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New Author Series: How Do You Build a Fan Base, Anyway?

| Posted in New Author Series |

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It’s a foregone conclusion that it’s a good thing for an author to have an established fan base, but I’ll share some numbers from my last release for those who like concrete examples.

A couple of weeks ago, around May 17th, I released the sixth book in my Emperor’s Edge series. I priced it at $4.95, my usual price for a 100,000+ word e-novel, and I didn’t pay for any big advertising campaigns. I didn’t do guest blog posts, interviews, or spend a lot of extra time on social media sites, bugging people to buy the book. What I did do was spend a few minutes composing an email for my newsletter subscribers (people who have signed up to my mailing list because they enjoyed my other books). I also announced it via a blog post, and added a couple of notices on my own Facebook and Twitter pages. Total time invested on book promotion? Let’s say 30-45 minutes.

That weekend, I sold over a thousand copies of the novel, with its Amazon sales ranking reaching as high as 220. At this point, May 29th, the ebook has sold about 3000 copies. I’ll let you guys do the math on earnings, but you take home around $3.40 per ebook on a $4.95 ebook.

(Alas, my new releases don’t continue to sell that many copies after the first month, but I certainly have nothing to complain about here, especially given that my other titles continue to chug along with sales every day too.)

All in all, not bad for 30-45 minutes of promotion.

Of course, this all comes because I’ve spent the last two and a half years publishing books in this series and occasionally buying advertisements to encourage people to try the first book (I tried everything under the sun in the beginning, but I’ve gotten far more mileage out of making the first book free and putting it in as many places as possible).

The downsides of most types of book promotion

With most types of book promotion, it’s hit or miss, with more misses than hits. This year, I’ve done well advertising my first book with Bookbub, but most advertisements aren’t effective enough for an author to break even (I should point out, too, that BB is picky and doesn’t accept all of the authors who submit their books). A lot are a complete waste of money.

Blog tours, interviews, guest posts, etc. take a lot of time, time you could be using for writing. They’re hit-or-miss, too. Unless you appear on a popular blog, where your target audience hangs out, you’re unlikely to sell many books

Social media? It’s possible to sell some books on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc., but all of your efforts are so short-lived (a Tweet disappears from people’s radar in hours, if not minutes — a Facebook post might last in someone’s feed for a day), so you’re spending time on something that isn’t lasting, meaning you’ll end up in a never-ending cycle if that’s what you rely on to sell books.

Trying to find the latest scheme that works for gaming Amazon isn’t a long-term route to success either. (To see some of the schemes that have come and gone, check out my post on Book Promotion: What’s Working at Amazon in 2013?) I’ve only been self-publishing for two and a half years now, but I can’t tell you how many one hit wonders I’ve seen in that time. A lot. Of course, most people never even make it to the “hit” stage.

So, what does work? Well, you can probably guess from the title of the post. Building a fan base of readers.

Wait, but isn’t that what the advertising and the book promotion and the blog tours and all that stuff is about?

Yes, and no. So many authors only focus on selling the book they’re releasing right now. They may want a fan base, but they don’t take the actions they need to in order to turn that fan base into a reality.

The reason you want — no, need — a fan base is because it allows you to:

  1. not have to work so darned hard to sell your latest release, allowing you to focus on writing awesome new books instead
  2. have a predictable and reliable income, something that’s crucial if you’re thinking of making this the day job someday.

I predicted how many of the new EE books I’d sell in May (release month) almost to a T. If I were the spreadsheet/graph type (I know, I’m kind of a lame geek in my unwillingness to spend time on such things), I could show you how EE5 sold 2.5k in its release month, how EE4 sold 2k, and so on, back over the last couple of years. Keep in mind that the old titles continue to sell every month as well, and each new title I add to the catalog helps keep the income trend on an upward slope — I don’t need to be a blockbuster seller in order to make a living here; I just need to keep writing fun books that a certain segment of the reading population enjoys enough to keep buying.

Okay, blah, blah, fan base = good, but how do you get one? All right, here’s the good stuff:

1. Make sure readers who enjoy your existing books know how to find you online

There’s nothing like being part of a community to maintain and even increase your interest in a certain subject. This goes for readers too. Not everybody is going to want to seek you out and find others who enjoyed the books too, but in case some people do, make it easy for them.

Put your Twitter, Facebook, and website address at the end of your ebooks. Invite people to follow/like/subscribe to your sites. Make Twitter, Facebook, and your blog as much about interacting with and entertaining/informing current readers as you make it about selling books. I think you’ll find that the most dedicated fan will get tired of seeing you try to sell the book they’ve already bought twenty times a day on Twitter.

Once you have a certain number of active online followers, you may even try to start a forum or another type of community, giving them a place to interact with each other. Or you may get lucky and someone will start one for you.

2. Start a mailing list and encourage readers to sign up

Having the email addresses of your core fans is extra security. It means…

  • reaching a point where “book promotion” is sending out a short email to let them know you have a new release (build enough of a fan base, over time and with multiple releases, and this alone could turn you into a bestseller)
  • being able to email your fans and ask for help (i.e. Kickstarter campaign) if something dire happens (this is especially important if most of your income comes from one source — I’m sure the erotica authors, in particular, can tell you how scary it is to live at Amazon’s whims — today your’re a bestseller and tomorrow, “Sorry, your book doesn’t fit our guidelines and has been removed from the Kindle Store”)
  • not having to rely on your readers learning about new releases on Twitter or by stumbling, months down the line, across them on Amazon (with their email addresses, you can simply let them know whenever you have a new book out)

If you haven’t read it yet, I have a post on Newsletters 101: Email Marketing for Authors.

3. Be generous

You may get to a point where it’s hard to be generous with your time (I’d like to say yes to these interview requests, but I need to get the next novel out too…), but you can be generous in ways that don’t take up a lot of time and in which lots of people can benefit.

You guys all know that I have the first of my EE books available everywhere for free. I have a short story and a novella out there for free too right now. In the beginning, this was a marketing scheme (ahh, maybe I can hook them with the free ebook and they’ll buy the rest!), and it still has that element, but Amazon has made it a little harder for people to find the free ebooks of late, so I’d probably be better off selling Book 1 at 99 cents.

I’ve resisted the temptation to do this because I like the idea of people being able to try my series at no risk.

At the other end of the spectrum, I’ve chosen to keep my new novels at $5. Could I make more money if I sold them for $6 or $7? It’s possible. But I’ve had numerous emails from folks along the lines of, “I’m a broke student/I’m on social security/Things are tough right now, and I appreciate that you make your books affordable.”

I’m glad that, as an independent author, I can choose a price that people can afford and that allows me to make a nice living from my work. I’ve given away Smashwords coupons to people who’ve said they’re dying to read the next book but they’re strapped for cash at the moment. I’ve also shrugged and let it go when readers have reported seeing my books on such-and-such pirate site.

Now, I’m sure you can find people who are even more generous (give them all away for free — I don’t need money, just the love of adoring readers!), so I’ll just finish by saying that a little putting-yourself-in-the-readers’-shoes can go a long way in this business.

4. Be everywhere

The more places your work can be found, the more likely it is that it will be.

I know, I know, there are some arguments for Amazon’s KDP Select Program, and I’m quite fond of the paychecks Amazon sends every month, but you’re limiting yourself and your readership if your work is only available in one store. You don’t need to be in every mom-and-pop ebook store, but be in all the big ones. I’d been at this for two years before I started seeing significant income from Kobo, Apple, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords, but now these sellers represent about a third of my income.

Beyond bookstores, think of ways you can be in other places where people might stumble across your work. If you’ve decided to make some of your stories free, you can put them up on Wattpad, Scribd, Feedbooks, and countless other sites. You can work those sites if you want to (try to gain readership on them), or you can “set it and forget it” with your stories. I’ve been like that with my free podiobooks (I put the first one up on iTunes and Podiobooks.com in 2011), and I often hear from people who’ve recently found them and started listening. Yes, some of those people go on to buy the ebooks or the audiobooks from Audible too.

5. Stick to one genre and write a series if you want a steady paycheck

I’m fortunate in that I never wanted to write anything except for fantasy and maybe a little science fiction on the side, and I’ve always loved series. As a reader, I’m picky about the characters I fall in love with, so you’re asking for it if you try to foist new characters on me! As an author, I enjoy spending time with characters once I’ve created them, so I don’t even start a project unless I imagine at least a 3-book story arc.

I know that not every author is like this. Some people want to write a different book every time, sometimes in a different genre every time. Hey, it’s allowed. Just realize that the price you pay is that it’s going to be harder for you to build a diehard fan base.

It’s the characters people fall for (and why, for many people, books about those characters become auto-buys, no matter what the reviews). If you create characters that people want to spend time with and regularly publish books starring them, you can start to predict how many books you’ll sell on a new release and how much income you’ll earn from month to month. As I’ve mentioned, that’s pretty darned important if you want to do this as a career!

Now that I’ve typed up a small novel about this subject, I’d better get back to writing my next novel (and let you get to yours). If you want to agree or disagree or let us know what’s working for you insofar as building a fan base goes, please comment below. Thanks!

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Comments (25)

It’s worth mentioning that I’m on your e-mail list, but I never rely on it. I watch your blog, fan forums, and Twitter feed to get new releases ASAP.

However, I can tally the authors on my “auto-buy everything s/he releases” on one hand. You’re on that list. So I’m a mite more fanatic about keeping track of your new releases than I am for most authors. ๐Ÿ™‚

Thanks, Carradee! I think the ultra web-connected often keep track of things in multiple spots, but I definitely have people who only follow on Twitter or on Facebook or via the mailing list, and it always reminds me to stay active in all of those spots.

Don’t know why I never decided to read your blog until now. Excellent advice…I need to get a mailing list up on my own page. In the meantime, going to chew through all your posts!

i think generosity results in not only good karma but also in $$$.i have gotten a couple of your books for free for various reasons but always also buy them though amazon when released because you have been very generous to me. I figure the books are worth the price plus and I want help your sales numbers on amazon.

Thanks, Sue. I appreciate the support! ๐Ÿ™‚

Just out of curiousity (and if you don’t mind divulging the details), how large is your mailing list right now? I seem to recall you mentioning some time ago that you were nearing a thousand. I definitely think that your newsletters 101 post should be required reading for all new authors–that mailing list is truly invaluable.

Actually, speaking of mailing lists . . . I just realized that, oddly enough, I’ve never actually subscribed to yours! I’ll rectify that momentarily.

Hey Mark,

Mine’s kind of inflated because I haven’t gone through and weeded out the people who haven’t opened messages in a while and such. I also get people signing up because they’re interested in my self-publishing posts (even though I try to make it clear that the newsletter is only for my book stuff). There are over 2,000 subscribers now though.

Thanks for sharing, Lindsay! You advice is excellent, and I’ll certainly be applying some of these lessons as I release my first book next week and continue to release more in the future.

Also, it’s good to hear that you’ve had success without using Amazon’s KDP Select Program. I know many authors use it these days, but the idea doesn’t sit well with me. I’d much prefer to make my books as widely available as possible instead.

Thanks for this post, Lindsay. I’ve been following your blog for a while, but I finally had to write this comment. Everything you said resonated with me, but especially the last part about sticking with genre (and series). When I first started writing my series, all my tradpubbed friends said, stop it, don’t continue to write your series until you’ve sold it.

Well, now I’m glad I didn’t listen to them. I love reading series as well. Even though I realize it will take some time (as you’ve so eloquently said) to build a fan base and get things up and running (two books out of five are out), the initial feedback from readers is very positive – they like the idea of being able to follow characters through multiple books.

I will certainly be giving your series a try very soon!

Thank you, Sharon.

I actually started with two stand-alone novels set in the same world (I was also thinking traditional publishing at the time, and I’d also heard that advice about not bothering with a Book 2 until you’d sold your first). I don’t think it was all that bad of a move as I published them both at the same time, and I could have turned either into a series. If Encrypted had been the popular one, I might have gone in that direction instead. ๐Ÿ˜€

But, yes, when you have a few books out in a series, it’s easy to experiment with dropping the price of the first or even going free. That can definitely help sell the other books!

I find your points on the books in a series interesting. I can agree with it from a reader’s stand-point, but I tend to like to experiment as an author. What I have found keeps things fresh for me is throwing in some short stories on those dry days when you don’t feel like writing, just to get the juices flowing. The types of things you can knock-off in a couple of hours and no one needs to know how good or bad it is because it was just for you to write something different and out of style of your current series to get your mind exploring new possibilities as you write. If as an author, you don’t want to write, then the readers probably won’t want to read the finished work.

You could always start a second series, too, Digerbop. That’s how my Flash Gold novellas got started. I wanted something to work on when I needed a break from my other projects. ๐Ÿ™‚

Hi Lindsay,

So glad I found your blog! Thank you for the excellent advice! I have five standalone novels on Amazon, and am having a ton of fun getting started with all the networking. Your numbers are encouraging! Woohoo!

Carole

BTW joined your blog, Fb, Tw, etc, etc

[…] New Author Series: How Do You Build a Fan Base, Anyway? | Lindsay Buroker […]

One thing I was hoping you’d cover – how did you get your work in front of those initlal readers? I’m getting ready to release my first novel (which is book 1 in a series, by the way!), and am starting from scratch when it comes to building a fan base. The one thing that truly terrifies me is the probability of dead silence when I announce the book on my blog/Facebook/Twitter, etc. Any suggestions?

Thanks!

Hi Tricia,

It’s hard to get a lot of traction on social media if you don’t already have a following. I’d put samples (or a free tie-in short story) out there on all the sites where there are readers (Wattpad is a big one right now, and, of course, if you have a free story in ebook form, you can publish it on Smashwords, B&N, Apple, Kobo, etc., and make it 99 cents on Amazon in hopes that they price match it to free eventually). A lot more people will try free stories than ones they have to pay for.

Beyond that, getting some initial reviews helps a lot with getting people to plunk down money for a non-free copy. You can try giving away review copies on the various e-reader forums (Mobile Read, Kboards, Nookboards, etc.).

I’m about to post an interview with someone (Sue London) who just started from scratch, and her first novel is a best seller on Amazon, so we’ll see what she’s been doing! ๐Ÿ™‚

All suggestions are appreciated. I read your article with great interest. Today I posted on social media.

I listed a book giveaway at Goodreads for THE THIRD EYE, a mystery novel I co-authored. Three advance review copies are being offered:

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17720868-the-third-eye

I hope that will help in building a fan base.

I found your work through the first book of the EE series when I was poking around finding free books. It certainly worked as a marketing strategy for me, and I recommend the series often to people.

Thank you, Cat! I’m glad you found the books and have enjoyed them. ๐Ÿ™‚

Lindsay, thank you for the good advice — practical and, better yet, doable. It’s encouraging to see an author finding success without having to spend all her time marketing.

Provide value and solid content for readers, and they’ll want more.

Lindsay, I think your advice about writing in series is a good one. You also gave advice about which series to write, though it was more between the lines. You said you had Encrypted and EE1 out, EE proved to be the popular one, and so you focused on it. I think it’s a good idea to try out a lot of book 1’s and see which one gets the best traction, then double down on it.

This is really great advice, Lindsay. And, wow, those are some amazing sales figures, go you!

I’m traditionally-published and still quite new to this. My first novel, ocked Within, came out last year and my second, Silent Oath, is coming out in October. It’s a trilogy and the final installment will hopefully be out next year. I see a lot of people gearing up for Silent Oath, commenting on their Facebook pages that they’re re-reading Locked Within and can’t wait for the next one. I hope this is a sign of the foundation of a strong fanbase.

That being said, I’ve haven’t sold anywhere close to your numbers, so I clearly need to put more work in.

I’m looking into self-publishing next year, to go along with my trad-publishing work, which will at least give me more control over things like pricing.

Well said, I’m new to publishing my work, but your advice rings true. Glad to hear a little info about Podiobooks, been thinking about putting my epic fantasy novelette onto the site, but finding info on their subscriber base is difficult. I’ve heard a podcast w/ Nathan Lowell and he gives some numbers, but it is always nice to hear some wider confirmation. Besides, he writes sci-fi.

Hello Lindsay,

Your advice sounds very sensible and much better than the wild-eyed blurbs, saying, “Sell your book; it will be seen by 100,000 Twitter fans and 200,000 Facebook fans!!!
The problem is that I write non-fiction. So, I was wondering if a series would work for that too? Obviously, there’s no characters to love there (except for me)?
If you know anyone who has information out about how to sell non-fiction, please let me know. Everyone seems geared to fiction. No, I don’t write textbooks- I help people by writing about self development in the spiritual sense. So, I guess the genre would be spirituality? self help? Anyway, I enjoyed your article and found it very helpful.

Hey, Michael! You might check out Steve Scott’s site and books. He wasn’t that active in 2015, but still has lots of content up on his blog. At one point he was making mid 5 figures a month with his self help books. A series can work with non-fiction — it would be related by niche and probably have a catchy title to link everything together (think of the “for Dummies” books).

http://www.stevescottsite.com/

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