Writing Wednesday: Patreon patronage

A while ago I was muttering about how I wanted somebody I *knew* to have test-run a relatively new distribution opportunity for self-published writers, and one of my friends said, “Er, Catie, you’re the one who does that. You go charging off the cutting edge and we all wait to see how it works out and then follow, having learned from you.”

I said “!” because I didn’t know that was a thing I was perceived as doing, but since it apparently is, I’m gonna talk about my experiences with Patreon now. :)

I’m on my second Patreon project: the one currently running is an Old Races Short Story Project, plus occasional extra sundries as I happen to do them. My first project was MAGIC AND MANNERS, a Jane Austen pastiche in which I asked the all-important question, “What if the Bennet Sisters had too much magic rather than not enough money?” (It will be widely available in October! Or November if things go badly, but definitely around then!)

Patreon has two options: one is that patrons pay a creator Per Thing, and the other is that patrons pay a creator Per Month.

I did M&M as a weekly serialized novel, with Patreon’s Pay Per Thing option, with a promise to not post more than one chapter a week, and with a guess as to how many chapters it would run, so that patrons could decide how much they wanted to/could afford to pay per chapter.

It worked, but frankly, I don’t recommend serializing something on Patreon that way.

The problem is that on the creator end, you end up getting nickel-and-dimed on micropayments and percentages going to the site. If I post 5 chapters in a month and get paid Per Thing on it, and someone donates $.25 per chapter, or $.05, I can end up actually getting nothing at all from their donation after the credit card fees, which do not like tiny tiny payments at all. This isn’t good for anybody! My patron has spent fifty cents (or whatever) in support of…credit card fees…and I have given chapters away! (Which frankly bothers me a lot less than the idea that people who are trying to support me are only succeeding in supporting a credit card.)

I think there’s a great window of opportunity for Per Thing support on Patreon, but serializing a book is not the way to take advantage of it. I think it works better for more one-off kinds of projects: songs, completed books maybe, poems, paintings, I don’t know. Not chapters, though. Not in my experience.

I therefore debated with myself a lot over whether I was going to do Per Thing or Per Month with the new Old Races Short Story Project. My goal is to post a story a month, plus some extras, but Patreon WILL let you *not* charge for something, so I could’ve kept doing Per Thing.

But this is a thing I’ve noticed by running crowdfund projects: lots of people are actually interested not just in The Thing, but in Supporting The Artist. Especially if it’s relatively convenient. Many people have $5 (or whatever) that they’re willing and able to spare per month to help artists, you know, not starve. Or pay the rent, or the cable bill, or just basically worry a tiny bit less about all of those things so they can do more art.

It makes practically every creator I know twitchy to imagine going out and just…asking for money. “Hi! I’m a writer! Give me some money so I can write, please!” We almost all feel like we had damn well better provide something in exchange for that money. We almost all always *do* provide something in exchange…but honestly, my experience has been that most of the time, patrons say “No problem,” if there’s no new content that month. Especially if they’ve been warned in advance, as I did when I switched my Patreon from the M&M project Per Thing payment system to the ORSSP By Month system. I did that in May or June, and told my patrons I’d be starting the new ORSSP in September.

I lost a handful of patrons, but I expected to lose *most* of them, and was kind of stunned that I didn’t. And now the new project is underway and I’ve picked up more patrons, and I’m getting near to my funding goal, which is enormously exciting to me. So I’ve learned that Patreon is a spot where creators can potentially go to just hang in there for a few months if life gets chaotic (as, gods know, mine did this summer), because a majority of patrons really do seem to be there to support the artist; the stories and whatnot are sort of a perk.

I’m trying to come up with some closing statements here and not doing very well. I think the Per Thing model is a really good one, especially for bigger ticket projects (hello, Amanda Palmer), but I didn’t like it for myself for a weekly Per Thing. I’d no doubt be happier with it as a monthly Per Thing rather than a weekly one, but there’s an ease in the Per Month payment, because that way I don’t have to set it to trigger a payment on a piece when I post it. (That burned me last year, when Patreon’s user interface wasn’t as good/I hadn’t grimly memorized what I had to do, and I ended up posting several things for free, which was aggravating because it was so easy to do accidentally more than because I hated to post the chapters for free…)

A thing to remember going into it, though, is that Patreon isn’t Kickstarter. With all that that entails, good and bad. It’s not a huge cash cow, generally speaking. I know artists whose Patreons will cover a nice dinner out with drinks, monthly (or, more practically, the cable bill). I know others who are actually breathing more easily because they’re paying the mortgage now, and others who can buy a cup of coffee at Starbucks once a week with their Patreon funds. It doesn’t have that shiny video-game high-score goal thing that Kickstarter does, or the pressure of SUPPORT IT NOW BEFORE IT DISAPPEARS! And that’s not its purpose, of course, but it does mean it’s a very different kind of fundraising and success has to be judged very differently, and realistically.