From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Fan loyalty and the Muppets

So I went and saw the new Muppet movie yesterday.

It was beautiful :) It made me smile and laugh out loud. The heart of the original Jim Hensen stuff was there, and the wacky humor, and the cameos by a cast of random and hilarious celebrities. I loved it.

The whole thing was about the Muppets as a brand, and whether or not they still had the backing of a loyal fan base. Obviously they did. And do. And it got me thinking: what does it take for something to have that kind of fan loyalty? Like, what makes the difference between someone buying your book and someone waiting for and looking forward to and buying all your books?

Obviously the most important part is having something amazing to offer, or people won't have the emotional engagement it takes to become a rabidly loyal fan. The Muppets are amazing. Harry Potter is amazing. That's why people care so much.

But beyond that. There are plenty of incredibly amazing things that don't have that same kind of widespread, devout fan base (Connie Willis), and also plenty of less amazing things that do (*ahem* Twilight. Sorry.) So what is it that makes the difference? I really want to get my hands on a copy of The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, but what are your thoughts first?

Here are some of mine: to try and get some kind of answer to my own question, I thought about what makes me personally a fiercely loyal fan of something.

First, past experience. I love the Muppets because I remember watching them as a kid. I will always consider Walk Two Moons one of my favorite childhood books, because I remember how strongly it effected me when I read it. I will always love Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, despite my knowledge of it's and Andrew Lloyd Weber's many musical flaws, because I remember listening to it while my sisters and I ran circles around the living room naked. (That was our form of dancing. We haven't progressed much since then.)

Second, because someone we know and trust recommended it. I've never washed clothes with anything other than Tide, because that's what my mother always used. I will always love Stephen Sondheim, because my mom loves him. A River Runs Through it will always be one of my favorite books, because it reminds me of Mr. K, my high school English teacher. I love Listerine and the '500 Miles' song by The Proclaimers because they remind me of my dad. So does Steve Martin dancing. (And you wondered where my family got our dance skills.)

Third, herd mentality. I hesitate to mention this one, because for me and I suspect for a lot of you, when EVERYBODY likes something it tends to make me like it less, at least at first, and if I love it then I love it despite what everybody else thinks. Like the play Wicked. I love it because it's awesome, not because every theater goer and their dog loves it. But still, whenever anybody goes to New York, they ALWAYS see Wicked and Phantom of the Opera, because that is what EVERYBODY sees. So basically, even though herds are sometimes annoying and often wrong (I still do not understand how Phantom is still there and Les Mis is not), if they're going to be there, they may as well be in your field, right?

Anyway. As far as it goes for us writers and artists, all that really matters is that we create the best work we know how. With work and some luck the rabidly loyal fans will follow. Hopefully not too closely. But yeah, the psychological and business aspects of this are fascinating, at least to nerds like me.

What do you think? What makes you a loyal fan of something, and how do you think we can maybe apply that to writing careers?

Sarah Allen


  1. I do love the Muppets - particularly Kermit. The Rainbow Connection! Can it get any better than that? I think not.

  2. In adult fiction especially, I think another factor is how impressed I am with the writing. I never would have picked up a Rushdie novel until I read him for a class. Now I'd buy anything he writes because I'm so impressed with his mad skillz. ^_^

  3. Oh my goodness, Walk Two Moons! I need to reread that book. I loved it so much when I was a kid!

  4. I think Henson had his hands in everything from Sesame Street to Ninja Turtles to Farscape. That helped in reaching a wide audience.

    I don't know if there is a way to force a loyal fan base. There are ways to build one, but unless your work has that spark that everyone can relate to, you won't be the next Harry Potter.

    I have posted Michael Sullivan's blog post before. If you haven't taken a look at it, it's worth the read on building a fanbase.

    My Blog

  5. You posed a question that's got me thinking.

  6. Interesting post! Wow, what does create or build loyalty? Yes, it can stem from an earlier time that you loved, or just something that makes you feel good and get inspired. Certainly, Jim Henson's talent was a great inspiration for many.
    What am I loyal too? Hmmm.... certain stores that carry great coffee and items I can only find there, films from certain film directors like Darren Aronofsky, who I can count on to be brilliant and unique, um... special friends who bring me joy, and authors like Nancy Werlin, whose novels are always creative.
    I guess it often has to do with felling joy and creativity for me.

  7. We took our grandkids to see the new movie, against their will. Yes, we tied them up and made these two girls (5 and 7 yr. old) watch Kermit and all his friends.
    They have not stopped talking about the movie. As I watched it, all the awe I felt each week back in the 80s as I watched The Muppet Show flooded over me. Precious, talented.

  8. I don't know HOW to do it, but the things that inspire loyalty seem to tap into what we already see in ourselves -- Kermit may be a frog with a banjo, but he's a dreamer, and so am I.

  9. Great thoughts guys! Isn't there some great stuff out there?



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