So Let's Talk About Patreon
A couple of you have asked me to talk about Patreon goals and how Patreon affects my workflow, so (dear Patrons!) let's have a chat! As our visual aid, I've attached a chart with 2017's revenue sources. And as you can see, after royalties on e-books, you all are the biggest slice of my delicious pie. 💖

When I set up this patreon, I set $3000 a month as my "stay at home" goal (and I made the dollar amounts private. More on that in a bit). While this is slightly more than I have projected is necessary, I had a couple of reasons for that number:

  • Patreon wants its slice of this delicious pie, so I need to account for transaction fees.
  • Patreon involves a lot of churn, and that's perfectly good and normal! People come and go, people up their pledges and downgrade. I want some padding on the number to account for that. (We're going to come back to this too.)

So $3000 is pretty good. I also set a $1500 way-point, so we would have something to work toward, and we're only about $350 off from that. Which I think is pretty amazing! So I mentioned this on various social medias, because Patreon's "look, here's some facts and figures you can share" end-of-year email coincided with me noticing that we're doing pretty well on goals.

Do I expect to find the remaining thousand-odd dollars lying around by flogging social media? Nope.

Actually, let me word that with the correct amount of emphasis: ABSOLUTELY NOT AT ALL EVER. Talking up my Patreon on social media is going to have exactly no effect on the arrival of new people. Or if it does, I will fall over in a dramatic faint. Patreons grow with your fanbase, and represent, if I'm reading the situation correctly, the top of the top of that glacier: the fans who are committed, really like you, have spare money, think the business model is cool, and are often online. That's a lot of criteria; there's a reason so few Patreons are enormously successful. Expecting otherwise is misunderstanding the nature of online funding models.

So I'm not expecting to make that 'stay home' goal this year. Or next. I simply don't have a broad enough fanbase to sift for those top ten-percenters. (Well, top point-one-percenters, really. You all are really special!) And this doesn't disturb me. Success isn't an overnight game. I'm playing for the long haul here. Building is something I'm good at. It's why I wasted so much my youth on Civilization-style games. >.>

SECRET GOALS

Which brings me to why I no longer advertise how much I'm taking home on the Patreon page. There's evidence that suggests people stop participating if they feel like someone doesn't need them, or that their contribution won't make a big enough difference, and I'd rather not trigger that instinct while I'm still heading for a specific destination. It also contributes to one-upsmanship among fellow artists, which I particularly hate. I don't mind sharing my numbers, but not if it's going to make for a "but I have it better than you, nya nya" or "but why don't I have it as good as you, *bitter tears*" situation. I find that kind of stuff tiresome.

What I care about: do I give the people handing me their dollar a month (or more) value for that dollar. And whether we have fun along the way.

What I don't care about: where I rank in the hierarchy of science fiction/fantasy authors on Patreon, and what they think of how well I'm doing.

My final psychological reason for hiding the dollar amount is that it creates sadness when we hit a goal and then fall off it (see: churn). Even I got distressed watching us hit $1000 and then fall off $1000, and for about two weeks last year we kept oscillating and it was crazy-making. Hiding the numbers kept me from ripping out my hair. Hopefully it helped you too.

CHURN: Or, How Patreon Directly Affects What You Get From Me

In a few months, for instance, we're going to fall down off the $1000 goal again. That would be because the Anonymous Fan who upped their pledge for a set number of months to fund the writing of Coracle will have finished passing me their money.

Take a moment to consider that statement with me. Because I don't know about you, but I find it astonishing. Someone is paying me what I consider reasonable advance money to write a book I otherwise would have backburnered. That person is the entire reason Coracle is on the writing/publishing schedule for this year.

The answer to "Can I be bribed," is apparently, "Yes, if it's something I wish I could have done and can't justify." And since I want to write all the books I come up with... well.

Lest you think this is some impossible and rare event, consider this:  all of you contributing your dollar or two a month are engaging in this same act, because once we passed the $1000-a-month mark it became easier for me to say "You know, I can take time off to do at least one project that might not pan out." You all are the reason there's a Cantor for Pearls, because while I wrote Thief for fun, a book two in that series was a bad risk without the padding Patreon gives me. I want you all to pat yourselves on the back for that, because if you're thinking 'wow, that makes me part of something awesome,' you are absolutely right. You are all patrons of the arts, and your buck or more a month is totally enabling amazing things that would otherwise never have happened.

But the experience of letting a single person arrange for something to exist--basically, to commission a book--is entirely new for me, and I'm still figuring out how I feel about it. Not that I think tons of people are going to come out of the woodwork to commission books, because commissioning me for 3-4 months of my time is not a minor thing. But I think 'yes, but four or five people might conceivably split that price tag, if they got together on it' and that becomes a business model I can foresee happening more than once in a blue moon.

I think it's astonishing that the modern online economy creates this kind of choice for fans. I don't know about you, but there were lots of authors in the 80's and 90's who were writing amazing fiction that just vanished because it didn't sell well enough. If I could have gotten together with a hundred other people to gather the money to get Book 3 or Book 9 or whatever was missing... I would have been all over that mailing campaign in a heartbeat. Even today, I run into authors who respond to my hopeful queries about 'this series or book you abandoned' by answering "I can't do it Because Starvation." 

This is so totally a valid response. You can't concentrate if you're worried about feeding your family. Or if you do, it's not a very pleasant form of concentration. But imagine being able to say, "So, if I got together with fifty other people and offered you $X, would that be enough to stave off your starvation so we could get That Art?"

...

Oh man. Fantastic. Where's the heart-eye emoji my Twitter Manager is always thrusting at me in text... *scrounges* 😍

Now, not every artist is going to be up for this way of doing things. I can handle it because (as most of you have noticed) I write quickly. If someone says, "Hey, write us a YA book about horses on the Eldritch homeworld," I will make an outline, estimate a word count, check my schedule, and shuffle it to fit while still writing things that need to get finished (because royalties, as you notice, are still 61% of my money and I must feed that machine). But a lot of authors are going to find it uncomfortable to be on the hook for something, particularly if they think their readers have "bought" it and are waiting for it and have High Expectations of it. And that's totally okay. There are as many ways to work as there are people working.

But for those of us who can probably swing it, it's pretty mind-blowing. And as someone who's accepted one such commission, and has had queries from someone else on similar ones, I find myself in the enviable (and mind-blowing) position of having to come up with processes and rules for handling this particular form of doing business.

LET ME SUM UP

In the immortal words of Inigo Montoya, let us wrap this up with some takeaways.

  • We are about $350 from our next Patreon goal, and $1800 from our final Patreon goal, respectively.
  • I do not expect to hit these goals soon. I do not expect you to make it happen, either. And I do not expect social media to do the work of years of audience building. In other words: I'm okay with where we are!
  • (Doesn't mean I wouldn't be thrilled to be further along, just in case that needed saying.)
  •  Your buck a month is huge. Never think otherwise.
  • ...and people have now discovered that they can subsidize the art they want, either in groups if they're low on funds, or by themselves if they're flush. Which is a win-win for all groups.
  • The internet remains a game-changer for artists who have the ability to run with the opportunities it creates.

That is all. Questions are welcome! This post is public, go ahead and share it if you want. :)