Business Musings: Patreon

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I finally started a Patreon account for this blog. Many of you had asked, but every time I looked at Patreon, I froze.

Part of the problem is Patreon’s guide for writers. It’s rather lame. I’m not interested in doing anything they suggest.

Part of the problem is me as well. I looked at the Patreon’s for some of my favorite writers. I love that Judith Tarr gets over $1,000 per month for her horse musings and her wonderful fiction.  I’m rather gobsmacked that Seanan McGuire can get $7,000 (roughly) whenever she produces a short story or N. K. Jemisin receives about $5,000 per month from her supporters.

Let me clarify my surprise: My surprise does not come from the quality of the work offered. These women are excellent writers. N.K. Jemisin writes wonderful stories and novels. I’ve published Seanan McGuire in Fiction River. I’ve read and loved Judith Tarr’s work for years and years, and have included her in some Storybundles I’ve curated. All three women deserve every dime and more.

Here’s what surprises me: I’m surprised that these three writers (and dozens more) are willing to have Patreon accounts for their fiction. I’m such a delicate flower that I worry about having anyone involved in my fiction-making process. That I think Patreon support is reader involvement is clearly my problem, but I can’t get that thought out of my head. If I had a Patreon that promised me $7000 every time I finished a short story, I would write novels. Seriously, I am that contrary about my fiction. And it’s been a part of my process since I was a teenager.

So, every time I tried to sign up for a general Support Kris on Patreon! account, I backed away.

Then I wrote Closing The Deal aka the contracts book. I have sent an ebook to all the people who donated while I wrote the book. I had to reinvent the wheel, making sure the addresses I have from PayPal are in a newsletter form. I used MailChimp, and cheated a little, because I asked those of you who donated to join my newsletter for at least a month while I got this all settled.

I still had to compare and contrast addresses, make sure I was using the correct subset of newsletter folk, and design everything.

I found myself thinking, If only I had been on Patreon while writing the book.

Then I thought of my early adopter post from October. In that post, I noted that early adopters often get stuck in the old versions of technology, because the adopters have moved on to other things. (Adopting something new, early.) Which kinda describes me here. Sorta.

In 2010, when I had finished the first edition of The Freelancer’s Survival Guide, I sent ebook copies to everyone who donated to that blog. I sent the emails one by one, with an attachment—no help from a newsletter or MailChimp or Patreon. That really was inventing the wheel, and it was my only choice back in them thare olden days.

There was only one good email newsletter program at the time and it was spendy. Patreon did not exist. And I figured sending The Freelancer’s Survival Guide was a one-time thing.

Until I decided to write the updated contracts book and got so much help from all of you. At that point, I realized that this version of the contracts book would not have existed without the readers of this blog, and the people who helped me deserved a free copy of the book.

I sent that book to everyone who helped using newer technology than I had used with the Freelancer’s Guide, but certainly not the best technology. And the kicker was that I knew exactly what the best technology was and how I could use it.

Really, I thought midway through my odyssey, I need to join the modern era (all of six years later). I need to join Patreon.

I still dithered. I couldn’t figure out how to say Support Kris! I would say to anyone who listened: I’m just not that person. Besides, everything I do is so eclectic.

(Note the whining. Cue the sad music.)

Then I drove from my home in Lincoln City into Newport, forty minutes away down the breathtaking Oregon Coast. I was listening to Oregon Public Broadcasting on the radio, and getting more and more annoyed.

You see, they were doing their quarterly funding drive, which just irritates the spit out of me. They’re fundraising the way I did thirty-five years ago for WORT in Madison, Wisconsin. OPB mentions its online fundraising site, but the announcers interrupt the programming continually to harangue listeners to join. The announcers use giveaways to entice, just like we used to do.

I kept thinking about another radio station I listen to every night at home. Jazz24 streams worldwide. The station is physically located in Washington State. I had discovered the station in 2014, and fell in love. Then a crisis hit. Jazz24, a public radio station, lost its university sponsor, got bought by another university, and was about to be shut down.

The saga played out in public in Washington State, but also on the airwaves. In February of 2016, Jazz24 started making occasional announcements—short, public service type announcements—saying that they needed to raise seven million dollars to buy out the radio license from one of the universities (why this even had to happen has to do with the vagaries of radio licensing and the placement on the free broadcast spectrum for radio, not streaming, and I’m not going to go into the details here).

The little PSA always ended with a single line: support Jazz24 on their website, They had a June 30th deadline to raise that kind of money. I’ve done radio fundraising (not just in the Midwest, but in Oregon too), and I thought Jazz24 had given themselves an impossible task. I kept clicking on the fundraising bar to see if I was going to lose yet another favorite radio station.

Long story short, they raised the money, and bought the license. Then, this fall, they ran another funding campaign—a much more standard quarterly fundraising goal of $40,000. They did it. But they don’t interrupt programming. They just made their little announcement, they added their goal, and the deadline, and let listeners take it from there.

Now that this particular drive has ended, I hear one fundraising call per evening session. It comes at the end of their station ID at midnight Pacific Time.

It’s lovely, non-intrusive, and more importantly, doesn’t interrupt the very reason I’m listening to the station. (You hear that, OPB?) Back in the bad old days of fundraising, we had to hold programming hostage to get money. Not any more. There are new ways to do this, new ways to fundraise, and new ways—Kris, you listening?—to fund a blog.

Sigh. I hate it when my subconscious slaps me around.

I had to start analyzing why I couldn’t pull the trigger on a Patreon account.

It came back to what I could comfortably ask for–and what I wanted the account for. Searching other people’s Patreons only confused me. Everyone had great ideas and did great things, but I couldn’t see myself doing things like that for long. Or if I did, I could see those things consuming me and my time.

However, the whole Jazz24/OPB comparison made me realize that my publishing blog was a different entity than my fiction was. I had always treated my blog that way. I put a donate button on the blog from the very first post in April of 2009.

I even wrote my Please donate pitch in what I consider to be my radio voice. I’ve done reader/listener supported nonfiction my entire life. That’s a place where outsiders fit into my writing. My nonfiction writing is better for the reader/listener participation. I could ask for nonfiction support, and it wouldn’t bother my delicate flower self.

Once I had that goal in mind, I decided to set up Patreon. I tried and tried and tried to do a video, with me on camera, asking for support. Have you ever seen the public radio people show up on the sister public television station during the TV station’s on-air fundraisers. The TV people are relaxed. They know where the camera is. They look like…well…like TV people.

The radio people look like someone just released them from a three-day camping trip that no one wanted to go on. Their eyes are wild, their hands go every which way, and their clothes aren’t ready for prime time.

Welcome to Kris trying to do a video about Kris. I didn’t just look dorky. I sounded hesitant and reluctant and slightly crazed…because I was.

Again, I realized that I’m a behind-the-scenes woman. (Back when a friend tried to hire me at this start up called Cable News Network [which you folks now know as CNN], he and I both agreed that I would be so much better off-camera than on. Yeah, this problem has existed from the dawn of Kris in front of cameras.) I had two choices. I could leave off the video altogether. Or I could do a Kris-style one.

I opted for Kris-style. Here it is. I had a hell of a lot of fun with it. And I think the fun part counts.

Then I had to consider the rewards. That was difficult too, because the last thing I wanted to do was what happened to some of my friends. They spend all of their time feeding their Patreon account and not doing work for anything else.

I wanted Patreon to support what I was already doing, not become a thing in and of itself. When I gave extras, I wanted that to be easy—something I would have done anyway, like giving Closing The Deal to all the people who had helped me with the book in one way or another.

So, I came up with all of that. Wrote it all, and tried a few things as I set up the Patreon account. I’ve already made some changes, because I’m learning.

In fact, I held off with this post until I knew that I could sustain a Patreon account. I also wanted to make sure I could do it in a way that I liked, and my readers liked.

I still have some modifications in mind. I plan to start podcasting in 2017. (Don’t get excited: I planned to start in 2016, too, but the year got away from me.) When I do start podcasting, my Patreon will reflect that. Asking people to support a radio-style program is so deep in my wheelhouse that I can (and have) done it in my sleep.

What I am not going to do is include my fiction in the Patreon as a reward or as something that allows readers to have input. At the $3 and above level, Judy Tarr says this on her Patreon:

New fiction every month, for patrons only. And patrons help decide what I write.

Just typing that in sends me off screaming into the night. What I finally realized, after a lot of thought, is that I write nonfiction for other people. If I get to podcasting, again, I’ll do it with listeners in mind, not just to hear the sound of my own voice.

I write fiction for me. It’s one of the most purely selfish things I do. Even when I wrote tie-ins, I only wrote tie-ins for projects I liked—or thought I would like. I made a few missteps, and whoa, boy, did that come back to bite me.

I would feel obligated to the patrons if I got paid thousands for every short story I finished. If a group wanted me to write a fantasy novel next, I would write that fantasy novel, until I ground down because fantasy wasn’t what I wanted to write. And then I would blow up the whole experiment. I don’t write fiction on demand.

Even when I wrote on deadline for traditional publishers, I was writing what I had proposed, on a project I wanted to do. Sometimes that was dicey. For example, I did not want to write a Grayson book (light fantasy romance) while dealing with a family crisis, but I had to because I had a deadline. I ran into several situations like that over the years, and I always dealt with them by clearing my palate with short stories or a novel that wasn’t under contract.

And, frankly, I hated writing fiction to deadline. Hated, hated, hated it. I don’t mind writing nonfiction to deadline. Some of that is training, but much of it is, simply, I do the fiction for me.

So if I feel like veering off a fiction project to do a different fiction project, like I did in November, I don’t feel guilty. I do feel a time pressure that is wholly internal. I want to get back to the other project when the side project is done. It works for me.

As I said above, I’m an early adopter. When Patreon started in 2013, I immediately went over to the site and tried to figure out if I could use it. I came up with some ideas for Fiction River (which we haven’t implemented yet), but nothing for me. In fact, I could not figure out how to use Patreon at all.

Early adopter, yes, who decided not to adopt early.

Now, three years later, I finally figured out what my internal hold-up was, and how I could best use Patreon. That doesn’t mean I believe everyone should use Patreon.

Patreon, like all these shiny new toys that have become available for artists in the past six or seven years, is a tool for artists who feel they need that tool. It’s not a should—something every writer should do. It’s an opportunity only if it fits into the writer’s vision.

Patreon fits into my nonfiction and podcasting visions. I don’t think—right now, December 2016—that it fits into my fiction-writing vision. I may change my mind down the road—I’m nothing if not adaptable on these things—but right now, it’s a strictly non-fiction thing for me.

I’m still learning this platform. I may do another Patreon update down the road. I can’t present myself as any kind of expert on Patreon at the moment. I’ve dipped one toe into Patreon at the moment. I’m not sure if I’ll ever do a total-immersion in this particular platform.

But I love that it’s there, and I’m happy that I finally figured out how to use it. And once again, I owe that to you readers. So many of you asked me when (not if) I would open a Patreon account that I finally crossed over and did it.

So thank you.

One of the changes I made as I got deeper into having a Patreon was to make sure that the PayPal donate button is still on this blog. Not everyone who wants to dig into their pocket to support the blog wants to commit to a regular payment. Sometimes you just want to leave a dollar in the jar as a thank-you.

The donate button exists for that, primarily. If you want to donate a substantial amount (as some of you have done in the past), I would rather you do it through Patreon, so I can send you something cool in an easy way—when that something cool becomes available.

Please do me a favor if you do send a donation through PayPal. PayPal has changed their interface so that I can’t send an email acknowledgement for the donation. I don’t get the supporter’s email address at all any more. If you want an acknowledgement, please include your email address in the note.

Thanks so much for all your support—in all ways.

Click to go to PayPal.

“Business Musings: Patreon,” copyright © 2016 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © 2016 by © Can Stock Photo / Aptyp_koK.


16 thoughts on “Business Musings: Patreon

      1. My bad. But he still deserves credit. “Special Appearance by Sir Galahad of Kitten”. He’ll get his agent on you for skipping the billing.

  1. I have a similar but different dilemma for something, and I keep thinking I’ll adapt your website approach. My fiction has been on hold for quite some time, but I do occasional blog entries as part of a book I’m working on related to human resources in government (yes, I know, a bit dry). Anyway, it’s a niche I’ve developed, am asked to give presentations on it all the time, mentor and coach people, all on the side of my desk i.e. for free as part of my job as a manager. Anyone can have the deck, it’s on my website, I share it at presentations, etc. And my book is an enlarged version of that, or at least it will be when it’s done.

    Now comes the kicker. I receive my salary from work. Part of my approach to my job is that mentoring and coaching are part and parcel of being a manager, so “giving back” is in a sense, already paid for. Equally, people have donated their time previously to help me, and I learn and share with others, so again, already paid.

    So when I finish the book, what do I do with it? Do I put a PDF version on my site and people can DL for free? Do I add a tip jar? Do I sell it from the website? Do I put it on Amazon and sell it in paper and e-book format? Do I leave the website just the blog entry version, un-edited, un-updated, and if people are good with that, go with that, or they can buy a book? Or do I go back to my roots and say “People shared their lessons with me for free, this is just me giving back in the same way, they should get it for free too?”. When I retire, I might do some consulting, but not necessarily in this line. Haven’t decided, and that is 10 years away. Or do I make this “book 1”, and sell book 2 and 3 which are more about career management, etc.?

    Patreon wouldn’t work for what I’m talking about, and as a reader, I would never use it to support an author (I’m fine with the tip jar approach myself). Essentially I wrestle with the idea that the info I am writing about on the blog should be available to all vs. it’s also work and not completely part of my day job. I am fine with charging for fiction at that point in my career, but the non-fiction in this area? Not so sure.


    1. I think you do all those things you listed, PolyWogg, and have it for free on your website.I leave the unedited versions of books up on my site all the time. A lot of folks read there, but most get the book if they like the website stuff. People find things a variety of ways, and that will help them. Also, giving away books is pretty easy if you use Book Funnel. You could do that instead of a download page.

      That’s my opinion. That and $5 will get you some pretty good coffee. 🙂

  2. I support a couple of people on Patreon (including you) because it’s an easy way to say thank you. A $1 a month autobill is easier to do than remembering to do a PayPal donation from time to time. I expect nothing in return at that level.

    My partner and I are also using Patreon for our adult comics site in a hybrid way. PayPal has a history of capriciously cracking down on adult content and while we’re not currently in violation of any of their TOS’s, we don’t particularly want to have our income be hostage to them in the future. Patreon gives us a way to get financial support while also keeping our content on our own server and not using PayPal.

  3. I supported a few comic creators and youtubers on Patreon. No authors yet because I was uncertain how an author would utilize it exactly. I’ve also toyed with the idea of making one, but again, I was uncertain I could offer enough quality content to make it worthwhile for people to want to support me.

  4. And folks, I do understand that I don’t have to give anyone editorial control of my fiction if I’m on Patreon. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m saying what goes on in my crazy writer brain. Knowing this makes no difference. My fiction writer brain would feel the obligation anyway. This is a Kris problem, not a Patreon problem. I do appreciate the concern and help, though. 🙂

  5. I’m a supporter for three webcartoonists. As far as I know, none of them offer editorial control over their product via Patreon.
    One split his strip into two. The main storyline on his main ‘site, and side stories on Patreon. He rolls the Patreon side stories into the main storyline archives about a month after.
    Another, who I don’t support currently, gives a brief preview to Patreon viewers. I think it’s about two days worth, or about the next strip after the one that just went up.

    One thing I am wondering about Patreon, however.
    I just had to click through on their new TOS and Privacy Policy. I like how they add a plain-language header to each of the parts of the TOS, but on the Your Content header. Does the fact that they worded it

    “By posting content to Patreon you grant us a royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive, sublicensable, worldwide license to use, reproduce, distribute, perform, publicly display or prepare derivative works of your content.”

    give them access to your content that you do NOT post through Patreon?
    Paranoid minds want to know.

    1. It would, if they didn’t add that they take absolutely no ownership license in the copyright at all. Remember, TOS and Contracts are a single document that works together. If Patreon didn’t have this clause, then they couldn’t let you put content on their site. Remember, copyright is divided in pieces, and in order to display something, you have to license that.

  6. ‘I write fiction for me.’ That sums up my reason for writing fiction as well. It’s also the reason I spent 4 years writing a serialised novel in 5 parts, and then published the LOT in 5 weeks, one episode per week. I write slowly so I couldn’t expect readers to wait years between episodes. All of which means I won’t be using Patreon, but thanks for setting the pros and cons out so clearly. At least now I know.

    Merry Christmas, Kris and may 2017 be kinder to us all.

  7. I think patreon is wonderful for artist of all kinds. I am also going to join Patreon in the new year. I will put short stories and stuff up on Patreon. I was going to move it completely over there and not post it anymore on my blog but what one writer did changed my mind. You have to be careful sometimes on how you approach these platforms. I followed this one author and really enjoyed her posts ect and she introduced me to a new genre. Then your election happened and she went a-wall. She shut own her blog and went entirely to Patreon. That’s her right to do so but in the process she shut a lot of people out. It was like having the door shut in your face and the only way to open that door was to give her money. It felt like she was forcing you to give her money to enjoy once what she did before. It made quite a few mad. So, you have to be careful about how you use it. I will continue to post my stuff as I have for the past five plus years and put the extra stuff on patreon. I don’t want to shut anybody out. This was the first year I put up a donate link and no donations. That’s okay. I will decide if I will continue to do that or not in the new year.
    But have fun at patreon. I will enjoy following it as I have your blog. Happy holidays to you and Dean and all your readers!

  8. I currently support 4 authors on Patreon. Dean (because I continue to be delightfully gobsmacked by the whole concept of Smith Monthly), Dianne Sylvan (because her main series was dropped and because I like her self-pubbed stuff), Jef Rouner (who I found on Facebook when one of my friends reposted his local-to-Houston !newspaper! article about dress codes and his then-six-year-old daughter. I support him because he’s a stay at home dad with a NICU nurse wife and I love the way his mind works) and Laura Anne Gilman (because I love her writing and her Patreon helps pay for insulin for her cat).

    In none of these cases am I in any way interested in controlling anything. Patreon allows me to support people whose work I enjoy and that also helps give them space. I’m absolutely uninterested in interfering in how they produce what I like them for.

    As far as what to offer your subscribers, I’m not seeing the need to produce specifically for them. For example: I get Smith Monthly from Dean. I don’t get to steer that boat, just enjoy the ride and the scenery. He could as easily break that down and offer just the novel or just the shorts, or even just the pick of one short. Without changing anything you do, you could easily scale from $3-$12 for the right to own any or all of the free shorts you post here each week. Could as easily offer subscribers generally a certain blanket level of behind the scenes stuff like nominating names for redshirt characters (with a proviso for authorial veto to prevent Boaty McBoatface debacles).

    The cool thing about Patreon is that you can control what you offer for what level of ask. You don’t have to offer exclusive stuff if you offer early stuff. Baen has offered their Webscription stuff for years, with December’s bundle covering what comes out in January, giving access to the first 25% November 1 and 50% by December 1, with full access when the books go live the first week of January. If you’re crazy desperate, they’ll sell you the e-ARC for one book for $15. Until the books are live, it’s understood that you’re dealing with a semi-raw document, so this doesn’t interfere with getting the books on Amazon, et al, on schedule. Before they started selling through B&N and Amazon, you could only download their stuff from the Webscription section of their site and they offered all kinds of formats because Jim Baen got tired of the industry dithering over which was dominant.

    There are three books I’m kind of reading that touch on how I view Patreon, but it’s 4:20 am and I couldn’t name the authors if you pulled out my toenails. The first is Ask, which talks about creatives interacting with their patrons/customers (covers stuff like Radiohead and the way they released In Rainbows). The other two are called Membershio Economy and Subscription Marketing. They’re both general business books, but can be easily translated for creative endeavors.

    I’m going back to bed now.

  9. “…the way I did thirty-five years ago for WORT”

    I’ve been a good boy and I’ve kept silent till now, but every time I read that name I see Johnny Fever and a tune comes up in my head. Graphically, it’s similar enough to trigger it.

    Merry Christmas

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