I've recently been thinking a lot about writing, and why I do it. I found myself returning to the columns I wrote in 2009 for the Literature Network. I still agreed with most of the things I had written, but was most interested in the post How many readers do you need?. This argued that people should aim at a small, realistic level of 'fame' rather than all-or-nothing success. As the writer Douglas Coupland put it, "there is a lot to be said for having a small, manageable dream". It's easier to build larger dreams on the foundations of simpler ones.
I drew on an essay by Momus, Pop Stars? Nein Danke, which claimed that in the future "everyone will be famous for fifteen people". Danny O'Brien explored similar issues in How many people do you need to be famous for?
I concluded my piece by saying "There's nothing wrong with being famous for fifteen people. JK Rowling was once less famous that that. Finding those 15 true fans is the first step towards millions of true fans, and is far better than none." Re-reading the essay over a year later, I find the ideas as interesting as I did when I wrote it. But I also find myself wondering: what constitutes a fan? How would this differ from, say, a friend who reads your work?If you want to follow what I'm up to, sign up to my mailing list
5 thoughts on “A question about audiences”
Couldn’t a fan be defined as someone who *only* knows you through your work?
Good answer. It reminds me of something Alex James from Blur wrote in his biography: “When you do know exactly why someone likes you, that’s not a friend. That’s a fan”
Which seems a pretty good definition. So, the question becomes: how to find such people?
To have a fan, first you need an audience. I would say that a friend could be a fan of your work, but that is a tricky distinction to draw. Also, what happens if a fan becomes a friend?
Back to the question, though. How do you find fans?
Firstly you need a body of material that you have published in some way so that you can garner an audience. That may be online, in print, or by other means (in your case, perhaps spoken word).
An audience does not need to come back after a read or a performance. Their job is done when they go home or finish reading the piece. Maybe they talk about your work in the pub, or to their partner. And then on to the next thing.
A fan will come back. To re-read a piece, or to read the next. Or to hear a performance again, or to hear a new performance. You cannot control this. It is an individual’s choice.
How do you find such people? You can only do so by engaging with your audience. You can make yourself available (the actor in the bar after the curtain closes, for example). Or you can actively seek feedback (and the most natural method of that depends on the medium).
It may be that by engaging with your audience (outside of the standard engagment, be it performance or printed page) you can actively generate fans… See Warren Ellis on twitter for an example of this modality.
Do you really believe that? There are plenty of artists/performers who have fans and don’t “engage” with their audience or make themselves available…
Also, to say that it’s okay to be famous for 15 people is very different from saying it’s okay because it’s a start point which will lead to being famous for many more people… the ambition ends up at the same place which means that the initial desire for fame is exactly the same… don’t you think? In which case, the ‘famous for 15 people’ thing is just a safeguard against failure: if it doesn’t lead to more widespread fame then at least, by having outwardly claimed that 15 people was the initial target, the writer saves face. Sorry to miss last night by the way, will call in a bit. x
I agree with your points Rosy, which might be a sign of muddled thinking on my part! I think that being ‘famous’ for 15 people is better than being famous for none. But it’s not meant to be a cowardly get-out clause!