Posted on June 27, 2011 - by MG
Excellent news re Pottermore. Why should fans of a series be the only ones to play in the creative sandbox? Authors might want to noodle around there too. And it doesn’t have to detract from the creativity of fandom. Some fans enjoy defining a text by their own reading, to put it in the kind of language used by cultural studies mavens like Henry Jenkins. Equally, some fans want to probe further into the author’s own vision of a world.
Like Jenkins I’m as interested in the cultural as well as publishing implications of Pottermore. I was slightly startled to see Youtuber Alex Day (nerimon) respond within hours with his video What the F**k Is Pottermore? (over 200,00 views since posted, as of today).
Was this some kind of new backlash against an author trying to control how fans play in the sandbox she created? Or just a disguised version of the all-too-familiar Potter-envy, which has resulted in a tedious stream of law suits, and critical sniffiness, such as this think-piece by a author A.S Byatt?
Two of the comments by Alex Day struck me. First, he seems to resent to being referred to as part of the ‘digital generation’. Maybe like me, nerimon senses that this is yet another spurious term trying to pin down something which marketeers don’t actually understand. Those crazy digital people! Yes. That’s right. Fear us, we are strange and pixelated!
Secondly, he suggests that if one feels strongly enough about which Hogwarts house you might be in, if such a thing actually existed, you should be able to decide for yourself. Official or not, you shouldn’t need the official website to dictate. (Alex feels loyal to Ravenclaw. When I did the test on Facebook, it picked me as a Gryffindor. But I’d have chosen Ravenclaw too, probably.)
In Three Reasons Why Pottermore Matters, Henry Jenkins addresses whether authors should try to control the extent and manner in which which fans interact with their creation. Jenkins coined the term ‘textual poacher’ for such fans, and he’s written extensively on the phenomenon of fan fiction, in which readers/viewers appropriate published or broadcast material for their own creativity.
Where do I stand? Well, for once I have a foot in both camps.
Like a few other newish YA authors (e.g. Cassandra Clare, author of The Mortal Instruments books), I began my writing career as a ‘textual poacher’. Back in the late 1990s my good friend Reba Bandyopadhyay and I started the first online Blake’s 7 fan fiction zine.*
Without the literary multi-gym of fan fiction, I would probably never have become a published author. Writing Blake’s 7 fanfic developed me as a writer, it also introduced me to some wonderful friends.
So I’m in favour of the fan-created world. Long may it live!
On the other hand, now I’m an author too. And the world of The Joshua Files doesn’t stop at the books. There is a whole other novel in the form of the Alternate Reality Game, The Descendant. Who killed Josh’s godfather, PJ Beltran, and why? Where is PJ’s teenage daughter, Gabi? The answers these questions are answered in the form of over 50 videos, blogs, secret messages in Habbo Hotel and a code in the UK and US editions of the second Joshua book, ICE SHOCK.
Then there’s Josh’s new secret blog, which provides glimpses into his life before and after the fourth adventure DARK PARALLEL. Fans are beginning to comment on Josh’s blog, to interact with him. But fans have also created their own versions of Josh’s blog, and have inserted themselves as new characters in the investigative drama that is The Descendant, they’ve made their own video trailers.
I think this is more than cool – it’s essential to real growth of a story. A story really only takes off when it has been poached. Hence all the versions of Robin Hood, the Merlin story, etc. Now we have modern day equivalents – the new Star Trek movie franchise kicked of by JJ Abrams is a professionally-produced AU (alternative universe) Trek fanfic.
But authors should be able to play too! That’s what Pottermore is – the author’s own personal sandbox, or as Youtuber Mickeleh says in his response to nerimon (What’s Pottermore? I’ll Tell You) – it’s JKR’s “own personal bandcamp”.
Join the author there if you want, if not, don’t. Mind you, it will be the only way to buy HP ebooks.
However! Chin-stroking commentators who write that it’s the end of publishing as we know it, fundamental paradigm shift etc, may have missed something.
Pottermore is a closed shop – a site for HP fans only where they can only buy HP-related products. That’s fine when you have hundreds of millions of readers.
If you don’t, if you are, oh I don’t know, lemme see, almost anyone else on the planet, you probably still need to sell your books, e or paper, in a place where other books are sold.
Never underestimate the power of cross-buying, impulse buying and the all-powerful bookseller’s tool, 3-for-2. Or indeed, Amazon’s witchy ways of figuring out what customers like to read.
Pottermore is like a cheese shop that only sells gorgonzola. Great if you love gorgonzola, but a fan of cheddar, cheshire or brie isn’t likely to wander into there by mistake and give it a try.
Like, I suspect, all other authors in the world, when my books go digital later this year – next week for ICE SHOCK – I want them sold at all the outlets possible. Breathe easy, Amazon et al. There’s only one Harry Potter.
*Reba has read everything I have ever written and from the beginning commented as seriously on my Blakes7 fanfic as she does now on Joshua Files and the manuscript for Ultra Secret New Project. I promised to base a character in Joshua Files on Reba, so Joshua readers will be visiting Reba at her observatory in Joshua 5…