Recently, a video was released which set the long-dead Homestuck fandom aflame with drama. You don’t really need to watch it (I mean… unless you’re curious about the very troubled production of the Homestuck Kickstarter game). But to make a long story short: Andrew Hussie, the writer of Homestuck, made his first public comments on the Kickstarter game in years, and he unintentionally portrayed himself as a terrible businessperson and kind of an asshole.
This isn’t a post about that though. It’s a post about authors, how they engage with their fans, and how a bunch of stupid fandom drama made me ask myself: what kind of content creator do I want to be?
At the peak of Homestuck’s popularity, Andrew Hussie wasn’t the inaccessible recluse that he is today. He posted alongside his readers every day on the MSPA Forums. He frequently answered fan questions in depth on his Formspring. He was basically as interactive as an author can be—which should come as no surprise, considering his “MS Paint Adventures” were literally based on text-based adventure games, with readers supplying the commands.
And then eventually Homestuck became too popular for him to handle, the game scandal happened, the MSPA Forums were removed without warning, the Formspring was deleted, he deleted his Tumblr, nuked his Twitter, and commenced years of radio silence. That didn’t happen all at the same time—it was a gradual shift over a few years. But for the veteran fans who were there both before and after, it was clear that Hussie was no longer a presence in the fandom like he used to be.
One of the things I love about the science fiction book series The Expanse, other than the great books themselves, is that its authors—Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck—occasionally post on the r/TheExpanse subreddit. Even if it’s just to answer a fan question (such as the ever popular “When will the next book come out???”), even if it’s a boring answer (“We’re still working on it!”), that kind of interaction goes a long way toward keeping the community feeling like… well, a community.
Like the authors are accessible, down-to-earth* people on the same level as everyone else. Like they’re active participants in the fandom and its culture—because, in a strict sense, they are.
(*I swear, pun not intended.)
I can say similar things about plenty of other authors I’m a fan of. Will Wight has his blog, where he posts at least once every month, and he usually replies to at least a few reader comments. Jim Butcher does a great job at keeping fans of his Dresden Files series apprised of current happenings, whether through interviews or intermediaries. And though I haven’t read anything by the absurdly prolific Brandon Sanderson (yet), his website features progress bars on all his current active projects—along with more in-depth progress updates from time to time.
Contrast all this to another author/series I’m a fan of—but dissatisfied with: George R. R. Martin and his A Song of Ice and Fire novels.
As of when I’m writing this blog post, it has been a full 10 years since the 5th book in the ASOIAF series was released—with two more still to come, someday, allegedly. GRRM has received so much criticism for the amount of time it has taken him to write the next book (along with the previous few) that the subject even has a paragraph on his Wikipedia article!
Now, I don’t want to restart any old debates about reader entitlement and what GRRM does or doesn’t owe to his readers for the time/money/brainspace they’ve invested into his books. As Neil Gaiman so elegantly put it more than 10 years ago, George R. R. Martin is not your bitch. If GRRM wants to take another 10 years to finish ASOIAF book 6, that’s okay! If he wants to work on other projects instead, go for it! If he wants to quit writing entirely, he’s earned a happy retirement!
But George, regardless of the reason for the delay… would it kill you to be a little more transparent about it?
I disagree with the spirit of the infamous “not your bitch” quote, because it reframes the conversation to an unnecessary extreme. Of course George R. R. Martin isn’t required to finish any particular book for me; he’s not a slave. But on the other hand, imagine he came out tomorrow and said “Hey guys, I’m currently 80% finished with the book.” Wouldn’t that just be polite? Look at how many other major authors are doing that these days! It’s not that hard!
GRRM used to provide yearly(ish) updates on his Not a Blog. Not with concrete percentages like some authors do, but with rough sketches like “I’ve written hundreds of pages recently” or “I worked on a [character] chapter last week.” Vague statements that dozens of people have written tens of thousands of words of analysis over, to try to decode them into a more concrete percentage.
Again, George, I know you don’t owe us anything. And I know your writing style doesn’t translate well to concrete percentages, because a chapter you wrote last year might have to be scrapped next year. And I know you’d rather not upset the fans by giving incorrect estimates. But trust me when I say that fans would rather hear any news than no news.
Earlier this year, Will Wight decided to take a three month break from writing. Now, this is a guy with an utterly addicted fanbase ever since his Cradle series hit its stride, and he’s been going strong with releasing a book or two every year. You might think fans would have raged at the news that he was taking a break, but in reality? Everyone was supportive. Not once did I see anyone upset that he was taking a vacation, nor anyone demanding he get back to writing. The overall sentiment was, “take as much time as you need, you’ve earned it, we’ll be here when you’re ready to come back!”
Huh. It’s almost like fans of media value openness and honesty more than they value getting their next media-thing ASAP…
Andrew Hussie and Homestuck used to be like that, too. Back when the comic was still running, there were occasionally hiatuses that Hussie would announce, a week here or a month there, so that readers knew in advance when nothing would be happening. As far as I can remember from those days, most people were fine with that, too. (Until the hiatuses started correlating with lower writing quality, in many people’s opinions, but that’s another story entirely.)
… So, anyway, I opened this long rambling post with a question: what kind of creator do I want to be? Even before the events that inspired this post, I knew I wanted to be an author who engages with my readers. Whether in blog comments, or on Reddit, or Discord, or through emails—I want to be accessible. Not above the community; part of it.
I want to be transparent about what I’m working on, along with what I’m not working on—because I’m the kind of fan who would prefer to hear “whoops, I haven’t worked on XYZ in a month” than to hear nothing at all—and I assume my readers would feel the same way.
I want to be the kind of author who answers reader questions about all the weird deep lore that they’ll for some reason want to know. (Until I can’t, because spoilers, probably.)
And most importantly, like all the other authors I’ve listed above, I want to be extremely successful and popular lmao