There's never been a more exciting time to be a writer. Just the other week, best-selling marketing guru Seth Godin announced that – from now on – he’s eschewing traditional publishing. Novelist Cory Doctorow has put out free Creative Commons editions of his work – including the young adult novel Little Brother, which was nominated for the Hugo Award and won the John W. Campbell Award in 2009.
It’s all about fans
Striking out on your own is all well and good if you’ve already got millions of fans. Most of us aren’t so lucky. But to make a modest living, you don’t need millions – Kevin Kelly has suggested that a creator can make a living in the digital age with 1,000 true fans.
It's a much less daunting number, but where do these fans come from and how exactly do you get them?
Winning an audience
First, only put your best foot forward. In the digital age, it's terrifyingly easy to declare something “good enough” and publish prematurely. But you only get one chance to make or lose a fan. Before you put your work out there, be absolutely sure it’s as polished as it can be.
Next, put yourself and your work out there – for free. Nobody can become your fan if they never come across you! But simply posting your work in a blog somewhere and hoping somebody stumbles across it isn't enough. You really have to work at crafting a public writing presence and persona.
Making your first fans is a lot like making friends. Joining a writing community is a good step, both to hone your craft and to get your writing in front of potentially interested readers. Start a blog. Post (relevant!) comments on the blogs of others. Join Twitter; participate in the #amwriting hashtag.
After you’ve made a fan, you can offer a smorgasbord of for-pay content – Kindle books, serialised fiction via email, crowd-funding via a service like Kickstarter, and so on. But more readers will give you a try if their first taste is free.
Most of all, keep writing, ruthlessly, persistently, without fail. You need to reward your fans with a steady stream of new content, or risk losing their interest. It’s much easier to build a critical mass steadily than in fits and starts.
Not everyone has the entrepreneurial drive to go it alone (and that’s okay too). But fortune favours the bold, especially right now. That’s why it’s such an exciting time to be a writer.
Andrea Phillips is a transmedia writer and game designer who has worked on such projects as Perplex City and Routes Game for C4. Her independent projects include Ask Madame Zee. She has written more on how to make a living in new media at her blog, Deus Ex Machinatio.