By Daniel P. Dern: If you’re a fan of something, whether it’s potato cosplay (I just made that up but the phrase gets search results), making Star Trek paraphernalia, volunteering at science fiction conventions, or writing for File770.com, and want to turn your fan fave fun — particularly if it’s geeky — into money, Carol Pinchefsky has a new — published March 1, 2022 — book for you, available in paperback, e-book, and audiobook: Turn Your Fandom Into Cash – A Geeky Guide to Turn Your Passion Into a Business (or at least a Side Hustle).
According to Pinchefsky, book highlights include:
- Interviews with lawyers about intellectual property (IP) infringement, with potential ways to avoid infringing.
- A sample IP license request that turned two fans with zero experience into RPG/board game developers’ worth $3+ million.
- Advice from geeky business owners who make a living doing what they love on how to actually run a business, from creating websites to social media to pricing items.
- Frank discussions with people who have made–and lost–money in the geekosphere: cosplaying, running a convention, geeky social media influencing, writing, and throwing a film festival.
- An interview with one of the founders of ThinkGeek, which was once valued at $140 million and was bought out by GameStop.
- Recommendations from Kickstarter, as well as an author of an academic paper, on how to best run a crowdfunding campaign.
Pinchefsky is a freelance writer of geek culture, technology, science, and business, as well as the competition editor for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Prior to that, she was a first reader for Weird Tales magazine. I recently interviewed Pinchefsky (by email) about her new book, how and why she came to write it, and other parts of her geek background.
DANIEL: What is Turn Your Fandom Into Cash about?
CAROL: The title says it all — it’s about making money in geek culture, showing you the ins-and-outs of making money involved in the worlds you love to immerse yourself in or world you want to create yourself.
DANIEL: What got you interested in this geeky business?
CAROL: I’ve been a geek my entire life, stretching back to a Universal Monsters movie marathon on television, seeing Star Wars when it was released, and then working my way up to the hard stuff: Star Trek and The Twilight Zone. A few years ago, my friend Heather Krasna wrote a book on getting a job in public service and nonprofits (Jobs That Matter: Find a Stable, Fulfilling Career in Public Service), and she said I should write a book about getting a job in geek culture. I said, “Sure,” and started researching.
During my research, I took a look at the dealer’s room at a New York Comic Con, and I saw hundreds of thousands of dollars being exchanged. I also saw several cases of IP (intellectual property) infringement. With so much money on the line, IP holders would be well within their rights to sue these infringers. I spoke with several lawyers who made suggestions on how to avoid drawing the wrath of IP holders.
Here is where my publishers would say this isn’t legal advice, and business owners should consult their own attorneys.
DANIEL: What — other than this book — geek culture money-making projects have you done? Helped others with?
CAROL: Well, I’m a freelance writer of geek culture, so I make money that way. To be honest, I earn more money in tech and other non-geeky markets. But I frequently manage to involve my geek background. For example, I wrote “5 lessons IT can learn from ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’” and “8 ways sci-fi imagines data storage”.
I’ve also co-written two LARPs (live-action role-playing games) with a few friends. The games didn’t put money in our pockets, but we did manage to pay for our hotel rooms, travel, and food for those two conventions. So…kinda sorta money-making-ish.
DANIEL: Of the endeavors you mention in the book, do you have any favorite, most amusing, weirdest, etc, to mention?
CAROL: It’s kind of remarkable how many people had started a business without realizing they had started a business. People just started doing what they loved and managed to make some cash off of it.
I was also impressed by people who managed to insert themselves into their fandoms. For example, Max Salzman made bracelets that appeared in their favorite TV series, Orphan Black, and Troy Foreman was an extra in The X-Files’ finale in 2018.
DANIEL: Any particular products you were excited to be able to buy?
CAROL: I bought a Star Trek dress from Elhoffer Design. Catherine Elhoffer was one of the first designers in the geekosphere to recognize the demand for high-end goods. I also bought a fabulous vest from Volante Design. Volante creates extremely well-made, eye-catching outerwear. My husband has one of their jackets, which billows when he walks. He calls it his “slow-walking jacket,” because it’s what slow-walking villains would wear.
There’s also Tea & Absinthe‘s tea. I recommend their not-Harry Potter, not-House Ravenclaw tea, “Elixir of Wisdom.”
DANIEL: What have you learned about this topic from writing this book (either in research, or the book-writing process?
CAROL: I really liked what I learned and what I taught my interviewees during our conversations.
One of my interviewees is a former executive creative director for DC Comics. He said he had turned down a licensing application for Superman-themed condoms. I laughed and said it was perfect, because of Larry Niven’s essay “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex.” It turns out that he hadn’t known about it, so I sent him a link.
Fans of that essay–which explains the foreseeable doom of any person who chooses to have sex with Kal-El–know instantly that Superman-based condoms would be the perfect marketing tie-in.
From there, I learned that IP holders won’t approve any item that goes against their brand, no matter how hilarious it would be.
DANIEL: To anticipate comments from my fellow long-time DC comic fans, there would be ways to avoid said doom, like microdosing Green Kryptonite, etc.
CAROL: Damn, that’s funny. But I think condoms would be the perfect solution to protect the Man of Steel’s lovers. Sadly, Niven failed to mention condoms.
DANIEL: What was some of the first sf/f you read (as a child?)
CAROL: You know the line in Star Wars [Episode IV – A New Hope], “Your father wanted you to have this when you were old enough?” When I was 12, my father handed me I, Robot — Isaac Asimov’s collection of his robot stories — and The Puppet Masters by Robert Heinlein. Around the same time, I also read The Hobbit.
I also got into a fight with a librarian over Dracula. She said the book was too “big” for me and refused to let me take it out. Lucky for me, I had a mother who wasn’t afraid to go toe-to-toe with a librarian, and I got the book.
I started with the greats, and genre fiction keeps getting greater.
DANIEL: What/how got you into fandom?
CAROL: I joined the science fiction club in high school, and we got enough money together to rent a van so we could go to Lunacon — a nearby science fiction convention. That changed my life. Also, my best friend and I found out there was a regular Star Trek-centered convention: Creation Convention. We went to every one for years. We particularly honed in on fanzines like SLAYSU, the Clipper Trade Ship, and anything else fanzine editor Roberta Rogow would sell me. (Funny enough, her daughter Louise became one of my closest friends in college.)
I’ve attended conventions every year, either literary or media, since then. I just love them, because it’s filled with my friends and the friends I haven’t met yet.
DANIEL: Have you sold SF/F fiction?
CAROL: Although I’ve written almost 2,000 articles, I’ve only sold one short story. I’ve also sold multiple poems. I’ve been nominated for three Rhysling Awards (from the Science Fiction Poetry Association). Sadly, I haven’t won. Yet.
DANIEL: What are some of your favorite cons? Favorite con activities?
CAROL: My favorite cons are Worldcons. Not only do I get to meet like-minded people from all over the world, it’s a great excuse to travel.
DANIEL: I have a semi-vague memory from at least a decade ago of meeting you at a Worldcon and briefly comparing digital cameras.
CAROL: That was back when phones were dumb. Soon, we will be welcoming our phone-OS-based overlords.
DANIEL: One or two favorite fan/con anecdotes/memories?
CAROL: At a World Fantasy Con, many years ago, I attended Neil Gaiman’s reading of his upcoming book, Neverwhere. Afterward, I walked up to him and said, “Sell me that book.” He said, “I can’t, I have a reading.” And I said, “You just finished.” He said, “Oh,” looked at the back of the book, and charged me cover price. Because of this, I can officially state that I bought the first copy of Neverwhere sold in the United States.
And at a convention in DC in the early 2000s, there was an auction where I bid on a beautiful necklace. I came back a few hours later to see that Robert Jordan had outbid me…by a lot. Just then, he came by and said, “I want this necklace for my wife.” I said, “You’re richer than me, aren’t you?” He agreed that he probably was. We had a lovely chat about The Wheel of Time before I abandoned all hope of acquiring that necklace.
DANIEL: One or two bits of advice (that are presumably also in the book).
CAROL: If you do try to get an IP license, do start with smaller IP holders, then build up a track record. Work with the owners of a book, an indie game or comic book, or even a YouTube channel you love. They’ll be way more responsive than a large IP holder like Disney, who already works with dozens of creators.
Also, don’t try to do everything yourself. Get help from an accountant when filling out tax forms, and get help from a lawyer for any questions surrounding IP.
DANIEL: Any advice or other thoughts for File 770’s readers?
CAROL: My book is for anyone who thinks Lando Calrissian is the hero of the Star Wars saga. After all, he’s the guy who went from smuggler and scoundrel to successful small business owner.
And talk to your lawyer!
DANIEL: Thanks! And best of luck with your book! (And I see my library has a copy on order, I’m now reserving it — done!)
CAROL: Thank you! If you or your readers have questions about the book, please reach out.