Making Money Mondays – Fans v. True Fans


Good Morning, world! I have a little bit of news from Casa de Hartness, and that is that Man in Black, The Black Knight Chronicles #6, is finished! We pushed through the last round of copy edits last week, and it looks like the book will be out mid-August, which means I’ll have a few copies on hand at Dragon*Con, and hopefully Soda City Comic Con the weekend before. I’m really proud of this book; I think it ties up a lot of the initial story arc of the Black Knight boys well, and gives us someplace to go for the final three books of the series. I’ll have a cover reveal and ordering information next time I’m here.

Now on to our main topic – fans. Now I’m not ever going to bash fans, because I love my fans. Hell, I love everybody’s fans, because I’m a fan myself. But what we want to talk about today is the concept of the True Fan, what they are, how best to interact with them, how to find them, how to keep them. Looking at that, it’s going to take more than one post, so this week we’ll talk about what a True Fan is, then later on ee’ll look at how to cultivate them, how to deal with them, and how to convert a Lesser Fan into a True Fan.

For the record, exactly ZERO of this material is anything I came up with. The concept of 1,000 True Fans was first put forth by Kevin Kelly in 2008 on his blog post here. He later references a couple of other folks who had similar ideas a little earlier, unbeknownst to him, but his site, with a tip of the hat to Seth Godin, who wrote the blog post that first turned me on to Kevin’s work.

Kelly postulates that any independent artist, that is any artist outside the big machine of superstar entertainment, needs to cultivate only 1,000 True Fans to survive. BTW, this whole blog post came out of a late-night conversation with AJ Hartley, where I claimed the number was 100. I’m bad at math. He defines a True Fan as someone who spends $100 per year on your work, and those thousand people then contribute to a $100,000 annual income, which is a pretty comfortable living in most places. At least that’s the rumor. I’m a writer, I don’t make anywhere near that kind of money. 🙂

So what’s a True Fan, and how do I get their hundred bucks? I assume that’s what you’re all asking. In this case, it’s usually a lot easier to show you than tell you.


This is a piece of a quote from Neil Gaiman’s revolutionary comic series Sandman. If you haven’t read it, I begin to question not only your taste, but all your life choices of the last 25 years. Sandman is, to put it bluntly, the greatest comic series of all time, and I say that with full understanding of what I’m putting it up against, and what that says. Yes, it’s better than Death in the Family, The Killing Joke, Secret Wars, Civil War, Siege Perilous, Fall of the Mutants, Transmetropolitan, Hellblazer, Preacher, The Walking Dead, Strangers in Paradise, Bone, Cerebus, The Dark Knight Returns, The Longbow Hunters, AND Watchmen.

This arm belongs to a true fan of Sandman, someone who owns the leather-bound Absolute Sandman editions, the ones that aren’t for reading, but are for display on a bookcase. This arm belongs to someone who stood in line for hours at Dragon Con to get Gaiman’s autograph, who bought tickets to see him stand on stage after an hour’s worth of other people and tell a story about his dog, who pre-orders all his books.

Yeah, it’s my right arm. And you want people who are as rabid about your work as I am about Neil Gaiman’s work.You’re looking for the people who will pre-order everything, who will attend a convention just because you’re going to be there, who will drive a couple hours each way to a book signing just to say hello to you, who will buy and wear your t-shirt out in public. Those are the people that you need 1,000 of.

But as a writer, it’s highly unlikely that you’re going to get $100 out of each of those fans, barring them becoming dedicated enough to contribute to your Patreon. And that’s because our products are less expensive than concert tickets, or limited edition comics, or limited edition prints. If someone buys every book I release in 2016, they might get to $100, if they buy in print, or in audio. Less likely if they buy in ebook.

So if you’re not getting your living wage out of your True Fans, what are you getting? Well, let’s look at someone with a heavy, but human, release schedule for one year. I will hold no one to my standards of output, and I can’t come close to someone like Jake Bible, who makes a new novel the way some people make lunch. But let’s say Michelle McGillicutty is a midlist SF/F genre fiction writer. She has one series out with Tor, one with Roc, one with a small press, and one self-published. If she has one hardback release, two trade paperback releases, and one mass market paperback release each year, someone buying all her books in print would spend about $60 on her work. If they bought them all in ebook, maybe $35.

How do you make a living with 1,000 people who spend $35/year on your stuff? Especially when your cut of that $35 is somewhere in the $6-$10 range, after everyone else is paid. You make money off these people because they are your advertising. Even without giving you money directly, buying your t-shirts, or paying off your bar tab, these are the people who leave reviews on release day and tell all their Facebook friends about your book, without you having to ask. These are the people who pre-order, who retweet you, who comment on your Facebook wall, who show up at every signing, and who sit in the front row at every panel you do at the con they drove a hundred miles to attend. Because you’re on the guest list.

You can’t buy their love, and if you could, it wouldn’t be worth having. But you can cultivate them, develop relationships with them, and learn to better utilize them. Until then, leave me a note in the comments telling me who you’re a True Fan of, and maybe we’ll get Misty to tell us her True Fan moment of meeting Tim Powers, which was hilarious. See y’all in a couple weeks!

John G. Hartness is a teller of tales, a righter of wrong, defender of ladies’ virtues, and some people call him Maurice, for he speaks of the pompatus of love. He is also the author of the EPIC-Award-winning series The Black Knight Chronicles from Bell Bridge Books, the Bubba the Monster Hunter series of short stories and novellas, the Quincy Harker, Demon Hunter novella series, and the creator and co-editor of the Big Bad anthology series, among other projects.


LATEST RELEASE NEWS – Check out Modern Magic, a 12-ebook box set featuring John, Gail Martin, Karen Taylor, Julie Kenner, Rick Gualtieri, Erik Asher, Stuart Jaffe & more! On sale at Amazon for only $2! 



2 comments to Making Money Mondays – Fans v. True Fans

  • You’re laughing at my panic! Meanie!

    Seriously, it probably was pretty funny. I love Tim Powers’ work like no other, so when I found myself in the same hallway as him (IN REAL LIFE OMG!!), I couldn’t speak. Or move. I certainly could not bring myself to walk within ten feet of him.

    I got better as the weekend went on, mostly because I managed to remember that he was a human being like the rest of us. But I still adore his work.

  • […] (14) A DIFFERENT DICTIONARY. John G. Hartness, in Magical Words’ “Making Money Mondays” post, uses a commercial definition of “Fans v. True Fans”. […]