If there is one thing that’s been harder to get to grips with as an author publisher than anything else, it’s the idea that my time and creations are worthy of other peoples’ money.
My self-esteem is a young and fragile thing. The thought of selling a book was terrifying. The thought of asking people to give me money in a Patreon every single month? That was even worse.
But more and more authors are using Patreon now as a way both to engage with their readers and to supplement their income. Publishing novels is not exactly a steady paycheck, and in many ways neither is Patreon – you’re at the whim of your Patrons – but it’s definitely a step closer.
It’s money that comes in every month and means you can pay your bills. If you’re self-publishing, it’s money you can re-invest in business expenses or save for publishing costs.
At present, of my Patreon income after fees, 10% goes straight into saving for editing. I supplement this if I ever reach the end of a month with excess money, so often I manage to save even more than that.
Another 50% goes into business expenses – running the website, paying for subscriptions to tools that help me manage marketing and my writing and more. The remaining 40% goes towards my living expenses.
The idea that I would ask people to pay me money, not just for my writing but specifically for these things, overwhelmed me at first. But I’ve spent the past few years supporting some incredible creators on Patreon.
I know that I personally am proud to support their work, to help pay their salary, even if it’s in the smallest way. That brings me joy.
So here’s what I did to make my own Patreon.
1. I stubbornly ignored my fear of asking for money until it was done and I couldn’t take it back
I’m not going to pretend I got over my fear of asking for money. I still have it! I still look at my Patreon sometimes and think: why the hell are these people giving me so much money? Now you might be thinking, but Rebecca, $100 isn’t that much. The thing is, it is for me. I spent two years living – just about! – on £50 a month.
I’m the sort of person who cannot spend more than £10 on a single item of clothing without flinching. I have to fight to get myself to invest money in things I need, let alone things I want. I am now in a pretty comfortable financial situation, but I still have all these feelings.
Which meant I couldn’t stop feeling them in order to make a Patreon. So I ignored them. I thought about the feeling of pleasure I had about supporting others on Patreon. And I made it.
I’m not going to pretend this was easy, because it wasn’t. I definitely had at least one panic attack wherein the only thought in my head was I am unworthy of this and should not bother. But I kept going. Surviving depression naturally makes you determined. I used that to my advantage.
2. I scoured the Patreon pages of successful authors
Patreon is different for every different kind of creator, so when making your own it’s incredibly helpful to look at the pages of others in your field. Find someone who does the same sort of thing as you, even if their community is much larger than yours. Look at what they do.
There are lots of things to decide on with a Patreon. How many reward tiers you have, what they are, how much each tier costs, what your stretch goals are, what exclusive content you provide. For example, Seanan McGuire’s Patreon is based around her short stories. So for her, a per-creation setup is most appropriate, and most of her rewards involve getting more of her writing.
Meanwhile, N.K. Jemisin has hers setup per month. Her pledge rewards include exclusive blog posts, previews, and Q&As. My Patrons will probably recognise that a lot of my own framework comes from her Patreon, because I found it to fit my situation the best.
I learned so much and got so many ideas from looking not just at these incredible women but at other authors. I can’t recommend this step in planning enough.
3. I read a whole bunch of articles on Patreon’s blog and their start guides
Patreon’s help centre, the guides on it, and their Creator Blog are all amazing resources. They’re clearly written and I’ve not yet had a question I haven’t been able to find the answer to.
The blog is especially fantastic, because it bridges the gap between your Patreon being a community and your Patreon being a business really well. I have no previous knowledge of or training in this area, so the more I can read about business management the better.
There are tips on how to get more Patreons, make better rewards, success stories of others, tricks for running things. It’s great, and covers the entire breadth of content that Patreon helps enable.
4. I went all in with making things for it
I’d read everything. I knew what I wanted to do, and how to do it. I could’ve just thrown the structure up and a bit of blurb and been done with it.
But if I was going to do this, I wanted to do it properly. Maybe this was my lack of self-esteem rearing its head – the idea that I have to go the extra mile because I’m not worth money at a base level. I don’t really mind, because in this instance it helped me.
So I filmed an intro video. I made stretch goals. I planned a schedule for Patreon posts that ensured that even my lowest level Patrons got a good amount of content. I started preparing a pile of things I could share with them in the weeks to come.
I don’t regret this headfirst dive into it, because I believe every second I put into these people is worth it.
5. I made it a place where I can be truly honest
My first Patron was a close friend. In fact, all of my Patrons presently are my friends. This is inevitable, because the majority of my readers and community are still people who know me personally. I haven’t quite made it over that hill of popularity and awareness.
So in many ways it came quite naturally to talk to my Patrons as friends. But this isn’t something I intend to stop when my Patrons expand beyond these lovely people. I want the people who are wiling to give me their hard-earned money to be a close part of this journey with me.
My Patrons were the first people to see my Medium article about suicide and friendship. They have seen more of Protos than anyone else – including the beta of the first half of it. They have listened to me, each month since I started livestreaming for them, talk about my fears and worries and hopes.
I have never felt nervous about telling them the absolute truth. I tell them when I am scared because I don’t have more Patrons. I tell them when I am finding it hard to get the money together for editing costs. I tell them when everything is just too much.
And that is the side of my Patreon of which I am most proud.
If you want to join these wonderful, incredible, darling people, you can pledge as little as $1 a month here on my Patreon today.