Any writer elbows-deep in a project has one thought in the back of her mind. Namely, “What am I going to do with this thing?”
Publishing today can get muddled. Should you self-publish a freebie prequel to build buzz for your upcoming novel? What about going the traditional publishing route and letting a publisher take over? Maybe it’s not a book, but rather a series of articles meant to published across Medium.
With so many online spaces, undreds of options, and endless paths, it’s easy to end up at a crossroads with no idea where to turn. I found myself in a similar situation with my new book, a graphic novel tackling dyslexia, once I realized I had no idea who might publish it.
Facing my unclear road to completion, I decided to take my unfinished project to Patreon.
What is Patreon?
Patreon is a unique platform modeled after old-world arts funding. Back before art galleries and bookstores, church officials and royals gave funds and resources to artists and writers to keep them working in return for access to their best creations.
On Patreon.com, you can create a page for the book you want to write, or any creative endeavor. There, you set up a page explaining your project and introducing yourself with a banner, some basic information, and any images pertaining to your project.
Then you need to set up membership levels.
Levels let you think about what amount of money per month makes sense for what you can offer your patrons. For example, my lowest level is $1 a month and that gives my subscribers access to my newsletter. However, my highest level is $12 a month. Those subscribers get a one-on-one phone call with me, access to early drafts, sneak peeks at character design, and a cameo in my book. I have several levels in between the two with varying degrees of benefits.
Once your page is up and running, you’ll have to post content regularly. Patreon can host video, text, images, or a mix of all three, and make them exclusive to your donors. The site also lets you make a few posts public so non-donors can see what you do before they sign up to support you.
If you’re asking for money for an unfinished book, you need to think about what readers would like from you. Some authors send pictures of their pets, advice about writing, or give short classes. Your benefits are your own, so you can be as creative as you want.
Maybe you do some painting on the side and can send digital copies to your fans. Perhaps you have an amazing pre-writing workout. You can film yourself breaking a sweat and share it with your followers with an explanation about how it helps you get creative.
Patreon tracks what blog content your fans are reading and how often. You can see your stats quickly and steer your posts toward whatever connects with your fans.
Setting up a project in progress online can be fun. It’s a place to share your triumphs and give people a chance to celebrate with you. It also lets you create a living document of how your project comes together, who jumps in to help and create a community.
Patreon will let you connect your page to a Discord, a 1990s style chat room, exclusive to you and your donors. That’s a great place to take questions and find out more about what your fans want from you and your page.
Award-winning science fiction writer author N. K. Jemisin started her career thanks to her patrons and their love of her work. She offered her lowest donors regular pictures of her cat while high-level donors got insider information about the publishing industry.
I love the opportunity to find those rare, beautiful people who see my vision for my book long before it’s done. It feels odd to ask readers to get excited about a book they won’t read for several months, but it also lets me talk to them and hear about their hopes and enthusiasm for the project. That keeps me motivated more than anything.
Before you run to start your Patreon page, let me warn you about the negative side of this promotion path.
First, it’s work. If you want to create a page for your project, it’s up to you to help it find an audience and keep them interested. That means you have to write newsletters, blog entries, make videos, record interviews, anything for your Patreon page.
Unlike other websites, Patreon does nothing to promote your project, even if you get a rush of patrons. So, treat your page as a kind of blog/homepage/ad that you need to put in front of people.
Second, the conversion rates can be frustrating. Patreon’s biggest successes only convert between 1 and 5%, so a huge following won’t lead to massive deposits in your bank account. Getting that money requires a grind on your part.
I’m still experimenting with the best way to promote my work and get funds. So far, I’ve found that people with a personal connection to dyslexia are the most likely to sign up for my project.
Third, it can get lonely. I feel very lucky to have a co-creator, (my illustrator), working with me. All the quiet days when no new patrons sign up, no one seems to notice my posts, and I don’t see any jumps forward can get me depressed. But, that’s self-marketing, right?
Push through the silence to find those valuable moments, keep them in your sights and remind yourself that the next one is on the way.
Asking for money
Of course, Patreon creators have to ask for donations in order to make the site work. For me, it’s a struggle to ask anyone for money, so a Patreon page made me face some hard realities.
In order to bring my book to life, I have to fund it. I need to cut back on client work and give myself more hours in the day to work on my project. That means I need dollars.
By opening up the project and allowing people to get involved via their wallets, I’m letting them decide to be a part of what I’m making. If I never give them the chance to help me out financially, I deny them the space to express their opinion on my work. And people love to give opinions! They also adore the chance to belong to an exclusive community, which is what I want to create for my fans.
Patreon is one of many avenues to publication; you don’t have to do it this way. However, if you want to work on your community-building skills and help establish a base of superfans, I think it’s worth a shot.
I also think Patreon is a great place for writers to face some of their biggest fears. We have to find the people who want to read our stuff and to invest in it as consumers. Sure, lots of people will say no, but I can attest that the ones who say yes will make you want to jump out of bed and write all day.
Connect with me here if you want to keep close tabs on my project and ensure I do everything perfectly. You can also follow my creative partnership with Elias Perez Perez on our Instagram.