Listen to the episode:
What does it actually take to find 1,000 True Fans?
Seriously, where are they hiding?
Your work is amazing.
You’re constantly promoting on social media.
You already know that your creative business isn’t bringing in the kind of money you need…especially in a reasonable time frame.
So, why is that?
Finding a thousand people willing to spend $100 on your one-of-a-kind work should be easy. I mean, you probably have more followers than that on Instagram, or at least it’s easy to imagine finding them.
But for some reason, your creative business is barely paying the bills, let alone bringing in six-figures. Something isn’t adding up.
“Whatever you’re doing now that isn’t working… It isn’t going to magically start working.”
In this episode, Matt and I do a lot of debunking.
We get specific about the flaws in the popular 1000 True Fans theory. Where and why does this seemingly straightforward model break down?
We also unpack the false assumption that mass-marketing is the only way to build a sustainable business.
It’s not. It’s an exhausting, full-time job, and chances are, you already have one of those.
We explore the fallacy that social media is built to help us get the word out about our work. On the contrary, we look at how it’s constructed to take advantage of your free labor, and basically never let you out of its claws.
Finally, we explore what does work — not a one-size-fits-all model, but strategies designed to meet and respect your needs.
This podcast is part of a series of resources designed to help you understand your choices, and to make better ones
- Why just making more work doesn’t lead to making more money [article]
- 1000 True Fans + 1 Elephant in the Room (The hidden math that controls your success—until you control it) [article]
- How to go from making some money to making a living as a creative, with Matt Madden [podcast]
- Run your own numbers to pinpoint the actions that will lead to a sustainable income from creative work with the Income Clarity Calculator.
About Matt Madden:
Matt Madden is a cartoonist, teacher, and translator known for his playful experiments with comics form, a practice that led Ed Park of The New York Times to dub him, “the stuntman-philosopher of American comics.” His most recent graphic novel, Ex Libris, came out from Uncivilized Books to rave reviews at the end of 2021.
His best-known book is 99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style, his comics adaptation of Raymond Queneau’s Exercises in Style. His other recent works include the comic books Drawn Onward and Bridge. He has been living in Philadelphia since 2016. Follow Matt on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
More from this episode…
- Jessica and Matt examine the obvious, and the hidden flaws in the 1000 True Fans theory.
- What are conversion rates and how can knowing yours help you set realistic marketing goals?
- Jessica breaks down the daunting math behind growing a large customer base.
- How to bend the math in your favor by raising your pricing and adjusting your offer.
- One reason independent creatives struggle with marketing: “Nobody’s talking about how much of a job it is.”
- “The job of the algorithm is to keep people on the platform…It’s not to help you build your business.” — Why promoting your work on social media can feel frustrating and ineffective.
- What are some practical options for creating a sustainable business, without relying on mass-marketing or becoming an influencer?
- Why all the creative work you’ve done in the past still matters, even after making a pivot.
- Jessica announces the Incubator, her brand new coaching program designed to help creatives build a business around their needs.
Get access to the Income Clarity Calculator, and get real about your numbers!
1000 True Fans + One Elephant in the Room
“Social Media = Sharecropping?” by Regina Anaejionu https://docs.google.com/document/d/1G-XL439RpB6jmohNi-G3wiO-fOkV7UYvCZMo7MNoq-k/edit
Connect with Matt Madden:
Click here to read the transcript
AC Pod 009 – What does it actually take to find 1,000 True Fans? with Matt Madden
Jessica Abel: I kind of almost can picture what a thousand people looks like standing outside at a, you know, a big park or something like that. What about 50,000? What does 50,000 look like? Can you even get your brain around that?
Matt Madden: Barely. Big rock concert that I wouldn’t go to cause I like to go to smaller clubs.
Jessica Abel: Because it’s too many people!
Matt Madden: Yeah. Too what does it take to become a successful writer or artist?
AC intro3: There are some destructive myths out there about what a creative career is supposed to look like.
And we’re kept in our lane by the undermining belief that, as artists, we’re somehow incapable of building autonomous, sustainable careers– if we choose the work that’s closest to our hearts.
So we’re going to tear down those myths and get the truth by going to the source:
Incredible professional creatives who’ve followed every path but the expected one to success on their own terms.
I’m cartoonist, author, and coach for creatives, Jessica Abel.
And this is the Autonomous Creative.
Jessica Abel: Hi there and welcome. I’ve invited Matt Madden to join me again as co-host to talk about a huge problem for creatives who are trying to make a decent living with their work, but nothing they do seems to get them to a point of stability and security.
And of course, there’s so much to do. Social media tech giants and marketers with tactics and apps to sell all constantly scream at us that all we need to do is use their thing every day constantly. And the implication is that success will follow. That triggers a toxic self-blame cycle where you think if you only could possibly do all the things that marketers tell you, you should do like posting constantly on social media, sending out email newsletters, starting a YouTube channel, blogging, all the things that you could make your creative business successful.
But you can’t do it all. There are literally not enough hours, even if you could plan and produce all that content. So you blame yourself for your business flat lining. It leads to a cycle of hopelessness and self-loathing and tons of anxiety. But if you’re listening and this is the case for you, you’ve got to know that it’s not your fault.
There are hidden assumptions baked into the idea that if you just did enough mass marketing stuff, you’d make a living that reveal why it’s just so hard and possibly flat out wrong for indie creators. We’re going to talk about what’s lurking beneath and how knowing that can lead to healthier, happier decisions.
Hi, Matt. Welcome back.
Matt Madden: Hey, Jessica.
Jessica Abel: So I wrote an article last week where I broke down the missing math in the 1000 True Fans model, which comes from this famous blog post by Kevin Kelly.
Matt Madden: That’s that thing where if you’ve got, um, a certain number of dedicated fans who are going to pay you money every year or a month or whatever, you’re going to make a happy living.
Jessica Abel: Yeah. The basic idea is that an independent creator who can find a thousand true fans, who will pay the creator a hundred dollars per year, uh, for whatever it is that the creator is doing, can make a really solid living, which you know, on the face of it, that’s true, right? A hundred times a thousand equals a hundred thousand.
Matt Madden: Right. I first heard about that from, um, I think Chris Rock talking about it, the standup comedian, and that kind of model of like, oh, you do stand up comedy and you’re going to clubs and you’re charging, you know, whatever 75, a hundred bucks a ticket. And, you know, that seemed like a scale of economy that I could imagine that working.
Jessica Abel: I’m sure it works for Chris Rock.
Matt Madden: Exactly. When I try and picture that with, uh, you know, mini comics or even, you know, published graphic novels, it’s it sounds, uh, it sounds a bit harder to pull off.
Jessica Abel: Right. Like somebody who publishes comics like you do, you know, like last year you put out a short book called Bridge, which was something you worked on multiple times over, you know, 10 years or something. It wasn’t, it didn’t take 10 years to do, but you know, it was
sort of like
Matt Madden: was a
Jessica Abel: iterative,
Matt Madden: yeah. A long developing project.
Jessica Abel: And you published your beautiful, big graphic, novel Ex Libris, which took you many years of sort of developmental thinking, and then probably three years of solid work on it. Correct?
Matt Madden: Oh yeah.
Jessica Abel: And so if your true fans were to buy both of those books, and they are buying both of those books, you do have true fans and they are buying both books. Your, you know, profit on those two books might come to
Matt Madden: Uh,
Jessica Abel: what? No, it’s
Matt Madden: A
Jessica Abel: that,
Matt Madden: more than that, but , the retail total, on both those things, it’d be $29.95 plus $7. So, as they say you do the math. I mean, uh, you know, the take, I get of that, whatever is a 7 or 8% in the case of Ex Libris.
Jessica Abel: Let’s be generous and say you make $3 or $4 off of those books, you know, collectively or something like that. So you need a lot more than a thousand true fans to make a hundred thousand dollars just, you know, you have to multiply it out.
Matt Madden: Especially when it takes me five years to put a book out.
Jessica Abel: Right. Exactly. So like you can’t, in terms of somebody who’s trying to be an author and produce books, even producing a $100 worth of stuff that somebody could buy in a year is really hard.
One of the things that Kelly sort of added later on to his post as a, as a condition is you can’t have a publisher. You have to self-publish for this to work, for the thousand to work because you need to be making all the money and not, you know, having a large chunk being taken by an agent or publisher or whatever.
There are a lot of little caveats there. A lot of, you know, details. But let’s just say aside from this problem of how do you produce that much stuff, which is a problem even for me, you know, that I have, uh, I sell courses that are more expensive.
They’re more than a hundred dollars. They range from between like $400, or I have something that’s like $150 up to like about $800. Um, but I don’t put out new ones. Basically ever. Like very rare- you know, I put out one new course last year. I don’t intend to do another course. I don’t foresee another one. So it’s not like there’s this constant flow of new stuff.
So that’s one issue that can come up for people. Either they can’t put out enough, uh, the price point is too low, or they just have no intention of continuing to produce new stuff constantly. So that’s one issue.
Let’s put that aside though and say, you could somehow have a $100 worth of stuff to sell to a thousand people.
This is where, the stuff that we just talked about is the obvious surface level stuff that anybody who’s selling stuff could think about. You know, it’s like very, very obvious, but the hidden part is different from that because the hidden part is this idea of conversion.
Matt Madden: This is a word that is pretty new to me. And I only recently I’m starting to get a sense of what it means, so please explain, for us lay people out here.
Jessica Abel: Okay, so the idea of conversion is this: conversion is any time you have a number of people who you ask to do something and then some percentage of them do that thing. So in my blog post, I think I used the example of like a group of friends you asked to go to brunch and you have 10 friends on like a text, you know, like a chain and you say, let’s all go to brunch. And four of them say yes. That is a conversion of 40%, right? 4 out of 10 said yes to going to brunch.
Matt Madden: Right.
Jessica Abel: And so you’re trying to figure out basically how effective is my asking for something by using conversion rates.
Matt Madden: the point that that smaller number of people that actually convert to actually doing something, right?
Jessica Abel: Well, the point is that your conversion is almost never a hundred percent. When you’re asking people to buy stuff or to take actions that involve their time and energy and money, it’s almost never a hundred percent. It’s often very, very far from a hundred percent. And so the point is not so much the number of people who do the thing. The point I want to get at is that the number of people who you have to ask, right? That’s a multiplier on the number of yeses you need.
So if you need a thousand yeses, Right? if you need a thousand,
Matt Madden: if you want to invite a thousand people to brunch with you, how many people do you need to invite?
Jessica Abel: Exactly. Exactly.
Yeah, well, so the a thousand true fans who need to be spending this $100, how many people do you need to ask in order to get a thousand yeses? That is the question that we’re trying to get at here. That’s the conversion rate and conversion rates can be all over the map. You know, things vary based on the group of people you’re asking. Are the people who all know you already? Are you asking total strangers? Like there’s all different kinds of elements that go into it.
So there’s no one conversion rate that is a good conversion rate. I was just listening to a podcast the other day about this because that’s how I roll. And they were talking about how the only good conversion rate is one that’s better than last time you did it, but if you’ve never done it or never figured it out, you don’t know what that is.
So just for the sake of round numbers, typically conversion rates of like 0.01 to 2% are considered solid conversion rates for sales.
Matt Madden: Yeah, that was a surprising thing for me. I first became aware of that concept when it, through my mailing list and I don’t have a big mailing list. I have say, I have like, a thousand people or something and I would send out a mailing and I get a conversion, in this case not of sales, but just to people reading my mail, you know, and opening it and clicking on stuff. And it would be a conversion of like, you know, 3 or 4% and I’d be, I would show it to you. And I was like, I was really dejected about it cause that seems really low, but apparently that’s actually a pretty decent number. I mean, I’m making, I’m making up that number. I don’t actually remember what it was, but
Jessica Abel: Right. To be clear there’s a number of people talk about a lot, which is open rates. And that’s the open rate is what you’re talking about of people, the number of people who open an email out of the number of people you send it to. And it’s not going to be a hundred percent, either.
A smaller list that’s pretty passionate. You have a lot of true fans, you know, people on your list care about your work, and the smaller your list is the more likely that’s the case. If you have a really big list, it’s likely that your rates are lower because there are a lot of sort of people who’ve been there for awhile, or are just kind of hanging out and don’t care.
But for your list, it’s I think your open rate is probably pretty high. It’s probably 50% plus, but your click rate, which is, it’s a type of conversion, we don’t usually say conversion about it because people aren’t necessarily taking the final action of signing up for something or whatever.
But if you have a button for clicking,
It’s probably, you know, 3 to 5%, 6, you know, 8%, maybe.
Matt Madden: Yeah. Or less sometimes.
Jessica Abel: Or less sometimes. Depends on what you’re asking. That’s exactly the point. Exactly the point. So if you’re paying attention to what you ask people do and how you ask them to do it in your buttons or whatever your links, you say, you say something that makes people think, oh, I want to click this. Pay attention when you do that, you know, when you get those higher rates, because that’s something that you want to use again, right?
That’s the purpose of understanding these numbers is so you can do, do what works again, and build on what works, and don’t do the things that don’t work.
Matt Madden: Right.
Jessica Abel: Okay. So let’s get back to sales conversion because that’s a different number. And as I said, the, um, sort of industry standard that’s thrown around is anywhere from like 0.01% for, and that’s like something like a giant e-commerce company that just asking people to buy stuff from an email, they might get a very low conversion rate, but it’s enough cause there’s a zillion of them.
Up to maybe two, if you’re really, if you’re really engaged list, people who really care maybe at 3%.
But let’s look at that thousand again. If you want to sell a thousand people something, and you need to get those thousand people to say, yes, that means 50,000 offers if you are converting at 2%.
I mean, you go from a thousand, you’re like a thousand yeah. I can understand a thousand. I mean, I’ve , I kind of almost can picture what a thousand people looks like standing outside at a, you know, a big park or something like that. What about 50,000? What does 50,000 look like? Can you even get your brain around that?
Matt Madden: Barely. Big rock concert that I wouldn’t go to cause I like to go to smaller clubs.
Jessica Abel: Because it’s too many people!
Matt Madden: Yeah. Too people.
Jessica Abel: and okay, so let’s take that number go like, oh, 50,000. That is a lot. That’s intimidating. Maybe it doesn’t have to be quite
Matt Madden: to, just to clarify, you’re saying you need to reach 50,000 people just to have a chance of getting a thousand of them to buy whatever it is that you’re trying to sell for a hundred dollars.
Jessica Abel: Right. Or you do, your selling multiple times throughout the year. It doesn’t have to be necessarily one, a hundred dollar thing. But just for the sake of simplicity, we’re saying if we’re trying to sell a hundred dollar thing to a thousand people. Yes. You need to offer this a hundred dollar thing to 50,000 people basically.
So, you know, my email list, it hovers around like 6,000. I don’t have 50,000 people to offer to, right? And I don’t get a thousand sales when I offer stuff. That just doesn’t happen. So that already sort of blows this 1000 Fans model out of…
Matt Madden: it complicates it, at least.
Jessica Abel: It makes it complicated. Right. So let’s go one step further though. So those 50,000 people that you are offering to, that you’re putting your offer in front of, they have to already be there knowing who you are, in some sense, even if they’re not your true fans yet. They have to kind of know who you are at least. Uh, probably be on your email list or at least in some kind of framework in which you can make this offer.
Part of the scene, like their comics readers or their standup comedy fans something.
No, no, no. They need to know you. They need to know you already. So they need to be like on some platform, say, where you have access to this group of people.
So those 50,000 people that we’re trying to offer to, they need to already know who you are. They need to already be in your system somehow. But you have to get them there somehow. Right? They have to have gotten to that point somehow.
And I’m gonna throw out another general rule of thumb, kind of number here that, I get, I see frequently. I don’t know how reliable it is, but it’s certainly something like this. Right? How many individual people need to see your stuff multiple times for them to decide to become part of your audience that you can offer to?
Matt Madden: What do you mean? Like I showed them the cover of my book 10 times before they actually notice it and click on a link or something?
Jessica Abel: Yeah. Like they hear you on a podcast and they, uh, you know, somebody shares a post or they see something like come through their social media feed that they’re not there, but they’re not subscribed to you. Or like they, they have followed you on social media, but they’re not really paying attention.
They’re like a YouTube subscriber and they see your stuff show up every once in awhile.
Marketers say, and again, I don’t know where this number comes from. So, but it’s something like this, that people need to see, need to encounter your material in a substantial way, not just like skimming by, but like actually looking at it and then, you know, letting it go, 7 to 20 times before they’re, they kind of know who you are like before they actually understand where you fit in their world and then make a decision to either opt into your audience or not.
Matt Madden: A bit related to that thing we tell our kids and when they try new foods, they have to have to taste it, you know, 7 to 10 eventually they’ll learn to like it. We’re trying like getting people to taste us, uh, over a number of time, times and hoping that they will get a taste for us.
Jessica Abel: That is exactly right. I’ve never thought of that before. And that is perfect because that’s exactly right. It’s like sometimes they try something the first time and they’re like, this is amazing. I love it. I’m into it. But most of the time, even stuff that they are like, like they’re crazy for avocado, for example. I couldn’t get them to eat avocado for the first like year I was trying, they just would, they just wouldn’t do it. And now you cannot, we can’t keep enough in the house.
Matt Madden: Yeah. so are avocado.
Jessica Abel: You’re an avocado. Um, but, but also there’s, there are times when you, the first time you see something you’re like, oh my God, this is for me and you deep dive. And, you know, I think there, you have to average this over, you know, numbers of people.
So here’s the other thing, in order to have the 50,000 people to offer to in your audience, people have to decide to be in your audience. They have to decide to be paying attention enough to be offered to. So, you know what it’s like when you see a social media post and somebody is trying to sell something to you and you have no idea like who they are, what they’re doing. They just like, say, “Hey, buy this thing.” And we all as creators, or most of us as creators, are just like, “Ugh, I don’t want to do that. Ewh, icky, icky.”
And of course you don’t want to do that because the people that you’re putting it in front of have not actively opted into your like offer zone, whatever that is, you know, your email list or some kind of place where it’s like, you’ve said that you want to hear from this person, in that kind of way.
There’s nothing wrong by the way, nothing wrong with telling people that your stuff is for sale and asking people to buy stuff. Please don’t misinterpret this as saying that. But you know, being pushy about sales with people who have not opted in doesn’t work very well, basically. People have to opt into your kind of, you know, your world to a certain extent and not everybody who encounters your stuff is going to opt into your world.
Like people who, you know, see Ex Libris in the front window of Shakespeare & Co bookstore, a lot of them are just going to glaze over and not pay attention. And some people are going to be like, oh, that looks interesting. Or like they see the staff pick card or whatever and they’re like. Most people don’t pay any attention. Some people are going to pick it up and read the card and pay attention to what’s in it. And then some of those people are then going to buy the book. Right.
So that first outer group, again, totally rough number, totally doesn’t necessarily correspond to your particular reality, depending on how these things are happening in, in reality. But it’s something like 10%, maybe. If you’re lucky, of the people who encounter your work are going to say, yeah, I want to hear more about this. It might be less, it might be more, but let’s just say 10%.
So if it’s 10% of the people who encounter your work and marketers say that you need to actually encounter it a number of times before you’re awake to it enough to say yes to hearing more about it. But of those people, like if you say it’s 10% of people who encounter your work, who say, yes, I want to hear more about it, then we’re talking about putting it in front of 5 million people.
Matt Madden: That is a very daunting number.
Jessica Abel: Right. Isn’t it crazy?
Matt Madden: But like, it makes sense though because, uh, it takes so long, like even as someone who’s always trying to learn about new comics and writers and new music and movies, I, I actively am looking for stuff, but I regularly will, you know, encounter a name or just see an image of a book cover or hear a snippet of music and kind of like follow like, oh, that sounds kind of interesting. Maybe I’ll look into that next time it comes up and often it’s, I’ve experienced that as a, you know, from the reader side, where like, it really takes a lot, quite a few times for something to really jog my attention enough to be like, all right, now I’m going to actually look this person up, you know, follow them on social media or check out a video on YouTube or whatever it is.
Jessica Abel: Yeah, exactly.
And and again, another caveat about this is like, for example, with your book, you know, you’ve had, well more than a thousand sales at this point, and it’s not, you know, has it been in front of 5 million people plus? No, probably hasn’t, but you’re also, you already have people who are in your audience who are, uh, you’ve sold to before. So like that’s a warmer audience and so the conversion rates are totally different there. And also your publisher Uncivilized Books has fans of what they do, who are going to buy your book, even if they don’t know you, you know. There’s a lot of other things going on there.
So I just want to make sure that people don’t understand that I’m literally saying every single author has to have 5 million people, you know, in order to just sell a thousand books. Like that’s not, it’s not, one-to-one.
The point is orders of magnitude. So the point I’m trying to make is not so much the specific numbers, but that we’re talking about orders of magnitude bigger than a thousand.
Matt Madden: Of people that need to see or encounter your work before they’ll pay attention to it much less buy it right?
Jessica Abel: It’s exponential, like the conversion rate from people who you’re offering to to sales is X and the conversion rate from people who, you know, see your work somewhere and then sort of enter your audiences is Y. That’s an exponential equation, no matter what your conversions rates are.
Like the numbers of people who need to see stuff and be exposed to your work is so high compared to what we think about in terms of what we need, in order to make the work pay for itself, essentially.
Matt Madden: So like a lot of, you know, creative people, I’ve got my mailing list, I’m on social media, I try and get on podcasts, and I do events to promote my books when they come out. And it really starts to seem like a slog for very little return. I just feel like I’m banging my head and, and, uh, burning the candle at both ends after a while, trying to get people to pay attention to my work.
Jessica Abel: Yeah, totally. I mean, we were literally talking about this at lunch where you’re like, I have this list, I have this, this, this, this, this, and I need to do all of the things and they’re all equal priority and I don’t know how to choose. Right. Cause it’s all the different things I need to do.
We’re all in the debunking train here, so I’m going to debunk a little more. The impression that you get from like tech giants is that if you just post every day, then you’re going to make a middle-class living somehow. Like there’s, you know, those things are somehow going to like come together and work. And it’s just not true.
Even if you get really good at posting so that people are engaging, the volume need to sell in order to make a living from something that is a low cost, low profit thing, like a book, is insane, right?
Matt Madden: So what is social media good for then? What should I be doing with it?
Jessica Abel: I mean, social media is a great tool and, and really like when you think back 10, 15 years ago, not having this, it’s amazing that we have access to this. We actually can be in touch with all of these people around the world. None of what I’m going to say means that you can’t use it and have some effectiveness. It’s just not one plus one equals two. Like it’s not that simple.
I read a really interesting article by Regina Anejionu. Oh. Uh, she wrote an article called “Social Media Equals Sharecropping?” that clarified a key insight for me and we’ll definitely link to this in the show notes.
What she said, what she pointed out is that it just doesn’t serve social media platforms to help you build a business on their planet. They want to keep you poor and posting, like continuously desperately posting looking for attention, because that is actually their business model.
You are both the producer of anything valuable that they do. Anything on the platform that’s valuable it’s because people are posting, right? And you are also the product that they sell in the form of your data and your attention. So they need you there, doing all this stuff like churning out material in order to bring in attention, because that’s all that’s good about social media is it’s the social part of the people. Um, And so they can sell more attention, right?
So you can buy ads, but they will never, these social media companies will never create an ecosystem that’s actually built to help you organically make sales and take people off the platform because it just doesn’t serve them.
Matt Madden: And I get that, that sharecropping analogy cause there is a sense of like almost like indentured servitude to, uh, the social media once you get a bit of success. I see that a lot.
You know, just like YouTube videos that I watch where you’ll see someone who gets popular and then almost invariably within a year or so they’ll, there’s a post or like, guys I’m really burnt out. I need to take a break. I just can’t even, can’t keep up the pace of like, you know, this sort of demand of feeding machine, uh, are making a living from it, uh, is just really grueling.
Jessica Abel: Totally.
Matt Madden: There doesn’t an off ramp from it. It’s like designed to keep you going.
Jessica Abel: Well, I think what’s important to understand about social media is that unless you want to commit yourself to mass marketing, and what I mean is like becoming an Instagrammer, like an Instagram influencer, becoming a YouTuber. And like, that is how you’re going to build your audience. And you can, you can build an audience of millions that way, you know, that is an option for people.
But it means a full-time job, right. Unless you want to do that, you’re not going to win the algorithm because the algorithm is designed to keep you in there, producing stuff, keep you poor, basically. They love people who are Instagrammers, who are Instagram influencers, producing all this stuff, and bringing people in.
And you know, so they’re going to help you to a certain extent if that is your goal. But if you’re just going to come in and post some little stuff, you know, it’s not going to break through algorithmically except, you know, every once in a while, just totally randomly.
So instead you have to treat it as a relationship building tool. And I think that it actually is quite effective at. So like, you know, making friendships and having conversations and all that kind of stuff, which is fabulous if you don’t need 5 million people to be paying attention to your stuff, but like 500 or even 5,000, like then you can actually use it effectively within that mode.
You don’t have to show up all the time. You don’t have to be posting like a machine because you’re not trying to use Instagram the way Instagram tells you, you should be using Instagram. Or replace [your platform here]. Basically all the platforms have, you know, they’re different, but they’re, they all use this basic model.
Matt Madden: Right.
Jessica Abel: And you know, the thing is, it’s like, we, we are not Random House, right? We’re as indie creators we are… you’re not even publishing your own work, but you could, you know, and even either way, you know, it’s, it’s, it doesn’t, uh, Uncivilized Books, isn’t Random House either.
They also have low profit margins on their individual products. Their individual products are inexpensive, right? They’re selling books, they’re selling, you know, eBooks or, you know, audio, audio books or whatever. But they have huge volume, huge volume. And because they have such big volume, they can have a large luxurious office building on Broadway, full of employees who are paid salaries and benefits. Not high salaries maybe, but they have salaries, right? They have entire departments devoted to advertising and marketing and PR and publicity.
You know, it’s really hilarious actually, as I was getting ready to record this, I got the Random House newsletter for authors with five social media tips for authors. They want you, you know, when you’re published by a conventional publisher, they want you to have a platform and to be really good at social media, but nobody’s talking about how much of a job it is, you know, it’s really crazy.
Matt Madden: Yeah, we’ve definitely experienced that.
Jessica Abel: Yeah, but I think that the thing is that we as self-publishers, small publishers, you know, when you go look for tips for social media for authors or whatever, they’re all framed as if you have the resources of Random House to get this done. And we just don’t, you know, this, this kind of advice, like just post every day on Instagram and have a YouTube channel full of entertaining and professional videos And write a blog and promote your blog. This is literally a full-time job. This is the full-time job of that department full of marketers at Penguin Random
Matt Madden: Yeah, Who are getting a salary for it.
Jessica Abel: Who’re getting a salary for it and don’t have to do anything else. Like that is what they do.
Yeah, so it’s just, I think that it’s comparison trap, right? Where we, we talk about the comparison trap all the time with other artists, where we look at somebody who seems to be, on the outside, seems to be really successful and comparing ourselves, what we know about, what’s not working for us, to what we see working for somebody else, which is usually wrong, you know?
Um, and that’s of course, what we do usually on this podcast is get behind that picture and find out what’s going on.
That’s one kind of comparison trap. This is a different kind where we’re comparing ourselves to a multinational corporation and their approach to marketing. And all of the stuff we’re being told about marketing basically is for that scale.
Matt Madden: Yeah. I mean, to, to do that level of promotion, for your own stuff more than, you know, like I’ve been, and I’ve been doing that basically with, uh, with Ex Libris, which came out in, uh, in November. Trying to post about the book, uh, regularly and share images of it and trying to keep it creative and not just feel like you’re flogging people with.
Uh but I had to stop at one point just because I could only have so many images of my own book cover I felt like in my feed. It was starting to overwhelm I had to like kind of step back and take a break. And I’m actually, so I’ve been on like almost going on two months, social media break, I’m getting ready to get back on there.
Which, you know, is like goes against the sort, those sort of rules. Like you’re supposed to be out there flogging all the time, but
Jessica Abel: Well, that’s the algorithm. That’s the thing. It’s like, you’re trying to master the algorithm. That consistency is really, really important, but if you’re using it as a relationship tool, it still counts, but it’s not the same.
Matt Madden: Yeah. I just want, you know, new people to discover my book. And I guess to that, in that sense, I do, I’m hoping for the algorithm to help out. So it’s, it’s kind of a, an unresolved problem there, I guess. Like, I don’t want to just be sharing, uh, images to my same group of fans and friends and families that already know my stuff, you know?
Jessica Abel: Yeah. I mean, that is an ongoing problem with social media and social media is both ephemeral and it’s limited. It doesn’t show, it doesn’t even show your content to all the people who follow you much less people who don’t follow you. So, I think that is another big misconception about social media for most people, which is that it’s gonna grow your audience, which it does not naturally do. Again, the job of the algorithm is to keep people on the platform and keep them scrolling. It’s not to help you build your business.
Matt Madden: I mean, is there a way another way to build a business if that’s what you’re trying to make a living from your art? Cause I definitely feel that like the social media, I feel like I am doing effective work there, but mainly reaching readers that already know my work and I’m doing less of like finding new people. So, uh, what’s the answer there.
Jessica Abel: Again, so it is a relationship tool. And so you’re using it as a relationship tool and I think that’s great, you know? Yes. Do that.
But in terms of the original question of this exponential math of the 1000 True Fans model, to get back to that, that, that’s the core problem, right? So it’s like, it’s easy when you have something that you’re offering already. Like you have this book, you’re focused on the book. You want to sell the book. To get into a cycle where you’re just looking at the tactics for that book. But the bigger picture is the1000 True Fans model isn’t about selling a book it’s about making a living. It’s about having a sustainable career.
And the question, the answer to that, there a couple of different ways to address that. Um, discrepancy that’s built into that model. One is, as I said, this thing of, uh, taking the path of really mastering mass marketing. So mastering YouTube, Twitch, Instagram at the, at the influencer level. This is a full-time job.
I mean, it’s something that you would have to commit yourself to, but it can work if you do it right. I mean, a lot of people, um, let me just say, there are people who make this work. And not, and there’s also there’s other, you know, revenue streams that come with that, like advertising, whatever. But that’s, it’s a whole kind of being a creator that really is much more about, yeah mass marketing, video, that kind of thing than it is about being an author, a cartoonist, whatever, where you need a lot of time in your studio to make the thing you’re trying to make.
So that’s one option, right? It is an option. And I don’t want to, you know, anybody who’s sort of like, yeah, I’m down. Then there are teachers who teach about that. And I think that getting serious about it as the way to go. You go, that’s what I’m doing. But if you look, think about that and just think, oh my God, no,
Matt Madden: I mean, it’s such a, it’s a very all absorbing. The people, you know, like I said, even the people I follow, that are, appear to be successful, I imagine them being very stressed out behind the scenes and it’s basically all they do. Like if you’re, again, in my example, a cartoonist and I want to have like a YouTube channel or something where I talk about comics, it’s probably going to take all my time away from actually drawing. Certainly the way I tend to do things, uh, which is to draw very slowly.
So it doesn’t really, you know, it’s a, it’s like a non-starter for me. And I think for a lot of people to think about being a sort of full time, social media presence in a way that actually would like make money.
Jessica Abel: Yeah. And I think not just because of the time involved, but also because most people I know don’t want to do that. They don’t want to be a video creator or an Instagrammer or whatever. Like just, it’s just, they’re just not into it.
Matt Madden: Yeah.
Jessica Abel: Um, it much more likely to encounter people who say they want to get off social media permanently than I want to get on social media all the time. Way more common.
So the other major option for creators is to offer things that are more expensive, like a lot more expensive. So instead of making, you know, $5 off a sale, you make $5,000 off a sale and you can easily see how the exponential math on that one would start to bend in your favor.
And I know that there’s a lot of, like that immediately raises questions and.
Matt Madden: Well, for me, it means, it’s a question of do I start charging $5,000 for my graphic novels? And the answer is no there. So I need, it tells me I need to come up with a different model there, but maybe we’ll get back to that.
Jessica Abel: Well, in the previous episode we talked about that a little bit. We talked about like, what could that look like for you? And we were talking about the idea of becoming a book coach or a comics coach, you know, where you’d help people finish their books. So it does mean being extremely flexible about what your self conception of what your job will be.
There are other options too, you know, there, you could get a job. A lot of people have a job that’s very, very common to have a job either part-time or full-time that allows you to not depend on your creative work. Uh, you could have a partner with a job who’s willing to support you. You can invest in real estate.
Like you can, there’s other things you can do to make money that isn’t trying to build a giant audience for your creative work. I had one client actually point out the licensing model, which is where you sell rights to your designs to product companies. Um, sure. I mean, yeah, that’s another model. It’s a thing you could pursue, but it’s an entire
Matt Madden: business model,
Jessica Abel: Yeah.
it’s an entirely different thing. So if you’re into that, sure. Go ahead. You know, try it. But that’s, that’s a whole other thing.
So if you’re just talking about trying to sell something you can make or do to people, that’s basically what we’re talking about. Either you have to sell to a lot more people and that means mastering mass marketing, or you have to sell something that’s much more expensive, and that means not selling what you’re selling now, but selling something different. Like you have to actually change your mind about what that thing is going to look like.
Matt Madden: what are some examples of scaling up to, to like a different offer. Say you’re like a, say you’re a podcaster. You do a podcast and you have to get a Patreon and it’s just not bringing in enough money with, and some advertising. What would be like, uh, a jump to this next level of a more expensive offer?
Jessica Abel: Uh, you could produce other people’s podcasts. You could use your skillset to produce podcasts. You could project managed podcasts. You could become an audio producer and like, just do the production part, or you could do, you know, script writing, whatever, depending on what your skills are and what you like to do.
It’s a great example actually, because there’s tons of market for that.
Matt Madden: Yeah. And tons of podcasters out there too, struggling to make a living. I’m sure. and then the other question is, I mean, the related question is like, how do you muster up the gumption to ask for more money for it? Cause like I can imagine saying, yeah, I’ll help out with your, you know, do the production on your podcast or do mastering for podcasts. There’s another thing that’d be good.
But like how do you, I think most people, most artists, especially I find are inclined to be like, “well, just, you know, give me 150 bucks and I’ll, take care of it.”
Jessica Abel: Well, there’s, that’s a complex question and I hope we’ll be able to get back to that in future episodes. The, the basic answer though, I think is treating your business as a business, looking at it as a creative business and seeing, like we talked about in the last episode, looking at what your needs are, what your time requirements are, your for lack of a better word, like cultural requirements, like how do you like to work with people?
Do you like to work with groups or individuals? You know, that kind of thing. Do you like to do video or not? You know, all the things that you know about yourself and how you want to work and using those as a way of developing this offer and then setting up the operational side of your business so that clients who come on feel like, you know what you’re doing. You know how to bill them. You have a way to take money. Like you have a website that has at least a page that is like, here’s what you get. Um, you know, project management, deadlines, like all of these things. They’re all things that we use for ourselves for the most part anyway, if we’re already working as creative professionals. It’s a matter of thinking about how does this, how to present this to clients, how to put this in, you know, put this together in a system that makes, makes sense.
This is what we’re going to be doing in the Incubator program when I launched that at the end of, um, end of February. So anybody’s looking for help, help is coming. But yeah, that’s, that’s the short answer I think for this is that you come up with, what is the offer that you’re going to try, and of course you don’t know if it’s going to work until you try it. And then if you think, well, this is the price point I need, then you think, well, what goes with that price point?
What are the things that I would need in order to pay that price point? What are other people going to need in order to say, I feel like I’ve gotten value for my money.
Matt Madden: Maybe another way to think of it, I’m just thinking now, is like another way of thinking about the five-year plan. Like that’s sort of an idea that I’ve used over the years of you know having my, I do my kind of yearly checklist. And look at what I’ve done in the year and I look at what I want to be doing by next year and then five years and, you know, 20 years ahead and so on.
But I tend to do it honestly and sense of like, well, by five years from now, I’d like to have two more books finished. I’d like to spend some time abroad, this sort of, kind of goals of things I want to accomplish. But it sounds like you’re saying it would be worth envisioning that from like a, almost like a, like a lifestyle point of view, like sort of like, I want to, you know, have a house and be able, you know, and be able to travel abroad and
Jessica Abel: I want to be able to pay for travel abroad.
Matt Madden: I wanna have to, I, you know, I know my comics aren’t gonna make money, so I want to be able. So, so reframing it it’s like, I want to have the freedom to be able to make, you know, experimental comic books and stuff like that.
Jessica Abel: say yeah, I think that that’s smart. And yes, thinking in, and let’s not go five years, let’s go a year. Let’s go two years. And say, where do I want to be in a year financially in terms of security. And it’s just a sense of, I think we talked about this last week, a little bit, the idea of being well-resourced, the idea of feeling like you are taken care of. That there’s not this like screaming anxiety all the time about what’s going to happen next and next paycheck. And, or not even next paycheck, just check. Like how, who, and when are you gonna get paid and how is it enough?
And you know, all that stuff and just kind of be released from that. Like what would that look like for you? And then how can you plan a way to get there? And again, it’s not going to be. Whatever you’re doing now that isn’t working, it isn’t going to magically start working. You have to do something differently in order to get there.
But I do want to say one thing, which is that you say, oh, my comics aren’t going to pay for anything. All of the amazing things you’ve done throughout your career, all of the things you’ve learned, the things you’ve published, the things you’ve talked about, they may not be directly monetizeable in the sense that beyond a certain point, you know, you can make a few thousand dollars off of this and that, but all of that is what means that your new endeavor can be hugely successful because you are, you bring so much experience and richness to it.
So I just want to kind of reframe that a little bit because there’s this way in which I think again, we can get really dismissive about the work that we love doing, but we’re like, oh, I’m so frustrated with it because it doesn’t make the money I want it to make.
It is why you can do
Matt Madden: Yeah, I think that’s true. If you’re doing creative work, and you’re sharing it with people, you are building up a relationship with people and a body of work that has real impact on people. And I can totally see, you know, kind of switching your point of view on it and assessing it and be like, oh, this really has value.
And maybe the books or the drawings or the music you’re putting out is not necessarily going to make tons of money, but it’s going to lead to relationships and, and ideas that could, lead to other opportunities.
Jessica Abel: It’s why you can do, it’s why you can move into this new phase and do what you want to do, and have that flexibility and know that you have that solid base and have those relationships that are going to lead to revenue.
Um, yeah, no, the work that you’ve done is incredibly valuable.
You know, when I made my pivot from being, basically trying to be a full-time author to being very much a part-time author and coach and teacher doing Autonomous Creative, Creative Focus Workshop, uh, that pivot that moment was I was really challenging for me because I thought does it mean that nothing I’ve done through the 25 years of my career matters anymore?
And it took a little while for me to calm down from that and realize like, I couldn’t do what I’m doing now. I couldn’t teach the things I’m teaching now. We couldn’t have this conversation if I didn’t come out of that background, if I didn’t have all of that experience to draw on.
Matt Madden: Right. I mean, we talked about that about last time too, that like everything you’re doing now comes pretty directly out of, we talked about that “Out on the Wire” podcast you did after the Out on the Wire book, but really back to even the Artbabe website, and your like mini comics making guide. You know, there was like the first sign of your impulse to, uh, to, to share and teach stuff.
Jessica Abel: Which still gets more hits than almost anything else on my
Matt Madden: it’s Still up there somewhere.
Jessica Abel: It is up there.
Matt Madden: Yeah, so totally. Like the, the stuff that we do and especially, uh, you know, it’s, uh, uh, a bonus of getting older and having more experiences, you get to look back and say like, oh, I can actually, use this in a, in a creative way that might actually bringing some money in a satisfying way.
Cause you know, I. Again we talked about this last time. We, we have made money out for art, but in ways that have been ultimately frustrating, you know, for the last 20 years. A sort of adjunct teaching model, the freelance slog and all that kind of stuff. So. again, it’s not about can you make money? Yes, you can. But it’s like, how are you going to do it in a way that you’re happy with and that is actually sustaining.
Jessica Abel: Yeah, very much so.
Matt Madden: the one That I’m still very much trying to figure out for myself. Luckily you’re way ahead of me so we’re doing as a family. So thank you that.
Jessica Abel: But it’s creative reuse, you know. It’s creative reuse of these, this deep well of resources that you have available. Um, and I think that creative people are really well positioned if they could just kind of, you know, like unclenched from that idea that it has to be this way. They’re really well positioned to make use of all the things that they bring to life to build something new.
Basically in order to make this kind of transition, though, you have to, you know, to get to that sense of security that you know your needs are more than covered and you’re okay, so that you can relax and actually make your work, you have to know your numbers. You have to know what these numbers are. What do you need? What does it look like in real life?
So I wanted to let everybody know that I created this Real Talk calculator to help you identify what’s not working and start to design a better answer. And the link is in the show notes.
Matt Madden: And it’s going to make your heart sink when you first go through it, I warn you, but it’s going to be good for you.
Jessica Abel: Bitter medicine. That’s what we do around here.
Pretty much no way as an artist, you can take an honest look at all of your kind of numbers and not come away with like cold sweats but Jessica has ideas for that. So
I’m here to help.
So I have this calculator that I had developed and I have another one with more layers to it, like more pieces to it that I’m going to be giving away in a seminar that I’ll tell you about in a little bit.
Basically all of these calculators will make you go, oh my God, what am I going to do? Like, how do I make this work? But there are ways to make it work. That’s what, I’m just, that’s what we just got finished saying is like, there are so many tools in your toolbox and it’s a matter of thinking really differently about what does that look like in the world? And starting from, starting from what you need, starting from what does it look like to feel safe and have a sustainable way that you’re working that makes you happy, you know?
And it doesn’t necessarily look the way you think it’s going to look because all of the stuff that we’ve been sold throughout our lives about what it looks like to be a professional artist, it’s not true, right? Those things don’t work the way they seem to work on the outside. And that’s what this is all about is understanding that, being in control of it.
I love debunking. It’s so fun.
Matt Madden: Yeah. And, uh, it’s bracing, but, but liberating too, that when you sort of look at the breakdown on the numbers, or, you know, reading Jessica’s blog post about the a thousand fans and all the various critiques of that. Um, again, it’s sort of a sinking feeling like, oh, so it doesn’t really work? You know, uh, but then it gives you the knowledge to then kind of build something more, you know, actually doable and sustainable.
Jessica Abel: Yeah. I mean, I think the first thought is like, oh my God, it doesn’t work. What do you mean it doesn’t work? But obviously it doesn’t work because you’re trying to do it and it doesn’t work. Right. Like we already know it doesn’t work. So this is just telling you why it doesn’t work. And then that gets you on the track to doing something that does work.
And that’s what we really want.
Matt Madden: Yeah.
Jessica Abel: All right. Well, thanks for being here with me again, Matt. This was really fun and we will do it again sometime. When I bring back guests soon, we’re going to bring back other people guests. And then Matt and I will be on again in the future.
Matt Madden: Sounds good. Bye everyone.
Jessica Abel: Buh-bye
Thank you so much for joining us today for the Autonomous Creative.
Our show is produced by Matt Madden. Our production coordinator is Lousine Boyakhandjyan, and our production assistant is Rhiannon Sunday. Music is by Matt Madden. And I’m your host, Jessica Abel.
You can find all our takeaways as well as the links and extras we mentioned today, Plus transcripts in the show notes. Find everything you need at acpod.show.
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