I wasn't planning on posting this morning (only got 700 words in last night and need to make up for it), but I wanted to hit this while it's rattling around in the dusty, moldy-cheese-laden hamster maze that I carry around on my neck. So, I'll make it quick (yeah, right).
Surviving as a Producer of Popular Consumer Products in the New Economy; or: How Not to Use the Internet to Make Fans and Friends.
Some folks have it figured out; some are clueless; most of us are trying to get there, I think.
Amanda Palmer has it figured out. She tweets regularly. Not just tweets in a PR-heavy buy-my-shit kind of way, but really makes an effort to connect to fans. She has over 272k followers on Twitter, but actually talks to people who tweet her questions, comments, fan art, etc. She has responded to my lowly questions at least twice. She holds impromptu get-togethers before many of her shows and appearances, planned and announced sometimes an hour prior, always via Twitter--it's a little reward system for her followers. She tweets and blogs about her life, her problems, her victories. Zits on her ass (unfortunately, that's a true story). She helps her fans feel engaged, and part of her team, not just consumers of her products. She uses what often borders on over-communication to help her fans feel like they are truly integral in her successes and failures--the same behaviors you would find in highly successful managers at companies like Google.
Neil Gaiman has it figured out. Neil, who just happens to be making the two-back beast with Ms. Palmer, is a good Twit and blogger as well, but tends to be a little more private than Amanda--but that probably has as much to do with his British sensibilities as it does the sheer size of his following and respect for his own family. But, nonetheless, he keeps fans engaged at a good level, and it helps him stay at the head of his pack. Of note with Gaiman is that he was a relatively early adopter of this model--he started blogging his adventures while writing American Gods, sometime in 2000 I think.
Some other front-runners: Brian Keene, Adam Savage, Weird Al Yankovich, Cory Doctorow, Marian Call. They all seem to have their sea legs on the internet, for many of the same reasons as Palmer and Gaiman. You have to engage your fans, bring them into your circle (just decide which band of your circle to let them into), make it known that you recognize that your success requires a new kind of--to use the legal term--consideration. Quid quo pro. Tit-for-tat. This isn't the sheltered world of only seeing your heroes in magazines and TV. The wall is now paper-thin. Connect regularly and effectively, or get left behind.
John Cleese doesn't have it figured out. He tweets very rarely. In fact, there is strong evidence that John Cleese doesn't tweet, or at least pretends that it's not him behind the keyboard. He gets one point for trying, but the only time you hear from John's Tweetbox is either a random blip that makes no sense, or, more often, it's a direct and intrusive shill for a t-shirt. It doesn't work because he isn't taking the time to re-connect with his legions of fans, nor to open himself up to kids too young to remember Python, Fawlty, Wanda, or any of the other brilliant things he's done over the years. Cleese is the reason for this post, in fact--I just got a tweet from him asking me to click over and see what he's been up to. Well, he has been up to hiring a webguy to build a form on his website to capture my personal info so he can send me spam from third-party advertisers, as well as more t-shirt shills from his camp. Again, that's OK, but make it worth my while to continue to be a fan and give up my info--my time and patience aren't endless, and they certainly aren't free. Don't rely on your decades-old work to coerce me to open my wallet to buy a t-shirt.
Poppy Z Brite gets it, but she doesn't care. She has a good-sized following, she tweets regularly, connects with her followers, answers questions--but she isn't writing anymore and doesn't talk about writing much, and most of her tweets are either grouchy, angry, angry-grouchy, moody, or about football. But, such is genius, sometimes. I guess.
So, here's the challenge to all of you writers and new-media folks: after the books are written and the songs are recorded, what lessons will you take from these folks to help take your hobby and make it a career that actually pays the light bill?
Because your odds of getting that big book/record deal are getting slimmer every year.
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