We often hear the phrase “don’t patronize me,” which I, at least, interpret to mean something along the lines of this:
Don’t assume I work for free, or will work to the specification, quality, or extent because of the preconceived notions about my trade.
In reality, the meaning is rooted in the interaction between two people, one speaking with veiled politeness to another, with the assumption that the former is greater than the latter. The phrase is rooted in the notion of patronage, wherein a wealthy benefactor, for the purpose of boosting their renown or prestige in society, will commission works of art that reflect in some capacity their personality, beliefs, or ideals. Today, it is my opinion that the notion of patronage still exists, though in a distributed sense. Authors, creators, makers, and developers all suckle at the teat of their “base,” and how well they perform at predicting the whims of their supporters will determine, ultimately, their earnings.
Patronage, historically, has been of great benefit to society in the arts, despite the veiled agendas that underlie the circumstances of their creation. Plays and paintings, theater and sculpture, and many more products have endured and persisted because of motivated individuals indulging an artist’s whims. Today, not much has changed, with Patreon campaigns and Kickstarters, where the motivation of supporting a non-profit or individual (as “backers”) is rewarded by tangible and intangible gifts alike. I myself am considering a Kickstarter to print (for the first time) my third book. (Yes, you heard it here first, folks.) And while the results of these campaigns are mixed, art is still created and incentivized. What’s not to like?
I have thought about it for a while, this idea of patronage, and how it applies to modern works of art. As both a fan and a creator, I know what I like, and I continue to learn what my fans (if any) also like. I have been frustrated by the creators in my life before. For instance, Patrick Rothfuss (of The Name of the Wind fame) is regularly ridiculed on his Facebook page regarding the unexplained delays of the third and final book of his marvelous Kingkiller Chronicles trilogy. Likewise, Gabe Newell is the butt of every joke on the internet about the permanently incomplete Half-Life 2 episodic series, which was also intended to be a trilogy, but ended with a cliffhanger finale in Half Life 2: Episode 2. Each example illustrates the ire of fandom, from innocuous barbs to toxic threats.
My view that I formed is one that I wanted to share, if not to clarify why I make art, but also to emphasize how the model of patronage in the modern age is mutually beneficial to the creator and the fan.
I call it (uncreatively), the Author-Fan Agreement.
The Author-Fan Agreement (AFA), is a mutual agreement between a writer and their fans to produce content reliably and faithfully, and if (at any point) this agreement is violated then the fans have justified cause to halt patronage. I should clarify what this is not, before I explain.
The AFA is not a fan dictating to the author, what the work should be about or what it should contain. I’ve said before that I know what I like. I don’t expect my favorite authors to write about the things that I want them to write about. Rather, there are qualities or ideas at play in these stories that draw me in. Regardless of the work, it is not the contents of it I like, but the creative personality that goes in to making the final product. Personally, when I write my books, I do not acquiesce the requests of fans, unless the project involves that. I like to write about things that impact me, challenge me. And though I myself have often lamented at the creative direction of people like Zack Synder and his baffling direction of the early DC Comics cinematic universe, I must observe his right to create art that speaks to him specifically.
My thoughts of the AFA can be summarized in these points:
- An author and his/her fans have entered into a binding, unspoken agreement. We all like to see good art made. We do this every time we buy a book on Amazon or watching a movie at the theaters. We like the things we like so much that we are willing to pay for it. This incentivizes the creator to produce more work.
- If, at any point, the author stops producing work the agreement is terminated unless the author clearly communicates to his/her fans the extenuating circumstances for the delay. The unfortunate reality of the modern day is that branding has become so enmeshed with creative expression. If you are not nice to your fans, they will stop buying your stuff. If fans stop buying your stuff, then you no longer have the resources to produce it. It’s true that the maverick image of the author is one that is untethered to society. One who answers to no authority and creates art with unrestricted freedom. But we all aren’t benefactors of trust funds and rent free living conditions. Some of us have families we support. Some of us pay a mortgage. The maverick image is romantic, but not realistic.
- The above point allows me to transition into my final thought: the AFA is a two-way agreement. Authors cannot survive without fans and fans cannot be entertained without authors. The relationship is, fundamentally, mutually beneficial. Personally, I love what I do. I love that I have a great day job, but also an amazing dream job that I get to live out every weekend as I slowly craft sprawling narratives and release them to the world. I have been doing this since I was ten years old, and will continue until I die. But the patronage of the fan, the advocacy of the fan, is so important. Without it, all art ceases to be.
One of the best feelings is to talk to a fan, to know that your work made an impact, as an author. I know that feeling to be a fan, to meet Grant Morrison, to match wits with Neil Gaiman. The relationship between the two should ultimately be one of mutual respect and admiration. So, in defense of your heroes, be a good patron. In return, I promise to always try to be the best author I can be.
Love you guys!