AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH ... FANTASY-FACTION!
We have observed Fantasy-Faction's great works and wondered just why and how is their blog just so damn good?! And how do all those fantastic bloggers in general go about creating content-rich and rewarding experiences for their readers, invariably fitting this in around their day-jobs? Genre fiction has a strong and long-standing tradition of talented and passionate fans sharing their views to enrich the community for the rest of us. This has generated a thriving convention scene, a history of fan fiction and a myriad of thriving review and blog sites. As one of the more recent blogs of the last few years, Fantasy-Faction has a really interesting perspective on what they think works in a Twitter age. So ... here's our attempt to get to the bottom of this phenomena and figure out what Fantasy-Faction's Paul Wiseall feels makes for a good genre blog.
WHAT IS FANTASY-FACTION AND WHY DO YOU THINK IT’S SO POPULAR?
Fantasy-Faction.com is one of the fastest growing genre fiction websites on the internet. Marc (Aplin - founder of Fantasy-Faction), deliberately named it faction because he wanted to create a sense of community and in my opinion, that’s why it works. We don’t ask anything of anyone, we don’t bombard people with advertising, we just want to create a place where fans can come and while away the hours discussing what they love with other people who love it too.
WHAT ARE THE HIGH POINTS OF RUNNING A SUCCESSFUL BLOG?
To be honest, it’s the whole new world I’ve stepped in to. It’s being part of a community of people who all love the same things as you, it’s the invitations to events and spending weekends meeting for coffee with authors and editors and publicists and fans.
The more tangible perks can be pretty good too ... I mean, I’ll never get tired of being given free books for review and you really cannot beat getting gratis passes to conventions either. This year we got press passes to the SFX Weekender in Wales and there are few greater feelings than walking around an event filled with Stormtroopers and Daleks, interviewing some of the best authors in the business and thinking, this is work.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BEST MOMENT AS A BLOGGER?
I actually have two best moments. Can I have two? ... I have two.
One was eating pizza at Joe Abercrombie’s apartment at the SFX Weekender. I’m stood there with Marc (Aplin - founder of Fantasy-Faction), surrounded by some of the best and brightest in publishing and thinking, how did I get here?
I spent half an hour talking to two really nice guys about panels we’d enjoyed at the Weekender. Afterwards, Marc came up to me and with a big grin he asked if I had any idea who I had just been talking to. Turns out I’d been chatting with Peter F. Hamilton and Alistair Reynolds and I didn’t even realise it.
The other moment was meeting one of my favourite authors, China Miéville. I'm never usually one to be star struck as ultimately people are people, but meeting China ... That guy is a rock star! I was completely awed. Seriously, I kept forgetting everything I wanted to say, including all the questions I had prepared. I ended up gibbering the most ridiculous things and at one point I randomly blurted out, ‘I used to play table-top games like you did!’
...Well done brain. Well done.
I really hope China didn’t think I was an idiot, and if he did he never showed it. Instead, he was warm, friendly and an absolute gent who gave me his full attention despite my making him late for his dinner reservations. It’s an amazing feeling to find out that those you idolise really are as great as you imagine them to be.
WHAT DOES A TYPICAL FANTASY-FACTION BRAINSTORMING SESSION LOOK LIKE?
I would like to tell you that when we plot to take over the world, it's a fascinating affair. I would like to say that we have trained monkeys that fan us while we ponder all things genre literature and a horde of goblins who serve warm towels to mop our taxed and furrowed brows, but the truth is nothing so glamorous.
Usually, it involves Marc and I brewing a strong pot of coffee, sitting at a table piled high with books (we both have far too many) and then just bouncing around as many ideas as possible. Marc is one of my best friends and as we are dealing with stuff that we both love, it never feels like work and is pretty much two guys hanging out and having fun. We also spend a lot of time planning with Jennie (Ivins, our editor extraordinaire across the pond in New York,) and until teleportation devices are developed, these sessions tend to involve a whole lot of GoogleChat.
WHAT IS THE STRANGEST THING THAT YOU’VE EVER SEEN ON FANTASY-FACTION.COM?
A month or two ago a self-published author went in to meltdown on our site. This guy really went bananas at us and pretty much everyone else on the internet while we’re just sat there thinking, ‘What in the name of Greek salad is going on here?’ It rapidly went viral on Twitter and in just a few hours it brought in 18,000 hits and crashed our servers three times. Crazy stuff.
In terms of behind the scenes stuff, we once had a guy submit a video review of a book. A video review, what an excellent idea, we thought. That’s a great way to reach people who don’t necessarily want to sit and read a review, we thought. What fun! We thought. So we start playing the video and the guy’s sat there in a big chair, with a huge cigar in one hand and a gun in the other. Uh oh ... we thought. That guy doesn’t contribute to Fantasy-Faction any more.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE WHO WANTED TO START A SUCCESSFUL BLOG OF THEIR OWN?
I guess there are five key things that any new blogger should think about:
5. Love what you do, you’re a fan too
It's important to remember to write about what you love, because in my experience, this almost always yields the most interesting and most entertaining results. Entertain your readers and they will come back for more. It is also worth remembering that one of the reasons that we fantasy fans go to conventions and meet up for games nights etc, is because we want to share what we love with other people who feel the same way. Blogging is just an extension of that.
4. Roll with the problems
You can be the most organised person in the world but problems can and will still occur. For example, our greatest enemy at Fantasy-Faction is plugins. Fantasy-Faction is bathed in anti-virus software and wrapped in firewalls (as well as being forged from the tears of a dragon in ancient dwarven mines) but all it takes is for one little plugin to not update on time and BAM! Chaos ensues and AVG is throwing up red warning signs to visitors. The minute this happens, just roll with the problem, resolve the issue and engage damage control A.K.A Twitter.
3. Twitter, Your New Best Friend
Twitter is the absolute best tool in the world for marketing your site and easily keeping thousands of followers in the loop with all the great things you’re doing . Twitter makes you a human entity, allowing you to interact with fans in real time and best of all, it’s free. In terms of numbers, Twitter is also a great way to target articles at the right audience. If you’ve just reviewed a book for example, why not copy the author and publisher in when you tweet about it? You may just get a retweet or two.
2. Rope in help and stay organised
It’s good to have at least one new thing appear on your blog every day but writing seven articles a week isn’t always viable so the solution is outsourcing! You only need six other people and suddenly you’re only writing one post a week which gives you time to focus on everything else. Create a staff calendar so people know when their articles are due and don’t be put off when people don’t deliver. Life has a habit of getting in the way especially when people are contributing voluntarily (which they invariably are for a new blog). Best practice is to keep a stash of back-up articles for if ever you find yourself wanting.
1. Keep Writing, Reading, Creating
A successful blog can be really hard work so you need to find a routine that works for you and stick to it. Get up half an hour earlier in the morning and read forums or respond to questions. Sit with a pen in your hand while you eat lunch and sketch out some ideas. Get home and find time to write. However you decide to do it, just don’t give up. Keep writing, reading and creating and you’ll soon reap the rewards.
Extra tip -- Don’t feed the trolls.
Never get drawn in to a troll’s evil games, just politely ask them to stop. If people insist on stirring trouble then block them and move on. Do remember though, that there’s a difference between trolls and people who are just arguing a different point of view.
IS THERE SUCH THING AS A TYPICAL FANTASY FAN?
Every now and again I meet someone who seems to think that fantasy fans are these unwashed, bespectacled creatures who talk in Warcraft and live in pokeballs. What’s hilarious is that that person will invariably then spend their lunch break catching up on True Blood on their iPad or secretly reading a comic hidden inside today’s FT. We all grew up on fairy tales and Disney movies. Box Office records are chock full of boy wizards and vampire/werewolf/human love triangles. And I’m told (but don’t quote me) that three, THREE fantasy series (Harry Potter, Twilight, Lord of the Rings) sit just behind the Bible and The Art of War in the list of top ten books ever read. So a typical fantasy fan is, well ... most people.
SO WHAT’S NEXT FOR FANTASY-FACTION?
Total world domination, obviously. However, the problem with world domination is the paperwork and the planning permission and as we all know, such things take an age to get processed, so we have interim plans. At the moment we’re working on the Fantasy-Faction Anthology which is released at the end of the year. We’re also co-hosting an event at Blackwells in London on 17 August where the unbelievable line-up of Joe Abercrombie, Peter Brett and Myke Cole will be signing books and chatting with fans. We’re so, so excited for this event, it’s going to be epic. Otherwise, our plan is to keep on supplying the world with their hit of fantasy.