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!

Tired Friday hodge-podge: transparency, status report, and a bit of self-promotion

Hey, folks! Just a freebie here to address a few things that I wanted to give some attention to.

Transparency: My Patreon numbers so far

So far, I’ve been super pleased with how well Patreon has worked for me! Blogging is something I’m passionate about, and being able to do it without having to worry that I’m “stealing” time and creative bandwidth from projects I could get paid for is a god-send. One of the unfortunate realities of not living in a hippie utopia like Scandinavia is that I have to hustle to make my dollars count, especially with a toddler in the house[1]. So Patreon is great in that it gives me the freedom to allocate my mental bandwidth more to my liking.

The patron-supported relaunch only happened six weeks ago, so I only have a month and a half of posts and two payouts (Patreon processes pledges and issues payment the first week of each month for the previous month) as data points. But here are some preliminary numbers and my initial thoughts. (I should state the obvious here – I love spreadsheets. Like, unhealthily.[2])

month Paid posts amount pledged (processed) amount received total fees (credit card + Patreon fees)  
February 3 204.5 182.64 21.86 11.97%
March 6 482.40 432.98 47.42 10.95%

 

February
Post topic Total # Patrons # Pledging Patrons # Patrons Gained
Deep Down 17 17 7
Last of Us: women 24 25 1
Last of Us: Joel 25 23 1
TOTAL
March
Difficulty of satire 26 26 2
Male protag bingo 28 27 0
Jonboy anatomy 28 28 1
Backlash 29 29 10
Circle of Hands 39 34 1
How not to fail pt 1 40 27 0

I didn’t start tracking patron numbers and levels until recently, so I think I missed out on some good data. But an interesting picture is emerging so far. My initial thoughts?

The most positive features result in an unpredictable revenue stream. The ability to initially pledge at one amount and adjust later is great, because it lets people feel in control of the amount they want to spend as a patron and thus actually attracts patrons. But sometimes it can result in weirdness.

Like, there’s an interesting thing that happens where people pledge very highly to start with and then adjust downward later. It’s actually a positive thing, because every time I got a backer pledging at a high amount per post they actually messaged me to say “hey, I really want to support what you’re doing, but won’t pledge at this rate forever because of budget reasons”. And that is GREAT for me as a creator. Really, really great! But it has resulted in a couple weird downward dips. So I was appreciative that these patrons warned me in advance, because otherwise I would have been stressing about WHAT DID I DOOOOOOO.

Monthly caps, similarly, result in an unpredictability of revenue stream. And again, monthly caps are something I totally support! They’re a tool to help people feel confident that they won’t pay more than they want to, which is ultimately good for me. But it means that there’s a weird thing where a spike of new patrons in the second half of a month seems like a good thing, because they’re coming in fresh with no monthly caps that have been hit. But that’s a phenomenon where I feel like I need a lot more data points before I can analyze properly.

Hate spikes are actually pretty awesome. In advertising, there’s the idea that there’s no such thing as negative attention. Well, in social justice blogging circles that tends to be emphatically untrue. Hate-spikes like the one J Scott Campbell and his ilk sent my way are frightening, time-consuming, and mentally exhausting to deal with. When I was blogging for free, I would pretty much say I’d rather have a dearth of traffic than a massive hate-spike. And yet…

While the hate-spike was three of the un-funnest (yes it’s a word, shut up) days I’ve had in a long time, it also had a very concrete monetary benefit as it directly resulted in 10 new patrons. That’s almost a quarter of the patrons that I have now! As they say, the best revenge is living well. And I can’t think of a better “fuck you” than “I’m going to convert your hate directly into money”.

That said, I’m not about to go taunting Reddit or anything because I’m not stupid.

Status report! Posts requiring in-depth reporting.

I’ve mentioned previously that I was working on some posts (series of posts? not sure yet) about sex workers in games and disability in games. (Two SEPARATE topics, mind.) Work on these posts proceeds slowly – I’m still assembling an outline of how I’ll tackle this and the research needed is… daunting. The research file (a word doc where I dump links, quotes, and images) I have for disability in games is up above 10,000 words, with no sense of order emerging yet.

So if you’ve said to yourself, hey! I wonder what’s up with those posts… Working on it! But it’s a big task.

Self promotion! Our KickStarter funded the initial goal!

You guys! I’m so excited! Last night we hit our initial goal, which means the first series about Princess Kadri will definitely be happening!

Also, this week we started revealing the other princesses in the series that we are unlocking as stretch goals. Here is the lineup we have planned.

I desperately hope to be able to do ALL of them, because they are JUST. SO. AWESOME. Fayola is a trans princess who falls in love with the queen of another kingdom after she saves her and her daughter from a vicious ogre. Rowan just wants to go have adventures and gets tired of having to deal with an irritating prince who thinks she can’t because she only has one hand. Chandra is a princess AND sea captain who is pretty much a pirate princess. A PIRATE PRINCESS. WHAT I CAN’T EVEN. And Nayeli is a diplomat and fashionista who uses diplomacy to stop a war, because what’s the point of defining awesome as “things that aren’t traditionally girly”? Screw that. Girly and awesome are not mutually exclusive.

So yeah. Pleased as punch, and I hope our momentum continues so I get to do more awesome books about awesome princesses.

[1]Toddlers are EXPENSIVE. It costs a lot of money to feed them, and even more money to pay people to make sure that they don’t kill themselves while you’re off earning money to keep the lights on. Sometimes I’m kind of amazed that we’ve survived this long as a species, because. Man. Toddlers.

[2] (I don’t know why I think this is hilarious. It just is.)