This Author Used Patreon to Raise Almost $7,000 To Write Her Book

This Author Used Patreon to Raise Almost $7,000 To Write Her Book

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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?


  • Dayna Colvin says:

    Hi Nicole,
    Thank you for writing this helpful article. I appreciate it very much. I’m a creative writer and I am about to launch my beautiful patreon and your tips help a lot and are very inspiring. Keep up the great work!

    Dayna Colvin

  • Adrijus G. says:

    Good to see Patreon working for writers. Hope it’s gonna grow in popularity and helpfulness. Still relatively undiscovered thing for most ‘average’ people.

  • Megan Harris says:

    Very cool! I worked with a writer last year that ran a Kickstarter. That’s how she was able to pay for my services and publish book 2 in her series. 🙂

    I know a few others who have played around with the idea of having a Patreon. It’s not something that would work well for everyone, but it could! If a writer felt they had enough they could offer at every payment level as well as a big fan base and a good plan for marketing, it could definitely be helpful!

  • Gillian May says:

    hi! i am still student but i’m working to support my study and i’m willing to write a fiction story which that is what i love… i am asking if i can write here just to have money

  • ephraim says:

    I am a very enthusiastic late bloomer who hasn’t bloomed yet but will do o soon,especially after reading your life changing story.I am self- teaching to write and use a computer as well as navigate the waters of the writers’ world,your invaluable tip and advice will get me there.

  • Anna Fani says:

    I looked into opening a Patreon account a few months ago but felt it came close to begging.

    Additionally, if I have to put in so much work into building a community on there, I can put just as much work into building the same community through my websites and sell products the conventional way as Trish suggested.

    I haven’t closed the door completely and it’s great to hear feedback from a fellow writer.

  • CarinaK says:

    The last thing Trish said is exactly what I am worried about.
    You said you have to bring your fans to Patreon, but how do I built such a community in the first place?

  • I am of the generation before crowdfunding, and I am still not sure what to make of it.

    On the one hand, it can sound like a creative way of structuring the monetization process for worthy endeavors, of providing safety nets, and of spreading the costs of various social goods over a wide and willing base.

    On the other hand, it comes awfully close to begging, and runs the risk of creating donor fatigue or, even worse, fostering outright fraud, either of which could bring the whole system to a grinding halt.

    I think the Patreon model has the potential to avoid some of the pitfalls by linking payment directly to production. Certainly, this article presents a persuasive success story. Having had the experience years ago of getting up early to write before going to a day job (day after day after day), I can see the appeal of having the writing time paid for as one goes instead of having to wait for the project to be finished before hoping to make the first penny. In the conventional, pre-crowdfunding model, each project is funded by the one before, except the first one, which has to be struggled through while getting income by other means. Skipping that struggle sounds great.

    However, there can be no question that it takes a lot of advance work to accumulate enough followers to make the system function. I wonder if once a person has enough fans to use this method of funding, it might be just as workable to sell products by more conventional means so that each chunk of the writing time is again bought by the previous project. Does the crowdfunding model really get you ahead of the game at all, by the time you account for the time and effort invested in building a fan base to provide the support?

    Trish O’Connor
    Epiclesis Consulting LLC

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