Year in Review: My experiences with Patreon and self-publishing in 2014

(ETA: I forgot resolution number 6!)

Because I’m a big fan of transparency, as I find it helps encourage new self-publishers and content creators (women especially), I wanted to do a bit of an analysis of how 2014 went – both in terms of this Patreon, and a little bit in terms of my other publishing. I also wanted to talk about some lessons learned, in the hopes that this will be helpful for folks looking to jump into self-publishing in 2015.

(This post is a freebie, because charging patrons for a post about how much money I’m making off of my Patreon would be totally sketchy.)

1. Patreon revenue

For several reasons, it’s a bit difficult to quantify [money earned] per [standard unit of effort]. Sometimes I’ll do a visual post where I’ve monkeyed with photoshop, or done a redraw, or made a bingo card, whatever. Those tend to have low word counts, but higher time investments than writing-only posts. There’s also no way to quantify time spent on research, short of tracking my hours per post – which is way too anal for the amount of money I’m making on this thing.

So here’s the best approximation I could come up with – [monthly payout] / [total number of paid words]. (I can’t do it per post, because monthly limits mean that I get diminishing returns on subsequent posts in the same month. (That is absolutely not a complaint.))

cents

Now the reason I started my Patreon was to “replace” to revenue that I would lose by writing here on my blog instead of working on other projects that would later earn me money. Kids are expensive, and when I was first looking at starting out, I was really feeling the pinch. So if you look at it from that angle, this Patreon has been a great success. Standard industry rates for freelancers are 2-3 cents per word – which means I’m earning more money per word than I could freelancing, and have been from the start! (That said, standard freelance rates are complete bullshit and don’t represent any sort of liveable wage in terms of financial return on time invested.)

All told, the income I got from this Patreon in 2014 paid for just over half of my kid’s daycare costs, which is a fair chunk of change. Hooray!

2. Patreon: pros & cons

So obviously Patreon is great. And really, to almost every single woman I know who has been saying “I’d like to do more publishing this year”, I will yell GET THEE TO A PATREON. However, it’s not universally perfect. So here are the pros and cons I’ve encountered in the last 10 months (not universally applicable, obviously)

Pros

  • Predictable, regular income stream
  • Pays better than freelancing
  • Gives me the freedom to choose what I write about
  • Real, concrete, tangible proof that what I am doing here has value. Literally!

Cons

  • I’m now a “professional victim” according to some of my haters
  • Every patron-spike (a cluster of new people becoming patrons) larger than 4 people was the direct result of targeted harassment campaigns against me
  • It’s hard to expand your patronage once you reach a certain saturation, because even with the ability to set monthly limits many people aren’t willing to take on new monthly expenses
  • The pressure to make paid posts “valuable” sometimes makes me post less, perversely
  • Patreon is only suitable for small, periodic content; it won’t ever replace KickStarter for huge projects
  • Doesn’t support multiple content “streams” (I couldn’t use this Patreon to support, say, fiction writing, frex)

This might make it look like there’s not any real advantage to having a Patreon, but don’t be fooled. The pros easily, easily outweigh the cons.

3. Self-Publishing: lessons learned

This is the year I decided that I was going to be A Real Publisher! And mostly, that worked out pretty well for me!

real

Most of what I learned this past year is excellently summed up in this piece by Molly Crabapple about how to “make it” as an artist. (Note: I am not even remotely claiming to have “made it”.) But briefly, here are the main lessons I learned this year:

  • DON’T EVER WORK PAY ON PUBLICATION. Don’t do it. DON’T. DO. IT.
  • Seriously fuck exposure. If someone wants you to work for exposure, tell them to jump off a fucking cliff.
  • IT’S ALL ABOUT REVENUE STREAMS. Multiple revenue streams is the name of the game. This year I did patron-supported blogging, game publishing, children’s book illustration, and a few other miscellaneous projects. Don’t put all your eggs in one baskets. Baskets are amazing. You need more baskets. (I think I lost control of this metaphor.)
  • Haters have almost zero power to affect your earnings. People willing to listen to a hater were not going to buy your shit anyway. So when someone hates on your work (spoiler alert: this will happen), set your fucks free, do a haters-gonna-hate-dance, and go on doing what you’re doing.
  • Communicate with your audience! Your audience is something you should build a relationship with. Ideally it will grow, and much of your audience will support multiple projects. (Remember – baskets!) This is something I’m still working on, but wow it’s important.
  • If you’ve ever done a thing and thought “I should sell this thing”, and then immediately talked yourself out of doing that? Tell your brain to STFU and sell the thing. I made $550 this year on a mini-game I almost didn’t publish.
  • Speaking of which, small projects are amazeballs. Don’t be afraid to do lots of small projects instead of one HUGE GINORMOUS PROJECT.

4. Resolutions for 2015

So with all of that in mind, here are my thoughts for the coming year.

FIRST, after the shitstorm back in March over my redraw of GenCon’s mascot, I got paranoid and locked comments the fuck down. That’s killed a lot of discussion and I think that level of caution is no longer warranted, at least for now. I’m probably going to start cautiously easing restrictions on commenting, which will mean that people will be able to comment on old posts again. Hopefully people don’t abuse this.

SECOND, replacing troll comments with sarcastic memes is always a good decision. I resolve to keep doing that.

THIRD, I want to get back into doing at least 3 freebie link posts per month. I’ve neglected this blog shamefully the last three months, and traffic numbers have reflected that. I want to do what I can to promote under-represented voices!

THREE-and-a-HALF, I want to do more “creative” posts. Redraws, cartoons, photoshops, stuff like that. They’re fun! I need to do more fun things!

FOURTH, I want to do more to support women getting into publishing!

FIFTH, I really want to find a way to do more fiction writing in 2015! I’m going to put serious thought into how to do this. Maybe a crowdfunding ransom model? We’ll see.

SIXTH, I’m thinking of adding a tip jar, since a number of people told me this year that they would have supported me as a one-time thing. So I’ll probably put up a PayPal link or something. I’ll figure that out.

So that’s where I’m at. Thanks for sticking with me through what was a pretty tough year. I look forward to seeing what we can do this year!

12 thoughts on “Year in Review: My experiences with Patreon and self-publishing in 2014

  1. I strongly support ALL of this, but I particularly like Resolution Three and a Half. I have no money to fund you, but each time that you complete a creative post, you should feel free to imagine me giving you a nice, big, imaginary-but-no-less-valuable hug. Because when I read it, I will.

  2. I’m sorry if you’ve addressed this elsewhere, but how do you like WordPress for hosting? I’m starting a new blog and considering methods of monetizing it. My preferred domain name is taken for .wordpress.com, and I’m wondering if I need to just change it, go to a paid wordpress domain, or do self-hosting. Do you have any insight into the choices?

    • WordPress.com is pretty great! The blogging tools are robust, the blogs are customizable, you get a ton of space (like I pretty much don’t have to worry about space), and the free pricetag is pretty awesome. Also, unlike other free services (Blogger), the spam filtering is actually effective. And the blocking tools are decently robust as well.

      I’ve been super happy with WordPress.com and have no plans to switch in the foreseeable future.

  3. How is 0.04-0.08 cents per word more than the industry rate of 2-3 cents per word? Unless your graph was actually meant to be in dollars😉

    • Oh man. I hate bad infographics, but I totally screwed this one up! Curses! (Yes, it was meant to be in dollars. That’s what I get for not labeling my axes.)

      • That confused me too – I was thinking your rate of return was terrible😛

        Please do add a donate button, by the way – I’ve waffled back and forth on sponsoring you via Patreon, but I just can’t commit to something regular right now (as my income is highly variable too). I *can* donate a couple bucks here and there, though, and I totally would if I could.

  4. Happy new year! Looking forward to reading you this year! Resolution 3.5 sounds good, more redraws, more gender swaps, please! Not that I mean your other content isn’t valuable, of course. Cheers!

  5. I’m glad that Patreon is working out pretty well for you. I often consider making one, then start questioning why anyone would pay to read my video game ramblings. I’m looking forward to more creative posts this year – your redraws and gender swaps are always great.

    • It’s a tough question! I think generally Patreons do better if you already have an established audience, even a small one. But sometimes you need the support to have the freedom to acquire one.

      Also, generally when I have the thought “why would anyone pay for [a thing I created]”, I tell my brain to STFU. (Or try to at least.)

  6. “THREE-and-a-HALF, I want to do more “creative” posts. Redraws, cartoons, photoshops, stuff like that. They’re fun! I need to do more fun things!” … these are the reason I come back to your blog … so, I wholeheartedly support this goal! (The other posts are good, but these are what keep me hooked)

    • Oh, and “SECOND, replacing troll comments with sarcastic memes is always a good decision. I resolve to keep doing that” almost makes me want to troll comment here, so, um… TROLL!!!!, hashtaggamergate or something.

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