Fans and popularity

fansI had a surprise opportunity to visit with an old college friend (as in passage of time and not age, for if we meant age, then that must mean me, too and I’m not entertaining that discussion yet).

He slipped into my neck of the woods for a little bit and I squeezed in about an hour with him.  We crammed as much as we could about each other’s lives and beyond the renewed camaraderie, I got a couple of blog ideas out of it.  This is one.

At the very end of our time together, he made a generous offer of his services (while he did not implicitly state the services would be free, he neglected to discuss a price, so I take it to be a generous donation because that’s just the type of guy I am, always presuming my friends are much more beneficent than me).  His thoughts ran in the direction of using his vast (and talented) skills to link me up with my fan base.  It is an intriguing offer and left me sputtering, for multiple reasons.  Later, it left me pondering this potential chicken or egg question:  Do fans drive popularity or does popularity create fans?

After giving it some thought, I believe it is much more easily determined than the fowl-based argument:  popularity clearly creates fans.

There are certainly individuals who are “fans” of a body of work (writing, acting, sports, etc.), but the predominant connotation of “fans” is a large body of people actively following and supporting something they enjoy (which gets tested when, say, their sports team isn’t doing too well).

I’ve done some “casing” of authors’ websites and sales locations.  The research brings up interesting, if unsurprising observations.  Established authors (pick one from your own list) have legions of people making comments on their sites, on general sites and on sales sites (Amazon, B&N, mass merchandisers).  Fledgling authors have relatively little interaction on their websites, few comments on their book sales sites and little recognition through search engines.  Some of these authors have reasonably good reviews (presuming the reviews are real, which is not always a given), so the lack of additional activity supports the fact that they just aren’t popular enough to be added to fan “favorites” (or unseat an existing fave).

Most of us like validation.  We claim indifference to others’ opinions and in some cases may even believe it.  There is at least a subconscious feeling of satisfaction knowing that others agree with your opinion.  Despite the relative freedom the anonymity of the internet gives you, there is still a reluctance to “be the first to comment”.  It’s significantly easier to spend your limited time placing your thoughts where others are already discussing the topic, for then you know at least someone will read them.

Now, once a book becomes “popular” (I don’t have a definition for the term, either qualitative or quantitative), then many people will be eager to engage in all sorts of conversations about the work.  How to “make” a book popular is a puzzle all authors would love solving.  Whether it’s best seller lists, brick and mortar featuring, big-time interviews or movie options is beyond me.  My books have not yet found the magic elixir and I wouldn’t feel comfortable suggesting any personal knowledge to the effect.  That also means that I have no clue how big my “fan base” is, only that it cannot possibly be large enough to warrant the attention my friend suggested.

Unless, of course, that’s precisely the method that would catapult my books into immense popularity.  Which might mean this really is a chicken or egg discussion after all.

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