I am a big fan of Franchise Fiction: Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate et al. As a writers, I've dreamed about starting and running my own. That is the financial goal of most creative folk: continuing characters and setting you love and an exploration of an idea to its fullest with a committed fan audience who really want to participate in the project.
If that is the dream, how can I (or any writer) make it into a reality?
Learning from the past
Franchises are accidents...
Damn! With the exception of Babylon 5, I cannot think of a planned franchise that succeeded, and even Babylon 5 survived on a healthy dose of luck.
I wish I could pin point a formula to share (and follow), but there really doesn't seem to be one. But I think that is a big part of the problem. It puts the cart before the horse. There is one really important question we have to ask before we can move forward:
How to define Success?
Franchises fall and collapse into themselves like dying stars long before anyone every gets to see them. Most, especially the ones produced for film and television, suffer under the weight of unrealistic expectations.
When I say I want to have a successful franchise/series, I mean:
- I want it to support me
- I want to enjoy working in it
- I want readers/viewers to enjoy it
- I want readers/viewers to participate in it
It does not have to:
- Make me rich
- Be a bestseller
- Be bigger/more popular than Series X
- Please everyone
Realistic or Delusion?
That is the real question isn't it. By now we have all heard the argument:
A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author - in other words, anyone producing works of art - needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.
A True Fan is defined as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce. They will drive 200 miles to see you sing. They will buy the super deluxe re-issued hi-res box set of your stuff even though they have the low-res version. They have a Google Alert set for your name. They bookmark the eBay page where your out-of-print editions show up. They come to your openings. They have you sign their copies. They buy the t-shirt, and the mug, and the hat. They can't wait till you issue your next work. They are true fans (Kevin Kelly).
Is that doable? Yes, but there is one giant flaw with the model:
Producing Enough Purchasable Content
At dashPunk, we rely on advertising, affiliate links, donations and sales of my books to pay to keep the lights on. I look at it this way:
- Ads cover the cost of lurkers and folk who are too cash strapped to pay to products
- Affiliate links bring in people who like the same things we do
- My books sell to people who love my fiction
- Donations are for the kindhearted folk who want to support the work we are doing
We don't rely on any one solution, but if I want to have a successful franchise, I have to produce enough content to support the salary I want to have.
I talk to a lot of writers who seem to think that making money is a form of magic. They will sign a mystical contract, send their work out into the ether and have paychecks come in. They get really frustrated when they learn the truth.
The problem is, I think a lot of media companies have the same idea. They produced the show/movie/book/game and the money should magically appear. It may have worked like that once upon a time, but those days are dead and gone.
Content creators need to learn how to be fans of their own work and involve their fans in their projects.
To Crowd Source?
This the beauty of the Creative Commons license to me. I want my fans to know they have the right to play in my settings and with my characters, but there needs to be an easy way to bring fanac into canon.
I've been working on a new setting for some time now, and I plan to build a site for it and involve my readers in the process. I am not sure exactly how I am going to do this, but I would love your input. Comments and ratings will be a part of it, but I am not sure if that should be all. I want more interaction.
If we creatives are going to have a future, we have to learn how to move forward with our projects in a way that will involve or fans. We go forward in community, or not at all.