2011-04-26

George R. R. Martin: a successful fantasy author and his fans

George R. R. Martin is writing the ongoing fantasy series “A Song of Ice and Fire” which has sold more than 7 million copies world wide. Recently, HBO launched a new series that is based on the first book in the series called “Game of Thrones”. The New Yorker has recently published the article “George R. R. Martin’s Fantasy Books and Fans” which gives interesting insights into the life of a best-selling fantasy author.

A few tidbits from the article:
  • Interacting with fans is important for modern authors.
    He is committed to nurturing his audience, no matter how vast it gets. “It behooves a writer to be good to his fans,” he says. He writes a lively blog, and though he has an assistant, Ty Franck, who screens the multitude of comments that are posted on it, he tries to read many of them himself. [...] When Martin is travelling, which is often, he attends the gatherings of the Brotherhood Without Banners, an unofficial fan club with informal chapters around the world, and he counts its founders and other longtime members among his good friends. In many respects, he’s a model for contemporary authors confronted with a wobbly publishing industry and a fractured marketplace. Anne Groell, Martin’s editor at Random House, tells her authors, “Outreach and building community with readers is the single most important thing you can do for your book these days. You need to make them feel invested in your career.”

    Still, a close relationship with one’s audience has its drawbacks. As Martin puts it, “The more readers you have, the harder it is to keep up, and then you can’t get any writing done.”
  • Conventions play a crucial role in Martin’s social life.
    Martin attends about six conventions a year, and he says that since college “virtually all the women in my life, including Parris [his wife], were people I met at science-fiction conventions.”
  • Online fans can have an ugly sense of entitlement. It is taking Martin very long to finish the next book in the “Song” series. As a consequence a movement of haters has sprung up that harshly attacks Martin every time he does something that suggests that he is not devoting his full energy to the book. For example, whenever he writes a blog post that is not directly related to it.
    [...] “Finish the Book, George” [is] a blog begun in 2008 by two brothers using the monikers Pesci and Liotta—a reference to two actors from the gangster film “GoodFellas.” The pseudonymous pair had taken their cue from another Martin blog post, this one admonishing visitors to stay on topic or butt out. (“If you want to comment on other matters, including, but not limited to, the lateness of ‘A Dance with Dragons,’ that’s fine, just go do it on your own blogs.”) In response, Pesci and Liotta began publishing one blistering post after another, making them heroes, of a sort, to the detractors. One post reads, “Since we all know GRRM can’t write unless he is in his special place with his special writing booties on and the temperature at exactly 69 degrees and the sun aligned with Aquarius, I take this as another sign that the big guy hasn’t typed a word of ADWD today.”
  • Measuring popularity. The blog of one Martin detractor is even being turned into a book. That’s another measure of popularity: So many people hate you that it pays to publish a book with negative content about you.
    A Norwegian schoolteacher named Remy Verhoeve is one of these hyper-dedicated readers. Until a friend persuaded him to try “A Game of Thrones,” he had never especially liked fantasy fiction, with the exception of “The Lord of the Rings.” In his opinion, the first three volumes of “A Song of Ice and Fire” are “the finest novels I’ve ever read.” After discovering the series, he read those three books ten times each. [...] Yet Verhoeve, operating under the nom de guerre of Slynt, now runs a Web forum dedicated to denigrating Martin and his supporters. The site is called “Is Winter Coming?”—a snide play on “Winter is coming,” the motto of the Starks, one of the central families in the series.
    [...]
    A small publishing house made a deal with Verhoeve to compile some of his blog postings into a book, to be titled “Waiting for Dragons.”
  • Fans know more than authors. A fan has become a consultant for details of the series, and his customers include Martin himself.
    García is a superfan. His knowledge of Martin’s invented world is so encyclopedic that the author has referred HBO researchers to him when they have questions regarding the production of “Game of Thrones.” Although García’s participation in Westeros.org is voluntary, his involvement with Martin’s work has become semi-professional. He is being paid to consult with licensors creating tie-in merchandise and to write text for a video game based on the series. He and Martin are collaborating on a comprehensive guide to the books, “The World of Ice and Fire.” Martin himself sometimes checks with García when he’s not sure he’s got a detail right. Martin told me, “I’ll write something and e-mail him to ask, ‘Did I ever mention this before?’ And he writes me right back: ‘Yes, on page 17 of Book Four.’”
  • A new approach to fantasy. I have neither read the book nor watched the TV series, but especially the former seems interesting. Traditional fantasy can be simplistic in its characters and story lines.
    By contrast, “A Song of Ice and Fire” doesn’t truck with “orcs and goblins and dark lords and bad and good. It revolves around people, really gritty people, and real situations, things that you don’t see in fantasy—sex and language and betrayal.”
    [...]
    Martin’s characters indulge in all the usual vices associated with the Middle Ages, and some of them engage in behavior—most notably, incest—that would shock people of any historical period. Characters who initially seem likable commit reprehensible acts, and apparent villains become sympathetic over time. Martin transgressed the conventions of his genre—and most popular entertainment—by making it clear that none of his characters were guaranteed to survive to the next book, or even to the next chapter. “When Indiana Jones goes up against that convoy of forty Nazis, it’s a lot of fun, but it’s not ‘Schindler’s List,’ ” he explained. He wants readers to feel that “they love the characters and they’re afraid for the characters.”
    The serial nature of “A Song of Ice and Fire” is key to the involvement it elicits. Although story lines conclude in each of the novels, the larger narrative arc remains unresolved, encouraging readers to speculate about what might ultimately happen.

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