Industry Focus: What Writers Should Know About Patreon
Rachael Tierney interrogates the value of creative platform Patreon for emerging writers.
Patreon is an internet-based crowdfunding platform that allows creators to build a subscription service for their content. Created in 2013, by Jack Conte and Sam Yam, the platform is popular with artists who showcase their work digitally (e.g. through YouTube). Many of these artists survive off ad-based revenue and Patreon was built to eliminate this reliance, letting creators gather sponsorship direct from fans (rather than ‘clicks-per-ad’) and allowing them to focus back on their work.
How Does it Work?
Like other crowdfunding platforms (e.g. Indiegogo and Kickstarter) the premise of Patreon is pretty simple: a fan sponsors a creator for a set amount of USD and in return they receive a reward. These rewards usually come in the form of ‘patron-only’ content which can only be viewed by subscribers. Patreon differs from other crowdfunding sources because patrons will be charged periodically (per month or per release) until they decide to cancel.
Do Writers Actually Make Money From It?
Since it was launched Patreon has generated over $100 million in revenue for its users, with 10% of these identifying as ‘writers’ in 2016. Whilst some can earn up to $11,000 per month/release the truth is that the average writer on the site only makes around $200.
Whilst many of the writers listed in Patreon’s ‘Top Creators’ page have a large number of patrons, a writer doesn’t necessarily need to have thousands to make a significant return. The amount that each individual sponsor pledges has to be taken into consideration: if you have a small but dedicated fanbase, then you can easily make the same as a writer with a very large fanbase. For example, the writer listed at #10 on Patreon, Laurie Penny, has around half the patrons as the #5 writer, N. K. Jemisin, but on average her patrons pledge twice as much and, in the end, the two make a similar amount.
The lesson seems to be that you don’t need to head out straight away and try to gather as many sponsors as you can (although, it wouldn’t hurt), but rather that if you build a steady, dedicated fanbase, you can reap the benefits whilst providing quality content for those eager to read it. Half of running an effective Patreon campaign is building a sense of community with readers as fans that receive more attention are more likely to recommend a writer to further readers, and thus further sponsors.
With more sponsors, a writer has the opportunity to offer tiered rewards, where those who pay more can gain access to more material, or material of a higher ‘value’. There’s a wide degree of flexibility when it comes to what this means (a writer could customise their content based upon requests, or hold a vote to decide which project they will work on next) but there is a risk that it could become overly complex and time-consuming. It may also distract from writing, or stifle creativity.
Is It a Lot of Hassle?
Richard M. Ankers (previously a winner of a gold medal on the HarperCollins’ Authonomy site) warns: “I think the concept [of Patreon] is good, but there is a lot of work involved for the writer.”
Depending on how many patrons a writer has (and what rewards are being offered) they could get overworked by admin tasks. Because Patreon is controlled solely by the creator there is the added pressure of organising all the accounts (managing patrons, ensuring that each received the correct reward, etc.) alongside actual content writing.
Freelance writer and artist Rebecca Sherratt agrees, saying: “If I personally were asking people for money each month, I’d feel like I’d have to dedicate a lot more time [than I’m currently able to].”
This issue must be considered carefully before starting a Patreon. A limit can be placed on each reward, to ease the workload, and there’s also the option to offer no rewards, letting patrons sponsor a writer simply to support their work –however, Patreon.com warns that creators who do not offer rewards get less sponsors than those who do.
So, Is It Worth It?
We’ve already seen that some writers on Patreon can make more in a month than the average writer does in a year – but these tend to be those who have been active for some time, steadily collecting fans as they go. What about new writers? Is Patreon a useful tool to collect fans from scratch?
I would argue no. There is nowhere on Patreon to see a full-list of users (unlike Indiegogo and Kickstarter who list all their projects) and only high-earning users are featured on the site – likely in an attempt to entice new users (‘look at what you could achieve’). It seems as though Patreon cares little about low-earners or giving them exposure. Writers have to sell themselves.
Because of this, the service seems to best-suited to writers who already have established fanbases – but they don’t need to be huge. It could be as simple as a twitter account, or as elaborate as a fantasy website, but the key is that a writer must have some form of previous contact with fans before they’ll be likely to run a successful Patreon.
And even though the income from Patreon seems tempting, I would warn any writer away from relying on it too heavily; the service seems best utilised as a supplement for another income (whether through ads, traditional publishing, the sale of e-books, or another job altogether).
Manjoo, F. (2017) How the internet is saving culture, not killing it. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/15/technology/how-the-internet-is-saving-culture-not-killing-it.html (Accessed, 17 April 2017)
Defreitas, S. (2016) Crowdfunding for Writers: 10 Tips for Running a Successful Patreon Campaign. Available at: https://litreactor.com/columns/crowdfunding-for-writers-10-tips-for-running-a-successful-patreon-campaign (Accessed, 17 April 2017)
Patreon (2017b) Top Creators in Writing. Available at: https://www.patreon.com/explore/writing (Accessed, 17 April 2017)
Preston, T. (2016) Is Patreon the way forward for publishing? Available at: http://bookriot.com/2016/05/26/patreon-way-forward-publishing/ (Accessed, 17 April 2017)
Dieker, N. (2015) Before you launch a patreon for your writing, read this. Available at: https://thewritelife.com/before-you-launch-a-patreon-for-your-writing-read-this/ (Accessed, 17 April 2017).
Patreon (2017a) FAQ: Do I need to give rewards to my patrons? Available at: https://www.patreon.com/join/writers (Accessed, 17 April 2017).
Flood, A (2015) Median earnings of professional authors fall below the minimum wage. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/apr/20/earnings-authors-below-minimum-wage (Accessed, 17 April 2017).
Rachael Tierney is a recent MA graduate who thoroughly enjoyed submitting science-fiction for every assignment, no matter what the prompt. She has a passion for playing with gender in her work and spends too much time thinking about her eventual death. She previously studied geology and has forgotten everything except the really cool parts – which she uses to build imaginary planets and solar systems in her head.