How Do You Spell Success?

Last week I introduced you to Kevin Kelly’s “treatise” on 1,000 True Fans. Now that you’ve gotten a taste for the concept of growing a fan base slowly and steadily, let’s take a look at some more points he makes in his post:

  • The key challenge is that you have to maintain direct contact with your 1,000 True Fans. They are giving you their support directly. Maybe they come to your house concerts, or they are buying your DVDs from your website, or they order your prints from Pictopia. As much as possible you retain the full amount of their support. You also benefit from the direct feedback and love. 
  • The technologies of connection and small-time manufacturing make this circle possible. Blogs and RSS feeds trickle out news, and upcoming appearances or new works. Diskmakers, Blurb, rapid prototyping shops, Myspace, Facebook, and the entire digital domain all conspire to make duplication and dissemination in small quantities fast, cheap and easy. You don’t need a million fans to justify producing something new. A mere one thousand is sufficient.
  • This small circle of die-hard fans, which can provide you with a living, is surrounded by concentric circles of Lesser Fans. These folks will not purchase everything you do, and may not seek out direct contact, but they will buy much of what you produce. The processes you develop to feed your True Fans will also nurture Lesser Fans. As you acquire new True Fans, you can also add many more Lesser Fans. If you keep going, you may indeed end up with millions of fans and reach a hit. I don’t know of any creator who is not interested in having a million fans.
  • But the point of this strategy is to say that you don’t need a hit to survive. You don’t need to aim for the short head of best-sellerdom. There is a place in the middle where you can at least make a living. That midway haven is called 1,000 True Fans. It is an alternate destination for an artist to aim for.
  • A more important caution: Not every artist is cut out, or willing, to be a nurturer of fans. Many musicians just want to play music, or photographers just want to shoot, or painters paint, and they temperamentally don’t want to deal with fans, especially True Fans. For these creatives, they need a mediator, a manager, a handler, an agent, a galleryist—someone to manage their fans. Nonetheless, they can still aim for the same middle destination of 1,000 True Fans. They are just working in a duet.

Marketing: The M Word

I find the last bulleted point particularly interesting. Why? Because many authors fit that description. Few of us want to venture out and tackle promoting ourselves. Few have the time—we just want to write!

But authors are told they are now responsible for marketing and promoting their books; again, the traditional publishers are not going to do much, if anything, unless you are a big-name celeb.

I know authors who spend upwards of eight hours a day pushing their books on every social media outlet, going to endless book signings with few attendees, reading every marketing book and website to try to find the secret to becoming an overnight best seller. In fact, I know few, very few, authors who enjoy this aspect of writing for life—marketing, which to many is the M word. But, “everyone” will tell you you have to do it or you will remain unknown.

There is no guarantee anyone will buy your eBook once you put it out in cyberspace. There is no guarantee that after years of hitting the road, making appearances, and logging in thousands of hours on Twitter and Facebook that you will meet with what you deem as success.

And it’s more than discouraging. After spending months of your life writing and polishing your novel to make  it the best it can be, all your tireless efforts come to nothing. A few sales. No income, for sure. A few great reviews, a few die-hard fans. No wonder so many authors—even multipublished ones with modest sales—are utterly depressed and feeling like quitting.

Success That Satisfies

How many authors can afford to hire someone—a publicist or assistant or manager or handler, as Kelly puts it? I know many (myself included) who have spent thousands of dollars on promotion, on hiring someone or some company to get their book “out there” with the hope their name will become a household word. More often than not, you’re just throwing money away.

 Kevin has the secret answer and so does Seth Godin (Tribes): to have real success—success that satisfies—you must build a tribe, a fan base. But many authors do all they can to promote and sell their book and it still doesn’t work. So I’m proposing some new ideas and strategies for authors to think about to help create and participate in a supportive community that can accomplish together what one person alone just can’t do. The new paradigm shows community is powerful and can change the status quo.

It entails a practical plan of steps—yes, it will take some time and work but because you will not be doing all this alone, and because this concept is not centered around self, it will have greater outward impact and result in inner joy. The evidence is around us everywhere in the success of entrepreneurs and artists who have become well known by shifting from the old paradigm to the new. You can find that success too. Stay tuned. We’ll be covering more next week!

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  1. Excellent advice. Creating the music, art, or writing is just half the task. The world doesn’t beat a path to the door of creative people. Rather they must go on the road (real and virtual) to make the essential contacts that will enable them to meet with success. You’ve given readers the key “tools” to make this happen.

  2. Great points. I don’t suppose there is anything in life that is all pleasure. We have to do things we don’t like if we want to get on in life. And so we have to do what we don’t want to do as writers if we want our work to get noticed even by a few people. Marketing is a challenge in a different way than writing is, though we can use our creativity even there. Challenges never hurt anyone and they can build our character and push us forward. If we do it the right way. And sometimes we have to do the trial and error thing until we find what is the right way for us individually. Thanks for an info-filled post. I’m Tweeting it.

  3. I think the idea of core support is definitely the way to go and I think the key to finding these valuable supporters lies in “giving first” and not thinking about what you might get in return. I look forward to seeing you post more on this topic! 🙂

    Oh and your post is up! Thanks so much for offering your thoughts on layered plotting–I know many writers struggle with how to create subplots that work well and play off of the main plot. 🙂

    Have a great week! 🙂


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