The Short Answer:
Patreon is a website where supporters of an author, artist, or other creative can subscribe to a monthly donation—in short, become a patron. In return, they receive rewards and special perks from the individual they are supporting.
The Long Answer:
Working for yourself in a creative field comes with a lot of uncertainties. Gone is the system we’re most familiar with: working set hours for payment on a specified day. Each month can fluctuate wildly. Even an established author can be subject to the whims of changes by distributors, Facebook ad policies, and so on. This can drastically cut into income without warning.
For example, books enrolled in Kindle Unlimited are paid based on Amazon’s decision after the books are read. We can ballpark based on the previous months, but we don’t know for sure how much Amazon will pay per page—and it’s never the amount we would make from someone purchasing the book. Amazon is also able to remove page reads if they believe they were generated by an unapproved source, which as the author we have absolutely no way of verifying nor disagreeing with.
Amazon can also cut preorders and disable accounts. It’s their game; we’re just playing by their rules. And those rules are often muddy or quickly changed.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m happy to sell through Amazon. They have created a system for indies that no one else has. But that doesn’t stop the facts from being, well, facts.
On top of that, as an independent artist, you assume all risks. This means everything from editing to cover art to ads and other forms of paid advertisement comes out of your pocket. If a project flops, you’re out. It’s that simple.
This is closely related to the next point: since so much is on the line, more and more writing becomes about delivering to trends and fads and less about creative works. It’s difficult to take risks, to explore, to do something new when you know that you could lose literally thousands of dollars.
Patreon is a safety net. This allows authors to create, even if one of the other systems they rely on changes. This allows authors to reinvest into their product. And this allows author to write what you, their reader, wants them to write, and not necessarily what will sell the most.
Patreon is not meant to be simply another distribution channel. This is one of the largest misconceptions I’ve personally seen about it. This is not just some other method for me to sell you my books, or related merchandise. Patreon is a platform, a community. As a patron, you are saying, “I want to see more of what you do.”
And, with enough patrons, you collectively say, “I want the world to see more of what you do.”
What Patreon is to Me:
I held back for literal years before creating a Patreon account. Mainly, I had the same misconception as I mentioned above: I considered it just a weird, awkward way to sell my books. Of course, I’ve come to realize my mistake and that Patreon is much more about allowing creative endeavors to be creative and not just a hustle to stay on target with the trends, fads, and what is selling best.
It’s also another way to connect and build a community. On my Patreon, I offer rewards that aren’t found anywhere else. They aren’t something I could ‘sell’ but they allow me to connect with more people in exchange for their support.
One of my biggest inspirations for Patreon is Amanda Palmer. If you’re not familiar with her, she is a musician who went on to also write a book (The Art of Asking), run a podcast, and other endeavors. What I love most about her Patreon is that because she has so many dedicated patrons, her work is free. She doesn’t charge for her music. She doesn’t get sponsorships for her podcasts. Her book was traditionally published, so there is that, but everything else she creates, she gives to the world—and she can do that only because she has patrons. Could she have made more money if she stuck with her label and made music their way? Probably. But with her patrons, she can do both: pay her bills and create things for the rest of us to enjoy.
This speaks to me because Summoned was not a ‘viable’ book at the time, and yet thousands of readers enjoyed it. In fact, because of all the support, I received a traditional publishing deal. This sounds like it counters what I just wrote about Patreon, though, doesn’t it?
Not really. Summoned went as far as it did because of strong, dedicated following, but it wasn’t destined to engage millions. Nor did I intend for it to, and never expected it to. What I can tell you though is this: because of Summoned, I met many people I never would have, readers who took the time to message me, and I enjoyed getting to know every single one of them.
But like everyone else, I have bills to pay. When I came back to publishing, the landscape had changed so much. More and more, the gurus tell indies to write to market—and there is some truth to that; we definitely want our craft to be “industry standard” and entertaining. In that way, I certainly agree with writing to market to create a professional product. But I don’t agree—for my own work—with having to add certain elements or handle certain scenes in a particular way to engage the most readers, when I want to engage the right readers.
Patreon is a bit like a Kickstarter: it’s proof that the product has a market before taking the risk. The main difference is, Patreon also has a stronger element of trust. While you certainly need to trust the people behind the Kickstarter to honor their commitment, you already know what that commitment is. For Patreon, the additional layer is that you also trust the creator to make something worthwhile. To me, the relationship between a creator and a patron is intimate in its trust and support.
Originally, I created my Patreon to just “have it out there.” It felt a bit bold, but I figured, if nothing came of it, then I wasn’t out more than a little time. I was floored when, on announcement, I received several patron subscriptions. More joined shortly after.
Around the time I created my Patreon, I’d quit writing. The future seemed bleak. I had already fallen into a dark depression; related, but not entirely caused by the complications that had arisen with my return to writing. If anything, starting a Patreon was meant to be proof I should walk away.
Then, as they always do, my readers surprised me. They were there still.
From the first subscription, I began writing again. I wanted to create something they would love, not what the world would collectively want.
I wrote Undone.
And, thanks to my patrons, I never looked back.
My Patreon Goal:
My goal is to start a small animal sanctuary. For that to work, I need to make my online platform sustainable. I’ve seen too many rescues and sanctuaries come and go, or struggle terribly because they must rely solely on fundraising. I want to take a different approach. If and when this becomes sustainable, then I will open the sanctuary.
In the meantime, we need help getting off the ground, starting with recovering from this. While my plan is not an overnight process, but there is a destination.
And, much like the inspiration behind my Patreon, should it ever reach the necessary numbers, I would happily make most or all of my work free for the world. It can be done—it has been done—but it only happens through people who believe there is another way to operate in this world than just one-for-one transactions.
If you’re interested in checking it out, my Patreon can be found here.