author

      Haha, I don’t think they’re even sending me out of west coast for my little promo tour. But that’s okay – most folks don’t even get one. I’ll take it.

      Reply
    1. Robert Brockway Post author

      Look, nobody’s saying I’m ever going to write a non-stupid book. That’s crazy talk. I’m saying what can I do to make you bastards read them, beyond producing them and being like “here, fuckers. Eat your slop.”

      Reply
  4. SHA

    You know that group of people who passionately read all kinds of socialist manifestos, documents, novels, literature? Read essays, articles; listen to lectures; watch interviews. Really up-to-date guys? They’re called academics, or they’re just hardcore socialists.

    You have that in pop-culture, too. That’s all.

    Reply
      1. SHA

        The need to feel part of an exclusive group? Community? In the true sociological sense, I suppose. It just doesn’t cut it if all you do is listen to the same kind of music and talk about it once in a while, share some tunes. It needs to be much more deeper, pervasive and intense. It kind of functions like religion.

        Take Islam… there is the Qur’an which is the ultimate holy book for the Muslims, then there are the Hadeeth. It means ‘tradition’, and is usually a whole bunch of prophetic anecdotes, stories, advice, etc – like an appendage to the canon.

        Now, in a Doctor Who fandom, the episodes and movies themselves would be the ‘Qur’an’. And, everything ELSE related (remotely) to Doctor Who becomes Hadeeth. And a good ‘follower’ is expected to know everything about both. Discussions, debates, differences, sectarian violence, almost obsessive pre-occupation – fandoms have it all. So, it’s pretty much like a religious community, and expects to be taken seriously. I suppose… Just clogs up my newsfeed a lot, really.

        Reply
  5. JediGeary

    Warren Ellis has a email newsletter he writes about once a week concerning updates of his current projects, events he’ll be at, thoughts on writing, behind-the-scenes content, metrics on the newsletter itself, and generally anything he finds interesting enough to share with his fan base. As a passionate fan of his, I appreciate his effort to connect with his fans as frequently as he is able and especially for those who wish to know everything they can about him.

    Likewise as a passionate fan of your own work, anything you could do on a semi-regular basis keeping myself and those like me informed about your goings on is reciprocated with likes, shares, etc. Never be afraid to plug your stuff; that’s what we’re here for.

    Reply
    1. Robert Brockway Post author

      Orbital operations! I subscribe to it. It is literally the only one I do. I actually have a newsletter sign-up on this site somewhere (the hell did I put that sucker?) that a few folks have taken advantage of. One of those folks is not me; I have never used it. Will make attempts to correct that shortly. Thanks!

      Reply
  6. Chris

    I didn’t really develop fandom until I was a junior in high school or so. I think it was when I watched “Coming to America” and realized that Eddie Murphy’s dad was Mufasa. It blew my mind that I had never considered who the actors were in my favorite movies. Then I did some research, and boom! He was goddamn Darth Vader too.

    So I guess I’m saying that James Earl Jones is the reason I browse through youtube videos of Supernatural Cons. I found out Castiel is played by Misha Collins, who used to intern in the Clinton Administration. This is probably useless info, but I enjoy knowing it. Plus, it enhances my enjoyment of the show to see the actors and writers as relatable people.

    It never hurts to recognize talent among the writing staff of a show, either. I know I always got excited if an episode said “Written By Ben Edlund.”

    In terms of what you can do, just being open and relatable to your fans is probably the best way to attract them. The biggest fan heart-throbs are usually the ones who interact with their fandom the most.

    Reply
  7. Clementine Danger

    When I REALLY get into a fandom (and that doesn’t happen often, but when it does) it feels a lot like having a crush on someone. I’m fully aware of how that sounds, but it’s the best analogy I can think of. There’s plenty of people I like very much, but only a few I’ve actually had a crush on. Likewise there’s tons of fiction and art out there that I deeply enjoy, but only one or two I’ll honestly “fangirl” over in the way you describe. And it’s a different dynamic. Fandom, to me, is like that part of the crush where you’re not happy knowing one or two tidbits about that person, you want to know every single inconsequential thing about them down to the silliest detail, just because you find them endlessly fascinating and admire every single thing they ever did, whether other people see it or not. If I really like something, if I connect with a piece of art or entertainment on a personal level, then I want to know all I can about it. It’s really like having a crush on a piece of fiction. It doesn’t matter how inconsequential the information is or how closely it relates to the thing itself. If it’s related to your crush, if it explains to you why it exists or what its early conception was like, why it is the way it is or how other people see it, that’s relevant to you. Just like with a crush, you feed your emotional connection to that thing just by being around it, engaging with it and learning about it. So it could be anything, really. Early drafts, abandoned ideas, cut characters or dialogues, anecdotes about how certain things developed, problems encountered while writing/creating,… It doesn’t matter. If people are fan-crushing on the thing you created, almost anything that feeds the emotional connection they have with your creation will scratch their itch.

    Or I’m just a crazy person who has a crush on Firefly. Either way.

    Reply
    1. Robert Brockway Post author

      Huh. It looks like a lot of folks are interested in early drafts and deleted material – like DVD material for books? I don’t know that I’ve actually seen that around anywhere. I may have to check with publishers to see if I can do that type of thing, but it’s a fine idea.

      Reply
  8. Kevin

    I don’t know about other people, but I’m fascinated with figuring out how people think. I think part of this is because I’m an English teacher, which means I spent an ass load of money getting a graduate degree in over analyzing a person’s intentions and the inner machinations of their minds and now I spend every single day of my life attempting to decipher the thought processes of hormone riddled teenagers so I can trick them into reading Tom Sawyer and understanding that, yes, you do need to use punctuation and capitalize sentences.
    I also find it helpful when writing. Knowing the small things a person does that reveal their personality traits helps me make characters that are more believable. I’ll sit on the bus and make up stories about the people around me based on the way they interact with the other people on the bus. I try to notice the little things, like the way they hold their hands, do they bob their knee up and down, do they lick their lips, fiddle with things in their hands, stare, etc . . . Or I’ll figure out a person’s habits and personality via the way they make a sandwich. For example, if you want to know everything you need to know about Walter White, watch the way he makes a sandwich. It is always peanut butter and jelly, with the edges cut off, but the sides are perfectly square. It is a perfect PB and J. Precision, exactness, unrelenting pride in the purity of junk. And then he consumes it. Walter White’s sandwiches tell his story.
    My point is this, I want to know how people work and when a person creates a thing I like, I want to understand the mind of the person who created it. In a totally non-creepy and definitely not stalkery way, this is why I follow your site. You are interesting and you’ve created stuff that has fascinated me since you warned me of the dangers of Boston Dynamics. I want to watch you buildand then eat a sandwich, if you will. I want to see the process.

    Reply
  9. aftertaf

    After rereading your question, I can relate to what you say about this hunger/ability/need to know lots of facts about the author or the work product, and not really getting it either.
    We have lots of possible examples in recent popular culture history, like people actually learning Klingon, or dothraki, etc…and though I judge not one bit, I don’t feel that particular need to immerse myself in the universe that was created and in which I lived for the duration of the book/film…
    I have to ask though…. Do you see two moons also?

    I do get the appeal of this other universe, whether it be populated with muggles, or some sf epic thing (Marshall Smith, Peter Hamilton, to name drop some major players in the universes I’ve enjoyed going to in the past). The power and the magic of a book (or better still, if you write a series, that way we can come back more often to visit) lies, IMHO,in this ability to captivate and to relate, or just to make immersion possible in the place you create when you write.
    I’ve never gone overboard and play acted those places in this, real, life, but the memories of the best books stay with me like some awesome holiday souvenir and that, my friend,is priceless.
    This is what makes me a fan, and therefore to keep coming back to an author for a new fix of sorts.
    Dunno if that helps even slightly, but I think I figured sth out in my head while writing this, so was worth it for that, at least…
    (Goes off to some internal place to ramble on a bit more)

    Reply
  10. Caitlin

    What really gets my author fan juices flowing is just lots and lots of content. I eat up author blogs like ice cream because it’s awesome to be able to have access to more reading material aside from that author’s books. Be it posts on writing, random thoughts, or dick jokes.

    Reply
  11. Javier Notmyrealname

    What makes me like you, Brockway, is what you write. I might be drastically wrong, but I think I could pick your writing style out of a line up of similarly written pieces. What you are marketing, is you. Write some shit. We will like it. Now, if you’re appealing to wider audience, well, what the fuck would we know? We have mostly come from that little link at the end of your articles because we thought you were awesome. So, to please us, keep doing what you are doing. And maybe update this a bit more often so we can steal the additional pieces of your soul that you don’t give to cracked.

    Reply

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