Business Musings: Patreon
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, Jazz24.org. 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 paypal.me/kristinekathrynrusch 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.