Fans and Exiles
It’s a strange moment when you realize that you, and the vast majority of your close friends, have fans.
At some point it becomes weird to even think about not having thousands of people reading every word you write, judging your intentions and motivations and verbiage based on other words of yours they’ve read in the past, and their own personal impressions of you and your image.
Image. Brand. Fans. Audience.
These words aren’t brought up in everyday conversations for most of the world, and yet when we get together, we audienced few, this is what we talk about. We discuss love and life and literature, sure, but invariably we end up talking shop. Gossip is exchanged, but it tends to be about other bloggers or personalities we’ve come across.
“So-and-So is sleeping with So-and-So, did you hear?” “I did! Scandal!” “Think they’ll write about it?”
“Did you see the pop-up that What’s-His-Face started using?” “Yeah, and his sales page looks tacky as hell. Someone’s been reading too many marketing blogs and $100 ebooks.” “Oh snap!”
It’s like high school, but with a studio audience. Every word spoken is amplified, every mistake publicly acknowledged and analyzed by those who aren’t personally involved with the matter at hand. No photo is posted without everyone else at ‘school’ seeing it. No essay turned in that isn’t gawked at by the entire student body.
The lifestyle is kind of surreal, though it’s really just an extreme version of what everyone else and their mother is going through right now, what with the so-called ‘digital revolution’ and the mainstreaming of social media. Sociologists would call (and have called) this state of existence ‘the Omnopticon,’ a societal structure in which everyone watches everyone.
But even within this new technologically-altered reality, not everyone has fans. Friends, sure, and ‘friends’ as well, to file away with their colleagues, associates, flatmates, chums, sidekicks, cronies, and individuals with other watered-down levels of personal intimacy. To have someone know about you and your work, however, people that you don’t personally know, or even know of, that’s something traditionally reserved for actors and musicians and pro athletes. Celebrities have fans, not normal people. And certainly not normal people who spend a good deal of their time behind their computers.
Babies and Higgs-Bosons
Giving an audience to someone who is unprepared for it is like giving a baby a particle accelerator: there’s a small chance that you’ll end up with a Higgs-Boson (amazingly original content!), or a black hole if you’re really unlucky (derivative drivel), but it’s more likely that nothing terribly interesting will happen. On a fundamental level, babies are just really bad at coming up with hypotheses, performing experiments, and understanding complex systems, just as regular Joes and Janes tend to be ill-prepared to deal with the attention and responsibility that comes with having an opinion and story that’s known to more than just their inner-circle of understanding (and criticism-witholding) friends.
And yet here we are. We Joes and Janes who, while drooling all over ourselves, managed to slap the right combination of buttons and switches, turning on a machine we can’t really control, but can’t bring ourselves to turn off, either. As I’m sure you can imagine, this comes with both pros and cons.
As your audience grows larger and larger, you’re forced to sharpen your thoughts and philosophies into something more specific and refined. Out of necessity, however, you also become more and more of a caricature. In order to communicate with such a large and diverse group of people, a common denominator must be found, and often it’s a low one. Not because you or the people you’re talking to are dense, but because you and your readership all come from very different backgrounds, and if you target only one specific group, the rest will be left out, and a mass exodus from your subscriber-base will ensue.
This, of course, would be unacceptable.
Bloggers will go to great lengths to maintain their readership. Keep in mind that successful bloggers are babies who have managed not just to turn on a particle accelerator, but also got the thing spinning. They’ve seen photons collide and have grown to appreciate the spectacle. The idea of going back to playing with plastic dinosaurs or paper dolls is unacceptable, no matter the cost.
So how do you clearly communicate with an increasingly large audience without becoming a mere figment of a figment of what brought them to you to begin with? How do you keep those pretty lights flashing without losing whatever it is that makes people want to read what you write in the first place?
You diversify, both your message and the media you use to deliver it.
For me, this has meant dividing my thoughts between my blog, my books, my newsletter, and my other projects.
Each of these vehicles has a different purpose, but each is intended to bring a different kind of information to different groups of people. Some folks will want to hear the travel stories but couldn’t care less about entrepreneurship, and read maybe half of what I write on the blog. Some will be more interested in how I’m managing my projects, and so will be perfectly content sticking with my free newsletter over reading any of my books.
Regardless of which of my vehicles you decide to check out, you’re rocking my world and helping make what I do possible. Thanks for that.
Now let’s go find that Higgs-Boson.
Update: February 13, 2017
This piece was originally published as part of a project called Exiles, which was essentially a paid newsletter that I released (I’m pretty sure) bi-weekly, and which included narrative-focused essays of the kind that I typically reserved primarily for my books.
I’ve gone through and removed references to that project that were originally in this piece, in an attempt to make it more evergreen for folks who come across it in the future. I sent out the last Exiles newsletter years ago, when I decided to spend more time with my books and less on a regular commitment of that kind. The project was a huge success, though, in that in both provided an excuse to more regularly publish, and to try out a new business model. My written voice improved dramatically, and it brought in some extra funds each month, which was nice. Part of the draw, too, was the by subscribing, people received the regular narratives, but also free copies of all the books I published; I like the idea of people buying into a creator’s body of work, rather than just one piece of work, and may experiment with that model again in the future.