Hybrid novelist Jane Davis examines the theory that all any author needs is 1,000 superfans to help them reach more readers and sell more books, and generously shares which techniques have worked well in her experience of self-publishing.
Looking for inspiration for a low-cost marketing strategy? Then, like me, you may be interested in the concept of the Super-fan. We all know that building a loyal readership takes time (you have to write the books!) but, this article 1000 True Fans explains the benefits of nurturing your fan-base. In some ways, the content enables author-publishers to feel secure.
Surely we all do this stuff? (I think that the authors who claim they don’t do any marketing are actually doing it very well, which is why they have gathered such loyal readers around them.)
A little about me
My background is in financial services. Nasty, mean, hateful stuff. Deputy MD. In charge of hiring and firing. In charge of making my colleagues of twenty years redundant. The buck stopped with me and I was not in the business of asking for help. There was no greater indicator of weakness. I could just about get my head around outsourcing. Your typical control freak.
Here Amanda Palmer explains why I was completely wrong. (Many thanks to Dan Holloway for the introduction.) I’d like to share with you where these two very powerful ideas have worked for me and – frankly – where they haven’t.
When I made the decision to self-publish, I had prize money that I could have invested in services – if I had only realised I needed help. The truth is that you think that you have published a quality product right up until the moment someone points out its flaws. (Only Monsoon – for male readers, that’s the women’s clothing shop – succeed in convincing customers that manufacturing defects are unique selling points.)
SHOWS CONSIDERABLE POTENTIAL
Meet some of my ‘A’ Team. I no longer have a regular place of work and, on the advice of Stephen King, I gave up all idea of a social life a long time ago. But it’s amazing who you find yourself standing (or sitting) next to. My first layer of Super-fans has become indispensible. They form my team of proofreaders, beta-readers, copy-editors and promoters.
Harry. In his mid-seventies, Harry is the only man brave enough to attend my Keep Fit class. He arrives dressed like a throw-back from The Kids from Fame and sings very loudly (a tenor in his local choir, he knows all of the words, even the rude ones). Now retired, Harry was an engineer by profession. His hobby is not just calligraphy, but intricate gold-leaf and cobalt blue illuminations of the type found in medieval bibles. I mention these things because of what I know now, not what I knew then. Exercise/co-ordination + musicality + meticulous attention to detail + artistry + a bit of a stickler = left hand/right hand side of brain balance. In other words, exactly what you are looking for in proofreader. When proofreading my last book, Harry detected ninety-seven typos. My other proofreaders (including paid copy-editors) found an average of twelve. (He missed three, mind.) Nothing is published before Harry has read it. And, no, you can’t have his phone number.
Sarah. Sarah is a shit-hot PA, super-active type. Last week she walked forty miles from Keswick to Barrow in the pouring rain to raise money for charity, slicing two hours off her personal best. Next weekend she is taking on the Three Peak Challenge (climbing Britain’s three highest mountains). SHE HAS NEVER CLIMBED A MOUNTAIN BEFORE! You wouldn’t think she would have time for proofreading, but when people say ask a busy person, they are referring to Sarah. She has also recruited her mum to my team of beta readers. Again, how do I know Sarah? From my Keep Fit class.
Helen. My Keep Fit instructor, Helen is also an award-winning garden designer (Her first show garden at Hampton Court won gold). She refers to me as her ‘Writer in Residence’ and keeps the whole class up to speed with my writing projects. She allows me to hand-sell my books at class and has made it possible for me to sell my books at charity fund-raisers and annual dinners. That provides me with access to 400 classes of approximately thirty mainly middle-aged women, which translates as 12,000 potential readers who fall within my target market! And guess what? Some classes have book clubs attached to them!
The list of support I have had from Moves Fitness goes on. I have found among my friends at Keep Fit people who have skill-sets that aren’t being utilised in their day-jobs. In some cases, their bosses don’t even care that they have these skills. More fool them! Sadly, you won’t find members of my writing group in my ‘A’ team. And yet I have taught workshops, introduced author friends as speakers, critiqued work. I think the issue is that I am not a novelty to members of my writing group. ‘What, you’ve written a book? Who here hasn’t?’ But lunch at a Financial Conduct Authority conference last week turned out to be the ideal time to talk about books. Once again, I was a novelty.
Other Helen. I found myself sitting in a chair next to Helen at the hairdresser’s. We both put down our books and started chatting. It turned out that Helen was a qualified copy-editor looking to get back into the business after a substantial career break. After offering to give the manuscript I was working on the once over, she gave it a fairly extensive treatment! I have now worked with her on three books and have found her to be more thorough than any paid service I have used, but she still won’t take a penny from me.
Vicky. Vicky is my new foothold in the Lake District. This case also illustrates the need for perseverance. Vicky co-owns the self-catering flat in Ambleside that Matt and I regularly rent. And every year since I was first published (2008), I have left publicity material and have donated books to the ‘book shelf’. Vicky has always thanked me and asked me how I am getting on, but LAST MONTH she got round to reading one of my books. She has since read all five, staying up most of the night, but it is husband Paul who has started tweeting about them. I Stopped Time is currently being read by Brathay Book Club, with several other book clubs in the Lakes taking note.
Anna from Poland. When I first self-published, I had some bookmarks printed, and handed them out on my train journey to the City. (I stopped because several people were very abusive.) One of those people was Anna. She immediately bought (and then reviewed) Half-truths and White Lies. Some months later, I was standing on a train, correcting the proof of These Fragile Things, when Anna pushed her way through the crowded carriage and asked, ‘Is it you?’ She had been carrying round her copy of my book in the hope that she might bump into me again and ask for my autograph. (I should mention that this is the only time I have ever been asked for my autograph.) Anna has read and reviewed every book I have written.
Cleo. When Cleo first contacted me, she was a newbie book blogger who had picked up on my books.I was the first author she ever asked for an interview. I always send Cleo advance review copies and she has also hosted competitions from her blog for me.
The Power of ‘Thank You’ (or There is No Such Thing as an Unselfish Act)
In addition to the power of asking, there is, of course, the power of saying ‘thank you’.
The dedication: Most of my books are dedicated to people who have been an important part of my life but are no longer with us. Something I hadn’t foreseen is that the families of those who have had books dedicated to them have been immensely grateful and have become evangelists for the books.
The acknowledgements: A book is a collaborationand it is only right that contributors’ efforts should be acknowledged, especially if they have given their time freely. I send a signed copy to everyone who is mentioned. The knock-on effect is that the very people you have wanted to do something nice for are the very people who then start buying your book for family and friends. Remember the first time that you saw your name on a book cover? They are quite keen to point out that their names are in print.
Reviewers: Writing reviews is not for everyone, and I am deeply moved when someone goes to the trouble of writing about how something I’ve written has made them feel. I alwaysdrop them a line to say thank you. I can see from my reviews that, once people discover my books, they tend to read everything I have written. I’d like to think that’s entirely down to the quality of the writing, but I suspect that the personal contact has something to do with it. Reviews plus social contact = fans.
The Power of Social Media
- There’s nothing like it for expanding your reach. My initial impression was that, with Facebook, you could friend people you knew, but with Twitter you reached people further afield. Not so.
- Through setting up Google alerts and tagging, I have got to know readers who were talking about my books.
- Through joining in discussions with Facebook friends, I have made new friends. (I always message people I don’t know personally to ask if it would be ok if I send them a friend request.)
- I’ve already mentioned that writing reviews isn’t for everybody, but I have achieved sales because someone has simply posted that they are currently enjoying one of my books. (I always respond and say let me know how you get on.) If someone does this a lot, I message them and ask if they’d like a signed copy one of my other books as a gift. (I send signed bookplates if I discover they are abroad) Yes, it might cost me £10.00, but I get that back in good will alone.
Social contact + something extra = Super-fans.
Bizarrely (to me at least), one of my only paid speaking gigs this summer is as a social media expert! Someone liked what I was doing and invited me to take part in an event which aims to help mothers back into the workplace. I think I stand as much chance of selling books at that event as at a talk at my local library! And, of course, one of the huge benefits of social media is that it has brought me into contact with a whole community of authors. Which brings me on to…
Colleagues, not Competitors
The advice at the London Author Fair was ‘Authors, stop trying to sell your books to other authors.’ This advice ignores the fact that (a) authors help each other reach readers and (b) authors are also readers.
In November 2013, I released the third of my self-published novels, A Funeral for an Owl. I had no money for a book launch and it was a very low-key affair. Sales have taken time to build momentum. This April, only five months later, I launched my fourth self-published novel, An Unchoreographed Life. Again, I had no money for a book launch, but this time I was inundated with offers of interviews. The difference? At the tail end of last year, after I Stopped Time appeared on several ‘best of’ lists, I contacted those authors whose books also appeared and asked if they would like to be interviewed for my blog.
I must admit that this was not purely an altruistic act. Before I learned about ALLi, I was trying to identify the top-end indie authors. And I didn’t just want great quality content for my blog: I was after their readers. Although I don’t ask for anything in return, the pay-back has been enormous: book sales; reviews, recommendations, guest blogs, return interviews. Many of those authors are ALLi members and I had the great pleasure of meeting them at The London Author Fair and the London Book Fair.
COULD DO BETTER
Growing an email list
Essential, I’m told, but I haven’t nailed it yet. I am aware that the next step is to offer something of value in return for signing up, but I’m still looking for time to write that short story or non-fiction book.
Asking your fans to invest in a new project is something I don’t feel entirely comfortable with. After attending the London Author Fair and learning about a no-risks arm’s length solution, I decided to experiment. With Pubslush offering free promotion for your first book, I posted details for An Unchoreographed Life. The fact was that I had already spent the money, so I was modest in what I asked for. (Perhaps too modest. Pubslush recommend that it costs up to $35,000 to launch a self-published book, but I can’t see that there is a case to ask genuine fans to pay for a publicity campaign.) So how did I get on? I received only one bid and it was from someone I knew. An author, in fact. Conclusion: I am not sure that would-be patrons go trawling the net in search of new projects to invest in. This is one to try once you have built your email list.