Wednesday, January 15, 2014

What I've Learned About Making Fans

One of my favorite band is Our Lady Peace.  I have a CD of theirs that I bought in high school and still listen to frequently.  It's a live recording from a concert, and at one point in the recording Raine Maida (the lead singer) pauses to thank the live audience -- explaining that they consider them their friends, not their fans.  It's always stuck with me because he sounds so humble and sincere.  It might just have been good marketing, but it absolutely felt authentic. 

(As an aside, I've had the pleasure of seeing Our Lady Peace live, and my impressions of Raine were very much the same -- the most humble, sincere rock star I think I've ever seen perform). 

Anyway, finding and connecting with fans is probably one of the most important parts of any kind of creative career.  It's also one of the most nerve-wracking.  People can tell you how to market all day long, but marketing is about selling books.  It's not about getting fans.

So I'm going to give you a little bit of advice that probably runs contrary to what you might already know about marketing.  But it's the only thing I've found to work when it comes to creating fans.  And here it is: 

Before you can make a fan, you have to have something of value to offer him. 

I don't just mean that your book (or album, or drawing, or whatever) needs to be good.  That goes without saying.  If your product isn't any good, there's no point in trying to move forward. 

But to capture a fan, you need more than a good product.  You need to convince someone -- maybe a total stranger -- that he needs to buy your book.  And not only that, he needs to be excited about doing it.  Fans aren't readers who pick up a book on a whim, just to give it a shot.  Fans are people who eagerly anticipate your next book, and whose infectious enthusiasm will draw in their friends and family. 

So how do you find these mysterious fans? 

For most of us, you start with your friends and family.  But while your mom might be an enthusiastic supporter of your writing career (or not), she's probably not your target audience (or maybe she is).  The same is true for the rest of your friends.  I have a whole lot of friends, but only some of them are readers, and only a fraction of those readers are people who would have any interest in the type of thing I write. 

Sure, I could probably bully and peer-pressure them into buying my book, but they wouldn't be fans if I did.  It makes a lot more sense to focus instead on making friends who would be interested in that book. 

Which, again, brings us back to the point:  To make a fan, offer him something of value

One of my most valuable and loyal fans (and a truly lovely person, to boot) happens to be an editor for the gaming company I work for.  He'd seen plenty of my writing first-hand from the work I did under him, so he already knew he liked it.  And once he picked up my first book, his suspicions were confirmed.  Now I can't release a project without getting an enthusiastic email from him letting me know he's going to read it ASAP.  None of this would have happened if we didn't already have a relationship built on the work I'd done for him. 

More recently, I sold a copy of a book to a game developer who I'd previously worked with for a short story anthology.  Again -- I'd written something for him, and he liked it enough to peruse my other work. 

When an announcement went up about Tagestraum's upcoming release, I got several emails of congratulations -- and interest -- from editors and clients, all of whom have worked with me personally and know my work that way.  

Time and again, the people who express the most interest in the things I write are people who have already encountered my writing in another form.  And -- assuming, of course, that I deliver on my promise of offering a quality product -- these people form the very core of my fan base (such as it is).  In fact, I think this is the one and only thing I've ever done that I can confidently say drives sales: I've connected with other creative people, offered them something of value, and piqued their curiosity in return.

So, how does this all work for you, you might ask? It's pretty simple: Find people who need your creativity, and share it with them.

Instead of publishing more stories out into the ether and begging more strangers to read them, find strangers who want stories.  Find anthologies and collections and submit to them.  Make friends with the editors of small magazines and other publications.  Troll around through communities filled with people who are interested in what you do, and then help them, instead of just pushing your book on them. 

Make the right kind of friends, give them a valuable product, and you'll start to get fans. 


  1. Excellent post! And I'm a huge OLP fan - I adore Raine! :)

    1. They're so fantastic, man. They opened for Nickelback when I saw them live, and completely blew them away. Probably the most energetic and heartfelt performance I've ever seen live.