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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.

Patreon

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.

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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

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