If your goal is to be a writer, do you NEED a published book to succeed in that goal? What if it flops, if no one reads it, if you don’t make back your advance, if thousands of your books go right to the landfill, and if you never get another book deal again? Is your goal still fulfilled?
What I’m asking is: if your goal is to be a writer, what does that have to do with a book? Now, I love books, and I understand how having a published book can benefit a writer in hundreds of obvious ways.
But is the book essential to you becoming a writer? Is the goal the book – the THING – or is the goal to have a dedicated AUDIENCE of readers?
There is a huge difference.
I want to share one example of what I mean, and it’s a take-off on the 1,000 true fans concept. A band I really like called Crooked Fingers recently, they posted something on Kickstarter.com that went like this:
They asked fans to fund the production of a new collection of songs. The studio time and overall cost would be $5,000. So they offered fans a variety of things to buy that would fund the project. For example: I donated $15, and in return, I get a copy of the vinyl record if they reach their goal of $5,000.
The result? In less than 48 hours, 217 people bought something, resulting in $5,200, exceeding their overall goal. A couple of weeks later, they have more than $7,000 with 324 backers. Interestingly, this was largely collected by small donations of $15-$100, for which each fan got a copy of the album or concert tickets. A very fair trade – this was by no means a donation model where people are asked to give money out of sheer good will. They got very cool stuff in return, worth at least what they paid for them.
Okay, so here are some lessons we can pull from this:
- This front-loads your career. The band now knows that it can afford to record the EP and go on tour, as opposed to planning the project and hoping that there is enough interest.
- They learn WHO their fans are. This is incredibly valuable, there are so many ways they can connect to and leverage their top 300 fans to turn that number into 400 top fans.
- The band didn’t need to have thousands of devoted fans, just 217 to reach their goal. What’s more, these fans only needed to be willing to buy a product for a reasonable amount of money. It didn’t diverge from the way people traditional relate to a band – no new behaviors were needed.
- This group can be a band and make music that is loved, and do so without a record label, without a national ad campaign, without touring every day. Is it their idealistic dream? Probably not. But does it work? Yep, it does.
Sites like Kickstarter do this for all kinds of creators, just as Adopt-a-Classroom performs a similar function for teachers and schools. They break down the larger goals into small ways that people can hear your story, connect with you, and become a part of the solution.
Is that any different for writers?
The goal is not the ‘thing’ is it? The book? Isn’t the goal to reach someone – to connect with an audience – to inspire, to education, to entertain? A book is a phenomenal way to do that. But is it the ONLY way?
Now, there is another whole side to this. That, if you are able to create an audience of 217 fans WITHOUT a book, that you are much more likely to get a book deal. This is why authors who have already built a platform have an easier time getting published. They’ve proven that they can build an audience and that they know how to connect with them.
Instead of HOPING to find an audience, they PROVE that they already have one.
But again – what if we remove the option to be published. Would you be satisfied if you shared 1 short story a month on your own website, and had 300 fans who LOVED you. Not 20,000 page views, not 3,000 Twitter followers, but 300 people who read every word you wrote, and loved it.
And if you wouldn’t be satisfied with this: why not?
This question is most interesting to me not for the top authors of the world, the top 1% who have incredible expertise or writing skill, but the thousands of people who want to be writers, but will likely never get a book deal. What concerns me is that without the validation of the published book, many people don’t consider themselves writers.
And I wonder: what if 1,000 unpublished authors, instead of giving up, engaged 300 people each. That’s 300,000 fans. And what if, every year for 20 years, each of those authors kept sharing their work, and slowly grew their fan base my a mere 20 fans a year.
Well, in 20 years, those 1,000 authors would not have a total of 700,000 fans. 700 fans each.
I know, for many who dream of being famous authors, the thought of dying with only a few hundred fans seems like a letdown. But for most, the alternative is that many would-be writers never develop their craft enough to publish, to share, and end up with zero fans. Their efforts sit alone in a drawer, never finished, never shared.
When I consider the band I mentioned above, I am reminded that it took just 217 connections for them to pursue their dream of recording new songs. Can you build 217 fans for your dreams?