A Kickstarter Campaign: My Journey to 1,000 Super Fans

I’m about to embark on something crazy (especially since I’m an extreme introvert)… I’ve decided to become a performance author. Wait, what’s that?

You’ve heard of performance artists, right? Well, I’m going to perform for my audience much like a performance artist does. The only difference is I’m a writer, and my audience consists of readers. I’m planning to use crowdsourcing, Facebook Live, podcasting, and short video productions to entertain my backers as part of a Kickstarter campaign.

Say what?

I’ve decided to crowdsource my next novel as part of a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign. I’m inviting backers behind-the-scenes into the editing process for Project Gecko (Book Two in the Lara Kingsley Series). Backers will become members of a private Facebook group where they will enjoy direct access to me as an author and to early drafts of my story. In this forum, they will also have an opportunity to shape the story in Project Gecko and my journey as an author.

My primary goal with the Kickstarter campaign is not to raise money to publish a book (although this would be a nice bonus), but rather to begin cultivating my first 1,000 super fans. I’m hoping to reach this goal by the end of 2018, but that’s quite the tall order since I’m starting with only 3 super fans.

Why 1,000 Super Fans?

Former Wired editor Kevin Kelly famously stated about ten years ago that all you need for success as a creator (authors, musicians, artists… anyone who sells things they create) is 1,000 true fans.

A true fan or super fan is someone who will buy up anything you produce. These are the folks who will show up for your book readings or buy a coffee bug with your book cover on it. They will also sing your praises to anyone who will listen, winning you new fans into your club. Super fans are willing to do your marketing for you, and word of mouth is incredibly powerful for selling your books.

In this model, success is defined as making a solid living. It’s important to understand that this approach will not necessarily help you get rich fast, but it could eventually bring in six figures a year. That’s a pretty decent living for most geographic locations in the United States.

The math is quite simple. Let’s say you’re an author, and you produce $100 worth of stories per year. If you have 1,000 super fans, you’ll earn $100,000 that year. If you produce less value per year, then you’ll need more super fans to make up the difference. The point here is that you don’t need to sell millions of copies to make a solid living and succeed as an author.

The Need for Direct Engagement

Despite the Internet bringing the people of the world closer together, we’ve somehow grown further apart. Instead of personal handwritten notes or even well-crafted emails, we use texts and tweets to communicate. We’ve lost the essence of a personal connection. That makes direct engagement special and rare.

Achieving the goal of 1,000 superfans requires building a direct and personal relationship with fans. Today more than ever before, we have the power to reach and interact with 1,000 super fans more efficiently and more regularly. Even with the Internet, however, this can require signficant effort and active engagement on your part. But if it wins you a new super fan, it’s worth it. Right?

The Law of Averages

Wouldn’t it be better to skip the direct engagement and aim for a bestselling novel? That’s easier said than done.

Contrary to popular belief, most books don’t sell many copies. In other words, the bestsellers are the outliers and statistically, two standard deviations from the norm. I’ve searched for reliable data on this, but could only find widely variable estimates on average sales. On average, it appears that a book sells about 250-300 copies per year and about 3,000 copies in its lifetime. That’s the average (middle of the hump).

In January 2018, I released Bionic Bug on one online retailer (read about my soft launch). So far, I’ve sold 18 books, which puts me on track for average sales for its first year. Not bad given my lack of promotion and limited availability.

If average book sales are so low, why not start small by winning one true fan at a time? Unlike a traditional publisher, we don’t have to have a bestseller to survive. As Indie authors, reaching niche markets and building our following organically over time is where we enjoy a major comparative advantage over traditional publishers. We can afford to grow our super fans, one at a time.

With 1,000 super fans, you’ll sell at least that many copies of each new book you put out. And that brings you well above the average.

Why Kickstarter?

In the revised version of his original 2008 article, Kevin Kelly mentions the synergy of crowdfunding platforms for cultivating super fans. This is no mistake. On Kickstarter and other platforms, backers fund projects and then have a stake in their success. When you win backers for your campaign, you are winning potential super fans who are personally invested in your success and will spread the word on your behalf.

I’m hoping to use my Kickstarter campaign to kickstart my super fan club. And like the significant effort that goes into directly engaging super fans, a successful Kickstarter campaign requires a great deal of work. But it’s worth it… especially if you’re after 1,000 super fans.

My Kickstarter Campaign

In my Kickstarter campaign, backers will participate in crowdsourcing if they sign up for Reward #4 (Fan Club) or Reward #6 (Super Fan Club), becoming a member of my private Lara Kingsley Facebook Group (or my email list if they don’t use Facebook). These backers will get to help shape the story, choosing names, settings, character actions, and storylines.

As I edit the first draft of Project Gecko, I’ll pose questions to my backers (on names, settings, character actions, and storyline). Two possible examples:

  • In Project Gecko, a craft beer (the favorite of a male character) plays an important role in the story. I’m currently using a real world name (Blind Pig Ale), but I’d like to use an original name if possible. What would you name this craft beer?
  • I’m currently not sure if the wife of the murder victim should be directly involved in the conspiracy leading to his death. When we reach an appropriate juncture in the story (don’t want to ruin the story with spoilers), I’ll take a vote and backers will get to shape the “whodunit” element of the story.

The “crowd” or in this case, my Kickstarter backers will respond to my queries with creative suggestions. I’ll review the list, choose my favorites, and put 3-5 options back to the group for a final vote. The idea with the highest votes will be used in the book. I will give the backer who came up with the winning idea credit on a special “Credits Page” in my book. And so, my backers will become part of my fiction novel and my story as an author.

To convert my backers into super fans, I’m planning to develop some behind-the-scenes products that will become available if I reach my stretch goals (certain dollar amounts that exceed my minimum goal of $1,000):

  • For example, I’ll make available my “Story Bible” for Bionic Bug, Book One in the series. When authors build a world for their stories, they develop detailed character profiles and often cast actors to play their characters. The Story Bible is an attractive guide to the characters in Bionic Bug, including their backgrounds, characteristics, likes and dislikes and life goals. It will allow readers to go behind the scenes of the story and get to know the characters.
  • I’ve conducted a great deal of research on a range of technologies to write Bionic Bug. As part of my stretch goals, I’ll provide a detailed Author’s Note. This behind-the-scenes overview will describe the technologies featured in Bionic Bug and provide online resources for more information.
  • I’m also planning to produce several Bionic Bug On Location shoots. In these videos, I’ll take readers several real Washington D.C. locations featured in Bionic Bug. I’ll talk about how these locations inspired me and why I chose them for a particular scene in the book.

And finally, I will use Facebook Live and create a Bionic Bug Podcast to read chapters of Bionic Bug to my viewers, discuss the back story, and offer more detail on the technologies featured in the book.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

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