How to train your fan base.

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A couple weeks ago, a fellow author friend came to town, and we had a great time talking over afternoon drinks. I’ve always been really impressed with the way he handles being a public figure—especially how clear and unapologetic he is with his fan base about who he is and what he writes. A lot of readers love him. A lot of readers don’t. But he’s a good dozen books into his career, now, and very successful by any measure; he did that by cultivating a fan base that loves what he writes. And more importantly, loves what he loves to write.

As the reviews for The Girl in the Road keep trickling in, I’m struck by how powerfully it makes people feel. The critical reviews have been almost universally positive (see here!), but individual readers are sharply divided. However they feel about it, they feel very strongly. To me, that’s a good thing. As my sister Clare once said: When I have a strong reaction to art, in any direction, it’s very useful for me to know, insofar as it teaches me what kind of art I want to make.

I’m working on Novel #2 and it’s very tempting to satisfy everyone, to take each furious Goodreads review to heart and say, “I should be clearer this time,” “I should make it simpler,” or “I should leave out the uncomfortable parts.” But that’s the road to hell. I know that. My work isn’t for everyone; no one’s is. But those for whom it is?—wow, it is really for them. I keep hearing variations of  “I’ve never read anything like this,” “I’ve waited my whole life for this book,” and “This is the future of literature.” And then they tell everyone they know about it. And that makes me so excited for the future. I have fans. Or as I like to think of them, companions.

So for all of you wondering what kind of writer I’m going to continue to be, here’s a handy list of ten things that probably won’t change:

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1. Unreliable narrators.

2. Polyphonic POV.

3. Ouroboral plotting.

4. Genre promiscuity. Literary, science fiction, historical fiction, magical realism, thriller, fantasy, ghost, horror, erotica, mystery—all of the above.

5. Frank, graphic, sometimes joyful, and sometimes uncomfortable depictions of the lived experience of sex.

6. No easy distinctions between what is “real” and “not real.” (That’s a whole other post, for later.)

7. Fidelity to my characters’ emotional truth, whether that makes them “likable” or not.

8. Lots of non-English words that aren’t italicized.

9. Lots of non-Western references and settings.

10. Shitloads of ideas. Sorry, NPR.

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So if these things aren’t for you, no worries! Go forth and read whatever it is you love.

But as for those of you who are on board? Welcome. I have so many more stories to tell you.


One Comment on “How to train your fan base.”

  1. Sam says:

    Have a strong reaction teaches a reader/viewer not only what kind of art they should make, but teaches them something about who they are. At least, if the reaction can be deciphered.

    “I have fans. Or as I like to think of them, companions.”
    Exactly. I love that…. Thank you for allowing us the privilege of watching/participating as you think through some of these things. As companions.


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