“To be a success as an author, all you need is ten thousand people, each willing to give you $10 a year.”
I’m not sure who said that, but I read it recently and it stuck with me. Ten times ten thousand is one hundred thousand. Which seems like a very nice living to me too. However, if you’re writing and selling books, you’re probably not getting ten dollars per unit sold.
I strongly believe in the ten thousand fans idea though, so when you are planning your career, you need to think about what it will take to get ten dollars from each fan every year—keeping in mind publishers or Amazon are going to take their cut. So that may translate to three novels a year. Or a dozen short stories. Or a novel and a webinar. Or two novels and merchandise. What you offer fans, and how you get your ten dollars, is going to be unique to you.
As a fan, my top choice would be to get three novels from my favourite authors each year. I’d be paying more than ten dollars though, and they would be getting a lot less. I bought the kindle version of ‘King’s Rising’ the day it launched for $7, but I suspect C.S Pacat probably received about $2 of it, depending on her contract.
For her to get $10 off me a year, I guess she’d have to write five books. I would be extremely happy, but I don’t think she writes that fast. Of course, C.S Pacat has a lot more than 10, 000 people buying her novels.
So who are your 10, 000 people?
If you’re going to have a loyal fan base, you need to know who they are, so you can cater to their interests. It’s a bit recursive though, since you’re trying to work out who likes your stuff, so you can write stuff they like, so they like your stuff.
But let me put it this way: let’s say you write action/horror and your audience is men in their 20s. Men in their 20s also like things like video games and attractive women, and they worry about things like their careers, finding a long term girlfriend (or boyfriend) and their role in society. So if you had none of those themes in your first book, but added some in to your second book, those men in their 20s would probably relate more with your work and be even more likely to buy your next book.
But let’s say instead you write historical romance. Most of your readers are women in their 30s and 40s. They’re not interested in video games, sexy young women, or finding their role in society. Most women in their 30s and 40s are pretty confident about their role. They’d be much more interested in stories that show women their age achieving goals, making a contribution, being sassy and in control.
So to turn readers into fans, you need to know who they are, so you can research their interests and the themes that matter to them and put more of that in your work. Whatever you do, don’t make assumptions. It’s patronising and probably bigoted. Do proper research. Talk to people. Ask people who liked your work what other books they like, and why they liked them. Take notes, then actually read those books. Most readers will talk about books they love until the cows come home, then die of old age. I promise it’s not hard.
Each time you write a book, before you start, make a note:
What themes and conflicts interest them?
What other books are they reading?
If you really pay attention to what people are saying, and don’t just impose your own beliefs and attitudes over theirs, you’ll see a difference in how people respond to your work. It will take two or three books for you to really see the tangible effects of this. But in the mean time, it gives you a sense of grounding. Particularly when you start editing, pull your hair in despair and think: ‘Who will ever read this crap?’
It also helps, of course, in deciding what platform is best for promoting your work. Go where your fans are.
Remember, you’re not changing what you want to write to cater to other people’s interests, you’re just adding in a little extra on top of the stuff you are passionate about.