Do you have a big writing project you’d like to get off the ground? Crowdfunding site Patreon wants to support you.
Patreon, like Kickstarter, allows people to pledge money to support a large project. But unlike Kickstarter, Patreon support is ongoing; your patrons agree to make small, regular contributions (such as $1 per story, or $5 per month), and you receive a monthly check in exchange for creating regular work.
I’m using Patreon to fund the first draft of my novel, The Biographies of Ordinary People. I earn $355.35 per month through the generous support of 46 patrons, who get to read new chapters of my novel every Tuesday and Thursday.
But I wanted to learn how to use Patreon more effectively. So I talked to Sharon Lee about her successes and advice for new writers. Along with her husband and writing partner, Steve Miller, she earns $1,800.99 per month from Patreon supporters.
I also reached out to Heather Wilder, Creator Care Specialist and Jordan Cope, Creator Discovery at Patreon to ask them how writers can use the site to get funding, build a team of supportive readers and grow their writing careers.
Who can use Patreon?
Patreon recently released a new guide to starting writing projects, where they list a number of successful Patreon writers, including bloggers, short-story writers, podcasters and magazine publishers.
In short: If you release a written product on a regular schedule, you have what you need to start a Patreon.
Bloggers, that means you. Novelists? Do what I’m doing and release a chapter at a time. Anything from a poem a week to a quarterly magazine can find a home on Patreon.
What if you’re a brand-new writer? You might not have a lot of readers yet, but that doesn’t mean you can’t set up your Patreon page and get started.
“I would tell writers who want to try Patreon to go ahead and see what happens, because you won’t know until you do,” Lee told me.
Cope agreed. “Since there’s honestly no risk in setting up a page, it’s a great way to gather momentum for your projects and to give yourself a concrete structure. It also helps to generate an open dialogue with your fans!”
How to build your community
What if you don’t have many fans yet? That’s OK. Making a good product is only one part of success on Patreon. The other part is community-building.
Lee warns writers you might not receive a lot of support right away. “Though the Internet may have facilitated artists connecting with their supporters, it still takes time to grow an audience,” she said.
How much time? Lee said that many of her Patreon supporters had been fans of her and her husband’s work for more than 20 years. Many of us don’t want to wait 20 years before launching our Patreons, but you can start to build your community within the site.
“Asking for support can sometimes feel intimidating, so a great place to start is asking friends and family,” Wilder said.
You probably already know a few readers and fans of your work, so ask them for support. Once they’re on board, focus on creating solid, consistent work.
“The keyword I always highlight is consistency,” Cope said. “Consistency in update releases, consistency in quality, consistency in audience engagement; all of these give your page a ton of validity and success, and foster a dedicated community of patrons.”
Wilder agreed, noting that you should also build community by posting on a regular schedule.
“Stick to a schedule of writing — whether it’s once a week, a month, whatever works best for you as a creator,” she said. “It’s important to be consistent so your fans, family and friends can fall into the routine of knowing exactly when you release new material.”
How does consistent, regular work build a community? Every time you share a good piece of writing with your patrons, they have the chance to retweet and share it with their friends.
You can also reblog your Patreon writing on your writer’s website or on a social blog site like Tumblr or Medium — with a link back to your Patreon, of course!
I recently published a chapter of The Biographies of Ordinary People on Boing Boing, and I’m going to continue to reach out to other blogs and writing sites to share and promote my work.
The other half of community-building is conversation.
Don’t just use your Patreon for writing; engage with your patrons by asking them questions or inviting them to contribute suggestions for future work.
Post writing selfies, record short videos, do livestream Q&As — anything that starts a conversation with your patrons is a great way to help your community grow.
How to reward your community
Patreon, like Kickstarter, gives creators the opportunity to offer rewards at various levels of pledge support.
Lee advises writers avoid offering so many rewards that they get in the way of the actual writing. She said that her fans “wrote and asked us not to provide ‘extras,’ but to concentrate on our work. That was the value they saw in the arrangement.”
Cope echoed that advice, suggesting writers focus on rewards that are focused on their work and easy to fulfill, like, “Google Hangouts to discuss their work and answer questions about development, writing tips, private blog posts that are for patrons only, and annotated PDFs of their writing.”
I offer my patrons both a monthly advice column and an annotated version of The Biographies of Ordinary People, which are both cost-effective ways to give readers a little bit extra. I also offer my highest-level patrons a hand-painted mug, which is the one reward that I pay out of pocket to fulfill — but the contributions from my patrons more than cover the cost.
Now that you have information about how to start a Patreon, how to build a community and how to reward community members, let’s start a conversation about Patreon in the comments.
I’m happy to answer any questions you have about setting funding levels, creating funding goals, writing your Patreon copy and any of the other details involved in a successful Patreon writing project.
Have you ever considered launching a Patreon? What type of Patreon project would you like to create?