Finding 1,000 true fans by nurturing a devoted fanbase is a viable alternative to the unlikelihood of achieving bestseller or megastar status. Despite our lofty dreams, most of us mere peons don’t have oodles of folks going stark raving mad to buy everything we produce. So even though you have 10,000 Twitter followers or maybe even 2,500 people on your e-mail list, how many are actually true fans?
In last month’s author interview with Linton Robinson, his his advice of finding 1,000 true fans has prompted me to look more into the pros and cons of the theory. He also pointed out that in addition to building an email list, authors should be contributing to anthologies and online serials. Intriguing too is his statement that where he sees it worthwhile to blog is on other people’s blogs.
We can probably all agree that building an audience takes time. Of course it’s worthwhile to put energy into one’s blog and social media presence, but potential fans will discover your work faster if you share some of who and what you are with a variety of established audiences.
In any case, technology really does open up possibilities for success. What follows below are five main points taken directly from each source. I highly encourage you to explore the content of each source more in depth on your own.
1,000 True Fans
The former editor of Wired, Kevin Kelly, wrote an article titled 1,000 True Fans where he points out how marketing’s long tail is great for huge sellers like Amazon who can make a lot out of selling smaller quantities of a large number of products. However, the long tail doesn’t benefit most creators much. The solution for the creator is to go about finding 1,000 true fans. The model is for a solo artist, and Kelly also emphasizes that not all artists are cut out to nurture true fans. Plus 1,000 is not a one-size-fits all number. It varies by type of artist.
#1: A True Fan is defined as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce.
#2: True Fans will each spend one day’s wages per year in support of what you do.
#3: The key challenge is that you have to maintain direct contact with your 1,000 True Fans.
#4: This small circle of diehard fans, which can provide you with a living, is surrounded by concentric circles of Lesser Fans.
#5: There is a place in the middle, that is not very far away from the tail, where you can at least make a living.
The Problem with 1,000 True Fans
Author John Scalzi offers a note of caution in his post The Problem with 1,000 True Fans. It’s a given that most people realize superstardom is a rare feat that also involves a whole lot of luck. Scalzi agrees that Keller’s theory does indeed seem reasonable, and even more so when online resources for reaching fans are taken into account. Yet, he cautions finding 1,000 true fans is not as easy as it looks. He also writes, “as someone who is arguably at a 1KTF level of notoriety … it’s not what I do.” Getting and keeping 1,000 fans is extremely hard work.
#1: Gathering a thousand true fans is harder than it looks
#2: The available universe of “true fans” is not the entire US (or the entire Internet), but the subset of those who are willing/able to spend a significant sum of money on a single creative person.
#3: Artists are likely competing for “true fans”.
#4: “True Fans” may not stay true fans.
#5: Just because a “true fan” spends $100 on you doesn’t mean you get $100.
1,000 True Fans – Still Relevant
A voice of inspiration and valuable resources on the topic comes into play in 1,000 True Fans – Still Relevant by pediatric surgeon and fundraiser for heart surgery Dr. Mani. He draws attention to how many of us seem a bit scared of reaching our full potential because it can be hard to believe that each of truly has a quality that potential fans will want to connect with. We are all deserving of true fans, but the trouble comes from how to get them, where to find them, and to keep them attracted to your particular circle. In short, be remarkable.
#1: Being remarkable really just means being worthy of being talked bout.
#2: You can be remarkable in many ways by being:
- the first – or the last
- the cheapest – or priciest
- the easiest – or hardest
- the simplest – or most complex
- the highest – or lowest – value provider
#3: Whatever you are currently doing is in fact remarkable. You just need to crank it up a notch.
#4: Just do something that no one has done before!
#5: Follow your heart.
To a degree all artists exhibit the influence of their predecessors and contemporaries, but it’s rare for an artist to come off as truly unique and alluring. It’s a fine line to walk. If an artist tries too hard to be different, it can feel forced. If they don’t try to stand out, it’s next to impossible to hold a potential fan’s interest for very long. We all long for connection, so find what enables you to make those connections.
What measures have you utilized to nurture true fans? On the flipside, who do you consider yourself a true fan of?
Jeri Walker will shower you with editor love if you share the quote image in this post!
Boy those are good questions. What have I done? Just about everything but buy them… LOL. As for who are mine? Why you are of course. When searching for true fans I found myself drifting away from why I started down this path in the first place. It’s a conundrum regarding what is best and what to do next. Somehow I muddle through.
Susan, it can be so hard to figure out one’s path. I think you and are are grand examples of that. It’s taken a while for both of us, but neither of are are quitters and we are always learning and also willing to help others. I think that counts for a lot. Gradually, things fall into place. It’s so true those fans take loads of time, failed attempts, and frustration to find.
True fans buy everything you offer? I wonder how many we can really find that fit that description. Interesting article and food for thought. I’m trying to discover or create something that nobody else has, as suggested.
Beth, I’ve been combing through my mind to figure out if I qualify as anybody’s true fan. In my younger years, I would have qualified as a true Anne Rice fan since I used to buy all of her books. Now though, I can’t say that about any of the artists I like. I guess I am a lesser fan of many. I think a lot of us fall into that boat, which is support to prove how it can be so hard to find 1,000 true fans.
#2: True Fans will each spend one day’s wages per year in support of what you do.
Yes, THIS is a true fan.
Okay, I’d spend my last dollar on anything written about Plath or by Plath.
Other than that, I’m only half a fan of other authors.
I APPRECIATE you VERY Much, Jeri!!!!!! xx
Kim, you do indeed fit the bill for a true fan of Sylvia Plath. If I had the funds, I would be most likely to up my fandom of all things Bob Dylan. I appreciate you too 😉
Hi Jeri, True fans are the ones who come uninvited and stay just because they like your work. True, if you are remarkable, they would know. Others may get lured for a short while and then keep coming out of curiosity. There are very few who are loyal, who get pulled by the urge to do good…the altruistic ones. I think finding 1000 true fans is more of a dream. Even if you find them, will they stay? And for how long? That would make an interesting discussion!
Balroop, fans are indeed fickle. All of our tastes change so much over the course of our lives. Writing this post makes me think I am more prone to be a true fan of certain actors and actresses, but even then I don’t see each new movie starring Jennifer Lawrence in a theater. For many of us it has to suffice that our message is heard by a relative handful of people, but even then, a few great fans can make all the difference in keeping an artist going.
What a great post Jeri – the search for 1KTF can feel like the search for the holy grail. I had to laugh at Susan’s comment too – it does seem that one can follow all “the rules” but not nec. get there. And also as Susan says the quest for followers can also cloud why one started out on one’s venture. Having an excellent product or service has to surely be the number one ingredient though I do think making a real connection with your fans comes a close second. Thanks for being so thorough Jeri, and approaching this thorny issue from a myriad of angles.
Kathy, the productor service is indeed priority. Without that offering, what is there to be a fan of? That’s where I ended up putting the cart before the horse when it came to trying to write my novel. It was much easier to find my footing as a freelance editor. Now I am working on my novel without trying to be an author online. That’s been a huge weight off my shoulders. Someday, I will join the social media world as an author, but not until I am ready.
1,000 true fans is an interesting concept but may more of a dream than an achievable goal. I don’t know if you can expect anyone to buy everything you produce, unless she’s your mother. But concentrating and connecting with a group of loyal fans makes a lot of sense, as long as you don’t lose your way or your unique voice amid the work of attracting fans.
Donna, it can be disheartening to say the least. Most of us know we aren’t going to be megastars, but then to realize it’s unlikely we’ll be able to make a modest living off our creative endeavors can be the pits. Still, we keep trying and best of luck to those who don’t lose their unique voice along the way. Also, luck plays a huge role in any level of notoriety. I think that tends to get overlooked.
Love that note about it being someone’s mother, ha! You stole the words right out from my mouth, Donna!
It’s an interesting concept. I like your statement: “follow your heart”. I do believe that there are people in the world who like what we offer so if we look for them sooner or later you should find them. The trick is to speed up the process of finding the right people. That’s where we need to get more creative. Thanks for sharing, Jeri.
Sabrina, how to speed up that process is so important. I look at the four years I’ve spent building this blog. It was a lot of hard work and a ton of mistakes to get here. Whenever I do go down the author’s path, it will take me considerably less time to get up and running because of all the marketing knowledge I’ve learned along the way as I’ve built my freelancing up. As much as a great product is needed to fans to buy, much can also be said for the ability to market one’s self. It doesn’t come naturally to many, but thankfully assistants can be hired to help in that area as well 😉
No question it’s a tough go to get those true fans that actually stick round for awhile. In my niche (PD) I do have readers who have followed me for years, but most tend to come and go depending upon whatever issues they have to work through. In terms of listing building my role model is author CJ Lyons, I love her whole approach, especially the way she segments her list. Her “true” fans get access not only to her but early drafts of new books. As far as reading, well that’s a pretty big field since I read at least 2 books a week and, outside of the reading I do for research, my preference leans more toward mysteries and thrillers, but when I like a writer I buy everything they write. I have 47 books by one author alone!
Marty, glad to see you’re a true fan of an author you own 47 titles for. That’s undoubtedly impressive. How great too that you are reading two books a week. That’s such a great example of a dedicated professional.
Interesting spin on finding 1000 true fans Jeri. I just feel that if we put out our best work, engage with our readers, respond to our blog comments and to other blogs as well, we are building a following. And the old adage, “If you build it they will come” may prevail. 🙂
Debby, you make a good point. If we’re authentic, we are bound to build a following. Every now and again, I will research creative marketing tactics and it amazes me how some people try really cool things to win a bigger audience over. An author I interviewed a long time ago emphasized doing at least one thing a day to promote their book. That’s great advice.
Yes, some are really creative when it comes to find new strategies. The beauty is also the kindness to share information by blogging amongst writers. Writing is a community unlike many others where (most) don’t fret over competition, as we are all unique. 🙂
This post pushes a few buttons for me as I continually ponder not just how to find true fans, but to get stuff published and not lose my integrity or my voice. Because there are people who fake it, and do well at that, and there are people who force it, and you can tell it’s forced; I don’t want to do either. I do, however, value deep human connection, and so that is what I hope will help me find my tribe and vice versa. As for who I’m a true fan of, in writing or in other art forms, I don’t think I’ve ever consumed everything that anyone has put out.
Laura, it’s coming across that you value deep human connection and your platform is getting better all the time. You can count me as a true fan! I can’t wait to read your memoir. I’d even go to your Desire Map workshop if I was in the area 😉
I agree that following/ befriending someone on social media does not mean you are a fan. You can “like” and “follow” with the click of a button.
A true fan will invest in you and your plight whether it be a small business or a blog.
I focus on interacting with others rather than just attempting to build my supposed fan base. This will mean giving more than taking but I have come to understand that you first need to be interested in someone before they are interested in you.
Phoenicia, authentic interaction is definitely key when it comes to making connections with fans. It’s also very time consuming. Sometimes it really does seem like there just aren’t enough hours in the day to do it all, but every little effort made does indeed count.
Jeri – this is a bit of a challenge, isn’t it. I wonder how many people have enough true fans to buy everything they put out. If you are such a unique individual you would need to remain standing out so where would you find the time to communicate with 1000 true fans? I somehow don’t see how a newsletter touching on general topics would do it.
What may is if you came up with a simple plan on how to attract, then keep these true fans. That would be worth a fortune.
Lenie, when you think about it the math is truly mind boggling. Newsletters timed well can help keep fans interested, but the true test is the ability to continually put out material those true fans seek and consistently keep it fresh.
Reading this and noting your tweetable quote about technology made me wonder what if fact the impact of technology is in acquiring and mantaining 1,000 true fans. Surely the platforms available to all of us whether we be writers or musicians or artists give us so many more ways to find fans without being beholden to publishers or record labels or gallery owners. But the flip side of that is that there are now so many, many more people trying to capture the attention of fans that it’s harder to stay focused. I asked myself am I a true fan. Unfortately, if you’re aren’t John Updike or Philip Roth, I’m probably not going to prove to be a true fan because my reading is just all over the place. (Buit if you publish more short stories Jeri I’ll buy them.)
Ken, the almighty power of the mailing list can’t be denied. When I pitched my book at two writing conferences, many of the agents asked questions about those types of numbers. Yet, not one asked what was being done to cultivate a fanbase, which is the more important question. I do plan on adding another short story to my current collection when I get a print version underway, but it will be a good while before I put something new out. I’m hoping to submit to journals and magazines, so that curtails releasing independently for now.
I read something similar, maybe the same thing that you did (hard to tell with all this information floating around these days) and really had a hard time getting my head around this whole “1000 fans” thing. I mean of course that’s what we all want at the end of the day but is that the real reason we’re all doing this?
I think that the biggest challenge is keeping those fans amidst the waves of neverending information and new artists out there every day producing more and more content. My head begins to bulge just at the thought of that. We’re literally surrounded by all these new folks coming out on a daily basis producing stuff.
I try to ignore that fact even though it’s hard. The best thing, honestly, is to just keep creating good and appealing stuff if you want people to come check it out. That and creating images to entice them as well:)
Duke, creating high-quality content counts for so much. The longer I’m at this and narrowing down my own writing path, it becomes more clear how important it is to go after the right audience as well. Marketing, it’s a mystery to me at times, but a beast to be tamed little by little.
This is such an interesting post, dear Jeri… I am quite amazed to read these marketing tips… Particularly because It seems to be a whole analytics study behind the concept of true fans, which, by the way, I find out to be quite relative…
I think that Kevin Kelly´s ideas are not only interesting but useful…
Especially when he states that the small circle of true fans might be surrounded by concentric circles of Lesser Fans.
I believe that this typhology is important in order to reach out those `fans´i.e readers through different mechanisms, concerning the way to interact with them… Mainly keeping in mind that those lesser fans could eventually become True Fans, or just vanish is they walk along the writer´s path… `True fans´, well seen, the expression could be a praise and a responsibility somehow… 🙂
Thanks for sharing… Best wishes to you. Aquileana ⭐️
Aqui, your comment makes me think of the ripples effect when a stone is thrown in a pond. Impact can be measured in so many ways and to varying degrees. You seem to have a lot of true fans who share your posts like crazy. I am one of them. A lot of that goes back to how much you share others’ material. Like invites like, I guess 😉
As usual, you shared a great post. These are difficult questions. I don’t think I’ve done anything to keep my “true fans”. First, I write in different genres, so that alone makes it difficult to keep true fans when you’re an unknown.
I’ve tried to reach out to other bloggers, leaving comments on their blogs, yet it’s not returned. I’m also finding it difficult to find blogs I consider interesting. I get involved in discussions on LinkedIn and Goodreads, but have tried to refrain from giving “my opinion”.
Since much of what I do isn’t really working, and I’m a lazy marketer and promoter, I told my husband that I’m going to stop worrying. Stop trying to herd people my way. I’ll continue to do the things I enjoy, such as writing, blogging, commenting, discussing things I’m interested in on LinkedIn and Goodreads, without fearing I’ll lose readers for giving my opinion. I don’t find marketing and promoting pleasurable. It takes me away from living. At this stage in my life, I’d rather concentrate on things I enjoy. This way, any “true fans” I might pick up along the way will like me for me. Right now, my “true fans” are my husband and sister. At least I have them. LOL!
Denise, you can count me in as a true fan as well! Doing those aspects of marketing that are a good fit for the artist matter a lot as well. If it’s not pleasurable, there’s no sense in torturing one’s self. I’ve found I rather like marketing, probably because of all the great people I end up meeting.
YES! Now I have 3 FANS!!!
You are good at marketing, that’s probably why I don’t enjoy it because I’m not good at it. 😀
Great post, Jeri – good food for thought, good reminders. I am a firm believer of this 1000 true fans concept. Even if they don’t buy everything you produce, many of them can still be kinda true fans (true enough anyway!). One thing that I keep thinking while reading your post – it’s not about the fans, it’s about the author (if we are speaking strictly about authors). Be remarkable, be authentic, etc. =- all of that I get and agree. What I would like to add though is that you, or anyone, being the author, should truly believe in what they do – truly see how whatever he or she produces positively changes the lives of others. That is something fans sense and tend to go true fans in a while, as inspiration is contagious, no? 🙂
Thanks for a great post, as always,
Diana, I fully agree. The creator needs to believe in the impact they can have and stand behind it. That really does draw people in quite like nothing else can.
Hi Jeri, as per usual your posts always intrigue. I have not heard of this theory so I would like to check out the links you shared for further reading. That said, I believe it might be almost impossible to gain 1000 TRUE fans…I’d settle for 10 but why not set a high goal? I’m a true fan of Jane Austen—I’ve read every single book multiple times. I’m a true fan of many authors but only a few musicians. It’s an interesting thing to try to define.
p.s. I’m signing up to receive your posts via email because I don’t want to miss another one of your educational and thought provoking posts.
Jeri — the 1,000 fans concept is certainly interesting and fun to talk about. But, to me, that’s all it is. You don’t need 1,000 fans if all you need is one big sale a year. You just need one big fan at that time. I’m thinkin of my niece and her husband. They build one house a year and that’s all they need to do. On the other hand, it doesn’t help to have 1,000 fans if the unit price of what you’re selling is only $1.
Jeannette, great example with the yearly house your niece and her husband build. In the case of an indie author, just imagine how many true fans are needed for one to make a living on selling books alone. I suppose it helps when an authorpreneur also builds a platform where they can earn money on coaching others or from speaking engagements.
As an author, I read so much about finding more and more fans. Sometimes I wonder if looking for so many more, you miss paying attentions to the ones you currently have.
I know I sought out one of my earliest readers of my novel, and still am in contact with them.
Paying more attention to what you have now, will allow you to get more later.
Will, it’s a fine balance to walk. Word of mouth is also another great part of acquiring a fanbase. True and lesser fans will talk about and share irresistible content that begs to be talked out. Now if we only knew the magic formula…
I imagine you would do very well in business if you had 1000 of these types of true fans. It is truly a fan who will buy everything you sell. And, depending on the industry and the price of what you sell, I’m not sure how realistic that is. The point I really appreciate in this though is the acknowledgement that just because someone follows you doesn’t really mean they are a fan. In this new world of social media, you can have 20,000 twitter followers which can make you feel great. But if 19,500 of those followers follow you just so you will follow them back, they aren’t fans at all. So it is really important for business owners to appreciate the value of acquiring real fans, not just the appearance of fans.
Erica, you make sure a good point. It reminds me of when I first started my FB business page for Word Bank (back in the day when it was an author page). I liked so many pages I had no interest in just to get a like in return. Needless to say, nothing much came of that process.
Great post and advice. I have been trying to write in my voice. Rather then before writing what I thought others wanted to here or what I thought was right. Everybody has their own unique voice and its figuring out how to find it. I am still figuring out how to network and do social media . it’s hard but this was uplifting. 🙂
Crystal, focusing on finding your unique voice is a great way to help ensure down the road that you can hone in on what makes you remarkable.
Excellent post. I don’t have 1000 true fans yet, but I am preparing for them. I’m a true fan of several bloggers and entrepreneurs.
Jason, but you’re smart to lay the groundwork. Foresight can help so much. I’m not surprised either. Just look at how you have set your mind to turning your financial life around and have used your blog as a tool to help you achieve that.
This is a really interesting concept, and makes me think of how it might apply to my blog. Guess I gotta figure out what I’m “selling” first, though. Thanks for the food for thought!
Meredith, you’re constantly honing your niche and have definite appeal to the DYI crafty crowd. People from all professions have a passion for crafts, and it’s safe to say I am a fan and love your blog and all of the creative projects you post. They are inspiring.
I’m surprised to learn that I am NOT a true fan to many of the writers I admire. Like you, when I was younger I had a few authors whose work I bought no matter what it was, but now I give a miss to books that even my favourite authors produce. Very interesting post and lots of food for thought.
Debra, the articles definitely made me realize just how hard it is to amass true fans. Anyway a person looks at it, the task takes a lot of hard work. I think that can sometimes eat into a creative person’s output. At least it does for me.
One goes through phases of ‘true fan’ does one not? I know very few people who fixate for their entire lives on a small groups of people, producers, artists.
In my youth I was an avid reader and would often buy entire series, wading through them each ‘just because’ of an author but I learned that this was a mistake for me. I would get sick of repetitive style/character/set up. Patricia Cornwell was one of these I came to her books late, gorged on the back catalogue for a about a year and then so utterly sick of the style. Then I bought anything I could lay my hands on…now? I have not read another for 2 decades.
I find this in my own industry writing space, certain writers have their voice but one can get tired of being preached at by the same people year in year out and across multiple media too (TV, magazine, newsprint, radio social etc). Charged language I know and possibly the fault of one way communicators rather than conversationalists. One of my favorite books was a series of letter from Christopher Lloyd and Beth Chatto, a conversation between friends that had a flow to it and the characters, real life ones, emerged from the pages, pleasant and not so pleasant.
1000 true fans somehow seems like a world away from possibility, but them I could write more and engage more and then who knows I might start with 1 true fan!
Rosalind, excellent point how fans can devour most of a writer’s titles, but then grow sick of them. I think that’s how things mostly went for me with Anne Rice books. New fans must continually be found to supplement the ones that drift away. What a lot of work!
Sorry it took me so long to read this post. Interesting questions about 1kTF. I’m still on the fence about (1) following my instincts vs (2) trying to implement advice about growing a “fan” base. I don’t have anything to sell, but I’ve met a few bloggers who have developed huge followings just by blogging, so that’s an option since I don’t have any published works. But most if not all of these bloggers are extroverts who seem comfortable with sharing every detail of their personal lives. In this context, my instincts have taken me further away from social media. I’m an introvert, and a very self-conscious one at that, so this is my take-home from your post: “We all long for connection, so find what enables you to make those connections.” If I attain 10 True Fans, I’ll be happy 🙂
Ooh lots of food for thought here. I think it works as a concept rather than a literal goal – I’m learning that I’m much better off finding and nurturing relationships with people who genuinely connect with what I write, rather than chasing after the masses who – well, heaven knows what they want to read! I think I have about 5 true fans at the moment, but they are particularly awesome so it’s an excellent start 😉