Playing Nice

Recently I saw a news story where an elderly basketball fan for the Utah Jazz was given gifts by some players. The woman, at age 102, had a hard time getting to games, so the team gave her season tickets while one player gave an autographed shoe, another a blanket with the team logo, and so on. It made me feel warm and fuzzy.

Immediately afterward, the news followed up with a story where an NBA team did a similar thing for a fan in Florida, and the news reported on something fascinating: The publicity for one small act of kindness was so great that within a day, the team had sold out its next 18 games. In short, a small gift had reaped millions of dollars in ticket sales.

That was mind-boggling for me.

I’ve spoken with my friend and student Brandon Sanderson a number of times about his desire to give what he called “added value” to novels and stories, very often offering excerpts to fans. So, for example, if I write a new novel, I might give the first 1,000 fans a copy of a short story set in that world.

The problem that we normally face as authors is that books have such a low profit margin, it’s not practical to give anything of great value at all. I can’t afford to give each of my fans one of my autographed tennis shoes.

When writing for middle grade readers, I was able one time to buy some very cute finger puppets that worked nicely with my book Of Mice and Magic. I was also able to get posters made, and so the incentives were inexpensive enough to be worthwhile. I had $3 in incentives for a book, and with my author discount, I was able to recoup my losses. But if you have some t-shirts made up, you’ll go bankrupt long before your first royalty check ever reaches you.

So you’re limited to having drawings for more expensive goods.

Seeking out new ideas for giveaways isn’t something that I spend much time brainstorming, but I like the concept. Particularly when you’re releasing a novel and want to excite fans into pre-ordering books, or buy during the initial release, it makes great sense.

I much prefer to treat potential readers well all of the time.  I discovered years ago that when you meet a reader, you never know what will become of the relationship. Two of my first readers became book buyers for major chains, for example. Others were producer who wanted to make games or films. Brandon early on hooked up with a major blogger who had millions of followers, and so on.

So I’ve said before that you should treat every single fan that you meet as if he or she were a super-fan, someone who might make or break your career.

That’s what real professionals do. Years ago I sat next to Jay Leno, who was then the host of the Tonight Show, at a movie premiere. For nearly an hour before the show, people stopped to shake his hand and get their pictures taken with them, and I must have seen him get up (wearily) and smile and shake hands and take pictures over and over and over until I wondered how he kept from going mad.

He really did impress me. I’ve often thought that I’d do well if I could be as congenial as Jay Leno. He did his best to make each fan feel special and appreciated.


So right now, take a few minutes to think about what extra things you might give to your fans.

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