It is very easy to get my money. One sweeping glance through my apartment makes that abundantly clear: I own multiple copies of Rainbow Rowell’s books; my husband and I have several editions of the Harry Potter and Song of Ice and Fire books; and there are dozens of Pop! vinyl figures depicting our love of Adventure Time, Disney movies, and Firefly, just to name a few of our obsessions.
Don’t even ask about the things we want but haven’t bought yet.
In today’s world, we are not the exception; we are part of a subsection of society that is grabbing hold of pop culture and not letting go. We are *dramatic music* fans. “Yeah, well, who isn’t a fan of something?” you might be thinking. And you’d be right. But what I mean is that we are members of an ever-growing phenomenon among consumers—we are part of a fandom. Multiple, actually. And people like us are starting to dictate the way content creators approach any form of entertainment.
First, a quick definition for those not in the know. A fandom, as defined by Comedy Central’s Power of Laughter study, is a “feeling of empathy and camaraderie with others who share a common interest [. . . it] can grow up centered around any area of human interest or activity.” So basically, if there is a group of people who all like something, they can be considered a fandom. (Fun fact: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series spawned the first modern fandom!)
These aren’t just people who spend hours debating the merits, failures, and minutia of their favorite shows, movies, and video games. These are people who throw their disposable income at fancy new editions of books, boxed sets of movies, and reissues of video games and have tons of trinkets and fandom-related clothing lying around. Fandoms take to Kickstarter to bring new life to their favorite canceled shows, and they are a big factor in whether a new show succeeds or fails.
Simply put, these people are a gold mine when it comes to spending power and bringing others into the fold, and content creators are taking notice.
That same Comedy Central study offered up advice how brands can target a potential fandom, saying the three major elements of any approach should be “self-expression, discovery, and community.” A MediaPost contributor wrote about on how TV executives could learn from fandoms, pointing out very important factors that draws in the obsessed: “details and nuances such as vernacular, recurring motifs, and magical moments that empower fans and make them feel like part of something bigger.”
Those factors are what cause Harry Potter fans to take every “Which Character Are You/Which House Do You Belong To/What’s Your Patronus?” internet quiz they can find and why lovers of the Song of Ice and Fire series—and its subsequent HBO show, Game of Thrones—spend incalculable amounts of energy arguing over what is or isn’t a clue to how the series will end. Don’t even get me started on all the fan art and fan fiction that comes from the occasionally talented hands and minds of anime-niacs! For people like us, this isn’t just temporary entertainment; this is a lifestyle.
Now, let’s focus on literary fandoms for a second because, as a participant in several, I’ve noticed a few things. For starters, it seems the easiest way to get a fandom to crop up is writing a series. Think of all the literary fandoms you know, and I bet you can count on one hand how many surround a standalone. If you look at recent YA selections, particularly in the fantasy genre, a good portion are the first or second in a trilogy. Despite the fact that industry insiders have been saying for years that the trilogy is dead, they have yet to disappear. Authoring a series usually ensures the reader is going to stick around, their love for the characters or the world growing with each book; unless you’re me and the Red Queen series, in which case you’ll read the first book and then ask a friend for spoilers.
But authors who stick to standalones aren’t fan-less. Look at the success of writers like John Green and Rainbow Rowell. Aside from the latter’s Carry On, a companion but not outright sequel to Fangirl, none of their popular books are in a series, and they are undeniably huge. In their case, the author is a brand to which fandoms attach themselves. That’s why Stephen King can basically write whatever the hell he wants and know it’ll be fine—there are too many King fans out there for him to fail.
Regardless of how many books it takes an author to finish their stories, one inevitable factor in their fandom generation is social media involvement. These days, authors need professional sites, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, even Instagram and Tumblr. Fans realized how accessible social media makes their favorite authors (or creators in general), and they want to reap the benefits. I have personally had several Twitter interactions with Rainbow Rowell, and I know it’s a major factor in why I love her so much. A strong social media presence is more or less essential to fandom cultivation; posts like this one on Writers Unplugged show the proof is in the pudding: if you want your fandom to stick around, always be in their (digital) face.
So what’s my point in all this? While fandoms as we know them have existed for more than two centuries, I’m beginning to feel that their presence is now an industry necessity. It seems everyone is chasing this phenomenon, their success tracked by how many frothy-mouthed zealots are unloading their bank accounts on movie tickets, premium cable subscriptions, and precarious stacks of books. And I’m not sure what it means long-term.
As one of those frothing fanatics, part of me loves it. I’ve got a lot of nerdy energy that needs this outlet to keep me sane. But if the joy of finding like-minded obsessives (or turning existing friends on to the scene) becomes less organic because of carefully crafted lures bobbing in the fandom pool, then the purpose is lost. Being a fan is an amazing experience I would never actively want to take away from someone . . . provided they genuinely come to that conclusion themselves. If they’re just brainwashed into thinking they’re a fandom, then that’s not the world I live in or one I want to see take shape. What producers aim to make formulaic still requires spontaneity in my opinion, and I don’t want the quality of my fandoms watered down.
Plus, that’s just a lot of unnecessary pressure on up-and-coming authors, TV writers, and other media creators, and their lives are hard enough. They have to deal with crazy people like me, after all.
Featured image via Jose B (Ivan) on Flickr.