Anyone ever call you a fanboy or fangirl? It’s supposed to be an insult, an implication of slack-jawed devotion to a TV show, movie, anime or band. Fanboys and girls are stereotyped as obsessive geeks, wearing t-shirts emblazoned with their drug of choice, whether it be Star Wars, Star Trek, LOST, Radiohead, or The Dark Knight. I admit to a modest collection of movie t-shirts myself, including Harry Potter and Watchmen (yes, Virginia, I read the graphic novel).
Do writers have fans? Yes, they do. I can tell you I’m a total Stephen King fangirl. I used to send him a Christmas card every year. No, really. I don’t do it now because I stopped sending cards out altogether. At the moment, I’m enamored of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. Their series of co-written thrillers starring cultured FBI agent and master of disguise Aloysius Pendergast absolutely rocks. I sent an email to them via their website regarding leaked information about the plot of Cemetery Dance and Lincoln Child sent me a gracious email back. That was a thrill for a fan, let me tell you.
How do people handle having fans? I can’t say how I would, since I don’t have any yet. It’s something worth thinking about if you’re pursuing a career where your work will stand in the public eye. Even companies that produce a product, such as sneakers, have fans, or rather, happy customers who will unofficially endorse said product at the drop of a hat.
If I do end up with a group of fans, whether it’s ten or ten million, I would do well to remember that they are the ones who are buying my product, my books. I’ve worked in customer service for a long time and I know that rude behavior will drive them away, perhaps into a competitor’s arms. Since I have my own slavish preferences in literature, film, music and TV, I can count myself among them. It would be the height of arrogance to look down on them.
Just for fun, here are types of fans I’ve observed:
- Gary Geek – He may or may not have started a fan club or belong to one, but there’s no denying he is the most devoted member of all Fandom. This is the person who might be labeled a fanboy. He can wax endlessly on the minutiae of whatever show, book series or film he is enamored with. Unless you share this obsession, it’s best just to back away slowly or you will be sucked into an endless discussion of why Peter Jackson left Tom Bombadil out of his film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, or the rules of the Dr. Who universe. He loves all aspects of his chosen obsession and is open to new interpretations, so long as they make sense. He’s not above making fun of posers or wanna-bes who haven’t achieved his level of devotion, but express a true interest and he he will happily induct you into his world. The word geek used to be an insult too, but now it’s a label Gary wears proudly.
- Debbie Dabbler – She doesn’t care that much about Star Trek; she only thinks Chris Pine is cute. She may wear fangear, but only as a fashion statement and not a lifestyle. A true fangirl would wear it all the time, not just until the franchise has run its course. Debbie is a hanger-on at first but may become a true fan later, or just move on to the next fad. Either way, she will enjoy it.
- Susie Sneer – She makes fun of fans, but is secretly a fan herself. She says she wouldn’t be caught dead actually watching Twilight, but she’ll have read the books. Perhaps she has clandestine comics under her bed, or hiding in the closet. Whatever her passion, she keeps it under wraps, whether to avoid teasing or simply to enjoy it on her own. She might read fanfiction or even write her own. If you discover her, don’t out her. Let her emerge on her own.
- Arnie Academic – Like Gary the Geek, Arnie is a serious fan, but in an intellectual, literary sort of way. He’s most likely to be a book fan and not a movie one, perhaps involved in studying the languages of Tolkien or serious, socially relevant science fiction. Arnie is the fan most likely to be labeled elitist, because he thinks his interest in certain material is loftier than yours. He is also most likely to be a purist who chafes at adaptations that don’t stay absolutely true to the material. Arnie can be grating if he is a snob. If he is gracious, seek him out, because he’ll be the one to help you come up with a way to sneak pop culture into a scholarly school paper.
Whoever your fans are, remember to thank them. We’ve all seen the phenomenon of snobby writers, arrogant athletes and jerky musicians who, upon attaining their dream, seem to ooze contempt for the people who paid their hard-earned money to see their work. Once you reach a Stephen King level of fame, it becomes nearly impossible to mix and mingle with them directly, but if you get the chance, be nice to them. They will remember their encounter with you the same way they remember the bully or the nice girl in high school.
These are your customers. Treat them right.