Best Thing I’ve Read All Week: 1,000 True Fans

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The “long tail” is a bit of shorthand for the fact that there are just a few books/movie/albums/etc. (what Patreon calls Things) that appeal to everyone–the blockbusters–and many Things that appeal to select groups of people. Studios and publishers tend to focus on the blockbusters, but now that the tools by which Things are published/produced are available to one and all, the Long Tail means that most artists can find a small market.

The question being, can that small market be big enough to sustain us as artists? To, as Ursula K. Le Guin seems fond of putting it, “keep us in peanut butter?”

This article that appears on The Technetium (which came to me via Kelsey Nelson, whose thoughts on book marketing I’ve found useful). It states that, based on the math, an artist only needs to find 1,000 True Fans to make a living right now.

The only catch is that a True Fan is someone who’s willing to purchase any and everything that you, as an artist, produce–and that you, as an artist, keep producing outstanding work.

“But the point of this strategy is to say that you don’t need a hit to survive.  You don’t need to aim for the short head of best-sellerdom to escape the long tail. There is a place in the middle, that is not very far away from the tail, where you can at least make a living. That mid-way haven is called 1,000 True Fans. It is an alternate destination for an artist to aim for.”

As I launch my debut novel–that is, my first big Thing–this is, without a doubt, the destination I’m aiming for.


The Story Behind the Story: “Spin”

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I wrote the first draft of this short story around 1999 and revised it innumerable times over the years. Though it got me into grad school, the story racked up at least twenty rejections and remained unpublished until 2013, when a young editor at Bayou Magazine named Robin Baudier told her superiors that she wouldn’t take on any other project until the magazine decided whether or not it was going to publish this piece. I’d found my first real fan!

It seems fitting that Robin’s love for “Spin” brought this story out, at last, into the light of day, because it’s a story about love, albeit romantic.

It’s also a story about physics, quantum entanglement (the real phenomenon at the heart of the fiction), and Einstein’s “spooky actions at a distance.” I’ve been thinking about such things recently in the wake of our latest major scientific breakthrough, the detection of gravitational waves via the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in Hanford, Washington, and Livingston, Louisiana, which appears to confirm one of the stranger implications of Einstein’s theory of special relativity.

In essence, that giant, immensely expensive piece of equipment was constructed solely for the purpose of detecting the subtle ripples in space time hypothetically generated by the collision of two black holes just over a billion years ago, many millions of galaxies from here–and, as of just a few months ago, it succeeded. Those ripples are hypothetical no more.

Nicola Twilley, writing for the New Yorker,  points out that virtually everything we know about the universe has come to us via the electromagnetic spectrum, whereas LIGO is a completely new kind of telescope, which means we have an entirely new kind of astronomy to explore. How exciting!

Clearly, I’m still preoccupied with many of the same things I was at twenty, when I wrote the first draft of this story. You’ll see other hallmarks of Young Writer Susan here as well…

Want the story, “Spin,” as well as the rest of The Story Behind the Story? Support an emerging author (that’s me!) for as little as $5/month.

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Work-in-Progress Wednesday: Dream Studies

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I spoke last night to a fellow writer who admits that he hates to write–he doesn’t enjoy it at all, it’s just a compulsion. That’s a sentiment I understand (see my recent essay, on the Back Road Cafe), but it’s something I seldom experience anymore. In part, I think, because I’ve learned how to spend more time inside the dream of storytelling (and less time trying to perfect the telling).

Inside the dream of my next short story, a quantum version of my twenty-year-old self is the assistant manager at the Elks Opera House in Prescott, Arizona. She’s enrolled in a class called Dream Studies, and she’s in a romantic relationship she can’t quite figure out how to get out of.

Over the course of this story–which I’m just beginning to imagine the opening lines of–she spends a night at work, in part to avoid dealing with her boyfriend, and discovers a network of what appear to be Hopi kivas beneath the hundred-year-old theater. But how is that even possible? How could anyone build one structure so elaborate right on top of another?

In the course of this tale, as you might imagine, reality and dreams converge. I have a few notes–pictured here–which I made this summer, but beyond that, I have no idea where this story will take me.

And that is something I very much enjoy.