Embracing the 1000 True Fans Concept

How to Build a Loyal Reader Base

In 2008 Kevin Kelly wrote the original idea for the 1000 true fans. It breaks down like this: If you can find 1000 people who buy anything you create, that should be enough to earn you a living doing what you love.

Discovering the Idea of 1000 True Fans

When I first discovered the concept of the 1000 True Fans, I thought I’d discovered something magical. As a publisher I thought this was the thing that was going to supercharge my company. At the time we had a respectable number of titles and authors and I thought, “If each author developed a following of just 1000 people and some or most of them bought other books we’ve published, we’ll have tens of thousands of sales!” I quickly realized that as easy as it sounds in theory, like most things, it’s much more complicated in reality.

You may have already come across this concept and thought the same thing. If you haven’t heard of it, though, let’s take a moment to take a look at where it started.

What Is the 1000 True Fans Concept?

In 2008 Kevin Kelly wrote the original idea for the 1000 true fans. It breaks down like this: If you can find 1000 people who buy anything you create, that should be enough to earn you a living doing what you love.

Some not-so-hard math shows where this has merit and where it might be a challenge. If you’re an author, you’re probably already doing it and frowning. If you’re an indie author selling on KDP and you net, let’s say, $5 per sale, and you have 1000 fans who buy it, you make $5,000. That doesn’t sound too bad until you realize that a lot of authors only write one book per year. Even if you factor in secondary sales because your True Fans drive things like word of mouth and algorithms at Amazon, you still might only make a bit more…and that’s pretty far from a living.

There are ways to squeeze the math. Sell more books. Write more books. Sell them for more.

So why does or, at least, can it work?

Benefits to the 1000 True Fans

1000 True Fans is an Obtainable Goal

The math of being an author is a difficult one. If you only write one book per year and you only make $5/book and you want to make $50,000 per year, you have to sell 10,000 books to get there. Building an audience of 10,000 buyers can feel completely daunting. Especially when you start thinking that about how, if you can only get 10% of people to buy, then all of a sudden you need to reach at least 100,000 people. This is two orders of magnitude higher than 1,000.

But what if I said you only needed to start with 100? Or 10?

The truth is that the core concept behind this idea is that you actually only have to reach one person at a time. If you lived in New York City and I said, “You can be a successful author if you go out and just meet and have a meaningful conversation with one person each day,” you might think that’s too easy. There are millions of people out on those streets, and I only need to meet one? “I’ll meet thousands,” you might say.

But you can’t develop meaningful relationships with thousands of people each day. You can reach one. Or maybe a few.

That’s what the 1,000 True Fans concept gives you. If you go online—on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any other platform you choose—there are millions of users with similar interests to you. Your goal is to meet just 1 per day. And if you cultivate those relationships, you’ll have made 365 True Fans in 1 year. So in less than 3 years, you can have your 1,000 True Fans. And if you meet 3 people a day, you’re there in less than a year.

Ask yourself: Can you meet 1-3 people per day to get to a sustainable career?

True Fans Buy Anything You Sell

One of the things that most authors struggle with is letting go of the idea that the only thing that’s important about them is the book they write.

It might be the most important thing, but it’s by far not the only thing. In fact, the books you write aren’t even the things your fans become your fans for or through.

Who are your first fans? They’re your friends, your family. These are people who know you. They might even be skeptical about your career choice as an author (what do they know anyway!?). But they buy your books, don’t they?

If you’re using the 1,000 True Fans method, you’re not creating customers, you’re making friends. A friend who loves everything you do and will buy it because you’re the one who made it. And also because you made it for them.

Think about what your fans like. Think about what you like, and create that. Go beyond the books.

True Fans Are Vocal

If you’re an author, you might have used a launch team or done a blog or Social Media Tour. Launch teams are usually a few dozen up to maybe 100 or so, and you probably had to give books to them to get them to talk about your book and write reviews.

Your 1,000 True Fans are going to do that same work, but it’s orders of magnitude better than a launch team because:

  • They bought the book! This version of a Launch Team paid you $5,000, potentially.
  • They actually care about you deeply, they’re not just in it for free books. Let’s face it, a lot of people who do these teams just want the free book, and sometimes they write less than inspired reviews. And they have to include that note that says they got the book for free in exchange for a review.
  • If they bought your book from Amazon, they’re a Verified Buyer. That means Amazon weights their reviews and their purchases more highly.
  • If a significant portion of your True Fans buy on Amazon, it’ll raise your rating. You’ll hit bestsellers lists. Amazon will drive buyers to your book that matches what they think are even more buyers like your True Fans.

Your 1,000 True Fans Make You Better

When you connect with people individually, your relationship with selling your books changes fundamentally. And so does your creative process.

Your fans are no longer just customers, and your books aren’t just a product they buy.

When a relationship stops being a financial one and starts being a personal one, emotional engagement grows and our work becomes even more meaningful. As an author you’ll start feeling better about what you do and be willing to work harder because you’re not just doing it for yourself anymore—you’re doing it for your fans.

Your fans will also guide you to create and write things that you might never have considered before. Getting to know your fans will teach you things about them and about yourself that will make your work even better and more meaningful. And this will mean that it’ll connect even more deeply with your existing fans and help you find, create, and cultivate new ones.

Your 1000 True Fans will help you create more, better ones in the future.

To Be Continued:
How to Identify, Find, Connect with, and Grow Your 1,000 True fans

Maybe you’re convinced this method is for you. Maybe you’re not. The life of an author is rarely an easy one. But the 1,000 True Fans method can make it easier and more rewarding. It can make it worth it, even if the monetary aspect isn’t there yet.

If you are convinced, or just want to see how this plays out, in the next article I’m going to make some suggestions on how to know just who your fans are and how to connect with them and how to create this satisfying relationship between fan and author.