Author Toolbox: Patreon

Author Toolbox - Patreon

If you’ve followed any channels on YouTube or artists on Deviantart, you’ve probably come across someone using Patreon to fund their creative efforts. If you haven’t, here’s how it works:

You create things and people pledge money to support you (usually a monthly amount, starting as low as $1 depending on what options you specify). You provide special rewards to your patrons (copies of your work, sneak peeks at projects, behind-the-scenes info, etc). Patreon takes a small cut and you get money for doing what you love!

This is a fantastic opportunity for creatives. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing art, film, podcasting, books, comics, or some other creative work. If people like what you’re doing and are willing to support your efforts, you can get paid. Some people are making thousands of dollars a month this way.

The Simple Patreon Formula

Production + appreciation = Patrons.

It’s really as simple as that, at the heart of it. I considered including “quality” in this formula, but when it comes to the arts this is a very subjective term. Watching shaky-cam behind-the-scenes footage of a favorite YouTuber could be great patron-fodder. Is it quality? Not really, but it’s priceless to a fan. The sketches and in-progress snapshots of a painting as it is created may not be considered a “quality” product, but it produces a wonderful bonding experience between the creator and patron.

The quality items that you produce will be the same ones you’d produce if you weren’t on Patreon: A book release per year, a painting every three months, a weekly podcast. The point isn’t to add to your workload, but to give you a way to produce income in between new releases and sales of your work.


If you are producing work on some regular basis, then it’s possible you could build a fan base of patrons. Because Patreon is a form of crowdfunding, you don’t have to ask a lot of any one person. Even $1 per month adds up if you have 100 (or 1000) people who like what you’re doing. All you need to do is offer something that is worth that $1 per month and give people a reason to stick around.

“But I only have a few [books, paintings, videos] published”

You may be thinking only people who are really prolific or well-established could make a go with Patreon. It’s easy to think that only people who are already hugely successful will do well there, especially if you look at the Patreon home page and see all the big numbers. People with hundreds or thousands of patrons, making thousands of dollars per month.

That’s what I thought at first. Sometimes it takes seeing a friend try something new before you are ready to jump in yourself.

Thea van DiepenSo let me introduce you to a friend and colleague of mine: Thea van Diepen. When I first encountered her on Facebook, it seemed she was just getting started. I think she may have already self-published one book, or maybe it came out soon after we met. She had great energy, inspiring vision and lots of enthusiasm. It turned out that she’s very artistic in variety of ways. Check out some of her projects:

Her books are fantastic (she even published a book from the future!). Her web comic is adorable. Her enthusiasm for life, the universe and creativity is contagious.

In 2015, Thea went on Patreon. And guess what? People started supporting her.

Why is it working? Because we like what she’s doing, so we’re willing to part with $1 or $5 or $10 per month to help her keep doing it.

Another example

People don’t just offer monthly Patreon options, but also project-based options. For example, the folks at Enigmatic Mirror Press are putting together an anthology and are using Patreon to fund it. What projects do you have in the works that people are excited about? Perhaps they’d like to pledge some money towards a copy of the finished product.

There are a wide variety of creatives with many different ways to leverage this tool.

The psychology of it

Something important to consider about Patreon: this isn’t just about people calculating how much they’d pay if they bought all the books the author wrote and then deciding what level of patronage will get them all the books without paying as much (although sometimes that happens, too). It’s not just a financial transaction, or another way to pay for a product.

You need to start looking at yourself, and your work, in new ways.

When someone pays to stay connected to you (an artist or author), it draws them closer to you. They feel connected. If you do your Patreon communication well, they feel like part of your inner circle. In fact, if you think of your patrons as more than just “customers” and allow them to help shape what you create, you’ll form an even stronger connection. Some creators  ask for opinions about potential book covers, ask patrons to vote on names for characters, or poll patrons about color schemes for paintings. When someone is participating, whether by offering an opinion or paying — even a little bit! — to keep you going, there’s a deeper sense of pride and accomplishment when you release a new piece of work. Because they helped make it happen.

That’s the beauty and joy of patronage.

The power of motivation

There’s another important psychological aspect to consider. If you know that you have a quality product, but you’re struggling to find the motivation to keep at it in the midst of other life demands, Patreon can provide another vital benefit: Motivation to finish. When you know that you have patrons who are putting money towards your work every single month, you’ll want to have something to show them. You’ll want to make progress, so you can give them excerpts from the latest chapter or show them the latest sketches.

Sometimes, we creatives need a little motivation. Sometimes we need a deadline. And knowing that there are people waiting and hoping for a little something every single month can provide the extra push that we need to make our creative work a priority.

Think it over

Patreon isn’t for everyone. And if you don’t know why people enjoy you and your work, you may be disappointed with the results. So think about it. Mull it over for a while. Ask your readers what they like about your stories. Ask your viewers why they watch your videos or listen to your podcast. Consider what kinds of rewards you could offer your patrons.

Drop a comment below and brainstorm aloud about your work, your WIPs and how you might use a tool like Patreon.

Further reading

Share your experience with Patreon!

If you’ve used Patreon or support someone who does, drop a link in the comments below and tell us what you like about it.

Book Marketing Tactic: Engage readers in a survey

One of the things sales and marketing folks know is that getting a potential customer engaged on ANY level is a win. If you can get someone to accept a free sample, it’s a starting point. Even getting someone to open an envelope to check out a coupon is one step forward, because once they have taken the time to do that, they will want to make good on that investment and use the coupon. Sometimes it’s as simple as asking them a question.

Which door will you choose?
Using a survey to engage potential readers

Imagine for a moment that someone walks by you in the bookstore. You say, “Hey, buddy, you looking for a good book?”

His eyes light up a little, and he nods. “Got any recommendations?”

“What kind of story do you like? Adventure, romance, mystery?”

“Adventure!” he says.

“Okay,” you reply, leaning closer. “Adventure on the high seas, or above the clouds in an airship? Outer space or on horseback?”

He stares into the distance for a moment. “Airship.”

“You’ve got it!” You pull a stack of books out and say, “One last question: Stand alone book or a trilogy?”

He grabs the stack of three with the matching cover designs and BAM. You’ve made a sale.

A real-life example from Orbit books


I get emails from Orbit, a science fiction and fantasy imprint of Hachette Book Group, and one of them was an invitation to take this survey. It is short, fun and to the point. You answer just 3-4 questions and it selects a book to recommend to you. For the impatient, the “Show me everything” button leads to a list of all the books available (not nearly as fun as taking the survey, but it’s good way to cater to other personality types rather than losing them completely).

During the survey you may experience the following feelings, as a consumer:

  • Enjoyment of the entertaining questions and answers (they are fun, not boring)
  • Delighted surprise as you consider questions you may not have even thought to ask yourself (“How much world-building do you enjoy?”)
  • A sense of control over your own destiny
  • Anticipation and curiosity as you wait to see what will be recommended (why would they ask, “Are you afraid of heights?”)

Why it works

What makes this survey an effective book marketing tactic?

The positive emotional experience during the survey offers the potential reader a subliminal promise: “You will enjoy the book, too!” You invited them, they accepted, and they enjoyed themselves. They begin to trust you as a reliable source for entertainment.


What better time for someone to read your book blurb and decide to buy? They are already mildly stimulated and happy from the mini-adventure of selecting the sort of story they want to experience. If they need a little extra push, there are some more fun promises on the results page, hints about the type of story and what the reader may expect to enjoy. In the example above, there’s a strong female protagonist, a high body count, some magic, demons and fresh themes for the genre.

Check out the survey yourself. Imagine partnering with a select group of other authors whose books provide enough variety (within the overall umbrella of speculative fiction) that you could provide some fun questions and help readers pick something they’re in the mood for. Or, if the books you have authored are of sufficient variety and numbers, you could populate the recommendations entirely with your own work.

Have you seen other fun book marketing tactics that you’d like to try? Tell us about them in the comments!

Alternative Income for Authors: Use Book Research to Create Online Courses

Fill up your Author Toolbox. These posts highlight helpful resources: blogs, software, books and people who have something to offer authors. This time, we’re looking at an alternative income stream: offering paid online classes sharing the knowledge you gained doing research for your novels.

Author Toolbox: Udemy

Meet David James Ault. This British author took the info he gathered while researching a novel and turned it into an educational resource on Udemy, a site designed to “help anyone learn anything”.

David James Ault - Author & Teacher“Created from the research carried out for the second Time School novel, this course acts as an ideal supplementary learning material for pupils or students studying Ancient Egyptian History, whether at school or at university. The course is also an excellent resource for anyone who has an interest in learning about Howard Carter and the search for Tutankhamun, or has a passion for history in general.”

David James Udemy class on Carter's search for Tut

There are a number of companies and websites offering ways to publish an online class or course (see the links at the end of this post). The advantage of Udemy is that they do not charge you anything to host your class. They get their cut when someone buys the class. This means you don’t have to wrestle with adding e-commerce to your own website. You only have to figure out how to create the class files, and Udemy provides tools and help with that.

What topics have you researched that might be useful to someone else?

One of the big questions for authors today is how to “make a living” at writing. Which options you pursue depends a lot on your personality and skills. Some authors are gifted artists and make money with their art as well as their writing. Some are savvy marketers and focus their efforts on creative ways to draw in new readers.

Packaging your knowledge as an online course is just another option to consider. One of the big benefits is that an online class at Udemy is a passive income stream. That means you create it once and then earn income whenever someone buys it without additional time or attention from you. If you think you could organize the research notes you have into something useful to others who might want to learn about a subject, you could make your research time do double duty as novel fodder and class content.

Post a comment below and share a topic you spent time researching that might be of interest to others.

Additional resources about publishing online classes

Winter Hiatus and PDF of Author Marketing Self-Assessment Analysis

The holidays and post-NaNoWriMo daze are upon us. Give yourself a break, relax with family and friends. Or if this is the time when you finally get quiet to yourself to write or plan for the coming year, browse through the posts you’ve been too busy to participate on and drop some comments on the blog or do the assignments.

Gifts from me to you

My first gift to you is to remove two weekly items from your inbox for the rest of December. I’ll be suspending posts until after the New Year.

self-assessment-analysis-pdf-thumbnailMeanwhile, for your convenience and as a bonus gift, here’s a link to download a printable version of the full author marketing self-assessment analysis (a 10-page PDF). Reading it in three separate posts is nice when you want bite-sized chunks, but printing it out for offline reading or future reference is handy, too.

A season of joy… and hope!

May all the hope and joy and peace of the season be yours.

And come December 18… I hope we all will enjoy the awakening of the Force! (Please, please, please be a good movie!)


Author Toolbox: Daily Science Fiction

Fill up your Author Toolbox. These posts will highlight resources that we’ve found helpful. Blogs, software, books and people who have something to offer authors. This time, we spotlight a place to get your daily dose of science fiction — or to submit your short specfic stories.

Author Toolbox: Daily Science Fiction

I’ve been subscribed to the free daily fiction emails from Daily Science Fiction for a while now. The stories are the right length for a quick read while waiting for something, taking a break from work, or to read aloud to friends or family (I’ve actually shared Ten Things You’ll Only Get if You Were a 50’s Kid twice in the last three days, reading it aloud to my sister and mother-in-law, and passing my phone to a friend to read for herself while we were hanging out). The story quality is generally excellent and the stories just plain fun. Or disturbing. Or a little sad. Or all of the above.

Just as spec fic should be.

Daily Science Fiction screenshotDaily Science Fiction (DSF) greets us on their home page with the following description of what they do:

Original Science Fiction and Fantasy every weekday. Welcome to Daily Science Fiction, an online magazine of science fiction short stories. We publish “science fiction” in the broad sense of the word: This includes sci-fi, fantasy, slipstream– whatever you’d likely find in the science fiction section of your local bookstore. Our stories are mostly short short fiction (flash fiction) each Monday through Thursday, hopefully the right length to read on a coffee break, over lunch, or as a bedtime tale.

How does DSF apply to us?

Authors need to be reading in their genre. DSF provides easy, bite-sized stories to inspire and jog our imaginations. You can read the stories on their website or subscribe to the daily emails. On the website you can search or browse by topic. Another fun element is that after reading, you can rate the story by “rocket dragons”. Don’t ask me why, that just tickles my spec fic bone. They also publish anthologies of each year’s short fiction.

Authors need places to submit their work. DSF would be a great place to submit short stories or flash fiction.

Authors need other authors of like mind. When I find a story that resonates with me, I track down the author from their bio on DSF (when possible) and connect with them on social media. Sometimes these relationships develop into friendships and the opportunity to encourage each other and/or promote each others’ work (collaborative marketing!).

Sometimes, authors need places to advertise. DSF has a readership that loves speculative fiction and they offer ad spots on their website.

Do you have a place you go for free online speculative fiction? Post it in the comments below!

Author Marketing Journey: Assessment Quiz Analysis – Part 3

Concluding our series on the author marketing and publishing journey, we examine the answers to quiz questions 5-8. If you missed the original 8-point assessment quiz or Part 1 and Part 2, take a moment to review them. This post is most useful if you use it to analyze your answers to the quiz.

Once more, I treat you to quotes from Miles Vorkosigan, the protagonist of Lois Bujold’s Vorkosigan series. Miles is a master strategist, but too impulsive for his own good. His most brilliant strategies tend to arise out of the need to escape some ridiculous trouble he thrust himself into.


5. Completed work next steps

If you took the quiz, you know what you need to do with your finished piece. What are you waiting for? If you have something finished, take the next step. Hint: Usually, that means showing it to someone. Whether you need a critique partner, a beta reader, an editor, an agent, publisher, book cover, etc, get it. If there’s a decision that must be made (where to submit it, whether or not to self-publish, etc), make it. Move forward.

6. Overall career next steps

The strategies listed above may have given you some insight to where you are and what to focus on next. Also check your answer from the quiz: what did you think you most needed to do next? Put it into context by framing it in a timeline. What do you want to accomplish by the end of the coming year? What about the next three years? Five? Research proves that writing down and scheduling goals makes them more likely to be achieved. Having a written plan can be as simple as:

This coming year: Finish my novel. Write three short stories. Submit something to at least six places for publication (or if self-publishing, publish at least one item somewhere).

3 years: Have at least 5 published works out. Have a solid author brand. All my tools in place to build my platform. Have 2-3 authors friends who are committed to sharing the journey together and encouraging each other. Have 3-5 influencers that I’m building relationships with.

Don’t over-complicate it. But do write it down. And as you come across articles that give you insight about next steps or specific strategies and tactics to use, jot them down. Keep it all in a folder, and review it at least quarterly, if not monthly. [Star Wars voice:] Stay on target, stay on target…

7. Greatest obstacles

We all have things that get in the way of where we want to go. Remember, you are the hero of your story. What do heroes do? Sit around and let obstacles stop them? Nope! I guarantee there is an answer out there.

Tackle your top three problems head-on (lack of time? feeling overwhelmed? don’t know what to do next? etc). Schedule time every week (even if it’s just 10 minutes) to explore solutions. There are great blogs out there dealing with any topic you can imagine. Even if your obstacle isn’t something you can change (you might have a chronic illness or limited time, etc), there are things you can do to move forward. Find solutions. Do them. It might not be easy — but it is that simple.

Stay encouraged: even if your progress is slow, celebrate each step forward. I’ve said it before and I’ll never stop: Find friends that will encourage you, inform you, support you. Sometimes it takes years to find the right friends: so start now and never give up searching. Which leads us to the final piece:

the-vor-game-bujold-quote-future-subordinate8. Greatest assets

Besides your work itself, your greatest assets are people. There are three types of relationships we focus on here:

  • Fellow writers (both those who are in a similar place on the author journey and those who are ahead of you)
  • Mentors (teachers, editors, agents, other voices of wisdom in your life)
  • Influencers (readers and those who influence readers)

The quiz asked you to list three people or groups that you have in your corner. Cultivate those relationships. If you don’t have three, go out and find them. Ideally, build relationships with people in each group listed above.

A writer’s group, a Facebook group, and fellow writer friends will provide mutual encouragement, ideas and accountability. Mentors can be people you know, but may also be voices of wisdom and insight that you find online or in writing how-to books. Gurus like James Scott Bell, Seth Godin, Kristen Lamb, Steven Pressfield — anybody whose teaching on how to write and market your books resonates with you. Read their work and do it. Repost their articles and ask them questions on social media. They may not be close, personal friends but your writing journey can be propelled by their insights if you pro-actively apply their advice.

In today’s highly connected world, publishing involves relationships above all. This is true of nearly all kinds of business and marketing now. You don’t have to be an extrovert to have good relationships. But remember that any good relationship does need attention to stay healthy. Seeing your writing tasks through the lens of relationship can be enlightening. Writing drafts = a relationship with the characters, with your beta readers, with your critique partners. Marketing = a relationship with fellow authors and your readers and their influencers. Your body of work = a relationship with the world and the generations to come. Food for thought, eh?

The traditional ways people practice relationships are being challenged and reshaped by the technology we have today. How does one have a relationship with 10,000 of one’s greatest fans (Twitter) or 500 of one’s closest friends (Facebook)? Find what works for you, but most of all: Never underestimate the power of relationship.


This 3-part series (originally drafted as a monster 2,800+ word post) has turned into a master resource that you can use and re-use over time. Bookmark it, pin it, print it out — share it with your spec fic writer friends. Review these eight areas of your author business regularly. Point yourself in the right direction, and gun it.

Or walk it.

Just move forward. That’s the thing.

And now my brain is echoing with that gem from Firefly’s “The Message” episode: “When you can’t run, you crawl, and when you can’t crawl – when you can’t do that… you find someone to carry you…” Here’s to the #SpecFicCollective community, and our commitment to running, crawling… and carrying each other. 


To which I might add: Don’t make me shoot you to finally get you where you’re trying to go.