It’s now been four and a half years since I launched my Patreon page.
At the time it was a very new form of crowdfunding, and I had a specific project I wanted to make happen: Musketeer Space, still the best elevator-pitchable novel I’ve ever written (gender-swapped retelling of the Three Musketeers in Spaaaaace).
I adore serials, and I was excited to write this particular story. For more than a year I immersed myself in space opera, Musketeers and more. As well as publishing a chapter a week of the novel on a blog (spoilers: this is a great way to write a novel that is long enough to be two novels) and pausing halfway through to write a festive prequel novella, I also did a weekly rewatch of Robotech and a monthly critical essay reviewing one of the many Musketeer adaptations (now available as the book It’s Raining Musketeers).
At the end of the project, I edited my mighty tome into a coherent (if way too long) novel, and sent it out as an ebook to all of my Patreon subscribers. I was proud of what I had achieved… but not quite sure where to go next, Patreon-wise. Should I wind up the project? Start something new?
After a few quiet months in which many of my subscribers understandably withdrew… but an awful lot did not… I came up with the new creative model I wanted to work with. A podcast, which like the serialised Musketeer Space, would be widely available to anyone who wanted to consume it.
Now addicted to writing serial fiction, but not quite so addicted to writing novels that come in at just under 200,000 words, I decided that my new fiction podcast, Sheep Might Fly, would be an excuse for me to write series of long short stories (my sweet spot is about 13,000 words, possibly the most unsaleable story length of all time) and also to re-home stories that had been published elsewhere.
To provide value to my Patreon subscribers, I added a bunch of extra rewards — all subscribers received ebook editions of the new podcast stories, as well as other books and goodies throughout the year. Thanks to the regular income, I was even able to commission artwork for some of these books, as with the Castle Charming series, featuring the gorgeous work of Katy Shuttleworth.
Since I began Sheep Might Fly, my library of ebooks for subscribers has built, so that new people signing up get a huge wealth of fiction titles, including:
Fake Geek Girl (Belladonna U #1)
Unmagical Boy Story (Belladonna U #2)
The Bromancers (Belladonna U #3)
Halloween is Not a Verb (Belladonna #4)
Glass Slipper Scandal (Castle Charming #1)
Dance, Princes, Dance (Castle Charming #2)
Let Sleeping Princes Lie (Castle Charming #3)
New subscribers also get the epic space opera that started it all, Musketeer Space along with its prequel novella Joyeux. Also, Ray Guns For Ladies, my story about the importance of matching your weapon to your manicure.
One of my favourite levels, at the $5 mark, is a Random Act of Post sent out several times a year — these subscribers have received letters, postcards, recipes, enamel pins and a fanzine about Xena (a Xenzine). Postage is going up and it’s a lot of work to produce 25 lovely letters in a batch, but there’s something very tactile about sending a cool thing through the post, so I do enjoy it.
Other rewards include original arts and crafts, a behind the scenes newsletter, and non fiction books every year. More recently I’ve added membership to the Galactic Suburbia Slack (including a special Sheep Might Fly discussion channel!), monthly essays that subscribers get 2 weeks before anyone else, and 3 exclusive stories every year for those subscribing at $2 or more per month.
These stories are still available for new subscribers and include:
Tea and Sympathetic Magic — a Regency comedy-of-manners novella about courtship via magical croquet, elopements, house parties, spellcracking, weaponised teacups and why a gentleman’s best feature is always his library.
Super Spy Science Secret Santa — a story of how Christmas shenanigans in the workplace are dangerous when your job is building tech for spies.
Girls Who Read Austen — a short short about what to do when every college roommate turns out to be a creature from Greek mythology.
Charm or Dare — drinking games with the characters of Castle Charming, told from the POV of the mighty and glorious Corporal Jack.
Caesar and Cleopatra: a playlist — an odd little piece including all my favourite bits of the love story between Caesar and Cleo, plus a decapitated ghost and some steampunk.
The Alchemy of Fine — a Belladonna U story of how the band Fake Geek Girl got together, told in reverse chapter order.
So uh, yes, one or two dollars a month to my Patreon goes a long way.
BUT WHAT NEXT?
I started a new weekly-serialised novel last year, reworking a long-lost manuscript of a Mocklore novel that I adored, but my publishers didn’t quite… get. It’s a bit bonkers, I’ll admit, a kind of Shakespearian soap opera with magical disasters. Finally readers of Hobgoblin Boots will find out what happened to Luc Triclover after three goddesses gave him the golden apple challenge, and he ran away. It’s so fun to be back with Bounty Fenetre, a character designed purely from the idea of “well what sort of person WOULD wear chainmail lingerie?” and highly influenced by all the cheese fantasy I read in the 90s. Glad to know it’s good for something.
Soapy Ballads is entirely exclusive to my Patreon subscribers, and currently 1 Act into a 4 Act novel… Act II starts this Friday!
When I started Musketeer Space and signed up to Patreon, it was originally to give myself deadlines and push me out of a creative slump. Now, the large majority of my writing happens because of, and around, Patreon. It provides a substantial part of my monthly income, as well as a built-in audience of readers who are excited about whatever I produce next, which helps a lot with keeping my creative energy alive. (It’s nice to be wanted)
I seriously thought of starting a Drip late last year, after getting a much-coveted invitation, but while I like the idea of being less dependent on Patreon as a single platform, it felt like stretching myself too far. Patreon has become comfy to me, like a well-worn couch!
I am fascinated, always, to hear stories of different creators and how they use Patreon to fuel their art and industry. It’s always a tricky balance, to offer enough that subscribers want to come over, without over-promising, over-extending, and burning out. I don’t think I could do the ‘write a story a month’ thing that so many other writers do, and I’m currently happy with my balance of Patreon pay-out to creative work. I’m close to maxxed out at what I can offer to subscribers, but at least there’s new content building up all the time, which hopefully makes it appealing for new readers to try out.
When creative people I know ask about Patreon as a platform, I’m always cautious — it’s not for everyone. And it helps a lot (as with almost anything) to have a built in fan base. Patreon isn’t like Kickstarter, which brings a hefty proportion of random traffic to your page. The creators who make it big straight away tend to be those who have a big following already and/or have been giving away free content for years.
But not all of us need to make it big, for it to be worthwhile. When I first started with Musketeer Space, I used the money for my publishing “war chest” to save up to pay cover artists and send out rewards. Later, it brought in enough income to make up for the loss of family allowance when my youngest child turned 6. Now, it’s an income stream that equals one of my 2 x admin-from-home day jobs that keep the lights on.
The money is nice. Getting paid for what you make is pretty damned great, especially in a regular, reliable (ish) dose of funds. But the most important thing I’ve got out of Patreon over the last 4.5 years is the community of subscribers who read, comment, and await my Next Thing.
(I’m really excited about my Next Thing, it’s gonna be great)
(Watch this space)
IF YOU LIKE MY WORK, SUBSCRIBE TO MY PATREON, IT’S SHINY AND SOMETIMES THERE ARE MANTICORES.