Posted On September 24, 2014 by Print This Post

Marketing Fiction: Building Super Fans & Making “Free” Work For You by Penny Sansevieri

I’ve been stalking Penny Sansevieri for a few months now. Maybe she hasn’t seen me lurking behind doors, peeking around the corners, but when Penny posts a new article on Huffington Post, you can bet I’m right behind her, avidly reading her latest words of wisdom. Want to learn more about book marketing and Super Fans? Read this fantabulous article.

Marketing Fiction: Building Super Fans & Making “Free” Work For You

Pen Picture High ResIt seems that everyone wants a freebie these days, doesn’t it? It’s gotten to the point that when I mention doing a free eBook giveaway to authors, they just cringe. “I don’t believe in free,” they’ll often say. Believe me, I totally get this. Let’s face it, when you’re marketing something there will always be freeloaders, but most people aren’t trying to score a free ride – what they are doing is trying to sample content. If you start your career off by making them pay, you’ve just raised the barrier to entry. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying don’t charge for anything, but you want to get them hooked. You want them to say, “I love this author, I’d read anything she writes.” Now you have a fan and, possibly a Super Fan.

Recently I was at Romance Writers of America where all the buzz was about having one book free all the time. For those of you with just one book out there, this becomes considerably more challenging, I know, but stay with me, because there’s a solution for that, too.

Free Only Works if You Work It

This is where you get to put free to work for you because there are certain things that you can put into your book, and put into action afterwards, to start building your tribe.

First, let me share a story of a publisher I met at a recent book event. She told me that she’s no longer going to offer free eBooks because she finds that it drops the sales of all of her books. This sort of surprised me. I asked her if she was cross-promoting her books in the freebie blogs. She wasn’t. I asked her what her follow-up plan was with the freebie downloads, and she didn’t have one. Remember: free only works if you work it.

I had an author who did a freebie last year who gave away 61,000 copies of her book over 2 days. The day after the promotion ended she sold 1,300 books. Now, you may gasp at that 61,000 number but consider this: the old way of thinking is viewing these as lost sales. The new way is to view this as a conversion number. The higher the number, the better the conversion and, one free book can promote other books. You won’t get 61,000 people reading your book. A good many of that number are people who just want free. But out of that number, you’ll find a core readership. When you hit a number like 61,000 your core readership will likely be only 1,000. Still not a bad number, right? You may think that’s really low, but stay with me for a minute because what I’m going to show you will blow away several outdated marketing theories.

You only care about that sliver of readers. The 1,000 who will open the book, read the book and (if you’re lucky) write a review. Why? Because that’s how you start building those Super Fans I mentioned previously. You will never capture 80% of people into your funnel, but you may capture 100 or 1,000. When you do, these are the people that you want to market to. Keep in mind that out of 100 or 1,000, not all of these people will turn into fans. Some may not like your work, but some will. This is how you start to grow your tribe.

Putting Your Book to Work

A couple of years ago I heard Patrick Brown from Goodreads doing a great session on a few surveys they ran. One of them was to ask readers: what’s the number one thing you want to do at the end of a book? They said: contact the author/get to know the author. In most cases, readers are disappointed because contact information (or the encouragement to write) is minimal or forgotten entirely. So I came up with this idea, I thought: what if we put a letter in the back of a book that encourages readers to write the author? You may say this isn’t a new idea and I get that, but here’s where this differs: you make it personal. So often when I see an author who does remember to put something like this in the back of a book, it’s not at all personal, and often too salesy. If you’re using it to pimp your other books, you’re doing it wrong. People don’t like to be sold. Push them to engage with you or ask them nicely for a review and guess what? You’re likely to get both. While I agree that readers who love you will want to buy all of your stuff, you don’t want to send them back into the Amazon loop. You want to capture them. Take a look at the letter we used:


See how personal this is? And when I say it worked, I’m not kidding. After that massive 61,000 giveaway the author got 200 letters from readers (almost immediately) and her reviews on Amazon went from 20 to over 200 in less than a month. Welcome to Super Fan-dom.

Growing Super Fans

Super Fans, by definition, are much more engaged than regular fans. And you don’t need millions of Super Fans to create a bestseller. In fact, according to The Curve by Nicholas Lovell, you only need 1,000. Why such a low number? Because Super Fans are massively engaged, they love everything you write and they’ll help you spread the word, if you ask them.

So, let’s go back to our freebie promotion mentioned earlier. This author decided to take this process a step further and she wrote back to all the readers (yes, all 200 of them), telling them that they’d been included in her Exclusive Reader Club which means that they would get access to her next book, for free, just for writing (and posting a review, although she did not ask them for a good one, just that they post a review). This model helps to build a community with readers. She also invited the readers who wrote to invite up to ten of their friends to join this “club” and again, the “cost” of entry was a review. She didn’t even tell them to buy the book, if the reader felt that $1.99 was an unfair price, she’d send it to them for free.

Now this might seem counterintuitive to you, but what she’s doing is building solid rapport with her readers, building trust, and also being fair. She wants a review but if you don’t want to buy the book, you don’t have to. To date, no one has asked for a freebie. Why? Because they came into this “funnel” through a friend. A friend tells them about the book and “you should sign up for book three for free,” and since we trust our friends, we know that they probably know what we like. We’ll see where this winds up when her next book comes out, but for now, this is turning out to be a great way to build an eager tribe of Super Fans.

The Magic of Engagement

Now comes the hard part: Engagement. If you’re a fiction author this is a little tougher. I mean your book is fiction so what can you talk about, really? Well, actually, lots of stuff. Let’s start first with your website. Forget the static site; we already know that you should not have a static site but to go even deeper than that, your site should be a glimpse into your world or the world of the book. Open the Kimono and give readers a look inside your world and your book.

The other piece of this is newsletters and getting sign-ups. Let’s have a look at both:

  • Newsletters: With social media changing formulas for exposure, it’s becoming harder to get seen in social, that’s why now, more than ever, you’ve got to have a newsletter. Start building your list early because in the next year or two you’re going to see a big boost towards paid exposure in social media. Facebook has done it, G+ is ramping up to do ads, and soon we’ll see Twitter and Instagram going the way of paid exposure. While none of these sites will go into a 100% paid format, you will see a sharp decline in engagement if you have a free account.


  • Upgrade your Ethical Bribe: There was a time when giving away a chapter of your book was a great thing, not so much anymore. You really need to make your ethical bribe interesting enough to get folks to sign up for it. Don’t give them something they can get elsewhere without having to give up their email. Sample chapters can be read on Amazon, for example. Fiction authors should consider a monthly drawing for a gift card. There’s a system called Rafflecopter we use that will take names and sign-ups and randomly pick a winner for you. It’s a pretty sweet system actually.

The Importance of Blogging

You may not feel like you have a lot to say, but in fact you do. As I said earlier, open the Kimono, show your readers what you’re about. Talk about your characters, your life as it relates to the book. Give them an insider’s peek into your world.

Here’s an example from an author we work with, who also works in the industry she writes about in her fiction books. You can see that she takes both real-life events and some writer-reality and blends them:



Why does all of this work? Well, clearly there’s some fun engagement going on but it’s more than that: We’re really taking the time to spend time with our readers, even if it’s just virtually. You lure them in by offering freebies, then you enhance the relationship by informing, entertaining, and building relationships with them. You’ll want to do this utilizing social media, your blog, video content.

The Importance of Exclusivity

The final and probably most important piece of this is exclusivity. If you’re going to go to all the effort of reaching out to your readers, you want them to feel special, right? So offer them exclusives (like the book for free as mentioned above), offer them special deals, thank you Starbucks cards if you’re so inclined. Bring them into your close circle and let them know how important they are. If the idea of sending gift cards makes you (and your marketing budget) nervous, consider a simple reply to a reader and the impact it can have. See this response below from a reader who was floored that the author responded directly to her:


Creating Something for Free

I talk a lot about “owning the shelf,” meaning publishing a lot of books. But what if you just have one book that you’re trying to market? Making that one book free all the time does not make sense. Instead, consider this: at a recent conference I was at I spoke to an author who wrote a science fiction book about three years ago. It did poorly, he admitted, and he wondered if there was anything he could do. Since the book was long (400 pages) I suggested that he cut the book into segments, design new covers and have the books released in a series as an eBook on Amazon. Many romance authors already do this, but few authors that I’ve spoken with have ever done this to invigorate an older book or to create more books on your shelf. By chunking up a longer book, you create more interest by drawing readers into your book via a series. In some cases you may feel there isn’t a natural breaking point for the book, but I would argue there is. Consider bringing in a seasoned content editor to help you decide. The point being, you may be sitting on a lot of tools already. Turning one book into a series is a great way to drive more attention, more readers, and more sales. And, if you do that, you can have one book that’s always free.

The importance of free is often misunderstood and underestimated. We live in a society of readers being inundated with options and new books. Last estimate there were 3,500 books published every day in the US, but this number does not include books that go straight to digital since those aren’t often counted (many authors publish directly through KDP without an ISBN number which is normally how these are tracked). Needless to say, the competition is great. Sometimes standing out means reaching your tribe one reader at a time, and while this might sound tedious, it does in fact work.

I spoke to some authors at Romance Writers who were big-name, bestselling authors who told me that they were worried because their sales were dropping and what should they do? Many of them started writing in an age where they could easily own the market. There wasn’t a ton of competition and a single post on social media could sell a hundred books. Sadly, those days are gone. If you’re reading this thinking: this is me, my sales are dropping! Take heart. You can turn this around. Restart your thinking and pretend that today is the first day of your writing career. Starting with a fresh look is often the best way to kick any marketing campaign into a better, and often higher, gear.


RU Writers…..what’s your favorite marketing tip?

Join us on Friday for Kelsey Browning’s 10 Tips for a Stand-out Facebook Event


Bio: Penny C. Sansevieri, Founder and CEO Author Marketing Experts, Inc., is a best-selling author and internationally recognized book marketing and media relations expert. She is an Adjunct Professor teaching Self-Publishing for NYU.

Her company is one of the leaders in the publishing industry and has developed some of the most innovative Social Media/Internet book marketing campaigns. She is the author of fourteen books, including How to Sell Your Books by the Truckload on Amazon and Red Hot Internet Publicity, which has been called the “leading guide to everything Internet.”

To learn more about Penny’s books or her promotional services, you can visit her web site at

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19 Responses to “Marketing Fiction: Building Super Fans & Making “Free” Work For You by Penny Sansevieri”

  1. Excellent article! Thank you for sharing these treasure suggestions!
    Best regards from Dracula’s country!
    Carmen Stefanescu

    Posted by carmen | September 24, 2014, 8:03 am
  2. Morning Penny!

    Holy cow. That’s amazing information! I’m going to have to print it out to absorb it all. =)

    I love your idea of breaking a long book into chunks. The wave of the future seems to be just that …series of smaller books that you can read in a day or two or while commuting to work etc. We’re hoping to have a post on that before the end of the year here!

    Absolutely fabulous article Penny and thanks so much for being a guest with us – I’ll head back to stalking you on Huffpo! =)


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | September 24, 2014, 9:13 am
  3. Excellent advice! My publisher, Lea Shizas of MuseItUp Publishing, Inc., says the best way to sell books is to write and publish books. She also encourages us to connect with our readers, and this post gives us some wonderful ways to do just that. Finally, she encourages us to blog about ourselves, not just to sell our books–because our readers want to connect with us–and you’ve reinforced that advice, as well. Thank you so much!

    Posted by Rochelle Weber | September 24, 2014, 10:51 am
  4. A fantastic article Penny.. and echoes a lot of strategy I’ve learned in the school of Hard Knocks. LOL My family’s in the jewelry business, so I learned early on the value of giving away salt so you can sell the soup. I love the intelligence and generosity in your proposal.

    For me, the number one force in connecting with my audience is engaging with them authentically over time. Spamming, hectoring, and blind emailing potential readers works directly the positive relationships necessary for any kind of publishing career. After a couple years of old-school email blasts and static adverts blaring at us, I do feel like authors have begun to embrace the power of social media in ways that benefit their creative process and their readers experiences.

    Many thanks for a thoughtful lecture!

    Posted by Damon Suede | September 24, 2014, 10:54 am
  5. Thank you for this! Definitely going to bookmark this article for all your awesome suggestions.

    Posted by Maria Michaels | September 24, 2014, 12:21 pm
  6. Penny, thanks for the great article. I love the end of the book letter. Need to figure out how to make that work with my books.

    Oddly, I sent an email to a reader yesterday who had sent me an SASE for a Keeper Kase card. It was just a quick note to let her know that I had mailed her package. This is what she wrote back:

    “Oh My Gosh!!! How Cool to hear from an author!!! 🙂

    Thank You – Thank You – Thank You!”

    Makes all the hard work worthwhile. 🙂


    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | September 24, 2014, 6:47 pm
  7. Great post, Penny! I know this is something a lot of authors wonder about.

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | September 25, 2014, 12:07 am
  8. Thank you Becke! I appreciate the feedback so much. Wishing you publishing success 🙂

    Posted by Penny Sansevieri | September 25, 2014, 7:37 pm
  9. Penny I thought your article was something I could grab hold of and examine in great detail It was well written, filled with content I can relate to, and on top of that I thought the letter at the end to readers was unique. I liked the idea of forming a bond between the author and fans. Well done.

    Posted by Cleveland W. Gibson | September 26, 2014, 5:44 am
  10. Penny,

    This article triggered a huge “ah-ha” moment for me. I am preparing to launch my first children’s picture book. As a self-publishing, first-time author, the learning curve has been steep. But, articles like yours stoke my passion to blaze onward and create a marketing plan that is as awesome as the book I want to share! Thank you for sharing your experience.


    Posted by Michelle Eastman | September 27, 2014, 9:06 am
  11. This was really helpful, Penny. Thank you for all the good info!

    Posted by Terri L. Austin | September 29, 2014, 11:09 am
  12. Great insights. It might be tough to give away your book that you worked so hard on for free, but it’s what will get you readers. Especially when you’re just starting out. If the book is good, people will write a positive review and word will start to spread. It’s better than just selling a handful at a low price.

    Posted by Kristen Steele | October 31, 2014, 4:08 pm


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