Okay, times are scary as hell. So I’ve been thinking hard about what I could possibly offer everyone in this trying time – and at first I didn’t know, because I’m an artist/writer/chronically ill nerd, and often, that feels like sitting around doing Nothing Practical While The World Burns. But then, ah-dunk! I actually do get paid, monthly, by amazingly generous and awesome people to CREATE art and writing that inspires and encourages people to resist/stay healthy and hold onto hope and whatnot.
Through my Patreon. It’s awesome. You might have seen my big-ass Burned-Parsnips Nerd-Rant on the subject on Twitter (in response to some Controversy about it, and how yeah, it actually is awesome). So THAT’S a concrete resource I can share. Money. A real, tangible, sustainable means of support for creative folks like me (and even if you think you’re not!), especially marginalized, and ESPECIALLY ill/disabled artists like me. Because I probably will never be able to hold down a “””real””” job thanks to chronic illnesses/pain/various Crap, but I’m still making some monies. And this is the primary way.
So lemme tell you 13 Things I’ve figured out here. It took me about a year, but I think I got a pretty good thing figured out. Just lemme get everything and my thoughts together…
A SUPER-IMPORTANT CAVEAT: If you are currently receiving disability benefits, or are actively applying for Social Security Disability/Supplementary Security Income, having a Patreon (or any other source of income/created content) may count against you both as income, and evidence of ability to work, and therefore make any kind of assistance much harder to obtain.
This is because the US disability aid system is restrictive, terrible, and basically rigged against us, not because you aren’t legitimately disabled, or because disabled people can’t create art and be disabled at the same time. It is, however, something to take into account when starting a Patreon, or any other means of support. Making one was right for me, but it might not be for you (ever, or just at this point in your life) no matter how much I yell about it personally. Take care of yourself first!
…And now on to The Things.
Okay, three, two, one, let’s jam.
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1. No, you don’t have to be an artist, video-maker or podcaster.
For some reason, this is what Patreon is known best for, or at least this seems to be the direction they try to promote the most. I’m not sure why, but they seem to really like podcasters, comedy people (usually with video streams) or musicians, also with videos. The other big frontrunner is visual art, usually comics or webcomics – which makes sense, since continuous, ongoing art like comics is a natural fit for a continuous crowdfunding platform.
To an extent, I get this. The internet is a visual medium. However, visual art is far from the only thing you can use Patreon for. Writers make up a huge number of people I follow alone. Poets, voice actors, musicians – original and cover artists! – bloggers, critics, movie reviewers, recipe-makers, programmers, scientists (tru, most of these guys have shows/streams, but still) game-developers – and then the non-comic visual art like cosplay artists and photographers, or straight-up traditional painting and drawing. Crafts like clothes or jewelry, though with physical merchandise you’d have to be prepared to deal with actual delivery.
But I’ve seen all of these things be hugely successful. It is not just a podcasting/video/art game. If you create it, I guarantee there is a way to adapt it to be Patreon-supported. Might take a little creative thinking, but creativity is why we’re here.
2. Start small. Think sustainable.
When I first started out a year and a half ago, I bit off way more than I could chew. It was exciting, thinking I could actually make money at things I loved! So I offered a ton of different rewards, trying to see what would work best, and thinking I could do it all. (Spoiler: I couldn’t. I’m chronically ill in about 17 different ways. I pushed too hard, exhausted myself, collapsed a little – It didn’t go well.)
Further spoiler: It is so much better to start small and work your way up than to start too big and have to pare down/remove reward tiers because you set your goal too high or exhausted yourself.
Think about the long haul. Because hopefully, this is for the long haul. You want to be doing this for years, for the rest of your life, because you want to create things for the rest of your life. Start out by thinking what you can handle… and then, the really smart thing would be to do a little less than that. Because Patreon in itself is a new thing. You don’t need anything extra. You can always add more later. Give yourself room to grow. You’ll be glad you did, I think.
(Besides, then you can make cool announcements, like ‘look, guys! I’m offering this cool new thing!’ And that’s much better than ‘sorry guys, I can’t do this thing anymore. :c’)
3. Integrate it into your daily life. Don’t work hard, make it work for you.
Related to Step 2. You already create something (I am almost certain you do, even if you don’t think you do), so that means you can adapt your Patreon to fit your daily life, not the other way around. This is so important for disabled creators. So, so important.
I’m chronically ill, and chronically low-spoons. I need as many low-energy, low-effort Patreon rewards as possible. If you take a look at some of my rewards, you’ll see that while they’re pretty good (hopefully!), a lot of them have something in common.
“Access to Patrons Only Exclusive Content!”
“Free coloring sheets.” (Lineart from pieces I’ve already done!)
“Name/design a character.”
“Let me acknowledge you.”
All of my rewards, besides commissions… don’t actually require me to do anything. They provide my Patrons with access to things I’ve already created (the finished content, or the lineart that would otherwise just sit here), telling them some spoilers, or putting their names in the acknowledgements as thanks for their support. The only thing that requires an expended spoon on my part is working with them to create a character that works in a given story.
See how this works? Patrons still get a cool reward (and since my rewards are cumulative, they can commission stuff monthly, that I have to work at), but since this is art I am literally doing anyway, I’m not expending any more precious energy/spoons than normal.
The only change to my daily life… is now I’m getting paid for it.
4. Decide whether ‘By The Month’ or ‘By The Thing’ works for you.
You have two options here. You can either charge your Patrons ‘by the month,’ which is exactly what it sounds like, or ‘by the creation,’ which is also exactly what it sounds like. It’s really up to you, and what fits your individual life, circumstances, and creation style.
Personally, I create ‘By The Thing.’ (With a maximum/goal of 3 things a month, which I rarely meet.) This is because my life/health is super unreliable/fragile, and I don’t really know what all I’ll be able to create in any given month. And if I don’t make something in a month, I don’t want to charge anyone for it.
I also just have real anxiety/guilt about taking money to begin with, even if I’ve worked for it. You have no idea how hard even making a Patreon was. It’s actually helped a little here. But I could never charge by the month, especially if I was sick the whole month and didn’t make anything. It happens. So the choice is yours – take your emotional state into account here too. It’s important.
5. Stack the $1-5 Reward Tiers.
Money’s tight. That means instead of a lot of big spenders, you’re going to probably get several people chipping in a dollar or two here and there. That’s fine! It adds up, and every little bit helps. (If you’re lucky, you’ll get someone dropping bigger cash, and if you do, thank your lucky stars – and them. Often.)
So the vast majority of your Patrons are probably going to fall in the $1-5 range. Also a lot of $3 for some reason. So it’s just a good idea to make some of your best/most popular rewards fall in this range as well, instead of saving it all for the higher tiers. Anyone pledging at all is better than not, so if they’re on the fence, having something really cool here might be what tips the scale in your favor. Or something. Weird metaphor mix. Onwards!
6. Engage with your Patrons/Fans/Friends.
Patreon is still relatively new and doesn’t have MUCH of a social-media component. But it does have one. You might notice the ‘patron stream’ alongside the ‘creator stream.’ That’s a place for your patrons to chat with you and amongst each other. They can also comment on and like your post, and you can like/comment right back. You can also send each other private messages. (If somebody raises their pledge or leaves a particularly sweet comment or something, that’s always nice.)
One of the newer features I still need to play with is polls. I’m sure they’ll be really useful for gauging how happy your Patrons are with the content you’re giving them, or what they’d like to see next.
Another nice way to talk back? Giving little shout-outs on social media, especially if you know them there. A quick Twitter nod about how awesome this person is can just be a nice way to both show your appreciation and let everyone know about your Patreon who might have missed it. You can also tweet/post about your goals/milestones/upcoming cool content. This is important to your life, so don’t feel guilty about sharing. (Wow, that’s a whole ‘nother blog post.)
But there’s a balance between engagement and annoyance. You don’t want to scare anyone off with your constant love. That means…
7. Post regularly, but don’t spam. (Also, your patrons can turn OFF free-post alerts!)
This one time, I had like, an unusually high number of spoons in a day, so I decided ‘hey, I haven’t put anything on Patreon at all this month, time to catch up!’ So I did a crapton of free posts. Aesthetics, pencil drawings, stuff like that. Everything was cool, until an awesome Patron/friend was like ‘lol I got the 20 emails Patreon sent me, you been busy today?’
…Yes. Yes, I had been. I also forgot that Patreon emails you every single dingle-dang time a creator you support posts anything, ever. UNLESS your PATRONS turn this off in their notification settings. So tell them about this option, maybe. It’s just polite.
What is also polite… is not posting every dingle-dang day, or 20 freaking things in a day. Because some Patrons will forget to turn off the free-post email setting, and get really ANNOYED by this. And annoying people who give you money is… bad. (Also, they might actually miss when you do a paid post/something you worked HARD on, and that sucks too!)
TL;DR – Remind your Patrons they can turn off the free-post email alerts. Also, don’t post everything that comes into your head. You have a regular blog for that.
8. Use your regular blog to direct/alert everyone to your Patreon.
Patreon admittedly works best if you already have a decent-sized internet following. But even if you don’t, I know you have internet access and hang out somewhere, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this right now. That means you probably have a blog, a Twitter, a Facebook, a Youtube channel, or some other form of the Social Media Interwebs.
That Social Media Thing is now one of the best tools/boosts your Patreon can have. Link to it. Everywhere. If you know simple HTML, make a banner or clickable button (their Toolbox has some starter ones). Add a link in your signature if you’re a forum regular somewhere. You don’t want to annoy people, but going ‘if you liked something I made or did today, here’s a tangible way you can help me’ is always good.
Hell, if you’re the kind of person who has business cards, put it on them! (Mine are due for an update.) I crap you not, having as many avenues as possible to your Patreon, if it’s your primary income source like mine, is 100% the best thing you can do.
You might notice that this is yet another passive/spoons-free way to make Patreon work for you. (Once the blog sidebar link is there, you’re done, forget it, it’s there forever!) I’m big on those.
9. Think twice before posting anything you want to get formally published!
This is for my writers out there. Even though Patreon is pretty much a private blog behind a paywall, and you might have a quite limited ‘audience,’ most publications – including essentially all SFWA-qualifying markets! – consider a piece that’s been posted on Patreon to be ‘previously published,’ or a reprint. And it’s hard out there for reprints. Many pro markets don’t take them; if they do, they’re at reduced-pay; and you’ve basically given up that precious first-publication right. (According to most. YMMV, so like always, carefully read every submissions guideline page for every journal/mag/press you intend to submit/query. Also, check this handy list!)
So while you’re absolutely free to share your writing on Patreon (I mean, hey!), whether it’s to get feedback/polish it for submissions, or just because you think it’s really good and deserves payment… consider the effects it will have on getting that work professionally published. Not impossible by any means, but it might limit the pool/increase the challenge. If you never intend to sell the rights, though, say in the case of self-publishing – go wild.
10. Be aware of some of Patreon’s Weirdness.
Patreon is Weird. Either because it’s still beta-ing some features/has some technical bugs to work out, or maybe the dev team just overlooked some stuff. Just be ready for some growing pains. It has its quirks like any website.
One of the big ones, that I basically built mine around? It doesn’t let you charge by the tier. You can limit which tiers see what posts – say, make a thing only visible to your $10 Patrons – but since you can’t say “only charge the $10 patrons,” everyone below that will pay for it, but not be able to see it.
Uh… that strikes me as something of a design flaw.
You might be able to find your own way around this (or heck, they might have fixed it, I haven’t checked in a while) but this is where my “all patrons see all paid content” thing comes from. Whether someone gives $1 or $100, they see the same paid posts. The only thing higher tiers pay for are access to free posts, or commission opportunities. That way, nobody pays for something they don’t get to see.
But that’s just an example, really. The point is, Patreon’s still kind of new and might have some oddities to contend with. (Sometimes it borks when you go to upload images. Sometimes there are weird delays. Everything tends to sort itself out, but there is Weirdness, that’s all. Don’t be surprised.)
11. Forget the referral system, it’s basically impossible.
Yeah, they have one. And you might notice I’m not using it, even though I ALREADY refer pretty much everyone I know. That’s because the reward requirement is set so ridiculously high and prohibitive, there’s no way to actually get any good out of it unless you or whoever you refer is ALREADY an internet celebrity. Sure, ok, you can theoretically get $500 – BUT, you only have like 3 months to get 50 patrons – or else you get nothing. And for real, I’ve been here over a year and even I don’t have that many. Maybe someday. But in 3 months? Come right the heck on. That kind of pressure? That’s not FAIR to ask of anyone just starting out. Skip this impossible dangling carrot, the stress would be terrible for everyone involved. Next.
12. Be ready to explain this thing, because not everyone knows what it is/trusts it.
You’ve heard the phrase ‘elevator pitch?’ A kind of in-a-nutshell summary of your book, show or project? You should have one for not only your Patreon, but what Patreon is in general.
“It’s like a Kickstarter, but for artists who keep making things over time, instead of one big project with an end deadline.” Or, “It’s like you buy a VIP-subscription to this cool thing I made that you like, and get bonus content.” Have some links handy, maybe walk them through your page and exactly how it all works, if they’re okay with that.
Be patient, and don’t get frustrated if people back away, or aren’t ready to commit to your Patreon, no matter how much they like you or your creation. It’s probably not personal. We tend to support things we know/trust, and systems like Kickstarter and GoFundMe have established cred and brand-name recognition. Patreon’s still relatively new and unknown. (And the unfair and frankly gross-as-hell unearned reputation it’s getting doesn’t help.)
But if they’re open, explain that yes, this is an actual thing, not a weird scam or pyramid scheme or anything we’ve all probably come across at some point, and you really are getting the money they pledge. (And it helps!) And if they’re concerned about paying too much, they can customize/set monthly limits so they don’t accidentally pay too much, and they can withdraw at any time. Still, if they’re leery, don’t pressure them. Times like these, it’s awesome they listened at all.
13. Try to stay patient, positive, and generous. Love your Patrons!
It’s tough to stay positive right now. It really is. But you know what helps?
My Patrons are the best in the universe. Seriously, and it is not even their money. It’s the inexpressible emotional ARMOR of just knowing they’re here, and that every one is a real person who cares enough about me, my creations, and my well-being, and wants me to remain a well and alive human in this terrifying world to pledge their ongoing support. Each one of them has looked at something I made, or me as a person, and said ‘you know what? I want to help.’ THAT makes me want to keep going, keep creating, and Resist. I appreciate that more than words, and I will basically do backflips if they ask me to. (But they won’t. Because I have scoliosis, and they’re the best.)
But my Patrons are also human, and probably scared, and sometimes struggling. So if someone withdraws, or lowers their pledge for any reason, don’t guilt them about it. Seriously. Times are rough for everyone now, so try to appreciate the fact that they were here rather than the fact that they left.
Instead, keep an eye on who supports you. Maybe follow them back on whatever social media you share, if they’re okay with that. Check in with them every once in a while, especially if they have to lower/withdraw support. Or if somebody’s card keeps coming up declined. Things like this can be red flags of serious problems.
I’m not saying nose into anyone’s financial affairs or personal lives, but warning signs come in all forms, and if we’re going to keep everyone safe, we need to catch them early. If possible, just make sure they’re okay. Or ask if there’s something you can do. Not to keep their monetary support. To help if they’re in trouble during this very real climate of danger, in any number of ways. Just take care of one another.
And if anyone you know, including your own Patrons, is a creator of any kind, especially a marginalized one? For gosh sakes, encourage them to make a Patreon of their own. If we’re going to help one another survive this mess, supporting one another – especially in a financially stable, sustainable way – is about the best thing we can do.
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I really hope this has been at all helpful and made sense. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.
And yes, I’m putting this on my Patreon. If this was helpful – and if you like weirdly hopeful dystopian books about marginalized people with super-powers surviving and kicking butt – you can support me there.
You should make something and put it on yours too.