Crowdfunding for Writers: 10 Tips for Running a Successful Patreon Campaign

Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have made a big splash in recent years, helping creative people raise funds for everything from videogames to unicorgis. But Patreon, the new kid on the fundraising block, may be the best platform yet for writers, and I'm here to tell you why.

While Kickstarter and Indiegogo are great for launching projects (like books), Patreon, as the name suggests, allows your fans to act as your patrons over the long term, backing you—the artist, the creator—rather than just a project. Your backers can sign up for as little as $1/month, and there is no end date. This is funding in perpetuity (or at least until your backer decides to withdraw support).

That's a small difference with big consequences, for writers in particular, but it also requires a slightly different approach (see below).

Patreon launched in 2013, and just a year later, had raised $15 million in a Series A fund. As of March 2016, around 10% of the "creators" on Patreon identified as writers (some of which are actually small magazines or presses). The biggest categories on the site right now are Drawing & Painting and Video & Film, but last month, payments to writers increased 10%, making it the second-fastest growing category on the site (after Crafts). 

The site allows you to release your work—which Patreon calls Things—in a number of ways. You can:

  • A) publish your Thing on your Patreon page on the public setting; an email will be sent to your patrons, much like a new blog post goes out to it subscribers, but the content is free for all the world to see;
  • B) publish your Thing to your Patreon page on the Patrons Only setting (which also allows you to make different Things accessible exclusively to patrons at different backing levels); or
  • C) you can send your Thing directly to your patrons' inboxes by exporting your subscribers' email addresses via a handy spreadsheet file (thereby keeping your content off the Internet, provided no one cuts and pastes your work).

While there were almost 200 writers who make over $1000 a month on Patreon, the average writer on the site made $200 this past month. Not an insignificant income stream, especially for writers who don't yet have a book out.

I launched my Patreon page on March 1st and currently have around $200/month in patronage (counting offline pledges—more on this later) from around 61 backers. I'm releasing one original short story to my subscribers each month for the next thirty months, in honor of the thirty years I've been writing fiction.

Here are some takeaways from the first 60 days of my campaign, as well as some best practices for writers considering their own Patreon campaign.

1. Consider Your Things 

While other crowdfunding sites are good for big projects like books, Patreon's model requires the regular release of smaller works. As a writer, this means that you'll need to release either short stories, flash fictions, essays, poems, or pieces of your larger work in progress.

For emerging writers, my sense is it that it may be better to release small pieces that are polished (that will help you build your fan base) than it will be to share messy chapter drafts. However, for established authors with a fan base in place, the chance to see those messy early drafts could be as valuable to your reader as a backstage pass. 

What's the biggest obstacle creators on Patreon face? According to Taryn Arnold, it's the "if you build it, they will come" mentality.

2. Consider Your Narrative

Before you launch your campaign, consider your narrative. "I'm launching a Patreon campaign so I can pay my rent" is one way to approach it, but the people you're asking to back you have to pay their rent (or mortgage) too, and they're not asking anyone else to do it for them. In order to get people on board, you'll need a goal or cause they can get behind, even if you're just asking for help funding your professional development.

That's why, though I've planned on launching a Patreon campaign since I discovered the site in 2014, I waited until I'd signed a contract for my debut novel before I went ahead with that campaign. (Though finding out how much of the publicity expenses associated with my book I'd be responsible for certainly provided some impetus as well.) To me, "Help support the launch of my book!" sounds more compelling than "Support me while I write!" (though in the end, the latter is what I'll be aiming for).

3. Think Long Term

While you might have some short-term goals that serve the narrative about your campaign, you, the author, should be thinking in long term. How often are you going to release a Thing? How long will it take you to create, polish, and (if sending via email) format this Thing? 

Taryn Arnold, Brand + Content Specialist at Patreon, had this to add: "My biggest piece of advice in terms of what to release to your to show them the work you’re already doing. No need to go spend extra time drumming up and creating rewards outside your workflow — just bring your patrons into your current process and let them in on what you do along the way to make the things they love." 

Bottom line: it should not require a lot of extra work on your part to release Things on a regular basis to your patrons—after all, sustainable funding requires a sustainable effort on your part.

4. Consider Your Copyright

One of the core concepts in internet marketing is using the same information/product to make money more than once. For example: A savvy online entrepreneur would never just offer a standard seminar event. She'd turn that in-person seminar into an online seminar too, and probably record every talk given and make them available as audiobooks or audio courses as well.

Sadly, the people who profit from these sorts of strategies are often repackaging the same bit of lightweight fluff over and over again, while authors work untold hours on a story that will only ever be read by a handful of subscribers to a print journal. But it doesn't have to be that way, and Patreon strikes me as one of the very few ways for an author to get paid for the same piece of writing more than once.

For instance, chances are good that the copyright on every piece you've published while building your credits reverted right back to you, so why not release them to your Patreon subscribers? You'll probably make more off of doing so than the journal paid you for first North American serial rights. (If you release new work exclusively via email, you should be able to sell it to magazines and journals later as well, provided none of your subscribers post your content on the Internet.)

5. Hit Your First Month Hard

People get excited when something is new. Your project is going to be around forever, and many will become desensitized to hearing about it, so you'll want to take the time to develop the narrative around your campaign through videos and articles of different types, and be prepared to hit your first month hard. (I gained close to eighty percent of my current patrons in the first week of my campaign.) 

6. Keep it Fresh

People will be sick of hearing about your campaign after that first month is over, but you'll need to find a way to keep adding patrons.

To do this, you'll need to find a way to keep things interesting and fresh, to create urgency in little spurts. (I've seen people ask Facebook friends to support their campaign as a present when their birthday rolls around.) My plan is to talk about the story I'll be releasing at the end of every month, encouraging people to sign on to the campaign if they'd like to read it.

As with book sales, posting regular, quality content on high-traffic websites, accompanied by a Patreon link in your bio, will work to keep funneling people back to your campaign, creating value and giving people new reasons to support you.

7. Offer Options

Starting off, I knew I wanted to make each of my stories available as both text and audio, as audiobooks are currently the fastest growing segment of book sales. What I didn't know was that there would be significant people in my life who would want to support me but wouldn't want to have their credit card info on file with another website. For those folks, I created a mail-in option that allows them to subscribe for $12/year, which works for my project because I'm releasing my Things via email (rather than on the Patreon website itself).

However you approach it, make sure you offer options and listen to your patrons' feedback.

8. Make Sure It's Shareable

Yes, you want to protect your copyright on new work. But you also want to give your patrons a way to share their love of this beguiling Thing that you've made, thereby bringing you more patrons.

If you're releasing new work via email, there are settings in various newsletter services that will allow you to reveal only an except of the Thing when the email is forwarded by your patron. You can also make sharing on social media easy with preset blurbs (that link back to the excerpted version, with an invitation to subscribe at the end).

9. Give Super Fans a Next Step

Remember, this campaign is not about Patreon—this campaign is about you. Give your patrons a reason to visit your website, sign up for your regular mailing list, read your blog, and in so doing, become an even bigger fan.

10. Don't Give Up

What's the biggest obstacle creators on Patreon face? According to Taryn Arnold, it's the "if you build it, they will come" mentality. She goes on to note that the most successful Patreon pages are run by creators who, during the launch phase, continually remind their fans to head over to their Patreon page.

"Then," she says, "once launched, those creators add reminders about their Patreon pages on everything they create—YouTube cards, links on their pages and email footers, within their social bios, etc. You need to be constantly reminding your fans of what you’re doing on Patreon!"

Now go forth and get thyself funded, writers! I'm looking forward to backing your writing and reading your Things.

Further reading:

The basics on Patreon for writers

The freelance writer to book author approach

Crowdfunding philosophy, inspiration, and the cantankerous musings of Cory Doctorow and Amanda Palmer

Susan DeFreitas

Column by Susan DeFreitas

An author, editor, and educator, Susan DeFreitas’s creative work has appeared in the Writer’s Chronicle, Story Magazine, the Huffington Post, Daily Science Fiction, and Southwestern American Literature, along with many other journals and anthologies. She is the author of the novel Hot Season, which won a Gold IPPY Award for Best Fiction of the Mountain West, and holds an MFA from Pacific University. She divides her time between Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Portland, Oregon, and has served as a freelance editor and book coach since 2010.

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randiholiday's picture
randiholiday August 5, 2016 - 1:49pm

Thank you. Your article was very useful. It looks to me like Patreon can be used to publish short works of fiction then? 

Susan DeFreitas's picture
Susan DeFreitas from Portland, OR is reading Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of Your Fist by Sunil Yapa September 2, 2016 - 4:19pm

It can--or you can simply send your work to the email addresses of your patrons.