It was Kevin Kelly who once said that to make a living an artist would only need 1000 fans. After all, if every fan generates $50 of income a year and convinces two or three of his friends to also purchase the occasional book, song or T-shirt the math works.

The corollary of this is that creative artists should stop thinking in terms of big audiences and mass media success.  Instead, they should focus on getting to know and engaging their fans on a virtually individual basis.

The cases illustrating this type of behaviour are still few and far between, but over the Christmas holidays I learned about H.P Mallory, US writer of paranormal romance novels that is setting an example in this field.  

As part of my annual tradition to read one book I would normally never buy, I downloaded her first novel Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble, a Paranormal Romance through my iPad Kindle app.  While a little heavy on the oestrogen for my taste, the book did make for a pleasant poolside read and Ms. Mallory is clearly a gifted storyteller.

The remarkable bit, for me, came at the end.  Here I found HP Mallory announcing a competition for readers to be included as a character in the book she was currently writing.  The rules for this competition were not of your traditional lucky draw variety.  Only diehard fans could apply, and fandom was measured by the willingness to engage with the author herself.

Points can be gained by befriending her on Facebook, commenting on her blog, writing a public review of existing work, actually buying her new book, etc.  The more a fan was willing to engage with the author, the bigger the chances the author would actively engage with the fan. 

One can only imagine the effort Ms. Mallory needs to put into this.  But by flipping the model, she is generating a group of loyal fans that repurchase her books and bring their friends.  Today, by her own account, she has sold about 20,000 books this way.  I believe that as long as she keeps delivering what her fans are looking for, she's going to sell a lot more.

What business can learn from Ms. Mallory

We are heading for a world where every product and business will need to rely on a limited group of fans to be successful.  Only by knowing who they are, and by being there for them, you can ensure their continued loyalty and business.

As such, the experience of Ms Mallory is also relevant to your business.  Ask yourself how much your business engages its fans?  Do you actually know who they are? Is your organisation willing, skilled and able to actually include their views and personalities in the products it makes?  If the fan makes a comment, are you willing to spare the resources to respond and nurtured a relationship?

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