Who You Write For

Apr 26, 2015 | The Publishing Industry

I watched a video on Youtube today from the PBS Game/Show channel about crowdfunding, and the obligations of creators to the consumers of what they create.

Crowdfunding causes users to be invested in the successful creation of media. The rise of Patreon.com and other crowdfunding venues changes everything, in that it reverses the normal order of how media is made, from: {creator makes media -> consumer pays for media} to {consumer pays for media -> creator makes media}. Being invested ahead of time, before the media is made, inserts the consumers into the act of creation.

Here’s the video that got me thinking.

Neil Gaiman said, to a fan who complained about George R.R. Martin:

“…when you see other people complaining that George R.R. Martin has been spotted doing something other than writing the book they are waiting for, explain to them, more politely than I did the first time, the simple and unanswerable truth: George R. R. Martin is not working for you.”

Fans, even before crowdfunding became a thing, were invested in the creation of new media. Consumers have always made demands of creators in how that new media was made. Crowdfunding has simply brought this to the foreground. In video games, things are different – less control in the hands of any single individual, for a start – but for books, the creation of new media comes from one mind. There is only one person responsible for the raw material of narrative.

So I find myself disagreeing with Neil on this one.

Authors strive, every day, to get fans invested in their stories. Consider how many words and dollars have been spent on marketing for their books. We are told, over and over again, that getting true, dedicated fans is paramount – and it is. It is. Fans that are invested in our work will buy it, and support us, and let us keep telling stories.

Investment creates an obligation between us.

I ask: who do I work for? Who do I write for? Any author who’s being honest will say, I write for my fans. Those who buy our books and share our posts on Facebook and get excited about new releases. Those are the only ones in the equation who really matter, because their enthusiasm makes everything else possible. So Neil Gaiman and George R. R. Martin may have the luxury of saying that they don’t work for their fans, but authors without their level of fame and success would never admit anything like it, not after spending months of blood and sweat to build a dedicated audience. The very idea that they “don’t write for you” is preposterous; why else are they writing, if not to share their stories with readers? It’s more than a little obnoxious to suggest that we pour all our efforts into engaging readers, and then demean that engagement by trivializing it.

You don’t sell people a dream that fires their imagination, and then neglect it and let them pine for it. You have an obligation to tell the story, and tell it well. You need to be accountable. Otherwise, you’re just telling yourself a story at your own leisure, for your own amusement. Crowdfunding does change things, but it doesn’t change them that much, and the obligation existed long before Kickstarter was ever a thing. The only real difference between then and now is that now fans can communicate their feelings on that obligation directly, in a way that wasn’t really visible before.

Let’s be honest here – this isn’t a bad thing. It’s just different. It used to be that authors needed to be accountable to publishers and agents before their readers. Now, it’s just the readers, if we choose. That’s something to be happy about at least.