Outlander Fandom: The Difference a Word Makes

On the first night of one of the biggest fan fests, San Diego Comic Con, here are some thoughts inspired by someone who I think is a king of the con, Wil Wheaton.

I’ve never geeked out over something. Sure, there are things I’ve enjoyed, followed from afar and loved, but I’ve never joined a fandom. Until now.

I started reading the Outlander series written by Diana Gabaldon at the insistence of my sister who loves the books. We enjoy discussing and dissecting the books together. It’s common for one of us to call the other when we’re in the midst of reading and say, “Oh my God! Can you believe what happened?”

After joining Twitter last year, I was delighted to discover Diana was there. It’s wonderful that she interacts with her fans not to sell things, but considers us friends. It was moving to read her post regarding this on her Facebook page last year. Her point of view is refreshing and humbling.

I became an Outlander fan for 2 reasons. The first is because of the people I’ve met who share a love of the Outlander series. So many of Diana Gabaldon’s fans have remarked that a benefit of reading her books is that we find friends all around the world. All because she wrote a book! We feel a sense of connection. It’s like we’re kindred spirits. Many people have shared these books with others, gone to book signings and events, and found each other on Twitter, Facebook and other sites.

Secondly, Diana Gabaldon is a gifted storyteller who creates detailed worlds filled with characters and plots that have readers enjoy returning to again and again. In addition to her writing skills, Diana has been a careful caretaker of her creations. After many years of the optioning process, she chose Tall Ship Productions and, in conjunction with Story Mining & Supply Co, Left Bank Productions, Sony Picture Television and Starz, they proceeded to develop a television series based on her award-winning books.

This brings me to my a-ha moment about the importance of attitudes towards fandoms. Everything crystalized when I watched a 2013 panel interview with Wil Wheaton at the Denver Comic Con. He was explaining the difference between an audience and a community. He credited Hank Green who wrote about this on a post on his blog. Thank you to both of these men for sharing their thoughts. You can check out Wil at the 2013 Denver Comic Con on YouTube  http://youtu.be/qtMuGnjSpUo?t=7m  to about the 9:11 minute mark. Better yet, watch the whole thing. He is amazing.

Here’s a summary: An audience is filled with people who will enjoy something and when it is over they move on to the next thing. A community never stops caring about the thing that they love. They are invested in its success. A community wants the thing that they love to grow and so they share it with others. An audience takes the end product. A community nurtures, cares for and builds the thing they love. There are few companies that will grow a community; more often companies are looking for an audience to consume what they have produced. They will develop the brand and exploit it to generate money with very little regard to the fandom.

I agree wholeheartedly with the premise, but I’m not naïve to believe that a business functions without profit. At the end of the day, it all comes down to the attitudes and intentions of the company. Does it view the fandom as an audience or a community? This is where I realize that I owe Diana Gabaldon as the creator, Tall Ship Productions, Story Mining & Supply Co, Left Bank Productions, Sony Picture Television, and Starz a debt of gratitude. These companies are part of the rare elite that understand the importance of developing a community.  They have generously interacted with fans, created events and internet sites including the aptly named Outlander Community. Not everything is going to go the way we, as a fandom, may want, but we are very lucky. For those of us who chose to be involved, we are provided with opportunities to be invested in the Outlander series.

As the premiere of the Outlander TV series approaches, some of us will be in a rapidly expanding audience and some of us will continue to be in the Outlander community. There’s room for all of us, but I am grateful that I can be in the latter.