The newest space film to hit the cinemas, The Martian, which is directed by Ridley Scott and stars Matt Damon, seems like any other run of the mill Hollywood blockbuster at first glance. So I was very surprised to read in the Sydney Morning Herald that The Martian started out as a humble blog, became a self-published novel, and gained a publishing and film deal in the space of 18 months.
It sounds like an impossible dream for most self-published authors, doesn’t it? Well, it probably is, but it’s not all doom and gloom. There are still ways for authors to make a comfortable living from their writing and the easiest way to go about it may result in a hit, just like The Martian.
Kevin Kelly argues that anyone who produces works of art only needs 1000 True Fans to make a living. The actual number of fans required for each artist is different, but the basic idea is that if you have enough True Fans who will buy every book that you ever publish and champion everything that you ever do, you can still make a decent salary from writing without becoming a best-seller.
So, how do you find True Fans? By communicating with them! When Andy Weir first began writing The Martian he had around 3000 fans on his personal blog. Since Weir is a self-confessed space nerd and wrote about scientific space stuff his blog attracted other space nerds. Some of his fans helped with the scientific facts, which made the novel as accurate as possible. A lot of his fans said they wanted to read The Martian on Kindle rather than online, so he published it on Amazon for them. In turn, they purchased the book and told everyone how much they enjoyed it, which helped it become a best-seller on Amazon and attracted the attention of Random House and Fox. In other words, he found his True Fans and gave them what they wanted.
Andy Weir became a millionaire by connecting with his True Fans. Your True Fans will only be a small percentage of your actual fan base, but they are the people you should focus the majority of your online and social media efforts on. These are the people who will honestly tell what was great, or how you can make improvements. They will provide you with endless encouragement and support and they will sing your praises to everyone they know. Your True Fans will do everything in their power to make your latest novel a best-seller, but until then, connecting with them will inspire you to keep on writing and provide you with a comfortable living. Make sure you remember to make time for them.
Editing to add that the first step to writing a best-seller is to write a very good book and to focus on your writing as your number one priority. That’s always step one as the very clever author Terry Tyler pointed out in her comment below, then you can focus on social media and marketing.
Update: 06/11/15 This post has been re-posted as a standard blog post