Roundtable

Roundtable with Paul Booth, Melissa A. Click, and Suzanne Scott

Louisa Ellen Stein

Middlebury College, Middlebury, Vermont, United States

[0.1] Abstract—Roundtable with Paul Booth, Melissa A. Click, and Suzanne Scott.

[0.2] Keywords—Edited collections; Fan studies

Stein, Louisa Ellen. 2018. "Roundtable with Paul Booth, Melissa A. Click, and Suzanne Scott." In "The Future of Fandom," special 10th anniversary issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 28. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2018.1592.

Melissa A. Click and Suzanne Scott, eds. 2018. The Routledge Companion to Media Fandom. New York: Routledge.
Paul Booth, ed. 2018. A Companion to Media Fandom and Fan Studies. New York: Wiley-Blackwell.

1. What inspired you to take on the undoubtedly fairly daunting task of editing a large-scale fan studies collection?

[1.1] Suzanne Scott: Honestly, one of the primary lures for me was the opportunity to collaborate with Melissa (and that experience exceeded all my expectations). We had both been approached by Routledge individually, and I think we immediately realized that a handbook of this size and scope wasn't a one-person job. In particular, I think Melissa and I approach the topic of media fandom from slightly different perspectives, while still having compatible investments in how identity shapes fan engagement, and I think the collection benefitted immensely from that balance. I tend to conceptualize fandom from a much more classical (and thus, potentially more narrowly defined) fan studies perspective, while I think Melissa's work spans audience and fan studies in incredibly generative ways. So, in a sense, I think as a team we productively embodied many of the ongoing debates within the field as it has expanded exponentially over the past decade in terms of how we delimit fan and audience studies (or if these remain distinct categories). Many of the chapters in this collection, probably Rhiannon Bury's most explicitly, grapple with the slippages between these two fields, as well as fan studies' intersection with an array of other disciplines. We were mindful in our conversations as we developed our dream list of contributors to have the table of contents actively reflect how interdisciplinary and global the field has become (especially as there have been so many other amazing anthologies, such as The Fan Fiction Studies Reader [2014], that have beautifully covered specific fan practices).

[1.2] The other primary inspiration was totally selfish—having contributed to many anthologies over the years and having taught an array of courses on fandom and participatory culture over the years, I wanted to design my dream anthology to teach fan studies with, and I am still a bit in awe of the fact that everyone we asked to contribute said yes! So, seeing my undergrad transmedia students this semester respond so enthusiastically to Melanie Kohnen's chapter on fan-produced transmedia and affect was a moment in which all of the organizational and editorial labor really personally paid off for me. I can't wait to teach the entire collection, and I think I speak for both of us when I say that we hope others also find it productive on that front.

[1.3] Paul Booth: Putting the collection together became a way for me, in a weird way, to reexamine my own relationship to fan studies, and to rethink my experiences with the field. I envy the collaborative relationship that Melissa and Suzanne had (when I edited the Seeing Fans collection with Lucy Bennett, we had good discussions about the topics we wanted to see represented). When Wiley approached me about this project, I didn't really know what to expect or how much direction I was going to get. So when putting this Wiley Companion together I knew I needed to keep a much more fluid idea about what fan studies was and how it was depicted than what I previously had. Like Suzanne mentions above, I had a more narrowly focused view of fan studies, but I wanted to explore the aspects of fan studies that I hadn't considered before. Editing the book gave me a great excuse to get in touch with authors I'd been wanting to work with for a long time! And it also gave me the chance to hear from and meet newer scholars that are doing really exciting work about racebending, about fan activism, and about the prehistories of media fandom. In many ways, I wanted to edit the book so that I could learn more about the field, and in my own scholarship it came at a good time: after about a decade studying fans, I realized I needed this sort of book to revitalize my own research. And if I needed it, then I figured other people might as well.

[1.4] Like Suzanne, I selfishly really wanted a book with chapters that I could teach in my fan studies classes, and I had great success with using Nicolle Lamerich's chapter on fan fashion, Miranda Ruth Larsen's chapter on otaku, and Jessica Seymour's chapter on racebending in Harry Potter fan communities with my students. (I've also used chapters from the Routledge Companion in class, and can't be more ecstatic about the students' responses to the variety of topics covered in Melissa and Suzanne's book as well.) Some of the chapter topics for the Wiley Companion book grew out of conversations I had with my students in the fan studies classroom. For instance, my students for many years have been curious about Japanese fandom and otaku, which matches their interest in manga and anime (and now Pokémon Go). This prompted me to find chapters that explore the connections between Western fandom and otaku for the collection. Ultimately, one of the most inspiring things about putting together a collection of this scope is seeing how varied and expansive the field is, and yet despite the thirty-four chapters in my Wiley book, how much more we could have included if there had been space.

[1.5] Melissa A. Click: Suzanne and Paul have so clearly articulated reasons for taking on a big project like a collection that there's little left to say except that I agree with all that's been said. It was an enormous pleasure working with Suzanne and talking through our hopes and dreams for the collection. It was also great to have someone to feel responsible to—it really kept me on track. Commiserating when the workload was heavy was also a great benefit. While our research interests differ, we were surprisingly like-minded about our approach to the project and what impact we'd like the collection to have on the field. I'm glad to hear that Paul and Suzanne have enjoyed teaching from our collections. I look forward to using both in the classroom.

2. I'm struck by the fact that both collections came to fruition at essentially the same time. Do you think there's a reason for that, or am I trying to read the tea leaves too much? Are we at a particularly field-defining moment, or a moment of key transition? If so, what do you think defines this moment and/or current transformations in the field?

[2.1] PB: I'm of two minds about this question. Part of me wants to say that we are definitely having a field-defining moment: fandom is more visible than ever before. And as we've pointed out at other times in this conversation, there seems to be a paradigm shift in the study of fans as well. Two Companion collections; fan-focused book series at a number of scholarly (and nonscholarly) presses; organizations like the Fan Studies Network in the UK, Australasia, and now North America, as well as the Fan and Audience Studies SIG at SCMS; currently multiple journals focused on fandom and audience research exclusively: It's like fan studies reached a sort of catalyst moment in academic and popular cultures and was suddenly everywhere. Part of this visibility comes from the fact that fans themselves are more visible on sites like Tumblr, through fan fic-to-published novels like E. L. James's Fifty Shades of Grey (2012), and because of the rise in popularity of fannish events like Comic-Con, the MCU, etc.

[2.2] But at the same time, I still feel the invisible weight of academia pressing down on the legitimacy of fan studies scholarship. My colleagues in television studies aren't defending, for example, the importance of studying Netflix, but I still—even after all this time—have to explain why fans are even an important topic to discuss in academic settings. I get grant proposals returned with big question marks and "so what?" written on them. Articles are turned down from journals because studying fans still seems frivolous. To explain why fans are an important audience to people outside of my fields of media studies and cultural studies, I find myself having to move beyond discussions of participatory culture, creativity, digital acumen, or social activism and approaching more acceptable ways of measuring value: fans are important contributors to the economy! They help bring back shows like Timeless (2016–18) or Brooklyn 99 (2013–)! They get hired by the industry! So yes, we have reached a moment where more and more fan scholarship is coming out, and fandom is seen as a greater presence within the media environment, but I feel somewhat concerned that all this attention to fan studies is primarily industry-facing.

[2.3] This is why I'm heartened by so much scholarship on the visibility of fandom today—and Suzanne, why I'm really looking forward to your book coming out (as I'm sure you are as well). One of the things I noticed about both collections was a renewed emphasis on the relationship between fans and the media industries from a variety of perspectives. So perhaps what defines this particular moment—why these books are both coming out at about the same time—is the prominence of fan studies as a discourse among a number of players: the industry recognizing the power of fans (but trying to mold fandom into a particular shape), fans themselves redefining their own relationship to mainstream culture, and fan studies academics bringing fandom into conversation with other fields (and of course the Venn diagram overlap of all three of these roles).

[2.4] MAC: My snarky answer is that fan studies has enough visibility and legitimacy to make two academic presses feel they could make some money by adding a volume on fan studies to their well-established series. But, of course, even my snarky answer suggests that the field is more visible and well respected than it has been previously (this goes for fans in the general culture, too). It seems like, in addition to the catalyst moment Paul mentions above, academic presses are more likely to publish fan studies monographs, and thus the field's legitimacy grows. In this ferment, I think edited volumes are great tools for generating conversations about what counts in a field, kickstarting new trends, and exploring best practices in research. With the growth in scholarship in the field, it does seem that we need some focus and direction, and I think dedicated conferences (and Special Interest Groups), journals, and book series are great places to forge our way. My hope is that scholars and fans alike will find our collections useful places for thinking through fan studies, too.

3. What logics dictated your curation and organization of your collections—what topics they covered, what disciplines they included, how they were structured, etc.?

[3.1] MAC: When Suzanne and I were conceptualizing the collection, we thought for some time about neglected or stalled areas of the field and also new ways for conceptualizing what we do. We settled on six sections: "Methods and Ethics"; "Technologies and Practices"; "Identities"; "Race and Transcultural Fandom"; "Industry"; and "Futures of Fan Studies". Identities, industry, and technologies and practices represent the consistencies in the field—these are keywords you could expect to hear at any fan studies conference panel or find in nearly any fan studies publication. So in these sections we pushed ourselves to curate topics that often are overlooked and understudied. We also really wanted to put scholars and industry professionals into dialogue with each other, so each section contains a conversation designed to tap into what's on the minds of scholars and professionals grappling with issues raised in the scholarship in the chapters that surround it. The method and ethics section was important to both of us, having taught fan studies and struggled to find readings to help those new to the field understand what approaches are available to them. Fan studies that put race and transcultural fandom at their center are often called for but infrequently published. And while ideally we would have liked to have two distinct sections on these topics, we did want to make them stand out (and thus hopefully more visible) from the section that covered identities generally. Futures made good sense as our last category and here we tried to invite fan studies scholars to set an agenda. It was so exciting to make a wish list of topics we wanted to include in the book and to read the submissions as they evolved. We're hoping that the scholarship in each of the sections—whether expected or not—is useful in the classroom and engaging, sparking new traditions in fan studies.

[3.2] PB: As I was putting the Wiley Companion together, I had a similar thought process as Melissa mentions. I wanted to include a selection of pieces by established fan scholars that commented on the state of the field at the moment, but also include chapters by fresher scholars that opened up the field in new directions. I included five sections: "Histories, Genealogies, Methodologies" (which explores some definitional work in fan studies, revisitations of canonical fan studies work from the early days of the field, and reconceptions of where we might place the history of fans); "Fan Practices" (which explores fans' material creative works); "Fandom and Cultural Studies" (which, like Melissa mentioned above, deliberately focuses on race and transcultural fandom, along with other underexplored areas of fan research, including aging fandom); "Digital Fandom" (which focuses on fan practices in the digital realm); and "The Future of Fan Studies" (which, in an inverse of the "Histories" section, posits what fan studies may be missing and ways that fan studies can be reinterpreted for the future). I describe the organization in the introduction as a sort of mirror image, as the first and last sections examine new ways of exploring where fan studies came from and where fan studies is headed, while the second and fourth sections examine how fan practices have shifted or not because of the rise of digital technology. I was also concerned with ethics, and included a chapter in the "Histories" section, although I tried to encourage authors to explore ethical issues in each of their chapters.

[3.3] I find it interesting how much of the book became guided by what my authors were concerned about; in many ways, this matched the vision I had for the way the book would unfold, but in other ways it was surprising. My remit for the Companion from Wiley was to involve both established scholars and fresh voices; chapters were supposed to be quite long at 10,000 words each. Originally I wanted to introduce each of the sections as Melissa and Suzanne did, but as I kept adding more and more chapters to the book (Wiley was very patient as I explained, no we need a chapter on racebending!) I simply ran out of word count. I tried to actively involve the authors of the chapters in the process; this is as much their book as it is mine. Wiley, however, definitely wanted more of a reference book, which didn't quite jibe with my vision for the book as a more political document that looked towards the future. To try to facilitate more interaction between the chapters, I gave the authors access to each others' essays and encouraged them to read/comment on them. I shared the vision of the book with them, and where I was thinking of putting their chapter, so they would be able to work their chapter into the general schema of the book. Different authors have different approaches to writing chapters, so I didn't want to dictate too much what I wanted each chapter to say.

[3.4] I think Wiley, the authors, and I worked out a compromise where chapters were often both past-facing and future-facing, and the mirror structure illustrates that. I attempted to balance "this is traditional fan studies" with "these are the lapses, lacunae in the field"; for instance, some essays explore what would happen if we traced fan studies to letters in English literary magazines or baseball, high culture and theater, or pornography. I was surprised that fewer chapters than expected focused specifically on gender. I didn't put a specific call out for chapters on fandom and gender (and many chapters touch on gender issues), so perhaps I shouldn't be surprised that many didn't come in. But gender and fandom emerged as a thoroughfare throughout the book, including chapters on fan gatekeeping (and GamerGate in particular), aging female fans, and gendered fan practices. Like Melissa mentioned above, I was particularly interested in developing chapters on transcultural fandom and race issues in fandom. The field has been ignoring or eliding race for far too long.

[3.5] One of the exciting things about editing a massive book like this is the creativity in how chapters go together. Making a decision about whether a particular chapter belongs in the "Genealogies" or the "Futures" sections can reshape how readers approach the material. There were some material considerations; one doesn't want an overloaded section that has far more chapters than any other section. Some scholars that contributed wanted to be in a particular section more than others, and I wanted to balance the gender and background of the authors in each section as well. It's a good thing I like to do jigsaw puzzles.

4. Along the way—or now, at the other end of the process—did you gain new insights into the state of the field of fan studies and/or where fan studies is headed?

[4.1] SS: Some of my favorite chapters in the collection are the culminating conversations between scholars and/or between professionals, in large part because they often actively grapple with where the field has been and the myriad directions it might head in. Hearing television writers and fan engagement consultants and journalists who cover fan culture discuss the evolution of industry/fan relations from an array of insider perspectives was totally fascinating. Based on all of our comments above, I think we all approached these collections as an opportunity to push the field in new directions, featuring emergent lines of inquiry or filling what we perceived to be gaps or areas that have been underdeveloped. While many of the directions fan studies is headed in (considerations of tourism, transcultural fandom, race, merchandise and fashion, amongst others) are present here, what's interesting to me is how many of the chapters in the book also ended up reflecting a need to revisit old insights and lines of inquiry as we have these eternal "state of the field" conversations. So, I loved seeing Henry Jenkins go back to Stuart Hall's concept of "negotiated reading" to discuss racebending, or seeing the scholars in our conversation about the evolution of music fandom studies consider how analog practices and models still inform contemporary digital music fan culture. Considering how much of contemporary fan culture orbits around rebooted or reimagined franchises and story worlds, I really appreciated that so many of our contributors worked to reboot older theories and core concepts that helped shape the field, making them newly relevant. While I don't think it's productive to be overly nostalgic in our conceptions of the field, I personally believe it's important to be mindful of the past even as we look to the future.

[4.2] PB: I was really excited by the breadth of topics that the contributors wrote about. In my opinion, one of the core strengths of fan studies (and something that Tisha Turk wrote about in her chapter of the Wiley Companion) is the deliberate multidisciplinary nature of fan studies. It's not just that fan studies pulls (poaches?) from multiple disciplines, but that each discipline contributes a unique element to the field. In that respect, I was heartened by chapters that expanded the remit of fan studies into new directions. Alexandra Edwards wrote about how an alternate lineage of fan studies traces not letters in science fiction magazines, but letters in literary magazines that were published even earlier. What does it say about fandom to trace this much more feminine route? Daniel Cavicchi analyzed links between late nineteenth century baseball fandom and fan studies, and the remarkable connections between the two. Matt Hills explored fandom of high culture texts like theater and literature; Francesca Coppa used Hamilton as a way to talk about fandom and drag. To play off what Suzanne wrote, it's not that any of these are completely reinventing the fan studies wheel, but rather bringing different disciplines into play within fan studies; to me, this is the most exciting and vibrant part of the field.

[4.3] MAC: I agree with Suzanne and Paul wholeheartedly. Putting together collections like these gives you an incredible opportunity to sift through a field and figure out where you'd like to see it go. Like Suzanne, getting back to questions that truly bind the field (multidisciplinary as I agree it is)—our core interests—really excited me. In our collection, I love the chapters on historical methods for fan studies (we have so much old territory to explore!) and the conversation on music fandom (it's so invigorating to see three scholars I really admire engage this aspect of the field). I also really like the chapters that push boundaries. The chapters on race in our book really energize me. These scholars' work demonstrates (not that I needed to be convinced—I didn't) that the field's weakness with race is a major detriment to fan studies scholarship. We really need to do better and I'm hoping these chapters will help scholarship develop in this important area.

5. Any advice for folks looking to embark on edited fan studies collections, large or small?

[5.1] PB: Become very familiar with Excel! In all seriousness, having now edited smaller collections with much more specific themes, as well as longer collections with a more general remit, having good organizational skills is crucial. Keep lists of scholars and topics for different chapters to make sure there isn't doubling up of information. Label everything. Additionally, I made extensive use of calendar apps to keep myself on track with editing and contacting the authors; I try to send updates as often as I can. My trick, and I'm now pulling the curtain back on this, is to tell people the deadline is actually a month earlier than it actually is: this way there is plenty of time for people who send chapters in late! And tell the publisher a deadline that is much further in the future than you intend to turn in the document. I learned that one from Scotty on Star Trek.

[5.2] But along with that, editing the Wiley collection showed me that flexibility is equally crucial. About a third of the scholars I approached to write chapters couldn't do it for one reason or another. Some of the chapters will always come in late—there's no accounting for illness, or promotion, or family issues, or any number of things that might prevent someone from getting a chapter in on time. I had to rethink the organization of the book a number of times as scholars came and went. Some people had to drop out at the last minute, and rather than excise the topic they were writing about, I had to find someone else to write something. It's hard to ask someone to write 10,000 words on a topic in just a few months! I did my homework on what expertise people in the field had, and I kept a document with about 100 people listed to reach out to for various topics. So in that respect, being up to date with what's happening in the field is just as important as well. If I know that someone is writing about Tumblr for this venue, or has just published about fan conventions in a different book, then I know they have already done some research and may be able to contribute an overview of the topic for this sort of research tome.

[5.3] All that being said, I think the most important thing I learned about editing this sort of collection is that I had a lot more to learn about the field than I thought I did. We often get caught up in our own minute areas of research and lose sight of some of the issues in other areas. It was a huge amount of work, but also a huge amount of fun, to be able to just research what's happening in the field. Fan studies has exploded in the past decade, and there is a lot of great work out there in harder-to-find places. As I read drafts of chapters coming in, I realized I needed to deepen my knowledge of contemporary fan studies. This helped the book, and it also helped my own research. In many respects, editing a collection like this is like researching a dissertation on the state of fan studies in 2018 (or, in reality, 2016). In that respect, having read Melissa and Suzanne's book and editing my book, I'm incredibly excited about where the field is headed. There is exciting new scholarship on gatekeeping in fandom, antagonism in fandom, transcultural fandom, race and fandom, ludic fandom, and a million other topics that haven't even been explored yet.

[5.4] I can't wait to see the Companion volumes of 2038.

[5.5] SS: I appreciate Paul pulling back the curtain on the old deadline trick, as it's one we used as well, but I think most contributors will assume that you've built in some wiggle room with the timeline. (I feel like there's a Wizard of Oz "pay no attention to the deadline behind the curtain" joke to make here.) In addition to seconding all the organizational advice Paul offered above, I would advise that editors should be prepared for the timeline to change. We were juggling nearly sixty authors, all with busy schedules. On the whole, everyone was fantastic and stuck to the schedule, but inevitably things got delayed. Some chapters took more and others less revision than others, some contributors had unexpected issues arise and needed extensions, I overestimated how many chapters I could edit in a weekend, the first pass at the index came back a mess—and so on.

[5.6] If you are editing with one or multiple collaborators, I would also strongly recommend establishing regularly scheduled times to check in over Skype. Some of these meetings will inevitably be more substantive than others, but even taking five minutes to walk through what you're working on, discuss upcoming deadlines, and troubleshoot issues was incredibly helpful. Likewise, while we took a "divide and conquer" editorial approach, It was really generative to have someone to bounce ideas off, particularly when giving feedback to the contributors.

[5.7] But that's all the boring logistical stuff. My primary advice to those considering developing their own fan studies collection is to do it, particularly if it's more specialized. For example, I am excited to know that Rukmini Pande has an anthology on race and fandom in the pipeline right now, and that we will finally be getting an entire anthology focused on Tumblr from Alexander Cho, Allison McCracken, Indira Neill Hoch, and Louisa Ellen Stein. Also, I was chatting with a couple of other fan scholars on Twitter who are all interested in intersections of food and fandom, and a collection developed out of that exchange. In other words, building generalist collections like the ones we're discussing here inevitably becomes an exercise in curation, as you're trying to balance canonical topics and themes in the field with emergent or underdeveloped lines of inquiry. I believe every chapter in our book could be a topically rich foundation for an anthology of its own, but did we comprehensively cover the field of media fan studies? No, of course not. One of the best things about working in a field that's both (comparatively) young and undergoing rapid growth is that there's so much that hasn't yet been explored.

[5.8] MAC: As I hope we've shown here, there are many benefits to editing a collection of essays, and (depending on your position and goals) you shouldn't expect that an edited collection will improve your chances at tenure or get you a job. But without reinventing the wheel that Jonathan Gray (2011) already described, there are lots of great reasons to take on an edited volume, with networking and visibility being primary. Working with Suzanne was a dream (I miss our regular hangouts, Suzanne!) and collaborating on a project like this is ideal. I think accountability to another person keeps you on track. I've also enjoyed working on my own—let me give a shout out to the forthcoming collection on antifandom that I've been working on. Use an edited collection as an opportunity to work with someone whose work you admire, and reach out to folks you might not know otherwise and get connected. And set an agenda for yourself and the field. I can't wait to read collections that come after ours!

6. References

Cho, Alexander, Allison McCracken, Indira Hoch Neil, and Louisa Ellen Stein, eds. Forthcoming. A Tumblr Book. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press.

Click, Melissa A. Forthcoming. Anti-fandom: Dislike and Hate in the Digital Age. New York: New York University Press.

Gray, Jonathan. 2011. "Edited Collections: Why Bother?" Media Commons, August 16, 2011. http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/content/edited-collections-why-bother.