Before You Launch a Patreon for Your Writing, Read This

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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?

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Nicole Dieker is a freelance copywriter and essayist. She writes regularly for The Billfold on the intersection of freelance writing and personal finance, and her work has also appeared in The Toast, Yearbook Office, and Boing Boing.... .

Nicole Dieker | @hellothefuture

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Comments

  1. Is there any consensus on whether or not posting chapters on Patreon as they’re finished has an effect on sales of the completed work?

    • Are you talking self pub or trad pub? Jane Friedman has a blog post about how it doesn’t make that much difference for trad pub. http://writerunboxed.com/stop-being-afraid-of-posting-your-work-online/

    • Guy Riessen says:

      I don’t know of any consensus for self-publishing, but I can tell you straight out the mathematics are undeniable. If a patron is paying $1 per month for pre-release chapters and they get the entire book that way, and do not buy have you lost anything?

      A standard novel length book would probably take at least 3 months, released 1 chapter at a time, right? So a minimum of $3 is spent by your patron. Kindle Direct authors get 70% for epub, and most authors price their ebooks at $2.99. So from a single ebook sale, the author gets $2.09.

      Your patron who never buys your book any other way, has paid you the full price plus at least an extra $0.90.

      Now, all that said, it’s possible you might run into rights problems if you write short-stories and end up wanting to submit one of your Patreon offerings to a magazine or anthology which only wants unpublished material and pays for first publishing rights.

      Whether something published for a Patreon audience *only* is technically published is a gray area. If you posted the story on a blog, it is considered electronically published, and you cannot sell an e-mag the first electronic publishing rights. But a Patreon audience is closer to a critique group, which does not count as published because it is private and actually illegal to distribute.

      Nicole, thanks for this great article!

  2. Nicole, this is really interesting. I keep considering Patreon but have always come up against stumbling blocks like not having enough of an audience yet, feeling like I couldn’t publish … wouldn’t supporters feel like they got a bum deal in some way if you later release a book for less than what they ended up paying for it? I guess they’re choosing their level of support so maybe not. A lot to think about either way. Thanks for a great article. 🙂

  3. Thanks for this thought provoking article! I’d like to try Patreon but in all honesty it just feels too cheeky. Like… who on earth do I think I am to ask people to pay me money every month, if that makes sense? Especially when I’m only at the beginning of my journey (though I think it’s a lovely way to support skilled creatives and see it working successfully – just not me!). I guess, even though I have a rapidly growing and diverse creative portfolio, I feel I’m not ‘worth’ it. …. how did/would you overcome feeling inadequate? :-/ Would you still think it worth a punt? I’d welcome your thoughts on that 🙂

  4. Interesting. Thank you for sharing this information.

  5. Meg would benefit from reading and doing the exercises in Julia Cameron’s classic book “The Artist’s Way.” It’s enlightening and empowering for creatives of all types, and has sold MILLIONS of copies. Buy a used copy the the 10th anniversary edition. I’m not affiliated with the book in any way, but have benefited from it and recommend it highly. Merry Christmas and many good wishes for a fabulous 2016!

  6. A Question, but first a thought to Meg. Write a story that involves a character with unworthiness issues. The more insight you bring to light via that character the clearer you will see the belief pattern in you. In my experience, the motivations of every character is created by something from within myself.

    And the question: Since editing is such a huge part of the finished product, and final story decisions sometimes unfold after several edits, how is it possible to release chapters as they’re written? Are others in the writing community finding they can write a sufficiently polished piece on the first go round? (Meg, I am feeling unworthy.)

    And to Nicole, thanks for the article.

    • I feel the same: it can take me weeks to finally be happy ( yet never completely) with what I am working on. There is always room for improvement and time to let a manuscript rest before a final review is a step I never overlook.

    • I have the same issue. I have book two of my novel series (5 in the pipelines) in second draft, but I know that i’m going to go through the entire book at least 5 more times after I think it is finished. And then my editor will get to it and I will go through and rewrite it again. I don’t see how I could publish a chapter at a time. On the other hand, that’s how Charles Dickens wrote most of his novels. Problem is, I’m not Charles Dickens.

    • Exactly my thought.

      If your final novel is just drafts of chapters bundled up into a book, it ain’t gonna be very good. Anyone who is happy with what they have written when they look at it a month or a year later is delusional or lazy.

  7. Trey McIntosh says:

    I always wanted to start a patreon for what I’m writing, and the extra support can help me take it in new directions. I was never sure how to get started. Do you have any advice?

  8. I’m wondering why they didn’t answer your question Trey??? I’d like to know how to get started also.

  9. I am 78 years old, I am writing novels but I cant afford the price that publishers want in America to publish my books although they have seen one of the books title PANIC. they liked it and would love to publish it. However the price I can’t afford.

    I was considering selling chapter by chapter if anyone can tell me ideas I would welcome it. My second book is called The Marriage Triangle. Both these books have been written this year now I am on my third book which is a true life book. title Always In my Heart. Its a true life story novel based on real people.

    • I would consider using createspace.com for publishing your whole book. It is almost basically free to publish your book there. Also if you wanted to publish your book chapter by chapter I would consider kindle the way to go for that strategy. The website is kdp.amazon.com. I hope this helps.

      • Thank you very good information, thank you.

        kind regards

        DONALD SCOTT

        • You should also consider publishing on Amazon KDP in digital form (ebook). As a Select member or not, select is exclusive amazon and I recommend it for a new author. You can still sell printed versions yourself, through CreateSpace or any other service you so choose, only the digital version of your book needs to be exclusive with Amazon when you go KDP Select. With Select, you have access to readers who only pay a subscription, so they won’t pay reading your books, but Amazon pays you per each page read on the book (around 0.0045-48$ per page), it may seem small but it will allow people to sample your writing, cause it is not a financial risk for them to do so. Publishing with Amazon also won’t cost you a dime and you can reach your audience. I would still suggest you have your books edited and proofread professionally. That will cost some amount of money, but if you want to keep readers happy you’ll want to do it. Both you and your readers will be happy about the result of a properly edited, formatted and proof-checked book. There are very good quality/price ratio services out there. You may need to switch editors/proofreaders a few times until you find that works best for you.

          And last but not least, a professionally designed cover art will greatly help new readers to trust the content, sample it or simply take a chance and borrow (unlimited customer for your select books) /buy it.

          Don’t hesitate to visit my site, I propose relatively cheap but professional covers to authors (especially if you choose an image I have as-is, custom made artwork will be more expensive), and if you need names for good editors / proofreaders, send me an email request and I will gladly direct you to the ones I use/trust. You can also contact me anytime if you have any question about self publishing, I have released 5 books (4 novels & 1 novella) on Amazon in the last 10 months, so I’m starting to get the hang of it ;).

          Good luck in your writing endeavor Donald,
          Cheers,

          Christian

    • I have read time and time again, authors saying NEVER pay to have your book published. A reputable publisher pays YOU. Those that ask for money are vanity presses and most serious authors dislike them, as do many readers, I understand.

      If you can’t find a publisher to publish your book, then go with self publishing. I’ve used Amazon (Kindle and CreateSpace) as well as Smashwords. The formatting I found quite easy with their help, but if you find it too difficult there are people out there who will do it for you.

      The down side is that you need to do all the marketing yourself, so you need a website, blog, twitter account and facebook account at the least. Google+ and LinkedIn are also good. I’m also on Goodreads, although I’ve not really come to grips with it.

      Good web/blog sites are Wordpress and Blogger. Absolutely free.

      Sorry this is so far behind, but I’ve only just received an email about the on-going conversation.

    • Donald Scott. Inspiring to hear about your writing. I don’t know which publishers you are talking to, but if they want you to pay them, they are not real publishers.

      The KDP advice is a great option for digital. I’ve heard good things about Createspace. I self-publish through Ingram Spark, who print my books for me in any quantity I want, starting with just one. They supply Amazon directly for me and they are excellent to work with.

  10. Thanks for the information. However, if you are posting, say, a chapter per week as you write, it won’t be properly edited and will probably change by the time it’s published as a book. Does that seem fair?

    • Hello!

      To answer Viv, I think it’s something similar to people buying a beta version of a video game in support of developers (indie developers in particular use this strategy to gain needed funds).

      Beta game releases are usually still full of bugs (akin to not properly edited) but supporters will buy that game because they are confident that the developer makes quality products and even if the version they bought will still need some tweaks, the supporters believe that it will still be worth their money.

      Guess what I’m saying is it’s not about fairness, at least from my perspective as a reader. It’s about keeping readers content with the quality of a writer’s work enough to encourage ongoing support, even if a weekly update will mean that the work isn’t exactly stellar by publication standards.

      • Interesting idea. I’m in the process of writing the second in a series of five comic fantasy novels, and my readers are bugging me for volume two. I know it’s not going to be finished for a year or so, and they don’t want to wait that long. I do have chapters ready, though of course they will go through further editing as some point. However, they are quite presentable, and it would be a nice way to keep readers happy and hungry during the longer process of getting the final version done.

    • Releasing periodically and giving readers time to comment also allows them to feel included in the process so that they can give feedback on what they liked, didn’t like, and the chance to have a voted character or situation worked into the work. M.C.A. Hogarth is an example of this with her various series.

  11. The only time I’ve ever heard of Patreon was on Joanna Penn’s podcast, so I considered it an audio-only platform. I’m glad to see that I was wrong on that account, and look forward to trying out my own Patreon campaign! Thanks for a great post.

  12. If anyone would like to give me ideas how I can self publish, your views would be very welcome. My problem is I am a very good writer and I believe many of my books will be adopted to the film area. The problem is my income at the moment is only £140 per week so any ideas would be welcome.

    • Don’t do film. First publish as ebook as a novel then sell on Amazon. ebooks are the new way. Printed books will soon become antiques. Maybe way in the future someone will option the book for a film but that is a hard long process. By selling as an ebook you can at least start making money. A great way to promote your book is to set up tables at indie book stores as well. Just have a flier with a link to the ebook. Coffee shops too. Get out in the world and promote and share yourself as a writer.

    • See my comment earlier in answer to this question (on Dec 24th post.)

  13. Great post and responses. Never heard of Patreon, but it sounds interesting. So, it’s like kickstarter for writers? Not sure what I would do about this information. Guess I’ll check out their website.

    Thx

  14. Okereke Matthew Chukwunaenye says:

    I am an unknown writer from Africa. My genre is in science fiction and I find it difficult to generate interest in my work at home but not much attention. Can i be accepted by using Patreon? I already have the manuscripts ready and the work is a six part chronology. Advice need or help. I am sometimes discourage from the inability to project my work. The first part, La Chimaera Protocol – The End Game Gamble, is on http://www.createspace.com/3558194.

    • Hi there, I write novels but can not find the money to publish them. This year I have wrote a book called Panic and another one called The Marriage Triangle. I am on my third book which is a true life story book which involves my life story plus something of my friend Elvis and another singer Francis Lea who was one of the Vernon Girls. I am 78 years old. the Book will be called Always In My Heart.
      Merry Christmas to you.

      • Make it an ebook and sell on Amazon. Publish the chapters on a blog with an add to buy the full book on the blog and links at the end of each chapter. Put a patreon ad on the blog as well and below each chapter.

      • Don’t EVER pay a publisher to publish. Those that ask you to do so are VANITY presses. Self publish if you can’t find a proper publisher. Pay for editing, cover design etc, but not publishing.

  15. Marlene McPherson says:

    I like this post. It is interesting and informative. As usual you have given great advice. I would like you to clarify two pointers for me. When the contents are created does it still belong the creator? I am not too clear about this.
    I went on site and I like it. I am currently writing a memoir for someone but he has no source of income to pay and he is unable to write it but he has a compelling story so I think this site would be a good fit for it. What do you think? Anticipate your response.

  16. My question is: is it safe? Are my works secure? Can other people steal them, or the ideas for their own purposes?

  17. Could you use this to give your readers more insights into your characters in a specific manner. For instance, if the protagonist begins his or her journey at age 25, you could give tidbits to your supporters in exchange for their support, perhaps write bits of stuff you don’t intend to publish, but can be written quickly and feed the readers love of the characters you write about.

    I think giving a signed copy of a book for those pledging a fair bit per month is one idea, plus giving them a signed copy of every book thereafter in exchange for their ongoing support. There’s tonnes of things you could do IMO.

  18. Guys I think many of you are missing the point of Patreon. It’s not necessarily just to get paid for finished works but to give your fans, a way to support you (like a patron in the old days.) So the idea is that you can just do your work (unfinished or otherwise) and people who believe in you or see talent in you have a vehicle to support you. Believe me, this is a revolutionary solution that can help many artist. As far as selling the finished book and worrying that they already paid, that is not the case. They donated to your cause to support you as a writer/artist. The final selling of the finished work is totally separate. They are not buying your work. They are supporting you as an artist.

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