The Power of Community

I’ve been talking recently about eBook publishing and why it is exploding and overtaking traditional publishing.

Why am I bringing out all this information about eBooks? Am I trying to tell you to turn your back on traditional publishing? No, not at all. But in order for us authors to plan a strategy in order to write for life, we need to see the trends. And the eBook trend is only one factor (albeit a huge one) in the shifting publishing paradigm.

I would like to tell you there is an even more powerful shift that will and already does affect you as a career author, one you’ve probably heard about as it applies to other industries and parts of society but now sees its great need in the world of authors who write with passion and commitment.

And that is the power of community (or tribe, as author Seth Godin calls it) to create movement, change, and impact. And rather than aim to sell a book in the millions just to turn a modest profit, I’d like to challenge you to think a little differently about success.

1,000 True Fans

Techy Kevin Kelly posted on his Technium website a few years back his theory about 1,000 true fans. Here’s what he says:

  • A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author—in other words, anyone producing works of art—needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.
  • A True Fan is defined as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce. They will drive 200 miles to see you sing. . . . They have a Google Alert set for your name. They bookmark the eBay page where your out-of-print editions show up. They come to your openings. They have you sign their copies. They buy the T-shirt, and the mug, and the hat. They can’t wait till you issue your next work. They are true fans.
  • Assume conservatively that your True Fans will each spend one day’s wages per year in support of what you do. That “one-day wage” is an average, because of course your truest fans will spend a lot more than that. Let’s peg that per diem each True Fan spends at $100 per year. If you have 1,000 fans that sums up to $100,000 per year, which minus some modest expenses, is a living for most folks.
  • One thousand is a feasible number. You could count to 1,000. If you added one fan a day, it would take only three years. True Fanship is doable. Pleasing a True Fan is pleasurable, and invigorating. It rewards the artist to remain true, to focus on the unique aspects of their work, the qualities that True Fans appreciate.

True Fans Speak to Our Hearts

These are some of the points Kelly makes—a radical but practical and attractive concept that went ballistically viral in 2008 when he presented this idea. What I love about his concept, and what has made me a true fan of his concept, is the way it really hits my heart and speaks to the heart of why I write. Sure, I want to make some money at my writing—who doesn’t? But I didn’t become a novelist for that reason. And I’m thinking you didn’t either.

There is little more satisfying to an author than to have a true fan e-mail her, message her on Facebook, post an online book review on Goodreads, or tweet on Twitter about how much she loved the author’s book. I love it when I see a fan posting about a new book of mine, gushing about prior books I’ve written, and urging one and all to read my books. What else—really, be honest—do you want ? Isn’t this the ultimate reward we yearn for when putting a book out in the world to be read?

Be Honest—What More Do You Want?

And if you could gradually grow true fans like this over time—fans who tell their friends about your book and promote you enthusiastically—what more do you really want? Will large royalty checks be as rewarding?

Well, maybe for some. And there’s no denying we all have bills to pay, children who need braces, a desire to take a vacation somewhere nice from time to time. But is that why you really write? I’m going to bet the answer—in your heart of hearts—is really no. and if that’s the case, keep listening.

We are going to delve into more about 1,000 fans in the next blog post and start exploring ways to get to that benchmark—not alone but within a community of other authors.

What are your thoughts on this? Feel free to share your ideas and experiences about supportive community as we pursue this topic this month.

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  1. Great post, 1st off! In a time when the deficit is numbered in the trillions, 1K SEEMS almost laughably simple, as long as we’re visible. But is it that simple? I think not.

    In an age where one of the preferred forms of communication is twitter, engaging just one someone to the extent that they’ll spend a day’s salary annually on your work is no mean feat. To do that with a thousand…?

    Which brings us back to the observation we hear all the time and (hopefully) know in our heart. Bring your “A” game. Your fans (especially fans engaged to this degree) won’t settle 4 less and they shouldn’t. We owe them the best we have to offer.

    Thanks again for this post!

  2. When I first began to write, like most writers I dreamed of being the top writer of all time and make millions and millions on my first book. Of course once my feet came back to the ground, I actually did begin to hope for a reasonable fan base. This told me I was writing because I love it and simply want to tell the story I wrote, Before the Rooster Crow.” it is a fiction based on truth about someone I love. As the years roll by, I realize more and more to have a good fanbase is just as important as huge sales. Now don’t get me wrong, if the book sells millions when it is published, I certainly won’t turn it down. I just don’t think one needs more than is necessary and knowing my work is good enough to sell and people enjoy it, is enough for me.

  3. Much food for thought here. I don’t have a published book yet, but I am working on my blogs to get some kind of exposure. I’m looking forward to your future articles on this topic.

  4. I have three true fans, but none of them make over forty bucks a day, except for Buford Monk who makes fifty-three. I have several T-shirts, but I don’t know what is so important about them. I have mugs, of course. And Buford stole my hat, so I don’t have any left. He’s not so true.

    I got a thousand followers on twitter. They don’t count as true because they all want me to buy a book.

  5. So true…I totally agree that anyone doing something creatively needs to bring their best to the table to build a loyal fan base. I believe the first will bring the second:) It might not happen as quick as we like…but I believe it’s a rewarding journey and in the end it’s about how can we serve others:)
    thanks for the great post!

  6. My career has been as a writer and editor, but I’m venturing into the writing of my third book. Your blog is excellent and forces us to honestly answer the question of why we write. Discussions about writing and fan bases really beg the question about whether we really have to build a blog following in order to write our heart’s desire. Is the blog worth the effort or is it a smokescreen to divert us from the real work? I do not have the answer to that question but I am curious about the experience of other published authors. As most writers know, time is limited and life has many obligations. Does it really make any difference if we have followers online? In order to survive financially as an author, I must spend my time creating work that brings in money. I would love to see some real figures and information on this topic. Thank you for your great work on your blogs!

    1. I know a number of authors who make a lot of money promoting and selling their eBooks online. Some of them don’t have blogs. There are so many sites now that will promote your eBooks (paid and unpaid) and I am just learning about some right now. My goal will be to try some of this promotion on my own eBooks this year and share the results. I welcome others to join in and give their stories and experiences/advice too. For me, I both need to make a living (which I mostly do through my editing, not the sales of my books) and want to reach readers with the stories I tell. I believe, now, authors can truly do both. By building a readership online through eBook promotion and reaching out to a community of like-minded writers, we can find support, encouragement, and readers who will buy and love our books. Although I am traditionally published, I am seeing more and more that my real joy and “success” lie in pursuing this avenue and focusing less on trying to sell my unsold novels to publishers. I like the ability to control my own price, marketing, and distribution.

  7. I agree with your comment. My third book is another ebook, this time I will be publishing through Kindle. Right now I am completely stumped about how to proceed with the marketing for this because I have no following for my blog and that has not been my primary concern. Perhaps the online community of writers will be a good IPO, so to speak, for this book. While I have been studying and using marketing techniques for other clients, I have not had to apply them to online book sales for my own books. This will be a baptism by fire!

  8. I don’t think blogs generate eBook sales. What does is promoting on multitudes of eBook sites, twitter with hash tags that reach audiences (like #ebook, #fantasy #Yalit #mystery, etc.), and there are tons of sites like Kindle Mojo and Indie Kindle you can participate in.

    One of the best I’ve found and am participating in (and we’ll get a guest blog post from the promoter soon) is World Lit Cafe ( There you can join a community and cross promote, get your book read and reviewed, and tweeted. From what I’m finding, it’s having a community that helps promote that gets these writers big sales and lots of readers. So I’ll be posting a lot more about this throughout the year.

  9. A blog can be a dynamic part of marketing without taking huge numbers of hours. But my sales are coming from Twitter, hashtags, and joining up with collaborative book sites. There are tools to make it more efficient, and just putting in some time each week will result in sales. Be creative and have fun with it! It’s how you discover your readers.

  10. I like that model, build 1000 true fans and make a living from them. I write for the love of books, plain and simply. I only began seriously writing about 2 years ago, and since then my enjoyment of life has increased 95%. Knowing that people truly enjoy my work, and seeing their positive reviews, is what keeps me going when the money is tight. I am living the Bohemian dream, and loving it!

  11. I love this message. Author and creativity guru Julia Cameron recently encouraged her FB community to “write for the person who really gets you.” I used that advice to tweak a personal essay in progress and…it worked! By “worked” I mean that I had more fun and ease in the writing/revising process and the essay elicited meaningful replies from my “true fan” readers. I plan to use that guidance each time I write, whether for “fun” or profit.

  12. Great post Susanne!

    Writing for me is to communicate my thoughts about the human condition. If I can make a living doing it than the better it is. But the real reward is when the reader is left with an unforgettable feeling. It is also the gratifying feeling that your words moved and entertained the reader to agree with you and make a difference in other people’s lives.

  13. All the comments and suggestions are wonderful! I thank you all for the remarks because they help distill my thinking, especially toward positive outcomes. As a Julia Cameron fan I understand what I need to do…sometimes I just forget to do those things! This site is a real blessing for me. Thank you Ms. Lakin for your insightful and caring comments and suggestions. I look forward to learning more.

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