A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author – in other words, anyone producing works of art – needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.
–Kevin Kelly, 1,000 True Fans
The “1,000 True Fans” theory states, effectively, that 1,000 literal fanatics each spending $100/year on your stuff is all you need for a sustainable career. It’s a model for which Trent Reznor is often used as an example, and much like the discredited “Long Tail Theory” it’s based on (Kelly and Chris Anderson are colleagues at Wired), it is overly simplistic and doesn’t really hold up to scrutiny.
It does, however, offer a reference point for the next step in building an author’s platform.
Platform 101 was about laying the foundation, physically and virtually. Once you have your foundation in place, you will slowly begin to attract an audience, some of whom might one day become enthusiastic fans who will not only buy your books (and short stories, and CDs, and t-shirts, etc.) but, perhaps more importantly, will also mobilize and spread the word far and wide on your behalf, sometimes without your even having to ask.
Platform 201 is about attracting, engaging and energizing that community, and these are three fundamental points to keep in mind while doing so:
Platform 201: Engaging the Community
1) It’s not about YOU. The most common mistake writers make when developing a platform is narcissism, thinking that “it’s all about ME!” The strongest communities share something in common, and it’s rarely the glorification of a specific individual, brand or distribution model. (Those are cults, and while some writers certainly have them, they’re not the norm.) Barack Obama made his Presidential campaign about our hopes for America (“Yes WE can!”), and while he had an extremely fanatical base of “true fans”, the vast majority of his supporters were brought together by what he stood for and how it related to their own hopes, dreams and goals.
2) Find your niche. As a writer, Content is King, but Context is its equally powerful Queen, and Content + Context = Value. Regardless of what kind of writer you are, you should be driven by your passions, seeking out communities related to those passions and becoming a contributing member. Knowing where you fit into a community and how you can add the most value to it is the difference between being a giver or a taker, success or failure. No one likes a carpetbagger.
3) Have patience. Taking the time to find the right fit — to experiment, to fail, to fail again, and to ultimately succeed — is important and requires dedication and patience.
Chris Brogan always wanted to be a writer. Five years ago, he was a self-defined fat guy blogging about getting in shape; two years later he discovered podcasting, started his own event, and is now considered a social media guru. His first book comes out next month, Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust (Wiley, 2009). That book was preceded by 5+ years of blogging, a number of free ebooks, a ton of speaking engagements, and, most importantly, consistent engagement with, and energizing of, his community.
I’m not a big fan of Brogan’s — some of his ideas on marketing border on the unethical — but I respect his gumption, and the platform he’s built for himself is exemplary, especially for non-fiction writers.
NOTE: Brogan will be a featured speaker at the new Writer’s Digest Conference: The Business of Getting Published here in New York City in September, giving the keynote address on “The Book as Platform: Seeding Your Future”. (Disclosure: I work for Writer’s Digest’s parent company, and used to be its Advertising Sales Director.)
Don’t be a narcissist; follow your passions and always add value; be patient.
Contrary to popular belief, there are no overnight successes, and Brogan is but one example of this. Neil Gaiman was a journalist, book reviewer and comic book writer long before he became an award-winning novelist. Patricia Smith was a journalist and slam poet long before she was a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award.
As author John Scalzi noted in his dissection of Kelly’s theory, “before I could lay an arguable claim to having 1,000 ‘true fans,’ I needed to create an overall audience of at least tens of thousands of readers/fans… In other words: You already need to be at least a little bit famous.”
How does a writer become famous?
Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 Hour Rule” from his book, Outliers, is instructive for all writers.
Is there a Platform 301? Probably, but that’s where things start to really diverge depending on what kind of writer you are, and it’s more of a self-study course.
Here’s a handful of key resources for any writer looking to take full control of their platform:
- Get Known Before the Book Deal: Writer Mama Christina Katz offers tips and advice for success in the world of publishing.
- There Are No Rules: Savvy advice and information on the business of publishing from Writer’s Digest Publisher & Editorial Director, Jane Friedman
- Editor Unleashed: More savvy advice and information on the business of publishing and craft of writing from former Writer’s Digest editor, Maria Schneider
- GalleyCat: MediaBistro’s publishing industry blog is a daily must-read for all writers.
- The Reality of a Times Bestseller: NY Times Bestseller Lynn Viehl offers the numbers behind her best-selling book, Twilight Fall.
What other tips or resources have you found valuable? And where are you in the development of your own platform?