Patreon offers creatives a more sustainable model for crowdfunding—ongoing micro-payments from interested benefactors.
Many writers dream of quitting their day jobs and becoming full-time freelancers. And while that is achievable, it’s a difficult prospect for poets, playwrights and midlist fiction writers. Writing organizations such as the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America consider a minimum professional rate for fiction to be six cents a word. Many novels only receive advances of $5,000–$10,000. Think about your basic living costs. A book that took years to write may only cover rent for a few months. Making up the difference as a freelancer is challenging, to say the least!
The good news: Crowdfunding can fill that uncomfortable financial gap. Kickstarter and Indiegogo are great for funding specific projects such as novels, plays, anthologies and poetry collections. But if you’re seeking ongoing, monthly support for your creative endeavors, take a closer look at Patreon (patreon.com).
THE BIG IDEA
Launched in 2013, Patreon is conceptually the modern version of the old system whereby artists and writers sought out wealthy patrons for support—but the key difference is that popular Patreon creators are supported by dozens or hundreds of people rather than a single rich benefactor.
In practice, Patreon gives creators tools for publishing a wide variety of subscription content. Editors use it to publish monthly online magazines, and fiction writers use it to serialize their novels-in-progress. Artists post sketches-in-progress or commissions for individual patrons. Others post videos or audio tracks of music or narration. Educators can use the built-in integration with Discord (a voice/text-chat system) to host discussions or workshops.
And while you post as much content as your imagination can summon, the site handles all the billing. Creators can charge by the post or by the month. Opting for monthly charges lets you set up tiered rewards as you would with Kickstarter.
Rewards can be anything you can legally fulfill: For instance, for $2 a month, my supporters get a weekly poem; for $3 a month they receive weekly writing prompts plus my poetry. For $30 a month, they receive all my writing plus detailed feedback on 2,000 words of their own work. Patreon takes 5 percent of processed payments, plus additional processing fees to move funds to PayPal or Stripe. Some creators resent the fees, but most see them as a fair trade for a suite of extremely versatile tools.
Income is the first thing people wonder about when they start exploring Patreon. Graphtreon is an extremely useful tool for tracking and analyzing various campaigns. Go to graphtreon.com/patreon-creators/writing to view the writers who have the most total patrons or who earn the most money per month. The site collects a great deal of insightful data, and before you set up your own Patreon you should take a look at the top creators’ pages to figure out what you can learn from their successes.
Authors Seanan McGuire and N.K. Jemisin bring in thousands of dollars per month through their Patreons. McGuire rewards her patrons with stories, writing tutorials and more. Jemisin is able to write fiction full time because of her campaign. Her rewards range from cute cat videos to ARCs of her forthcoming books.
True, most don’t earn as much as McGuire or Jemisin—each had an established readership before they launched their campaigns—but their success shows what’s possible. My Patreon covers a significant chunk of my mortgage each month. I treat it like a serious part-time job, and the work I’ve put into it has definitely paid off.
Authors who take a casual approach typically earn $50–$150 per month. Th at’s enough to cover a utility bill, which can make a huge difference for some households. And if your Patreon isn’t performing well? Seek feedback and try new tactics; you’re free to change your campaign whenever and however you like.
Some writers use the money they bring in to fund others’ Patreons. This is a way to create goodwill and to network with other writers. If your campaign’s earnings are too small to matter to you personally, use them to boost others and get access to great content in the process. Community and connections matter, and Patreon gives you the tools to build both.
But Patreon isn’t just about the money. It’s also a vehicle for creative inspiration. I love writing poetry, but it doesn’t pay very well. Over time I’d abandoned it for fiction; I wanted to change that. So, I set my poem-a-week reward level. The result? I’ve been writing a whole lot of new poetry, and my subscribers enjoy it. Use Patreon to set (and meet!) new goals for yourself.
THE LONG HAUL
Unlike other crowdfunding, Patreon campaigns don’t have a pre-set ending. You’ll post your promised content monthly, weekly, maybe even daily. Compared to the sprint of Kickstarter, the marathon of Patreon can be exhausting. You risk turning something fun into a chore. You have to keep promoting if you want to build followers. Even if you’re posting solid content, count on losing a patron (or several) every month as people’s finances and interests change.
Many of us find self-promotion to be tedious and somewhat shameful, and having to constantly go out with your hat in your hand can be demoralizing. Focus on providing a good value to your subscribers and emphasize that in your promotional efforts. Avoiding burnout is crucial for ensuring that you can maintain a solid campaign.
By all means, set some reward levels that will challenge you creatively, but for the rest? Play to your strengths and interests. For instance, if you have several finished novels that you’ve trunked, dust those off, revise them and serialize them.
Sit down and figure out what you can comfortably accomplish in a month, and then focus on doing what you do best. Chances are, if it’s something you love, your patrons will love it, too. WD Lucy A. Snyder (lucysnyder.com) is the Bram Stoker Award–winning author of a dozen books and more than 100 short stories.
GETTING STARTED WITH PATREON
1. Research Patreons like yours at graphtreon.com, and emulate successes.
2. Craft a compelling personal narrative about why you’re seeking patrons.
3. Offer a variety of appealing patron rewards. Avoid rewards that require shipping.
4. Focus on rewards that you are certain you can consistently provide.
5. Plan to spend time promoting your campaign on social media every month.
6. Recruit friends and colleagues to help with promotion. Word of mouth is critical.
7. Make a content creation/posting calendar and stick to it.
8. Poll your patrons periodically to gauge their satisfaction.
9. Reassess your promotional tactics and ability to meet reward goals after a couple of months; change your strategies as needed.
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