Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Guest Post: Fan Expectations by Gini Koch + Giveaway

It is my great pleasure to welcome back to the blog the terrific, the unimitable, the one and only Gini Koch, whose amazing Alien series is not only a favourite of mine but of many others as well. To our great joy Book #6 Alien Diplomacy got released in April and Gini has graciously agreed to share with us how she lives with fan pressure since her series got BIG. (Because let's be honest, every one of us who read Kitty & co's stories let Gini know (=harassed and stalked her) what we thought should happen and why did so and so do what they did). Now Gini lets us know why things happen the way they do and that we should trust her because she knows best what we need to enjoy her stories (and I have to hand it to her she is right. Even if at first I was maybe rooting for things to happen differently now I see that they did the way they were supposed to). But enough of that, read on and don't forget to enter the giveaway at the end, you wouldn't want to miss out on such a sweet prize! ;-)

Fan Expectations

There’s something they warn you about, in passing, when you start getting published. “They” are other authors, agents, editors, someone involved in the idea-to-bookshelf supply chain. “Don’t pay attention to the pressure of fan expectations,” someone says casually. Maybe someone else nods in agreement.

And that’s it.

Now, for most of us, when we’re starting out, the mere idea of garnering fans is so far away from where we’re at that we tend to nod and then go on about the business of getting our bookie wookies finished and edited and all that good jazz. And then we move right on into worrying that our books won’t sell and all that bad jazz. So, you know, we keep busy.

Your book hits the shelves, and, if all goes well, people buy it. Many of them actually read it, too. And out of those people, somewhere along the way, you get fans.

My first fan letter came three weeks before my first novel, “Touched by an Alien”, was supposed to be released. The bookstore got the books, put the books onto its shelves, the reader picked my book up, enjoyed the book, and lo and behold, she sent me a fan email telling me she’d enjoyed the book. Which I almost threw away without opening it, thinking it was spam, because, frankly, I wasn’t ever expecting to get one. (And I am so very happy that I opened it “just in case”.)

That is NOT to say that I don’t think my books are fan-worthy. I just honestly never expected anyone to take the time to tell me they enjoyed my book…beyond, you know, buying the next book in the series. But she did (and I love her for it), and others do, too, all the time.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but from that first fan email on, I fell in love with my fans. I really mean it -- I LOVE my fans. All of them, each and every one. My fans are my crack. (Is that wrong?) Nothing makes my day brighter than someone telling me they enjoyed one of my books.

So I didn’t feel the pressure at the start. I was too new, the whole experience was too new, and I was too busy bouncing in my chair any time someone said something nice about my book to notice anything even remotely close to the pressure of fan expectations.

I was also writing three books ahead.

Yes, that’s right. When “Touched by an Alien” came out, “Alien Tango” and “Alien in the Family” were done and I was finishing “Alien Proliferation” while also being immersed in the editing process with DAW. (There are pros and cons to this, which aren’t applicable for this particular topic, but let’s just say that it was a great learning experience and let it go at that.) Which was a really, really good thing. Because by the time “Alien Tango” released, I started to feel the pressure.

It’s not a bad thing, mind you, fan expectations. And no fan means it to BE bad. But there are characters that become favorites and others who aren’t liked as well and things happen and everyone has an opinion. And while I may not ever comment on reviews, I do read them all. And I interact with my fans all the time because social media’s made that very easy and I love me some social media.

There are all kinds of fan expectations that can affect you. Of course, the obvious one is “will they like this next book” and that is what keeps some of us (me, for certain) up at night, nervously pacing, once the book’s gone through its last galley edit.

The next obvious one is when someone didn’t like something specific in the book, be it a character, a plotline, a scene, whatever. There’s always a knee-jerk reaction of wanting to fix it, to explain in some way, before you get to the realization that the book’s out and not everyone’s going to like everything you write, no matter how much you wish it were otherwise. Everyone’s a critic, and for your own mental health (such as it is for writers) you have to just say “oh well” and keep on keeping on.

But it’s the little requests about specific characters or plotlines or settings (“When will Christopher find love?” “You’d better never kill THAT character off!” “Any chance you can set the next book in my country?” “Are you sure Kitty couldn’t just have a fling with this other guy?” “Will you put me into your book somewhere?”) that start to get into your brain, and not always in a good way.

There is a reason beyond being several books ahead (somehow, I’m only writing two ahead now…how did THAT happen?) for why I don’t actually give in to fan pressures for things my various fans have asked for.

I’ve seen what happens when someone gives fans exactly what they ask for.

I was part of a fandom what seems like only a little while ago but was actually in the ‘90’s. (Yes, honestly, THE NINETIES…we must pause, while I feel very, very old for a moment…there, I’m better now.) We were one of the first Save Our Show groups and we actually saved said show. Go us, right?

This was a vocal and opinionated fandom, and the producers and writers and actors were very gracious and grateful that we’d done all this to keep them on the air for a second season. And so, to show their gratitude, they listened to everything we said we wanted to see. And they gave it to us.

And we hated it.

Everything we’d said we wanted, well, once we saw it on the screen, we didn’t like it. There are a variety of potential reasons why, but the one that I think is the closest to the truth is that we didn’t KNOW what we wanted. Sure, we thought we knew, but what we REALLY wanted was what the show’s writers, cast and crew had given us before -- THEIR vision. Not ours, theirs. We’d fallen in love with what they’d created, and when they altered that to make us happy, we were more than let down.

The show was, frankly, nowhere near as good in the second season as the first, and it died the death it honestly deserved. But in its death, it taught me the most valuable lesson I’d need once I had books published and had fans find me.

You don’t really know what you want until I give it to you, because I know the world and the characters and all the little intricacies that make it special and make it mine, make it clearly written by me, not written by someone else.

I know what would have happened if, for example, Kitty had chosen Christopher instead of Jeff (and the example is: the world would have ended). I know where every turning point for the characters is, in this universe and others. I know because they’re in my head, they’re a part of me.

You might not like everything I do every time out of the gate, but the sum of the parts makes up a better whole than if I was giving each person what they’d asked for -- if I gave every fan what they asked for, it wouldn’t be “right”, because it wouldn’t be coming from me, in that sense, it would be coming from a committee. And committees don’t write books. Authors write books.

Will you love my current release, Alien Diplomacy (and, writing as G.J. Koch, Alexander Outland: Space Pirate), and my next bookie wookies, and the ones after those? I sure hope so. But I can guarantee that the reason you love the books you do, mine and other authors’, is that you love where we take you, even if it’s not where you think you want to go.

The one thing you can always expect, though, is that my books are going to take you on a wild ride. So fasten your seatbelts and join Kitty and Company as they introduce Washington, D.C. to how they do things Alien-style.

What change from the norm in popular entertainment (books, TV, movies, etc.) had you the most worried, but ended up being something you loved? My answer -- the casting of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine in the first X-Men movie. Hugh's a foot too tall to play Wolverine as he is in the comics, but the moment Hugh was onscreen he BECAME Wolverine, and was pretty much perfect. So, kudos to the casting director for ignoring fan pressure and casting the right guy for the role.

Gini Koch lives in Hell’s Orientation Area (aka Phoenix, AZ), works her butt off (sadly, not literally) by day, and writes by night with the rest of the beautiful people. She writes the fast, fresh and funny Alien/Katherine “Kitty” Katt series for DAW Books and the Martian Alliance Chronicles series for Musa Publishing. She also writes under a variety of pen names (including G.J. Koch, Anita Ensal, Jemma Chase, A.E. Stanton, and J.C. Koch), listens to rock music 24/7, and is a proud comics geek-girl willing to discuss at any time why Wolverine is the best superhero ever (even if Deadpool does get all the best lines). She speaks frequently on what it takes to become a successful author and other aspects of writing and the publishing business.

She can be reached through her 
website / blog / Twitter Facebook / Goodreads / Alien Collective Headquarters

Touched by an Alien  Alien Tango  Alien in the Family


Gini has generously offered winner's choice of either Touched by an Alien, Alien Tango, or Alien in the Family, signed & personalized! woohoo!

All you have to do is leave a comment answering Gini's question: What change from the norm in popular entertainment (books, TV, movies, etc.) had you the most worried, but ended up being something you loved?

Giveaway is open worldwide and ends on 30 May 2012!

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