Writers: Why You Should (and Shouldn't) Start a Patreon
If you’re reading this article, it’s probably a safe bet to assume you’re a writer, given this website is dedicated to the craft of writing. Either you’re a writer or you’re a robot pushing discounted sunglasses. There are literally no other possibilities. If you’re the latter, I’ll have you know I already have a rad pair of prescription shades, so I’m all good there. However, if you’re one of those writer people everybody’s always talking about, then there’s a good chance you’ve heard about Patreon.
But just in case you haven’t, let’s take a look at the website’s description of itself:
For creators, Patreon is a way to get paid for creating the things you’re already creating (webcomics, videos, songs, whatevs). Fans pay a few bucks per month OR per post you release, and then you get paid every month, or every time you release something new.
For patrons, Patreon is a way to join your favorite creator's community and pay them for making the stuff you love. Instead of literally throwing money at your screen (trust us, that doesn’t work), you can now pay a few bucks per month or per post that a creator makes. For example, if you pay $2 per video, and the creator releases 3 videos in February, then your card gets charged a total of $6 that month. This means the creator gets paid regularly (every time she releases something new), and you become a bonafide, real-life patron of the arts. That’s right—Imagine you, in a long frilly white wig, painted on a 10-foot canvas on the wall of a Victorian mansion. And imagine your favorite creators making a living doing what they do best… because of you.
Sounds dope, right?
I find that whenever Patreon is mentioned on social media, in the comments people will either agree that it seems like a cool thing, or they’ll start condescendingly shaking their heads at home while thinking up totally clever panhandling jokes that nobody’s ever made before. With Patreon, I hear the same snide remarks that I’ve heard about Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Attempts at insulting writers for attempting to get paid through new inventive means. I don’t understand the hate. Maybe it mostly comes from the ultra-conservative crowd. People who just start vomiting into their own rectums at the idea of someone receiving monetary support without having to mine coal or dig ditches or whatever the hell us spoiled Millennials are supposed to do to prove our worth to society. Anything that disrupts the norm will always attract ignorance and hate. Never forget that.
Most of the people who trash-talk Patreon don’t actually view writing as work. The concept of writing as labor doesn’t seem to exist for them. Writing is viewed as this hobby that doesn’t deserve compensation. You’ll hear the same argument from those who support for-the-love markets (publications that do not pay their writers): you should write just because you love it and expect nothing in return. Using art to help pay your bills will only destroy your creative input. You don’t want to be a sell-out, do you? Whatever the fuck that even means. The same people who trash Patreon are the same people who used to laugh at those Bum Fight videos. This has been scientifically proven, so don’t even try to argue with me.
Artists of all varieties are using Patreon right now, and it’s truly something magical. Filmmakers, podcasters, writers, you name it. It’s great, because when you take away all the clowns who only view writing as a hobby, you’ll still encounter people who are completely oblivious about how much money indie creatives actually earn. The struggle and hustle is often invisible to the public eye, but its presence remains undeniable. Think about this: If I really dig a book, there’s a good chance I’ll become invested in the author. My love for the writing will grow into a love for the person responsible for the writing. I’ll want to support them any way I can. The same can be said for certain small presses and podcasts and illustrators. This is why Patreon makes so much sense to me. We aren’t just asking for money for nothing, despite what many people seem to believe.
I started a Patreon in October 2016 for my small press, Perpetual Motion Machine, and its quarterly horror magazine, Dark Moon Digest. In the six months since our launch, I’ve learned quite a bit. Our Patreon is in no way a success, at least not yet, but I think we’re slowly improving. In that time, I’ve also witnessed many other writers and publishers start their own Patreons and quickly give up in frustration when they didn’t immediately become rich.
If you’re debating starting a Patreon but you’re still on the fence, here are some reasons why you should do it, and some reasons why you may want to hold off for a few.
WHY YOU SHOULDN’T
You shouldn’t start a Patreon if you’re trying to get rich quick. It’s not going to happen. Patreons are slow burns that you develop over time. You will not be an overnight success story. You also shouldn’t use it to replace a pre-existing income. Do you have a day job? Good. Don’t be crazy. Keep the job, even if you start making a couple hundred or thousand bucks on Patreon. This service is unpredictable. You have to consider every patron is a human being with their own shit going on. Emergencies happen. Deaths. Divorces. Fires. Pledges can be canceled or declined any moment. It happens every month. You can’t depend on something like that to ensure your survival. Keep the day job.
Another thing Patreon isn’t: Kickstarter. Do not start a Patreon hoping to fund a new project. Think of Patreon as more of a subscription-based program rather than a source for crowdfunding. If you aren’t going to create unless you receive a certain amount of money, then perhaps Patreon isn’t the right avenue for you.
I would also recommend holding off on starting a Patreon until you’ve built somewhat of a fanbase. You don’t need a large audience, but you can’t have a nonexistent one. Don’t expect strangers to stumble across your Patreon and automatically pledge. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but it’s unlikely. It’s much wiser to rely on outside parties to first attract fans, then later reroute them to your Patreon. For the same reason someone might buy a DVD for the special features (you know, DVDs, those ancient doohickeys from the Dark Ages?), someone might pledge to your Patreon to view your special features.
Which brings us to…
WHY YOU SHOULD
You should start a Patreon if you already have an audience for your work. Even a few dedicated readers (if you’re a writer) will be enough to get things going. Nothing will depress you more than starting a Patreon and receiving only one patron, who also happens to be your mom, and she’s commenting on every post you make asking why you haven’t called her lately. Seriously. Just call your mom. Don’t be a dick.
You should start a Patreon if the product you’re creating requires little overhead and upfront costs. This goes back to crowdfunding. You cannot rely on Patreon to create your art. The art comes first, then the patrons. Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t offer special Patreon-exclusive perks, but I would recommend utilizing perks that won’t actually cost you anything but your time. Always overestimate how much things will cost you. You don’t want to realize months down the line that you’re actually losing money.
And you should start a Patreon if you’re searching for further motivation to increase your productivity. Nothing will get your ass in gear faster than a visible number of people waiting to check out the next thing you create. This goes for writing, illustrations, music, whatever. The patrons’ money is recycled into more time for you to create what you love to create, which is then recycled right back at the patrons in the form of entertainment. If you’re someone who thrives best when under pressure, consider setting up a Patreon. Once your audience, however small it may be, subscribes to your work, the fear of disappointment will increase exponentially. Or, alternatively, you might suffer a slight nervous breakdown, but that’s the kinda gamble human beings have to take sometimes. Well, they don’t have to take them. They could just do nothing. That’s also okay.
My Patreon has been live for six months. From the very beginning, we’ve been just above $100 a month. Some months we’ve increased our pledges significantly, and other months our patron count has dropped drastically. This wasn’t too surprising, because three of our higher perks include advertisement in Dark Moon Digest. So it makes sense that once the advertisement has been published, the patron no longer has a need to continue pledging, unless they wish to advertise with us indefinitely. Maybe not the best perk, in retrospect.
However, our lower perks have proven quite successful. At just $1 per month, we’re offering a digital subscription to the magazine, discounts in our webstore, early-bird access to our Stephen King podcast Castle Rock Radio, and many other cool things. Almost all of these perks, except for the $7 paperback subscription, cost us $0 to produce. If you do decide to start a Patreon, I encourage you to keep this advice in mind. Trust me. I learned the hard way many years ago when I first started my small press just how expensive shipping and handling can be. It sneaks up on you and strikes when you can least afford it. Like a rattlesnake bite in the middle of the night the week after you’ve lost your health insurance.
So, if you’re debating starting a Patreon for your writing, first think about the size of your audience, and what exactly you have to offer. And if you do go through with it, don’t freak out when you don’t immediately shoot into the triple digits. Even $20 a month will help fill up your gas tank or support a severe breakfast taco addiction.
If you are interested in checking out my Patreon and possibly supporting it, you can find it here.
What are some of your favorite Patreons? Let us know in the comments.
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