If you’re a geek writing about geeky things, I’m already inclined to love your writing. I don’t think anyone makes a better guide into a community than somebody who is already a member of it.
For instance, I’d rather read a guide to fanfiction written by a fanfiction reader or writer than an article by somebody who has just Googled the definition of “fanfiction” for the first time. That sounds like an exaggeration, but oh, it exists, it’s on a sports site of all things, and it’s not pretty.
Being a geek writer will help you avoid the major pitfalls that come with writing about fandom. You won’t belittle your subject or your readers. You’ll be less likely to flub major parts of the community’s lexicon or mythos. And you’ll actually know what you’re talking about!
It’s that last advantage, however, that can be as much of a curse as a blessing.
Which brings me to my premise: the number one mistake that geek writers make is assuming that everyone knows as much about their fandom as they do.
We geeks have some pretty obscure knowledge, and that can lead to some unfortunately obtuse reporting if we don’t rein it in. It’s the written equivalent of when I’m sharing my love of Gundam modeling with somebody at a party and their eyes glaze over. “So I’m building a model of the RX-78-2 that’s 144th scale when my Tamiya cutters… oh you have to leave? Already?”
My Forbes editor, Helen Popkin, she of the ConAir method of reporting for clicks, has a theory for niche journalism, too. Not surprisingly, it has a name that’s just as pop-culture relevant as the first one. It’s the Dursley Method of Writing For Muggles.
Most Harry Potter books, Helen’s method goes, reintroduce Harry and his story for readers who may have forgotten the story so far—or even readers who are just now joining the tale. It does this by putting Harry back with the Dursleys and recanting his history to this point.
However, J.K. Rowling manages to do this without boring more knowledgeable readers to tears. Even if you just read the previous Harry Potter book yesterday, you’ll still want to read every word of the introduction. At the same time that it is filling in the backstory, it’s also sharing new information in the form of Harry’s current misadventures with the Dursleys. By putting Harry’s history as a backdrop to his story right this moment, everyone stays interested and informed.
In a niche article, this can take the form of an anecdotal introduction. You can begin instantly drawing in both geek and outsider readers alike by beginning immediately with somebody’s story. People love to read about people, so you’ll keep everyone interested by peppering in the relevant factual information in between the lines of an anecdote about somebody you’ve interviewed.
You’ll notice that this is the technique I use over and again in my Forbes stories about fandom. Forbes has the most mainstream audience of anywhere I’ve written since CNN, so it’s reasonable to believe complete newcomers are stumbling on my articles here. Even for niche sites, however, it’s better to assume that not every reader is as well versed as you are in the nuances of a particular fandom.
For example, your reader may love the Mass Effect video games but be totally ignorant of Dragon Age. Since the games share many similar elements, your article could be the difference between somebody drawing a connection and discovering her new favorite game, or remaining totally confused by your jargon. In an article about Dragon Age, I might begin with a narrative about a gamer I’ve interviewed who professes it to be her favorite game, and fill in the blanks as I go.
If your niche interests are as interesting as you think (and I think they are), then it’s worth going the extra step to keep your geeky stories inclusive. Start your article with the story of a person, instead of a concept or a thing, in order to get everybody on the same page.