The Indie Author Guide to Finding Followers, True Fans and Superfans

Everyone knows they need to find readers, but once you identify where they are, how do you capture them? How do you turn them into super fans? In today’s post, Alliance Independent Authors Director Orna Ross takes the main stage to explain everything you need to know about true fans and super fans.

Some of the below includes an extract from the following ALLi publication.

Creative Self-Publishing: ALLi’s Guide to Independent Publishing for Authors and Poets is the first book in the Alliance of Independent Authors’ Publishing Guides series, a foundational guidebook for writers who publish their own books, and those who aspire to this dream.

ALLi members can download their complimentary ebook copy of Creative Self-Publishing in the Member Zone. Navigate to allianceindependentauthors.org and log in. Then navigate to the following menu: BOOKS > GUIDEBOOKS. Other formats are available to members and non-members in ALLi’s Bookshop

Orna Ross

Orna Ross, Director of ALLi

The Ultimate Guide to the Reader Journey: What is it?

Conventional business has long mapped customer journeys as a way to understand the steps a customer takes from not knowing a brand at all to buying and recommending. The customer journey concept is important in book marketing and sales too, enabling authors and publishers to identify the right content to send at the right time. In publishing, it’s known as the reader journey.

The reader journey varies slightly, depending on whether the reader is buying print books or other physical products in a physical environment or making their discovery and purchases online, but it’s remarkably consistent across formats and territories.

It starts with discovery, the reader becoming aware of you or your book. Before this, you’re a nobody to them and they’ve never heard of your books. Now, somehow, something’s caught their attention.

Maybe they read a review, had your book turn up in their “also-boughts” on Amazon (the books that Amazon highlights as “people who bought this book also bought these”), noticed your cover while scrolling on social media, found you on a shelf beside their favourite author while browsing in a bookstore, had you turn up on a search in Google. There are many ways that a reader can discover your work and the more ways you can get yourself in front of them, the better.

That’s not an invitation to do everything you think of, willy-nilly. You can’t do everything but start thinking about how you can increase the touchpoints with the right readers for your books. How do you make your book more discoverable?

After discovery comes deliberation. Will they buy this book or won’t they? They may be pulled across the line on first sighting. More commonly, they may go away and come back again. Marketing wisdom suggests it can take up to eight encounters before a potential customer feels they know, like and trust you enough to buy from you.  You can increase the likelihood of a purchase or a sign up by the quality of your copywriting in book descriptions and marketing material and images, audio or video that help the book to come alive for them.

This is the heart of the reader journey, the first investment—usually the first book sale, or a free book download in exchange for an email address.

After that comes reading. Yes, that’s a separate stop-off in the journey. People buy books without reading them. Estimates indicate that one in two books purchased by the reader go unread. In some genres, it’s many more. And that doesn’t account for those books bought as gifts by others which often gather dust.

The high-point of the reader journey, from the author’s perspective, is endorsement—the reader sharing their love of your books and your author brand with other readers.

The Ultimate Guide to the Reader Journey: True Fans and Superfans

Like all book marketing, the aim of ACCESS marketing is to turn browsers into readers, and reader into true fans, or maybe even superfans.

True Fans

In 2008 Kevin Kelly, technologist, author, founder of Wired magazine, and astute commentator on the digital age wrote an influential article about the value of a creator having 1,000 true fans.

Kelly posed an alternative to the star system for authors and other creators. Instead of trying to blast your books out to as many readers as possible you aimed to please just 1,000 true fans.

He defined a “true fan” as a fan who “will buy anything you produce.”  If you have roughly a thousand true fans (also known as super fans), and you get your pricing right, you can make a living. A thousand true fans, each spending $100 a year on your products or services would give you a gross of $100,000 a year and, provided your expenses were not high, give you a reliable and sustainable basic income.

The key word is “roughly”. The number of fans and the revenue benchmark of $100 per fan per year isn’t meant to be exact prescription. It’s about setting a different framework for how we think about earnings as a creator.

“1,000 true fans is an alternative path to success… Instead of trying to reach the narrow and unlikely peaks of platinum bestseller hits, blockbusters, and celebrity status, you can aim for direct connection with a thousand true fans. On your way, no matter how many fans you actually succeed in gaining, you’ll be surrounded not by faddish infatuation, but by genuine and true appreciation. It’s a much saner destiny to hope for. And you are much more likely to actually arrive there.”

Kelly describes a pattern of concentric circles with keenest fans at the center, a wider circle of regular readers around them, a wider circle of mildly engaged readers around them, who may have read one of your books or bought something else from you. Around those one-off readers is the still wider circle of readers who have heard of you but not yet dipped in and then the biggest circle: those in your niche who don’t yet know you or your books.

You cultivate an audience through advertising, social media or some other method. You then convert some of those users to free subscribers. Some of those subscribers into patrons and buyers to higher-value products, such as premium print books, extra content, exclusive access, or direct interaction with the author. Authors can segment their followers and offer tailored products and services to the different levels of fan at varying price points.

On the episode of the AskALLi podcast where Joanna Penn and I discussed this, she raised the concept of overlapping concentric circles.

“I have two very clear brands, Joanna Penn and J.F. Penn, and I definitely have people under my Joanna Penn brand who are amazing, and do buy everything and are my patrons—all my books, all my courses, all my audiobooks and they listen to the podcast. I don’t think I have many people like that under J.F. Penn, because I have so many different series, which appeal to different readers.

Similarly, I am a true fan of Kristine Kathryn Rusch—but for her nonfiction, as Kris Rusch. I’ve read a couple of her novels, but she writes under all these different names and all these different genres and I’ve read some of them, but certainly not all. Whereas, with her nonfiction, I buy all her nonfiction, I’m a patron, I fly to America to see her speak.

Same with you Orna. I’ve read all your nonfiction but I haven’t read all your poetry. And so, what I would say for authors who write in multiple genres or series: understand that you can have different concentric circles, each built around pockets of true fans.”

You can listen to that podcast episode here.

In 2020, with Kevin Kelly’s blessing, Li Jin founder and Managing Partner at Atelier, an early-stage VC firm that funds the “passion economy”, updated the thousand true fans theory. Jin argued that the rise in social media use, the impact of influencers, and the availability of new paid creator tools like Patreon, Podium and Substack, has shifted the threshold for success. Today, creators can effectively make more money off fewer fans.

Not not 1,000 fans paying $100 a year, but 100 fans paying $1,000 a year.

Like Kelly, Jin points out that the revenue benchmarks of $1,000 or $100 per fan per year isn’t meant to be an exact prescription. Also that the 100 True Fans and 1,000 True Fans models aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s up to the creator to work out the model that best suits their offering and their fans.

To authors thinking solely about the traditional book buying business, the idea that 100 fans could provide a living for a creator might sound unlikely, even fanciful. But creator platforms like Substack, Podium, and Patreon show that the buyers are there.

Patreon, a “membership platform that makes it easy for creators to get paid”, recently said the average amount pledged by patrons to creators has increased 22 percent over the past two years. And since 2017, the share of new patrons paying more than $100 per month to creators—or $1,200 per year—has grown 21 percent.

At time of writing, Podia, which hosts and sells all kinds of online courses, memberships, and digital downloads, says the number of creators earning more than $1,000 monthly on its platform is growing at 20 percent a month, while the average number of customers per creator is growing at a rate of 10 percent.

Substack, the subscription newsletter platform that offers authors and other writers a self-publishing subscription email platform, has accumulated more than 250,000 paying subscribers at time of writing, with its top ten writers collectively bringing in $7 million a year. Find out more here.

Substack takes a 10% cut of earnings and payment company Stripe takes another 3%, writers pocket the rest. Podia charges a monthly membership for the features it provides and creators keep all income. Patreon charges vary depending on when you joined and which level of service you want but average around 8% of your payment as payment fees and platform fees, plus a currency charge.

But opportunities to find financial freedom go beyond retaining most of the revenue and moving from being a freelance content provider to running your own creative business, . Substack offers its writers grants ranging from $3,000 to $100,000 which, like book advances from publishers, buy writers time to do the work of building content and a readership.

Superfans

While a true fan is a reader who will buy everything you produce, a superfan is a reader who goes out and tells others all about you and your books. To have a whole team of fans pushing your book upon release is something that most successful indie author book launches rely on.

ARC Team: Your Advanced Review Copy (ARC) Team is a group of readers who receive a copy of your book in advance of its launch and  leave a review the moment you publish your book.

Street Team: These readers form a subsection of your ARC readers. They won’t just post a review, they are gung-ho about your book and want to tell the world about it. On launch day, they are ready with their reviews, they’ll turn up to your book party, they’ll post on their social media sites, they’ll help push sales any way they can.

The direct relationship between creators and consumers is where we see the fastest growth in the creative industries at the moment.

The undying, long-lasting, true superfan is a a very precious relationship to an author.

It’s important to note, though, that it’s a rare fan—true or super—who remains with you, forever and a day. Most will be around for a while, then they’ll move on. We all do it—and that’s just as it should be. You meet a book when you need it, and you identify closely with a particular author for a while, then you shift or transform and they are no longer so relevant.

The Ultimate Guide to the Reader Journey: Creating a Marketing Funnel

A book funnel is a marketing method that helps you find readers and bring them on a journey through your brand and content with the aim of turning them into a super fan.

At the widest end of the funnel are those who’ve heard about your and your book and like the sound of it. At the narrowest end are those who buy and read every book you publish and tell other readers about them. Your aim is to pull as many as possible through, deepening your connection to them in ever more  rewarding ways. Marketing funnels are a numbers game, only a few readers will slip through the whole funnel to become a hardened fan. For example, if 100 readers see an advert for your book, only 20 might click and of those 20 maybe only 8 buy the book and of those 8 maybe only 1 or 2 will actually sign up to your mailing list and become a lifelong fan.

What does a marketing funnel look like?

The wide end of your funnel includes any and all touch points you have. For example, a website, a social media platform, a podcast interview you’ve done, a book you’ve published, an article you wrote etc. Anything you’ve done, said or put out into the world that a potential reader could stumble upon. Your next task is to try and convert them and capture them on your mailing list. This is where a reader magnet is essential.

A reader magnet is something—like a short story, a digital chapbook, a free book, a character interview etc that you give away in exchange for a reader’s email address. Once you’ve got that, to convert them to a super fan it’s a process of giving them a mechanism to get to know you, usually through pre-written and automated emails. Perhaps you direct them to a group you run, or a podcast so they get familiar with your voice, maybe you give them more free content. After a time, when you’ve built up trust, this is the opportunity to carefully encourage them to check out your other paid products, books and services.

Once your freebie is created, you can use services like Bookfunnel or StoryOrigin to seemlessly deliver the goods to your reader. If you connect those platforms to your mailing list too, then they automatically push readers onto the correct mailing list and if you have an autoresponder sequence set up, then hey presto, your marketing funnel is fully automated.

How do you know if your funnel works?

Written Word Media have an excellent article demonstrating how to analyze the effectiveness of your reader funnel. If you’re finding that you’re not converting people to your mailing list then perhaps there’s an issue with what you’re giving away or the copy you’re using to attract readers. If you’re getting people signed up but then not converting those subscribers into buyers, then there could be an issue with your email sequencing or the reader magnet they read. Find out more in this post.

The Ultimate Guide to the Reader Journey: ACCESS Marketing

ACCESS marketing is a sequence of progressive actions that takes your readers from discovering you or your writing to engaging with you and subscribing to your email list. From there, you continue to satisfy their need for entertainment, knowledge or inspiration, even more. What you need fro them is access to their email inbox. Here’s how:

ACCESS marketing encourages us to be creators, not hustlers, in our social and email marketing activities. ACCESS stands for:

  • Attract – Attracting readers to your list by giving them something in return for their email address
  • Captivate – Keep those who have followed or liked your offerings interested and continually attract newcomers by regularly posting captivating content.
  • Connect – Have an easily accessible mail address where a reader or follower can connect with you. Regularly invite email contact
  • Engage – Make your channel meaningful by starting and nurturing conversations. Ask questions. Invite input into characters, plot turns (fiction), ideas and quandaries (nonfiction) word choices and formats (poetry).
  • Subscribe – Invite your followers to subscribe by offering them what is often called a “lead magnet” or “reader magnet”.
  • Satisfy -Make your emails delightful and email regularly, on the promised schedule.

Selling books to this group then becomes easy, and there’s nothing salesy about it. It’s just a matter of sending an email or other message to readers who already know, like and trust you and your work.

For more on ACCESS marketing you can listen to our podcast episode on the topic here.