Session: Multiple Streams of Income: Should Patreon Be Part of Your Author Business?
Join Trevor Mauk from Patreon as he discusses why Patreon should be part of your author business
Audience: All Levels
This post is part of London Book Fair Self-Publishing Advice Conference (#SelfPubCon2019), an online author conference that showcases the best self-publishing advice and education for authors across the world — harnessing the global reach of the Alliance of Independent Authors’ network. Our self-publishing conference features well-known indie authors and advisors, for 24 sessions over 24-hours, in a one-day extravaganza of self-publishing expertise straight to your email inbox. We hope you enjoy this session. Let us know if you have any questions or input on this self-publishing topic. Visit our Facebook Group and join in the conversation there, or leave your questions and feedback in the comments section below.
Hey everyone, hope you’re all enjoying the online Self Publishing Advice Conference. I’m Trevor and I work on the creator partnerships team at Patreon. And today I’d like to give an overview of membership as a business model for creators, specifically authors and writers. We’ll talk through some reasons why membership is different than a traditional crowdfunding model. Take a look at some writers and authors that are doing very well on Patreon and go over creative ways that you can promote your Patreon and communicate the value of your membership to your fans. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Patreon, Patreon powers membership for artists and their most passionate fans. So in other words, we’re a toolkit that makes it easy to build a membership business. And before we dig into the details of what membership is, let’s first take a step back and think about all of our fans.
So of course all your fans love what you do. But really some love it so much they can’t get enough. And you know the ones that we’re talking about, they’re the ones that read all of your posts, show up to every reading, repost your tweets, read every piece of your work and thinking about these fans, they want more from you and with membership you can give them what they want by building out an exclusive community where they can get extras they can’t get elsewhere. And in return you have a way to engage your most loyal fans and have control over a business that you’ve built yourself.
Let’s dig a bit deeper and look at what membership really is. Membership is a spectrum that includes both altruism and subscription. So for thinking about the subscription side, you have your Spotify’s, your Netflix’s and when you’re thinking about the support side, you have traditional charities like the Red Cross and then crowdfunding platforms like Go Fund Me where you might be supporting someone you know or don’t know in a financial way in order to help them achieve some type of goal. Membership really encompasses all of this, the support side, the content side, and a lot in between like recognition, access, involvement. And all of these are very valuable to your most loyal fans and membership works on Patreon. We have over a hundred thousand creators, 3 million patrons, and by the end of 2019, over $1 billion will be paid out to creators. To tie that all up, on Patreon fans pay their favorite artists a monthly amount in exchange for exclusive access and merch, extra content or a closer look into the creative journey.
Let’s think again about all of your fans. We’re really focusing on your super fans and that’s a pretty small percentage of all of your fans. Typically we see successful creators on Patreon, but one to 3% of their fan base convert to patrons. And that’s looking at creators that offer enticing benefits and promote regularly. Of course, this is a rough approximation and it varies a lot between different creators, but when you’re thinking about Patreon and if it’s a good fit for you in your stage of your career, as a rough estimate, you can take your highest social following and think about one to 3% of that following has the potential to convert to patrons.
There are a lot of creators that do well on Patreon in multiple genres. For example, you have musicians like Issa Rae, photographer like Brandon Stanton and his project, Humans of New York, comedians like Rhett & Link, podcasts like Chapo Trap House, and of course Patreon also works well for writers and authors of whom we’ll take a closer look at today. Like Danielle Corsetto, a graphic novelist, Laurie Penny, journalist, essayist, and author and N. K. Jemisin, fiction writer and then Orna Ross, president of the Alliance of Independent Authors who also has a successful Patreon page. Let’s take a closer look at Laurie Penny’s page. Laurie in her membership is offering exclusive posts, freelance journalism advice, personalized merch and more to her patrons. And I think that she does a really great job of putting why she’s creating this membership. In her about me section, she’s looking for the freedom to travel to interesting places and write about what happens there without waiting for a commission. And then Danielle Grosseto, Danielle’s a graphic novelist and she offers a lot of great benefits that work well for most authors and writers like sneak peeks, archived content. But she takes a really creative approach with her interactive content. Danielle’s creating a graphic novel and she allows her patrons to play a part in the creation of it, deciding key turning points in the plot to even naming characters in the novel. She posts chapters and steps and allows for patrons to contribute to our work along the way. My best advice is keep it simple.
The best way to do that is thinking first about benefits that work for you. Super important to keep it manageable. You can provide a lot of value to your patrons without offering the moon and the stars. Really focusing on that content piece and that engagement piece. There’s a lot of straight forward benefits that you can wrap up into a neat package without having to make it very complicated or hard to fulfill. It’s also helpful to include community focused benefits, your fan share a lot in common already. There’s some great ways we can let them interact and talk amongst themselves and then think about benefits that are easy to keep recurring. So whether that sneak peeks into your work or post about your process, think about something that you can offer ongoing, and that’s something that you can regularly provide and meet those benefits. And then it’s also helpful to think about tiering out your benefits, creating a few benefit tiers and help you tailor your offerings to both higher and lower paying patrons.
Let’s break these down a bit by category when we’re looking at benefits across all of Patreon. So this is looking at all creators, not just writers and authors. We see that bonus and exclusive content works very well. Up to 35% of patron revenue falls into this bucket. Early access, physical goods like merch suggestions and polls. Recognition also works very well. It’s not to say that these don’t all play into each other and create a very valuable membership package, but when you’re thinking about the benefits to focus on, I’d recommend keeping the most focus on exclusive content, early access, as well as some of those engagement type of benefits, like recognition, polls and feedback.
Specifically for writers and authors early access works great. So these sneak peaks we’ve been talking about, early drafts covers and blurbs before you release to your general fans, collaboration, you can allow your most dedicated patrons to contribute to your work, whether that’s naming characters in your story or even determining the fate of your protagonist. And then recognition works very well, whether it’s your super patrons or patrons in the lower to mid tier. There’s a lot of ways to show your gratitude, whether that’s by thanking them in online publication or even putting them in a printed piece. And then education. Lot of writers have a lot to offer where they can help other writers grow by offering valuable insight into both their process and knowledge in the industry. And Orna Ross does a great job there by offering webinars and Q and A’s for her patrons to help them understand the industry and grow their career.
In addition to thinking about the types of benefits you can offer, also take a step back and think about impact and effort. Impact really looks at what your audience finds valuable and how your benefits provide that value whereas effort is a function of your creative process, time and the energy and investment that you put into them.
Benefits that are lower effort and higher impact obviously are great. We’re thinking about the early access exclusive content that is on the shorter or easier side to produce. For example, if there is content that’s both high impact and high effort I’d recommend really thinking about if you’re able to offer that at a regular cadence. And if you are, these are the great types of benefits to put in a mid or higher tier or higher paying patrons can receive these benefits that provide a lot of impact and also take a lot of effort on your part to produce.
Let’s take a look at some of N. K. Jemisin’s benefits and N.K. does a great job at offering exclusive content across most of her tiers. So in her about me, she shows that at least once a month in a certain tier higher, you’ll be able to digitally view never before seen public original draft chapters or a short story from me. This encompasses exclusive drafts, downloadable PDFs, and she also keeps it light and fun with pictures of her cat, Ozzie. I think this is a great way to show that your super fans want more than just your content. They also want to learn more about you and insight into your life. And then patrons in our higher tiers will receive live Q&A access and signed book copies. Of course benefits like this are better for higher tiers where there’s less patrons. These really special benefits might be a bit harder to scale out. Of course you don’t want to send signed book copies to a thousand patrons. So these are great benefits to put higher up in tiers and limit to high paying patrons.
Let’s take a look at Orna Ross’ Patreon. Orna is creating poetry and fiction books as well as offering advice for indie authors and poets. Orna focuses all of her benefits around helping other writers earn a living. She does that by offering insight into her creative process, an online poetry reading workshop and forums for self publishing questions. She also uses goals and content tags to both keep her content organized and her growth tangible. Let’s take a look at some of her benefits on the left. These are specifically at her $5 benefit tier. In this tier she offers exclusive weekly bulletins on Wednesdays for writers, guaranteed performance reading slots in the online monthly Prosperous Poet, open mic night. And then she offers the opportunity to have her patrons submit questions about digital self publishing. I really like how Orna is specific about the cadence that she’ll be offering the benefits. Weekly bulletins on Wednesdays, for example. It’s great to be specific here so that your patrons know what to expect and that you can help hold yourself accountable to providing benefits at a regular cadence.
When you’re thinking about promoting your page, first think about how to articulate your offering. I like to think of this as your Patreon elevator pitch. Before you launch, be able to in a sentence or two, explain what is Patreon, why are you using it, and what do your fans get in exchange and throughout this promotion, really think about the value, lead with that exclusive community benefits that your top readers gain, and those perks of being a patron. And then just keep in mind, you’re the one who recruits your patrons. 76% of patrons first learn about their creator’s Patreon from the creator themselves. And then of course, it’s not just one and done. On average, a person needs to see an offer seven times before converting. So think of ways to regularly share your Patreon so that you are getting this offer in front of your fans not only once, but a couple times.
And there are a lot of ways to get creative with how you promote your page. Promoting your Patreon page doesn’t have to be synonymous with bombing your audience with ads. There’s some creative ways that you can market your Patreon page without just only talking about it. For example, giving patrons recognition on your free channels, giving them a shout out, shows your gratitude, but also promote your Patreon to your free audience. Mentioned early release dates, for example. You’re very excited to announce that your ebook will be available to the public April 1st, but it’s coming out to patrons March 20th. Also, we recommend using support sparingly. Thinking about the spectrum, support’s only one part of your membership. So try not to fall into the cycle of only saying support me on Patreon, whether that’s in text or elsewhere, and then show the value for your free audience. Your success on Patreon doesn’t only provide value to your patrons, you growing as a writer allows you to create more content for your free audience too.
Great. So now that we’ve taken a look at how to position your Patreon while you’re promoting it and the importance of regular promotion, let’s take a look at some specific examples of active language and passive language. It’s important to use passive language when you’re promoting your Patreon, whether that’s in a Twitter post, a Facebook post, or even giving it an in person shout out at a reading or in featured video. So join me. Join me gets the message across that you have this exclusive community, that you’re a part of it, and that your fans can become a part of it too, only on an exclusively at, these are great for calling out the exclusive content on your Patreon, and then brought to you by my amazing patrons. This is a great way to give a shout out to your patrons, show your gratitude and then also promote your page.
Then if you’ve loved this, check out more, great way to the type of content that you’re offering on your Patreon. Some passive language to avoid. They give me’s and the donates, we’ve already covered this, but there’s so much more to your Patreon than support, really leading with the content and the community works much better than leaning on the donate and give me and tip jar, tip hat type of phrasing. And then try to avoid comparing Patreon to a crowdfunding tool like Kickstarter, but really lead with the benefits and the community rather than leading with the crowdfunding terminology as your first way to explain what your Patreon is.
So we’ve covered quite a bit today. We’ve taken a look at membership as a business model. When you have a membership business as a creator, you’re giving your most engaged readers an exclusive community where they get valuable extras in exchange for monthly contributions. We dug a bit deeper into understanding your patrons. So your patrons are a smaller subset of your entire audience and the small subset we can think of them as your super fans. They’re the ones that want more than you’re already giving them. Then we took a look at some benefits that work. Let’s think about benefits that are recurring, manageable and valuable to your top reads. And also think about the amount of effort that it takes to put into your benefits and where benefits are best placed, whether that’s in a lower tier or a higher tier. Then we wrapped up by talking about marketing and how to promote your Patreon successfully. Lead with the value, regularly promote in creative ways, and just remember your potential patrons really do want to learn about it and hear about it from you, so don’t be afraid to get the message out there.
Thanks, everyone. Again, I’m here on our creator partnerships team and really my job is to help creators launch successfully and give them everything that they need to do well on Patreon. If you think that this would be a great fit for you, I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I can point you in the right direction, whether that’s with a conversation or with some of our resources online.
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