Updated: Jul 15, 2019
Next week my Patreon goes live and there’s still people who don’t know about Patreon, or mistake it for something else. Patreon is generally lumped in with “crowdfunding” in popular media which kind of makes me cringe because the difference between what the Patreon platform enables creators to do and other crowdfunding sites is like comparing day and night. Patreon has this in common with crowdfunding: fans directly pay creators for their work. Which is hardly a revolutionary concept. A lot of authors I know and admire use Patreon because their book contracts don’t pay anything near a living wage. Musicians, podcasters, artists, writers of all types use Patreon because typical crowdfunding sites are horrible for creators like artists, musicians, and authors. Patreon is made specifically for us. There’s none of the soul-killing nastiness of “crowdfunding”. We create great stuff, people buy it. Creators have real and excellent connections to the people who love their work and support it on Patreon.
Here’s what Patreon isn’t.
For those of you who have never been involved in a crowdfunding campaign, here’s an overview of how they usually work. (If you’ve participated in a crowdfunding campaign, just skip down to how Patreon isn’t like that.) Generally crowdfunding sites work like this: someone wants to make something (album, gadget, big art project, game) and they run a “campaign” in which they have a set number of days to find investors to pledge a certain amount of money to get their project done. After the deadline if they’ve reached their monetary goal the project is funded, they do their thing, and the “crowd” each gets one of whatever was funded. If they don’t reach their goal in a set number of days, they get nothing, make nothing, and the people who invested pay nothing and get nothing. Quite often it take months or years for people to get the “thing” that was crowdfunded depending on how hard a thing it is to make. Albums can take a year or more, games can be in development hell for years and years. Occasionally investors get nothing at all. On the artist side (and I’ve know people who have run campaigns) there’s an insane grinding frantic amount of promoting constantly during the campaign to get people to sign up because it’s an all-or-nothing proposition and the desperate begging for money can be unpleasant, and if you don’t do it well enough by the deadline then you’re left exhausted and empty-handed. If you’re successful, then you’re under pressure from both fans and the platform to deliver the product, or continually make excuses and apologies for the delays. This system has worked well for people who want money to start a business to make and sell an invention of theirs; I know of a few companies that got their start this way, but it’s a soul-crushing way for an artist or creative person to fund their work because it has a failure mechanism baked-in and because most writers, artists, musicians, etc aren’t doing a one-time thing. Which means that they have to do the desperate campaign and begging for money for every single thing they do, with an increasingly real chance of failure as their audience suffers begging fatigue.
Patreon is not like that.
Patreon is a totally different concept. The idea is based on the old concept of patronage. Back in olden times creative people were often funded by the super-rich of their day. An artist or author would have a patron who would pay them a living wage so that they could continue to do creative work and not have to worry about living on the streets or starving to death. Of course, the downside to this was that the artist continually had to fawn and flatter, and even so a patron might grow bored with them and throw their gold in someone else’s direction, so the artist, author, creator, would have to find another patron. Not a perfect system, but sufficient to keep a number of geniuses from starving so we can enjoy their works today. The real flaw to that concept of patronage is that it was practiced only by the super-wealthy, and creative people in the distant past usually only had one patron at a time. Patreon is much more egalitarian. Anyone can contribute to a creative person and—this is the bit borrowed from crowdfunding—they get the work the creative person produces. Our digital age makes it possible, even easy, to duplicate what is created and distribute it to everyone. Hence the large number of authors, artists, podcasters, musicians, etc who are on Patreon. They create something, put it on Patreon, and their patrons (aka subscribers) pay them for it.
Here’s how Patreon works
I’ve known about Patreon since before it hit the headlines everywhere some years back for the stunning numbers some of its creators are earning. Depending on how productive you are, how you set up your subscriber tiers, and how much interest there is in your work, a creative person can actually make a living by their using Patreon to supplement whatever they make from their music, books, etc elsewhere. I’ve had a subscriber (patron) account for about a year now. I wanted to see how it worked from the inside before deciding whether it would be a good fit for me. Generally Patreon is good for people who are producing something regularly, especially things that can be digital (though patron rewards can be physical, too). Authors usually use it for short fiction, works in progress, essays, audio fiction, as well as insights into the writing process, and writing workshops. If you look at a creator’s Patreon page what you’ll see are the public posts and public content. Some people have a lot of public content in addition to patron-only content and some people keep everything behind the paywall. What you get as a patron depends on what the creator is offering and what tier you subscribe to. Tiers usually start as low as $1-2. Creators usually have multiple tiers, with each tier in ascending order of value, usually corresponding to how much time and effort the creator has to put into producing the reward for the tier. For instance, the lowest tier might be for short stories and the highest tier might be a video tutorial. Creators set the cost of the tier and the reward to patrons for the tier. Multiple tiers mean that the creator has to produce “things” for each tier.
There are two different ways creators can set up their Patreon: to be paid every time they produce a “thing” for their patrons, or monthly. Whether creators are paid per “thing” or per month, Patreon bills patrons monthly on the first of every month. Most Patreons are monthly–because the whole idea is for the creative person to have a steady income to pay them for work they are doing every day—and most authors I know, even if they’ve set up their Patreon to charge per “thing” nevertheless post rewards to their subscriber tiers (patrons) every month, as if it’s monthly. After much thought I decided to make my Patreon monthly. And yes, that means that if I don’t do anything patron-worthy that month I’ll still get paid, BUT I’ve got enough material banked that if I never write another word I could fill my monthly reward obligations to subscribers for years. (And there’s always the option to suspend a Patreon if something dire happens to a creator.) Going with a monthly Patreon makes sense since I’m writing all the time and will be fulfilling rewards to subscribers monthly anyway. It also offers stability to patrons. Whether I do one Patreon-only thing (for each tier) per month or a dozen Patron-only things, you’ll be charged the same amount every month according to your tier. (If a Patreon is per “thing” you would get charged for each patron-only thing, unless you set a cap to limit what you would pay per month, which avoids unpleasant surprises for the patron, but it also means the creator doesn’t get paid for everything they produce.)
When you subscribe to a tier you get whatever the creator is offering for that tier pluseverything in every lower tier! If you subscribe at the lowest level then you will get only the things in that level, plus any patron-only posts the creator writes and any public posts. If you subscribe to the highest tier you get everything in that tier and everything in every tier below that, plus patron-only posts and public posts. So, each tier up acts as an “add-on” to the tiers below.
I’ve probably made it sound more complicated than it is, but what you mainly need to know is this: if you subscribe to my Patreon you’ll be billed monthly and you’ll get fiction monthly. Right now I’ve got only low monthly tiers. Remember: I need to produce the rewards for each tier each month. I don’t want to overwhelm myself right out of the starting gate. I’ll probably add higher tiers after I get comfortable with the schedule of producing for Patreon monthly. (I’d like to add audio.)
My lowest tier is $1. For that you’ll get works-in-progress, usually the novels I’m working on, every month. This tier will also occasionally include short stories. The next tier up is $3. You’ll get miscellaneous character sketches and scenes not yet attached to any project. (Things that spark a lot of interest and discussion are more likely to get developed into stories.) Plus you’ll get the monthly works in progress from the lower tier. My highest tier (right now) is $5. You’ll get a minimum of one book review per month, some months maybe more, and also you’ll get general posts about books and book discussions with me. The books I’ll review and discuss will be eclectic and usually not in the F/SF genre. And of course you’ll get all the rewards for the lower tiers: works in progress, short stories miscellaneous characters and scenes.
Also…not only will my Patreon subscribers not have to wait years to read what I’m working on, you’ll get the ebooks when they do come out, and you’ll be credited in the ebook. Between the basics of the reward tiers and extras I throw in you will be getting lots of fiction for your small bit of patronage.
Why is this so cheap?
If you look around at author and writer Patreons (which I have) you’ll see that the lowest tiers (often $1-2) have the most patrons, and some of them have some truly big numbers. If it were a one-time payment, you’re right, this would not work at all. But the idea here is that since I’m writing all the time, you’ll be reading all the time, and pay a tiny amount per month for the fiction I’m writing. Thousands of patrons paying $1-5 adds up to big numbers, and the low bar for getting the fiction makes subscribing to my Patreon more attractive. I’d like a lot of subscribers (patrons) at lower levels. Anyone can afford it. And while only the super-rich could afford to pay a living wage to a creator back in olden times, Patreon makes it possible for not-at-all-rich people to support a writer and get fiction every month.
It also helps me build an audience and stay connected to my readers. In the age of the short attention span, I have to regain my audience or recruit new readers for every book because it takes so long to write them and get them published. Years pass between books. During those years I’m writing steadily. I’ve always got a work in progress, usually more than one! But to the readers it appears that I’m not doing anything because the work I do is invisible until years later. It’s impossible to stay engaged with readers when they can’t see what I’m doing and I don’t know when it will be published. Patreon means the readers will finally see what I’m working on! They’ll read along! Their subscription will fund commissioning original cover art, ebook formatting, website drudgery, things that will make the finished book the best it can be as well as paying for drudgery (like proofreading and website maintenance) that sucks time and energy away from writing. Creators on Patreon are encouraged to set goals: my first goals are modest and relate to getting a new website and book production. But I’ll also eventually have other, more fun, goals that bring bonus stuff to all subscribers. (Creators that have met their most basic goals usually have fun goals such as “if I have this many subscribers then they all get this” or “patron-only forum board” or “patrons-only exclusive live chat” or “patrons-only exclusive video stream” or “unicorns for everyone”! Just kidding.) Right now I’m (as always) very focused on writing and getting books ready for publication, but once basic author-related goals are met then my Patreon will grow based on extra rewards for all patrons…and if you’re a patron then you’ll be one of the ones I’m talking to about what bonuses you want!
Speaking of which…not only will my Patreon subscribers not have to wait years to read what I’m working on, you’ll get the ebooks when they do come out, and you’ll be credited in the ebook. Between the basics of the reward tiers and extras I throw in you will be getting lots of fiction for your small bit of patronage.
There’s a discussion tab for patrons and patrons can comment on anything I post so Patreon will be an excellent place to connect with me, with a better signal to noise ratio than social media. I’m going to be a lot more present on Patreon and more interactive than elsewhere because a lot of it will be patron-only posts, and I’ll be writing, reading, talking about my books and what I’m reading, doing all the things I love. With you. If you join me on Patreon. My Patreon creator page will go live next week! Then I’ll begin posting stuff there and we’ll have some fun!