Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, and why you should care about the audience who is already there
Last Sunday, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer played one of the all-time great matches in tennis history. It was the finals at Wimbledon and not only did the match go five sets, the last set went to a 12-12 tie-break.
For anyone unfamiliar with tennis, a set is played first player to score six points, win by two. Djokovic and Federer essentially played a sixth set. The match went on for almost five hours (!) and I was lucky enough to watch the whole thing from our living room couch.
I try to watch the finals of major tennis tournaments. But, with the exception of the US Open, these all take place early in the morning. The French Open and Wimbledon aren't watched at a bar with hot wings and pizza, they're best served at home with a plate of pancakes.
The time of day is one hurdle, the time it takes to watch an entire match is another. Tennis, like other summer sports, are 3+ hour commitments. Tennis, golf, and baseball--to the casual fan--aren't exactly the first sports that come to mind as being "action packed." And one of my personal favorites, the Tour de France, that's a five hour commitment every day for three weeks!
But fans of these summer sports know it can be one of the best viewing experiences. Few sports can rival the drama and tension of that final Wimbledon set. The agony of Federer being one point away from winning it all before Djokovic clawed his way back and started to pull away. Or how about a pitching duel in baseball when both starting pitchers have allowed less than three hits, score is tied going into the ninth inning. Or every five-foot putt mattering in the final day of a major golf tournament.
Baseball. Tennis. Golf. None of these sports have timers. No quarters. No play clocks. No buzzer beaters. You're playing nine innings, six sets, 18 holes. There's no clock to bail you out.
Again, it's a great experience as a fan... IF you're willing to give these sports the time of day.
And so I was thinking about the Wimbledon finals this week and was interested to know who all watched the event. I started to think about all the different tiers of fans, from the die-hard tennis fans, to the viewer like me, to the person who slept through it, had no idea Wimbledon was going on.
Tiers of Fans
At the Wimbledon finals, the first tier of fans were friends and family. NBC cut to Roger Federer's wife at least 100 different times during the match. She looked more stressed out than Roger! Multiple times she was watching with both hands covering her face.
They showed Djokovic's family. Showed both of their coaches. The first tier of fans also includes coaches and teachers.
The next tier was anyone actually in Wimbledon Stadium. You don't go to the Wimbledon finals if you're just a casual fan. I mean maybe if you have a ton of money or you're Prince William or Kate Middleton, then it's just a major event/high status symbol to show up, but even for them, they were locked into the match. Totally focused. No one was on a cell phone texting.
Next tier would be fans of the game who are watching from home. This group may be just as die-hard (potentially more so) than the fans in the stadium. This group is different than me. They don't "try" to watch the finals of major tournaments, they clear their schedules. They watch the earlier rounds of the tournament. They love and study the game. Know its history.
Next tier is where I belong. The casual fan (if I can even call myself that) who tries to watch the finals of a major tennis tournament, watches the World Series in baseball, watches Sundays at a major golf tournament, and tries to keep up with a few stages of the Tour de France. The more prolific the matchup (Djokovic vs. Federer, Federer vs. Nadal) the higher likelihood I'm sitting on my couch.
The next tier--and if you're getting tired of having paragraphs start with "the next tier" I promise this is the second to last one--is the group of, "Hey, what's going on over there?" They will tune in if it's a major event, if history is being made, or there is some type of personal connection to the team. Examples include:
Anything in the Olympics. We can all become the biggest bobsled fans in the world if it's in support of Team USA
If a pitcher is seven innings into a perfect game, turn the game on
The team is about to make history. Longest winning streak
An individual player is about to make history (home run chase, most career touchdown passes, most wins by a college basketball coach)
A major boxing match
Your hometown team is in the Little League World Series
This group needs to be convinced it's worth their time. Especially if it's more than a two-hour time commitment.
The last tier is the hardest of all to reach. I should probably separate these two types of fans into different tiers, but I'm going to spare you another paragraph. The last tier consists of people who couldn't care less about sports. They may or may not know a tennis racket is called a tennis racket (or like when Ted Cruz famously called a basketball hoop a basketball ring).
Then you also have people in here who say things like, "Tennis is the most boring game ever. Baseball is terrible, nothing happens." Tier 6 is built on indifference and disdain. Not a great combination...
So I was thinking about this relative to releasing a book. And I think the tiers of fans idea crosses over pretty well.
When you release a book, you're almost guaranteed to have 5-25 sales from Tier 1 - family, spouse, friends, coaches, teachers. This group is the most loyal bunch. They are there for you with a book release, as they would be if you were acting in a one-person play or even if you were like, "I've started posting some juggling videos on YouTube." They may not actually like the work, understand the work, may not even finish reading the work, but they are there. Biggest fans, most loyal supporters, and also your biggest advocates/promoters.
After that, there are really no guarantees for a book to reach a further audience and that's why so many books end up selling less than 50 copies.
But let's talk about Tier 2 for a second. If you have published a book before, your Tier 2s are people who have read those those other books. If you are a first-time author, your Tier 2s are people who subscribe to your blog or regularly read your work in some other format. These are the people who would randomly endorse you for writing as a skill on LinkedIn.
They are not watching the game with their hands in front of their faces, but they are in the stadium. They're not texting on their phones. They are paying attention. They have your book in hand.
Once we exit the stadium, now it's off to the die-hard fans of the sport itself. The analogy here for writing is this group loves fantasy novels. They love poetry. They love literary fiction, biographies, young adult, etc. Tier 3 might have heard of you, might not have, but if they hear one of their friends praise the book or see a glowing GoodReads, and it's in the genre they love, they're going to check it out.
Very few books make it outside of Tier 2 and Tier 3. At Tier 4, now you're reaching people who are like me with tennis. "I try to watch the major events of that year," is the equivalent of, "I try to keep track of what's the bestseller or voted book of the year."
For example, I've started to hear good things about books like: Machine Like Me, Where the Crawdads Sing, and There or There (frustratingly similar title to my upcoming book Here or There), These books are reaching that, "Hey, Kershaw is throwing a perfect game right now. Hey, Federer and Djokovic are tied 10-10 in the final set. You gotta turn this on."
Tier 4 takes time. Often the books that show up on the "best books of 2018" lists, don't start reaching the Tier 4 crowd until 2019. The movie adaptation doesn't come out til 2021. Remember how long it took for a show like Breaking Bad to build its following? Books take even longer. And that's even with critical acclaim.
Tier 5 is near impossible to hit. This is major bestseller territory. To reach the readers who might read one book a year, maybe one book every five years, that requires some level of star power or a growing level of FOMO. For example, Michelle Obama's Becoming or Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run, those were guaranteed to reach Tier 5 because of who the author is. That's why major publishers will enter into bidding wars to sign these authors. These are guaranteed book sales.
You can also have Tier 5s that build over time. Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, and 50 Shades (which actually started as a self-published book) gradually passed each milestone until it reached the Tier 5 FOMO stage.
Tier 6 is what Seth Godin talks about as the group who you should simply say, "This is not for you." Why aggressively go after anyone who doesn't like to read books? And why pay attention to anyone who wrote a one-star review or negative YouTube/Amazon comment if they say something like, "This looks stupid," or, "I didn't even finish reading page one it was so bad."
Remember, Tier 6 doesn't even like the sport. To them, tennis sucks. Reading sucks. Everything sucks.
But it's weird, Tier 6 can sometimes be, accidentally, as easy to reach as Tier 2 or Tier 3. With none of the benefits of reaching those earlier groups.
Building a marketing strategy for your book
Too often, marketing strategies for books (especially in the self-publishing space) are built to go right after Tier 4, 5, and 6 rather than slowly marketing to Tier 1, 2, and 3. Buying up Facebook ads, LinkedIn, Twitter, building a website, posting a book trailer on YouTube, yeah, these things might bring in a few interested readers in other states, other countries, but you're also going to attract a few trolls (Tier 6) or a few people saying, "What's this doing in my Instagram feed?" (Tiers 4 and 5).
Instead, why not go one stage at a time. For the Tier 1 group, consider giving them free signed copies. Maybe give them two copies, one for them, one to give to somebody else. What if you made 20 special edition hardcover books, gave them away exclusively to friends and family?
The hard part here is, obviously, the cost. Twenty hardcover books might run you $200-300 + shipping. It's also counter-intuitive because Tier 1 are the only guaranteed sales. Why throw that money away!
But these are your biggest advocates. They are almost more like employees than customers. Customers walk away when they're not interested in the product. Loyal employees stay on regardless because they believe/like/cheer for you.
You could even do something like a pledge system like what you see with people raising money for their businesses on Kickstarter. Maybe at the beginning of the project, before it's published, before it's even a finished rough draft, send a note to everyone saying, "Hey, the editing is going to cost me this, cover design this, formatting this, I'm raising money to help with those costs. In return I'll give you a signed hardcover copy when it's done." You may find out that someone in Tier 1, who was going to pay $20 for your book in a traditional release, chips in $200 through this type of format. You never know...
So spoil your Tier 1 group. Lean on their support. Tell them about the book before anyone else.
Tier 2 is simple - post some blogs about it, maybe send your subscribers a newsletter about the book when it's released. Don't just expect them to naturally hear about it. Invite them to your book as if it were an event. And, if there is some type of book signing event, invite them to that too. If you have 1,000 blog subscribers, probably doesn't make sense to give away free copies to everyone from a financial standpoint, but if you have 50 subscribers and the financial means to do it, maybe it does.
Tier 3 is about getting into the local bookstore. This is where readers are. This is where fans of local authors are or fans of your specific genre. It may seem old school and there are probably plenty of ways to try and target these people with Google adwords, Facebook, Amazon, etc., but the local bookstore is just as (if not more) effective in reaching your Tier 3 fans.
Another note - If you can run a story in the newspaper about your book, preferably a local interest piece that you don't pay money for, this is another great way to get the word out. Yes, physical newspapers have gone down in popularity, but people who are regularly reading a newspaper are also regularly reading books. They don't care that it takes more than three hours. They enjoy the experience.
If you have successfully hit Tier 3, there's at least a chance it could keep expanding into Tier 4.
But if it stops at Tier 3, that's okay. That's actually a great accomplishment. Strangers picking up your book in a bookstore, buying it, enjoying it, that's an awesome ending to the story.
And if it stops at Tier 2, nothing wrong with that either. If you are Michelle Obama or Bruce Springsteen then yeah, only reaching Tier 2 is a big cause for concern (well, for them they're fine. They already got paid via the advance. It's the publisher who would be freaking out) but not for a first-time author or self-published author. Only reaching Tier 1 and Tier 2 is normal. Par for the course. The vast majority of self-published books sell less than 100 copies.
Or some books may only be for the Tier 1. Maybe it's a deeply personal story that was only written for your family, friends, people at church. There was never an interest in doing a whole wide national release.
There's no rush to this process. Your book isn't going anywhere. It's not disappearing or being kicked out the way movies are at a theater. So go slow. Embrace each Tier for what it is and do your best to make a connection with each specific audience member.
Just like me at the end of the Wimbledon finals, have your readers get to the final page of your book and say, "Wow, that was great. I'm glad I spent the time reading their story and can't wait to see what's next."