Alright, so I’m 25 years old and theoretically an adult. But I’m still giddy as all get out that Elizabeth Bear linked to my blog. In the old days (read, 5 years ago), you might have a chance to run into a favorite author at a fan convention or possibly even get a reply to a letter that you sent to them. These days, authors are out here on ‘teh Internets’ engaging in conversations with their fans and building communities around their body of work. It is a radically different way of doing business and one that I think is slowly, but surely, changing how the publishing industry works.
John Scalzi is probably a prime example of the phenomenon. His blog, the Whatever, is one of the more popular science fiction blogs out there and is definitely one the prime examples of someone who has built a community around his blog. William Gibson may have a popular blog, but people read it because he is famous, not because what he posts is inherently valuable in a blogie sense. Most of Gibson’s posts (at least the ones that are longer than a few lines) have been excerpts from works in progress: these are always interesting, but are not about community in the way that Scalzi’s blog is. Scalzi is famous because of his blog. Without his blog and the publicity and audience that it brought, maybe he doesn’t win his Campbell award.
Why does his blog work for him like this? You read it for a while and you get the sense that you know this guy and, more importantly, that he is the sort of person you want to know. So what does having a popular blog get Scalzi?
One is the desire to read his books. Because I feel like I can identify with Scalzi it then stands that the books that he writes are going to be interesting to me the same way his blog is. And sure enough, I’ve got my share of Scalzi books on my shelves and I’m currently stalking the rest for their paperback release (there are very few authors who I buy in hard cover these days. With 200+ on the wishlist, I can afford to wait a bit longer for the paperbacks and not run out of stuff to read). So Scalzi gets money from me because he has a blog.
Two is that he has the ability to pimp out his friends and fellow writers. I’ve got a whole bunch of books either bought or on the wishlist because Scalzi has said nice things about them on his blog. Cherie Priest, Charlie Stross, Peter Watts, Susan Groppi, Chris Roberson, Kelly Link, even Elizabeth Bear: I have already or will soon be giving you money because of things that John Scalzi said about you. In the case of Elizabeth Bear, I’ve bought 4 of your books and pimped you out to a bunch of my friends. Cherie Priest I’ve got one of your books and convinced someone else to buy it as well. Etc. and etc. Because I like John Scalzi, I’m willing to trust his opinion and spend my money on you. In essence, this goes back to the whole small stories things I wrote about previously. Because I have nowhere enough time to keep up with every new science fiction and fantasy author who comes around, I have to rely on people to filter them out for me. Because I trust John Scalzi’s taste, I trust his condensed version of who is worth reading.
Third is that he has my attention for any hair-brained scheme that he can cook up. Like his current SFWA presidency gig. The reason that he can attempt to run such a campaign is that he has a whole crazy group of people like me that enjoy the community that he has built. We’re all willing to listen to what he has to say, maybe blog about it, maybe talk to someone about. His messages gets out there. With that sort of power he could, dare I say it, rule the world.
The reversal here is important. In the old days, authors wrote books which might build a community if they got popular. But these days authors can build a community which can then launch their books. Have audience, will write.