What’s the #1 roadblock stopping people from writing their novels?
For some people, it’s writer’s block: I don’t have an idea, I don’t know what should happen next, etc. (If that’s you, I recommend reading Monica Leonelle’s guide to beating writer’s block and getting back to your novel.)
For the rest of us, it’s generally time.
Writing takes a lot more time than many people realize, even when you have your ideas and your outlines in place; if you’re doing NaNoWriMo, for example, and want to write 50,000 words in a month, it’ll take roughly 14 hours just to type all of those words, assuming you type around 60 WPM. (That’s one word every second.)
Most of us — even those of us who type closer to 100 WPM — aren’t able to get 50,000 words out in a row without at least some time spent considering aspects like character motivation, plot, and symbolism, which is why very few people are able to write a complete novel in just 14 hours and why a lot of people who start NaNoWriMo aren’t able to complete their novel in an entire month. (If that’s you, I recommend reading these tips from NaNoWriMo veterans.)
It took me 18 months to draft the two volumes of my novel, The Biographies of Ordinary People.
I wrote 177,000 words — or about 9,800 words per month — which put me at a way slower pace than the writers who complete NaNoWriMo.
But I could afford to take that much time to write my draft, because I had support from readers and fans who were funding the novel through Patreon.
How Patreon works
Patreon is a crowdfunding site that allows supporters to pledge ongoing support to creators.
Unlike Kickstarter, where supporters pledge a single dollar amount towards a specific project, Patreon is designed to give creators access to continuous, long-term support that comes directly from their fans.
Creators have the opportunity to set up their Patreon in one of two ways: either they collect support “per thing,” which means that every time they release a new “thing” (say, a chapter of their novel) their supporters are charged the amount they chose to pledge (say, $1) — or they collect support per month, which means that supporters are charged the same pledge amount every month regardless of how many things are created.
As with Kickstarter, Patreon creators have the opportunity to create different pledge tiers and grant supporters access to certain rewards if they pledge at a certain level.
I’ve written about how writers can use Patreon before, so take a look at that article if you want to learn more about how Patreon works and how different types of writers are using it to fund their creative projects.
This time, I want to look specifically at how I used Patreon to fund The Biographies of Ordinary People, and why my Patreon project helped me prepare the novel for publication.
Using Patreon to test viability
When I started my Patreon project in July 2015, I had two primary goals:
- Earning the time required to write Biographies. I’m a full-time freelance writer, so I knew if I didn’t create a situation in which I was earning money for drafting my novel, I’d take that writing time and “sell it” to a freelance client instead.
- Determining if my novel was worth reading. How do you know if a novel is both good and financially viable? I used Patreon to see if people were literally willing to pay to read it.
At the beginning of the project, I released my draft chapters to my Patreon supporters, but also made the chapters available via Tumblr, in the hopes that sharing my novel for free would inspire people to support the Patreon.
After I finished drafting the first half of Biographies, I announced that I would no longer be sharing chapters for free; the only way to read future chapters would be through my Patreon.
When people pledged their support to continue reading my story, I knew I had a book that was both good and worth paying for.
Earning my “advance”
The average advance for a debut author is between $5,000-$15,000, and that money generally only comes after the author has written and revised their manuscript, obtained an agent and sold the manuscript to a publishing house.
A traditional author advance is also generally “against royalties,” which means the author does not earn any more money from their book until the book has sold enough copies that the author’s share of the royalties is greater than the amount of their advance.
Over the 18 months it took me to draft what became The Biographies of Ordinary People, Vols. 1 and 2, I earned $6,909 in Patreon support.
Through Patreon, I was able to earn my “advance” before I even finished my novel.
No matter what happened next with the draft, I already had financial proof that my novel was saleable. I had money in my pocket that wasn’t dependent on an agent or a publishing house saying yes to my work, and I didn’t have to wait to earn out a royalty before I could start earning more money on my book.
This meant I could approach the publication process differently. I began the process the way many authors do: by querying agents and sending out partial and full manuscripts as requested. However, I also looked very carefully at the economics of self-publishing, and considered whether what I knew about Biographies — that it was a story people were willing to pay to read, and that it had already earned what many debut authors earn for their first manuscript — meant that it would also work as a self-published novel.
Ultimately, I chose self-publishing — and if you’d like the details and the mathematics involved in that decision, I wrote a very long post about it for The Billfold.
I set up a mailing list, developed a media outreach strategy, and just opened up pre-orders for the first volume of The Biographies of Ordinary People, which is scheduled to publish this summer. (If you like stories about family, friendship and art, it’s for you.)
Advice to writers considering Patreon
If you’d like to use Patreon to fund your own writing, whether you want to write a novel or whether you want to support your short story or essay writing, here is my advice:
1. Know why you are launching a Patreon — and tell your supporters
Are you using Patreon to “buy time” to write a novel, like I did? Are you using it to fund your short story habit? Are you testing whether a project has financial potential?
Here’s how I opened my Patreon pitch:
Hi! I’m Nicole Dieker, and I’m a full-time freelance writer. I write about five short articles per day for a number of websites you might recognize including The Billfold, Boing Boing, SparkLife and The Penny Hoarder.
I’m asking you to help me write something bigger. It’s a story I’ve wanted to tell for a long time, called The Biographies of Ordinary People.
I clarified why the project was important and why I needed Patreon support. I also restated both of these objectives and expanded on them in my Patreon video.
2. Get your supporters before you launch your Patreon, and think about how you’ll attract new supporters over time
A lot of creators make the mistake of thinking that joining Patreon will get them supporters.
You have to bring your own supporters to Patreon, which means you need at least a small readership or “platform” before you start a Patreon project.
When you launch your Patreon, your initial round of support will come from your current readership. If you want more support, you’ll need a plan to expand and grow that readership.
In my case, I began including Biographies in many of my freelancing bios, as well as my social media bios. I also had an early chapter of Biographies published on Boing Boing.
When I did interviews about freelancing, I made sure to mention that I was writing a novel.
Because of this work, my Patreon support steadily increased as more and more people learned about the project.
3. Understand how much work you’re taking on, and deliver what you promise
When I started my Patreon, I originally planned to release one chapter of Biographies per week — and then upped it to two chapters because I thought I could handle it.
This was a smart move in terms of “getting the novel done twice as fast,” but it also meant that, during the 18 months the Patreon was running, I had to write two chapters every week. I blocked off time just for those chapters, as well as backup time in case something unexpected happened.
Delivering my two chapters became just as important as any other freelance deadline.
When you set up a Patreon, your readers — often your biggest fans — also become your clients.
You’ve promised them a certain amount of work, and you need to deliver that work on time. This work includes Patreon rewards, so factor that into your planning. If you promise your $10 supporters an advice column vlog, like I did, you’ll need to block off time to make the vlog.
Your supporters will nearly always forgive you if you’re late now and then, but what you don’t want to do is ask people for financial support and then not deliver on the project. So understand exactly what you’re getting into before you get started.
4. Have an exit strategy
What happens if only three people sign up for your Patreon? What happens if your Patreon’s doing really well but you get an unbelievable client assignment that will take all of your time for the next month? What happens if you run a Patreon for 18 months and finish your novel?
When you start your Patreon, start thinking about how you’ll end it.
Patreons are designed to go on “forever,” so you can keep your support for as long as you need it — but at some point you may not want to write two short stories every month, or you may decide the money you’re earning from the Patreon isn’t worth the time you’re putting into it.
So think about how you’ll know when it’s time to quit. You don’t want to be the person with the Patreon that hasn’t released any new content in a year, after all; that’s like having a blog that hasn’t been updated in months.
In my case, I included the following note at the top of my Patreon profile:
NOTE: THIS PROJECT IS FINISHED. I will continue posting updates as the book moves towards publication in Summer 2017, but I will no longer be releasing items for which patrons will be charged.
Please sign up for my TinyLetter for information on pre-order dates, tour dates, etc.
Also, and most importantly: THANK YOU.
The “thank you” part is important, because I am so thankful that a group of supporters gave me the time to write the novel I’d dreamed about writing for years.
When the first volume of The Biographies of Ordinary People is published, it’ll be dedicated to them.
Have you ever considered crowdfunding a novel or another writing project? Would you consider using Patreon to fund your work?