Game of Cults: Crossing the Chasm With 1000 True Fans

We have discussed getting people into the game—the process of indoctrinating fans who show an interest in your work.

I shared that part of scaffolding is giving your fans optionality and choice (or at least the feeling of it). At first, you may think about how this scaffold and option will guide them through product choice and provide them with a method for establishing belonging and status.


But there is more…

Crossing the chasm

You’ll need to indoctrinate and retain readers as you think through the game. You must also think about where you are in your career and the types of fans you have.

Even if you’re an established author, you may not have developed the right fans for where you are in your career, and if you don’t, this can slow your cumulative advantage.

Let me elaborate.

Everett Rogers came up with the idea of innovation diffusion back in 1961. You may be familiar with the concept of there being innovators, early adopters, the early majority, the late majority, and laggards.

The idea took off with Geoffrey Moore’s book, Crossing the Chasm. If you focus on a small group of people who will put up with early adoption friction, they act as the social proof for a larger majority to try out your product.

Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm Model

Without the right type of customer in the early adoption phase, you never build the base necessary to cross that chasm to where the early majority waits.

Crossing that chasm isn’t easy. This is one of those inflection points that hangs up many authors. Why? Because we get the cart before the horse. We focus on growing big, not growing right.

What do I mean?

Remember Dr. Centolla’s research into complex contagion and commitment? He demonstrated that if you have an initial group that adopts early, they might not commit as profoundly as those that take longer to embrace your product or ideas.

Designing a system that works automatically to do this will amplify your results—a system with scaffolding for early adopters and then those looking to have a deeper, more committed relationship.

This is where theory and practice diverge.

In a model, things are clear-cut—a solid line exist between phases, binary decisions are made intellectual fantasy world.

In reality, you don’t know where you are or where these people are. Therefore, we need to figure out if you have the critical mass of early adopters to cross that chasm.

So, how do we get that critical mass?

Remember that seminal blog post about your 1,000 true fans. That post outlines the idea that if you get one thousand true believers, all willing to pay you $100 a year, you can have a six-figure business. 

Will some of those 1,000 be early adopters? Sure.

But others won’t, and audience composition makes a difference.

The game system needs to automatically create and scale community interaction so that enthusiasm, frequency, and the correct framing are in place for both early adopters and true fans.

Along the journey, survey your customers to understand how they act and what they think about themselves.

Begin asking questions from time to time about other products and media they associate with.

Asking them if they have an Apple watch or if they always want to have the latest gadget may be the wrong question for an older audience. A better question may be, “Do you like to try new restaurants, or do you always go to the same familiar places?”

This helps to craft messaging. Someone slow to adopt is more likely to be a committed and true fan. Therefore, consider marketing a newer series to them later so you can use the work of your earlier adopters to help sell them.

This is, again, a shift in thinking when we start a new series. We expect our fans to drop everything and come over to what we feel is essential on our timeline.


A player we identify as an early adopter can have the new series framed to them as just that—the new cool thing.

Later, when we know a slow adopter has finished our first series, we can frame the new series not as new but as a tried-and-true option with multiple books and thousands of reviews.

Eventually, we seek to build a robust network with strong connections that support each fan and encourage them to add more to the network through word of mouth.

Influence versus word of mouth 

Meta will make changes to compensate for the damage done to revenues by Apple and Google.

The changes will take the form of focusing on creators and influencers as a path to sales. Don’t mistake your ability to hire an influencer for genuine word of mouth.

Influencers can get you visibility and some social proof. Still, the easier and more lucrative Meta makes it for Bookstagrammers to earn money selling influence, the less those influenced will trust recommendations.

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Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen the impact TikTok and other platforms can have, but it’s not word of mouth.

Word of mouth is when a fan risks their social capital on your behalf. They have part of their identity tied to your brand and want to indoctrinate on your behalf.

Word of mouth is the Holy Grail.

Going grassroots 

There is your network, then a network of networks. You can work with other authors or tap into reading and listening-related networks to augment yours.

Edward Bernays was a master of this type of work. He looked for the commonalities in diverse groups and then used the common traits to leverage the message he wanted to send. He tapped into the authority of each small group, got them to support his idea, and used them to deliver his message. Over time, that grassroots messaging built into a national movement to shift the status quo.

Here’s an example of how “grassroots” groups are being used to change the status quo.

In many cities, Airbnb faces the same constraints that Uber did, with existing laws limiting leasing and subleasing properties in a town. Homeowners aren’t interested in having home-sharing next door, and hotel companies see the model as a threat to their business. There is an alignment of interest against home-sharing.

In San Francisco, a group of Airbnb-preneurs formed a club to advocate their side of the issue. They were a diverse group, from one-off home-share hosts to multiple-unit home-share entrepreneurs. They would show up at city council meetings. Fundraise and educate others on their position. In essence, they were grassroots lobbyists tackling the issue at the municipal level.

It worked.

Now, here’s where things get creepy. As a corporation, Airbnb faced this issue everywhere and lacked the money to build out its lobbyists. Hence, they used the San Francisco home-sharing club as a model to propagate in every major city. They struggled against the status quo.

Think about how you can create or subvert local groups with a book-loving focus. Is there an opportunity to change the status quo in a grassroots way?

Most won’t because this takes time, persistence, and patience.

The myth of immediate results makes us think that others just do something once or twice, and things “take off.”

Getting an organic marketing system going takes time and changes how most authors do business. When I share that most of my clients do little advertising, and when they do, most of it is focused on lead generation for client nurturing, not sales, I get a perplexed look.

I can see the disbelief. So many people believe that paying to play is the only way to grow.

But I don’t have to pay when it’s my game and my rules.

One more thing…

Have you thought about those first 1,000 fans?

Do you have them already and just need to build the wide bridge network that solidifies the community, or do you, like most of us, have no idea how many fans you have or what they are like?

Take stock of your super-fans and where you need to go to get the group that will get you across the chasm.

Read: Epic Meaning and the Glowing Choice