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Patreon- How and Why

on 29 March 2017 at 20:18:31 MDT

I had some questions from D.H. Vinci recently about Patreon, and thought I would share the Q & A in the hopes that it might be helpful.

1.When you first launched your patreon, how often did you post/interacted with your patrons?

I don't remember with great precision- it was about a year ago. I definitely posted once a week at least, because we were able to return to a weekly update schedule for Prelude after launching the Patreon. That, and I had voting and suggestions for the monthly sketch, and would also share the occasional bit of concept art or link to a contest or whatnot. I would guesstimate we posted or interacted with the Patrons and Patreon between 3-5 times a week.

  1. How long did it take for you to reach your first milestone? What did it feel like knowing you'd be able to keep doing what you love and get that level of support?

First milestone- I think, actually, it took us about a decade. X D Even though we launched a Patreon in 2016, I'd been actively straining to promote Dreamkeepers and build a following since- well before 2006, but that's when our first book was released. Lots of banner ads, contests, campaigns, conventions, book releases, weekly webcomic updates... Building up an audience for the Patreon to tap into took a lot of work over a long period of time. After launching, it was a relief when we reached the first milestone within... I think it was within 6-8 months. It's been massively helpful in letting us continue focusing on work. It's humbling to have that level of help from enough people to generate a difference.

  1. What are the social media channels you use? I know FA/DA/twitter. Which one seems to be the most active in terms of you posting and getting feedback on?

I have a complete listing of our social media stuff here: http://www.dreamkeeperscomic.com/Links.html Facebook and twitter are probably the bigger players in the interaction aspect- lots of people have a presence there, so it's easy for them to follow accounts they like. They're the most universal. Deviantart and Furaffinity are probably the biggest of the art accounts, and better for curating a gallery of content that doesn't vanish as quickly into the social media slipstream. It seems like each platform individually is rather ineffective- but all snowballed together, they can add up. It's a lot of work to post on every different site though, so I'm not sure at what point it's smarter to provide more responsiveness on fewer platforms.

  1. Do you post everything you have (general and adult level content) on all your sites or specific ones? Do you have two facebook accounts for example or two accounts of anything to keep your art and private life separate?

We just post everything everywhere. My general rule for personal content online is, if I'm not open to the possibility of having it be spread around publicly, then it shouldn't go online, period. So I don't have anything of a highly personal nature online. My personal facebook is mainly there so I can host the Dreamkeepers facebook, and for occasionally posting bird videos. Just simpler that way, for me.

When it comes to X-rated or adult content, we don't have a lot- I don't want to surprise casual followers on social media with content that goes outside our normal range, so I post it in the art accounts where we attach the suitable rating category.

  1. Why did you choose per month instead of per creation?

I didn't want to think twice before posting content. I wanted the Patreon to open up more content from me. But if people have to pay per-post, then suddenly I'm stopping to wonder whether this or that bit of art is 'worth' it. Unless only some posts count, and others don't? That starts to sound complex, and if it's making me have questions, I can only imagine prospective backers will be having similar uncertainty. Just a flat amount per month seemed simple, easy to understand, easy for backers to manage and adjust. And then I could post stuff on a whim, hopefully helping me make the Patreon more worthwhile for backers. I think different Patreons might benefit from the other system, but I personally prefer monthly.

  1. What advice would you give before and after launching a patreon to people like me looking to start one?

Hmm- it's going to be difficult. I would say, prepare for a marathon, not a sprint. There are so many people starting Patreons now, that I think it's difficult to stand out in the crowd. I think the only thing that saved us was having that pre-built readership from the past decade. They already placed a certain amount of value on the work we were producing- so it worked when we created an avenue for them to express that value. But creating value for people is difficult- because first off, it's difficult to make something that is really good, and will actually be entertaining and worthwhile for others. And secondly, it's an entirely different challenge to make people understand that you have something of value for them. In that regard, I think Patreons can actually pose a risk to beginning creators. If you place all your best content behind a paywall, it's going to be near impossible for people who don't yet value it to discover it. For us, it took a decade of advertising, and posting free content. If there's a faster way to building a following, I would absolutely love to utilize it. But the only thing I've tried that has worked is continuous effort and adaptation over an extended timeframe. So, not trying to be a Negative Nate- but don't expect fast success or growth. You're probably just setting up for disappointment with that expectation. It's going to take effort and innovation to lure every single reader, the process of creating value- and then making people want it enough to pay for it.

  1. What struggles did/do you face with keeping your commitment to your patrons monthly?

My burden is relatively light, actually. Our Patreon rewards are almost entirely composed of the same thing we've been doing- Prelude comics, graphic novel, other Dreamkeepers related projects. So, it's simply enabling me to continue working on what I was struggling to work on anyways. The only major obligation entirely due to Patreon is the Sketch of the Month, which Patrons suggest ideas for, and vote on. And one drawing a month is pretty easy to fit in.

I've seen some artists offer commissions and customized art to individual backers for certain tiers- and especially if they have a sizeable following, that can spiral out of control relatively quickly. And if people only join because they wanted individualized art- if that provision is untenable, and must be withdrawn later, it carries the risk of shedding backers. I've offered no individualized art or commissions- and our backer level is likely lower because of that, but it also seems relatively stable.

  1. What would you recommend doing if you've fallen behind on what you produce every month?

I would just stay open about it- talk to your Patrons, let them know if you're behind, and maybe include some info on what you're doing to catch up, and the nature of the obstacles you're grappling with if appropriate. Mainly, people don't want to be jerked around for no reason. If you're doing your best, then just let them know what's going on, and most people will respect that.

If you're falling behind often, then it's likely your rewards are too time intensive. It might be time to let your Patrons know you're overextended, and then retool the tiers. If the Patreon is always keeping you distracted from your real work, or the project you're actually driving towards, then at a certain point it can be more of a hindrance than a help. If the Patreon is paying you to not do your main project, then it's misaligned and will hurt you in the long term. Especially because, once you establish revenue from a certain model of service, it's very difficult to change that model because then you're incurring risk. It's better to try and build the model you want from the get-go.

  1. Have your rewards changed at all since you launched them or do you plan to improve them later on after certain goals have been met?

My rewards did change once- I wanted to offer something more tangible to $5-and-up backers. But I didn't want to open up huge customized art commitments- and I also didn't want to start doing strict "Backer Exclusive" art that nobody else could ever see. We show stuff to the Patrons early- but eventually, I want all our readers to enjoy the results. I wanted our Patreon to result in more content for everyone, not less. One backer mentioned they'd like PSD downloads of our art- and bingo! That seemed like a reasonable extra- one that didn't impact my time, and one that I didn't plan on sharing universally anyways. And it was tangible, and people wanted it, so boom. I think that reward has really helped strengthen our $5 tier.

  1. What is your monthly schedule like? How do you balance your patron work with commissions and/or other work you do on a daily basis?

Right now my monthly schedule is a bit broken- I'm reacting to urgent tasks more than I'd like. We need to launch the Kickstarter for SKIRMISH soon- the game designers have put so much work into the game, that I don't think it's right for me to delay, and it's already later than I'd wanted. Meanwhile the Plush Kickstarter has just moved into fulfillment mode, so I have a ton of mailing to tackle. Between those, and hitting weekly Prelude updates, I'm playing a touchy game of keepup. But 'pinch' times like this aren't the norm.

Usually, I take the first week of the month to hit a commission from our queue, catch up on business, and try to wipe out miscellaneous business, personal, and art chores- including the Sketch of the Month voted on by the Patrons. The next 3 weeks prioritize quota artwork- keeping our Prelude quota, and a page quota for the graphic novel series.

I'm trying to get into a weekly schedule, as well, where I briefly catch up on social media and e-mails once a week, in addition to the weekly webcomic and Discord chat. I operate best when I can devote an entire day to intensive work on art, or another task.

  1. I know Patreon takes 5% of monthly profits, are there any other fees I should be mindful of? Do you use paypal as your way to collect your income?

There are other fees- credit card processing, dropped pledges, etc. Paypal will take a cut if you sell through them, Amazon takes a cut- every provider or platform out there has to sustain itself, not to mention taxes. After years and years of struggling, when you're finally beginning to catch some air and make a living off your work- BAM. Expect to be brutally shut down during tax time. Artists are self employed, and you won't believe how bloodthirsty taxes are for you until it happens. But I don't focus too much on all these fees- because I can't alter them, so I may as well just focus on getting bigger, getting better, producing more value. The answer is to just power through- as smart as you can- but ultimately, to grow and get big enough to sustain the cost of doing business.

  1. As a writer, how do you go about making your stories? I know you make graphic novels but the story comes first so do you know everything that's going to happen in the stories you write or do you make it up as you go along? Or do you know the beginning and ending of your story and just work through the middle while knowing the endgame?

It's rather a mix. The graphic novels are plotted with far more precision than Prelude. Between each book release we revise and revise the overall story, and it tightens, becoming more precise and interlocked. So we have a lot of guidance from the story outline when writing the graphic novels- the main character arcs, events, angles, and exposition are already laid out. Prelude is more fluid- we know where it's going, we have some story ideas and character arcs in mind, but we like to leave some flex in there. Prelude can accommodate more exploration- inspired by Calvin and Hobbes, sometimes a self-contained little story can emerge that doesn't necessarily advance the over-arching events. But it's meaningful in and of itself, so we let it happen in Prelude.

  1. Since I'll be writing my stories out and using them to post every month for patrons, if you were to follow solely writers on patrons how much would you expect/would like to see produced? Like chapters or page numbers?

I'm not sure- Chapters can be long or short, depending on the author and pacing of the events. I would say, maybe one chapter a month- or at least one scene / sequence unit, where a protagonist tackles an obstacle in pursuit of a goal, action occurs, there's a result (usually a setback,) and then they have to react and plan their next move. Some meaningful monthly unit like that would be great. If there were additional small treats scattered throughout the weeks, it might help- fragments of character dialogue, What-if questions, small observations or bits of lore perhaps. Some tidbits to keep people appetized and interested, then a meal per month to keep them satisfied.

So that's my two cents worth for now- Check out D.H. Vinci's preview page here:
https://patreon.com/preview/c601df56f83a482a96ec3ce71c0787ec

And best of fortunes to everyone setting their sights on creation. 8 )

-David

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