Heidi’s Handy-Dandy “How Do You Patreon as an Author” Post
I’ve been asked by a number of authors lately to give my thoughts and share my experience as someone who has used the Patreon platform, and in the interest of both giving that reply and helping anyone else who might be curious, I’m going to answer those questions here on this blog.
I began my own Patreon in a typical Heidi fashion: on a passion-fueled whim. It was August 28, 2015, and some Serious Shit™ had gone down in my life. Some bad, some good, but the bottom line is that big changes came with financial price tags, and I couldn’t figure out how to finagle things to account for that. Add to that I’d started to go indie on some of my backlist titles and was thinking about starting some of my new work as indie as well. Then I read Amanda Palmer’s Patreon pitch, got caught up, and jumped in. This was the post I wrote about how she moved me, where in the end I spontaneously started a Patreon. It was later in the evening, and I went to bed on a rosy glow of Amanda-fueled feeling.
The next morning I woke much more sober and went downstairs prepared to delete the Patreon and write a “hey, JK” post because I felt foolish for being so overexcited. I worried I’d let myself be too carried away and wanted to undo my exuberance. Except when I went to the Patreon site, readers had already joined. Lots of them. Not an army or anything, but several people. Enough that now I was stunned out of my shame and sat there long enough that even more people joined, to the point that I had a real Patreon and now here I am, sixteen months later, not only still using the site but considering it an integral part of my publishing experience.
I started my Patreon for a specific reason, but it quickly became something greater and more complex than anything I could have ever predicted. The money is of course what draws artists to the platform, and it’s a huge perk. In the sixteen months since I started my Patreon, my income from publishing houses and vendors I deal with as an independent author has come with all manner of headaches at different times, some which have been heartbreaking and intensely stressful, some simply infuriating—but every month that Patreon income simply arrives as the stable paycheck we can count on. It’s not a ton, but it helps. In good times it simply shaves off the overhead of indie book production, but in rough seas it can be what saves our bacon. Multiple, multiple times my husband has threatened to write the Patreons a fan letter. Because there was a span of months where the stress of publishing chaos, my health, and general whatnot meant my production was low and therefore sales were grim all around, and of course that’s when everything happened in our lives and the teenagers needed All The Things, Right Now, and we were sweating and panicking but every month there would come that solid, stable slam of money. My husband loves the patrons almost as much as I do.
Most of the time, however, the money is only a perk for me. Don’t get me wrong, I value (and utilize) every dollar, but the interaction and the connection is a bigger deal for me. Even when I’m not able to post as much, simply having the Patreon space is huge. I’ve crowdsourced both the entire patron hive mind and sections of it for help with projects (they’re giving me feedback right now, in fact, on something about my WIP), vented my frustration with minor things in general about writing or the process, kept them abreast of what’s going on without broadcasting it to the whole Internet.
Sometimes though simply knowing they’re there is huge for me. I don’t know why Patreon feels different than social media. I think it’s the idea of skin in the game. Or maybe it’s because of how I stumbled into this, because I let myself slip into asking. All I know is that for me, the connection of serving my patrons is magical. It frees me in a way I never knew it would. I don’t think it would work that way for every author, and in fact I think it could cripple many, that mental framework. For me, it’s so perfect. Every month I look at my patrons and think, “How am I serving you? What do I need to give you?” It’s never a burden, and in fact it centers and sometimes heals chaos in me to focus that way. It’s a kind of meditation for me.
Now, the key here is for me. The reason I’m taking the time to write this very long post and getting so personal about my reply is that my answer whenever someone asks me about Patreon is that I am adamant that each Patreon must be for each author and for each fandom/reader group. I think it’s a good idea for authors interest in Patreon to join the Patreons of other artists at least for a little while to poke around and see what’s up, to look at their rewards and get ideas, but in the end you need to make your own choices and find your own way. You also need to expect to make changes a lot until you find what works.
The one thing I’d say should be universal is that the word patron does mean you’re there to serve the people coming to you, and since there’s an exchange make sure you’re honoring it and being up front and realistic about what you intend that exchange to be. A lot of times people show me their rewards in preview before they go live, and if I ever offer criticism it’s to push them to think about how exactly they’re going to deliver what they’re promising every single month. It gets dicey thinking about how to reward people all the time, and you panic and think of stuff that sounds good in theory until you’re on deadline and suddenly you have to figure out how to run a Skype chat for people who aren’t showing up anyway because nobody wanted that reward except one guy in Cleveland. There’s also the eternal question of do you go monthly or by creation–always a hard call, because it depends on what you’re offering and how you’re setting it up. How often are you putting books/things out? How long are you making new patrons wait to join the fun? Sometimes they can’t see cool posts/get rewards until they’re charged, so if you’re going to go by thing at the very least have them charged as they join (that’s an option) so they can get access right away.
I don’t ever intend my Patreon to replace traditional bookselling. I do offer my books as rewards to my patrons, so technically they take away from sales, but my patrons aren’t even a tenth of my book sales at this point, so they’re a scratch off the sales at best. Plus my patrons are more likely to recommend my books to others, ask for my books to be included in libraries (some of them are librarians and booksellers), and in general help promote my work. Also even the $1 a month patrons are technically giving me more “royalty” per book if I produce my usual books per year if they remain patrons for the full twelve months. Because I do give all my patrons all my books. I have enough higher level patrons they more than subsidize the $1 patrons, which means $1 pledges are a great way for students and fixed-income readers to get all my works, something I’m interested in facilitating.
I also love giving things to my patrons. It’s a hot pleasure of mine. I sometimes find random things in my life or think of books or what have you and think, “the patrons would love this,” and I enjoy offering it to them as a prize they can enter for. I give books of the month, let certain levels see sneak peeks of covers and blurbs and stories… It’s not that I don’t enjoy sharing these things with other readers too, but it is nice to have it contained in a space. I don’t love always that money is the gatekeeper, but it’s a dollar. $12 a year, and people aren’t required to stay a whole year.
Perhaps Patreon won’t always work for me–things change, needs alter. For now, however, Patreon is an integral part of my indie publishing experience, and this is how I utilize it, this is my advice for those thinking of doing the same. There’s nothing wrong with changing your Patreon if it’s not working the way you want, and there’s also nothing wrong with deciding it isn’t right for you and your readers after all.
Here is my Patreon if you’d like to look at it. There are all manner of rewards, and you can see them in the side column. You’re welcome to borrow any of those that might suit you and your readers, or use them to inspire your own ideas. I wish you luck in your Patreon endeavors, and I hope you find your community to be as close and nurturing as mine is to me–or, perhaps I should say I hope your community is whatever you wish it to be for you, and that your readers feel the same way.