How to Build a Network of Fans

by Jon Bard
published in Community

Over the last twenty years, the music industry has been shaken to its core.  The old ways (nab a record deal, record in a fancy studio, depend on your label to distribute and market) vanished and the new ways (record it yourself, distribute it digitally, promote via social networks and one-to-one community building) took hold.

Meantime, writers and publishers stood on the sidelines, seemingly unaware that the same thing was about to happen to them.

Despite the confusion and discouragement, musicians did, in fact, have a choice: Adapt or die. Understand and accept the new reality and opportunities will arise. Hang on to the sinking ship of the old paradigm, gnashing your teeth and wringing your hands at the injustice of it all, and you’re shark food. Your call.

And now, dear writer, you have the same choice. What’s it gonna be?

If this makes you worried, overwhelmed or ready to pack it in, fear not. I actually bring good news:

A generation of musicians have figured it out … so you don’t have to!

That’s the key: examine what’s worked for musicians and you’ll understand what can work for writers.

All of which brings me to Amanda Palmer.

Meet Amanda Palmer:

She’s a singer/songwriter..  She’s not wildly famous, nor on a major label.  Apart from her loyal fan base, it’s doubtful most music fans have much of an idea who she is.

And, a few weeks back,  purely on her own, she made more than $368,000 selling her music in just two days.

She did it by cultivating a fanbase and staying engaged.

 

Here’s how she recounts the first day of her sales effort:

After ALL these collected years of talking with fans after every show, twittering daily, staying connected, singing hard, touring constantly, and answering thousands of fan emails….the result?
$250k in a day.
BAM.

Remember, Amanda Palmer isn’t world famous.  But her fans know her and love her.
And they want her music.

 

Do your fans know you?  Do you even have fans?

 

Let’s dispel something straight off:  Being unpublished (if, in fact you are) is not a hindrance to having fans.  There’s no reason why you can’t build a web presence, give away free stories, poems or eBooks and start cultivating a fan base right this very minute.  So do it.

Here are some ways to get started:

Use Common Tools in an Uncommon Fashion

You’re a creative person.  So why use Twitter, blogs and Facebook so uncreatively?  Be different to connect with readers.

Some ideas:

  • Written a short story or novel?  Set up Twitter accounts in the names of your protagonist and villain and let them have at each other.  Make it over-the-top dramatic, funny or emotional.  Build a truly epic battle, played out in 140 characters or less.  And, once every 5th or 6th Tweet, include a link for curious onlookers to download a sample chapter.
  • Do the same on Facebook.  Your hero should have a fan page and so should your antagonist.  Invite fans to choose sides.
  • When you blog, write about your fans, not yourself.  Take the time to create a profile of who your “typical fans” might end up being.  What interests them?  What frightens them?  What motivates them?  Write about that.  Be a kindred spirit, not a distant author.

Build an e-Mail List

Just because a visitor reads your blog or Twitter feed once doesn’t mean they’ll remember you.  You need to build a relationship.  The best way to do?  By e-mail.

Here’s how to build your list:

    1. Invest a few dollars and get set up with an e-mail service.  A few good choices include GetResponse, Mailchimp and Constant Contact
    2. Set up an autoresponder message new signups will receive instantly.  Ask a specific question to trigger your target reader’s imagination.  (e.g., if you write romance, ask  “I hate romance clichés and really try to avoid them in my writing.  Which clichés are you most tired of seeing?”)  Your goal:  to get them to write back to you — something that becomes important in the next phase of our fan-building campaign.
    3. Pull together an awesome freebie that includes some of your work.  Because visitors don’t know you, simply offering a sample of your work likely won’t get them to fill in your contact form.  So, have your work hitch-hike along with a gift they can’t resist.  Again, the key is to think like your potential fan and determine what would get him (or her) pumped up.  .  Here’s a suggestion:  public domain eBooks.  Gutenberg.org features thousands of eBooks covering almost any subject imaginable.  They’re already laid out for the Nook, Kindle and computer and they’re free to download and give away.   Say your story features a bird lover, and you believe that other bird lovers will be especially drawn to your work.   Have a look at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/30221/30221-h/30221-h.htm and gaze upon a glorious book from 1897 filled with wonderful artwork and delightful prose.  What bird fan wouldn’t be thrilled to receive a gift like this?
    4. Create a simple page that offers only one thing — the opportunity to download your freebie (along with a sample of your work) in exchange for a visitor’s e-mail address.   I like using video to build the personal connection from the get-go.  Here’s an example of a page I set up for one of our freebies.
    5. Promote the page via your Twitter and Facebook feeds.  Then, find some forums where your target reader may already be, and register for access.  Create a “signature” for your posts (a standard bit of text that appears below everything you post) and start participating.  Don’t promote — let your signature do that for you.  (Continuing with the bird theme, your signature may be “Birds Illustrated – A Glorious Collection of Vintage Color Bird Prints and Marvelous Prose.  Download FREE for the Nook, Kindle or PC.  http://youraddress”.

Spend an hour day promoting the link to your signup page.  Over time, you’ll develop a list of fans who are not only pre-selected by their interest in your subject matter, but thankful for the gift you’ve given them.

Now, stay in touch.

Getting those e-mail signups accomplished two things:  an opportunity to connect on a personal level (thanks to the probing question you asked) and on a group level (via e-mails to the entire list).

When someone responds to your question, send  a friendly note to drive home the personal connection.  It may not seem like much to you, but to a new fan who’s enjoyed your gift (and, hopefully, your work), it can mean a great deal.

Finally, stay in touch with your entire list via a weekly message with tidbits and opinion about the topic you all have in common, along with offers to download more samples and other freebies.  This is long-term relationship building that will offer real returns when you’re ready to mobilize your fans to buy your book or eBook down the road a piece.

 

So that’s it, really.  Be creative, be outrageous, be giving.  Talk to your fans and then listen when they talk back.

That’s what Amanda Palmer did, and she just made more money in two days than lots of “famous” musicians (and writers) will make all year.  Are you ready to do the same?

 

—————————————–

Jon Bard is Managing Editor of Children’s Book Insider, the Newsletter for Children’s Writers and Fightin’ Bookworm-in-Chief at The CBI Clubhouse.  If you’re interested in writing for children or teens, Jon has a gift for you: an free eBook packed with advice from bestselling children’s authors!  Visit http://cbiclubhouse.com/2012report/ to get your copy instantly.

Follow Jon on Twitter @CBIClubhouse.

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  • Carol

    I like your ideas about building a network of fans.
    I will definitely use some of your ideas to get myself known ‘out there’

    Thank you

  • :Donna

    Jon, this is great stuff! So glad you’re spreading it around! 🙂

  • Great ideas, wondering how it would work for childrens books that really need illustrations. Any thoughts?

  • Your post was just what I needed today. I’ve been busy setting up a blog site and wondering if I’m just banging my head on yet another brick wall. You have given me courage to continue on continuing.

  • Glad it’s given you guys some inspiration!

    @Angel – Assuming you have illustrations, you can include them in a PDF, Kindle or ePub mini eBook. You can also put them into an app.

    If you just have a story without illustrations, I’d look around for some aspiring illustrators (SCBWI is a good place to start, so’s Jacketflap.com) and see if someone is willing to provide illustrations in exchange for the exposure. In fact, I’d work it out with an illustrator this way:

    Set up your e-mail collection page in both of your names, so you can share the e-mail addresses. This way, you *both* build e-mail lists and fanbases. A smart illustrator (especially one who has read this post! 🙂 ) will understand why this is a tremendous opportunity.

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  • Jarmila Del Boccio

    Thanks for the great tips, Amanda…I will bookmark this post for future use!

  • Audrey

    Great info! Thank you!

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