Old-Fashioned Patronage Makes Things Possible
In December 2014, I was a month or so into remission after six months of serious, chronic illness that left me bed-ridden until I was finally diagnosed. The diagnosis, while good news in that I could get better, came with a price tag because it meant I’d have to buy medication to take daily for the rest of my life.
In Canada, our doctor and hospital visits are all covered, but not our medication. People typically get that through their job benefits…of which I have none, since I’m a freelancer, and buying private insurance would be more than I was paying for meds. But being a freelancer, my income coming from royalties and editing/design for others, means everything is very unpredictable.
I have months where I am comfortable (like late spring this year) and flush with cash; I have other months (like this past fall) where I am living paycheck to paycheck and have no idea how I’m going to pay bills. I’ve put off buying groceries to stretch money as far as I can; I’ve kept heat off in winter as to not have a huge bill; I’ve made people gifts at Christmas because I don’t have the extra income to buy anything. One thing I have not been able to skip out on is my meds, though, because I am so afraid of getting sick again–if that happens, I am looking at more out-of-town doctors visits, a battery of tests to track the disease’s progress, and potential surgery to stop horrible pain and, well, prevent me from dying.
So this is why I initially set up a Patreon account–I knew if meds were going to cost X amount a month, this could potentially ensure I always had that money. Aunt Judy was my first patron before I even announced it, and while the income it provides has fluctuated over the years, it has (for the most part) continually risen as I’ve learned from my experiences and tweaked my offerings.
Beyond that, it has guaranteed I continue writing urban fantasy.
Before I got sick, I consistently churned out 500K words a year. Three Skyla books, a few for-pay offerings, and experimental work that either I started and didn’t complete or just picked at for fun.
Even with these three years since I’ve been better, I no longer have that stamina physically, emotionally, or mentally. I have done every trick in the book to build myself back up again but I am just not the same person. I can do maybe 350K – 400K a year now, and that’s a whole entire Skyla book or 2-3 for-pay projects that I am no longer able to fit in.* So something is always being sacrificed.
Urban fantasy is not sustainable for me as a writer on its own, but Patreon has made it a little more possible to continue publishing it.
Financially, it’s a guaranteed few thousand a year that contributes to my overall writing income.
Patreon is why I wrote Oblivion (I felt guilty there were these supporters waiting for it).
Patreon is why I wrote a couple of Demons stories (Prey and Resist).
Patreon is why I wrote Ashford’s Ghost as it was originally intended to be a short story reward.
Patreon is why I’ve been revising and polishing Tiger’s Memory and it’s now being read by people other than a couple of friends.
Surprise: more writing sold = more writing in the future!
Mentally and emotionally, it connects me with readers more than anything else has.
Writing is a very solitary task. I’m okay with that because I don’t play well with others, but when something is published and sent off in the void, one rarely hears how it is received. There are faceless, nameless numbers showing sales and money that appears in my bank account (all good!) but I don’t know who those people are, I don’t know what they think of the work–it’s all very abstract.
Patreon gives me names and faces to connect with. It gives me people I directly thank with every release. It makes tangible the people who will be let down if I give into one of my many defeatist depressive episodes and delete my existence and books from the web.
Now, unfortunately, all this is set to change.
A No Good, Very Bad Decision
Yesterday Patreon announced a new fee system. Previously, when you pledge to me, a portion of that goes to Patreon, but usually I took home about 90% of every dollar. I get hit with some PayPal fees as well, but it’s the cost of doing business. Now they’re promising me 95% but! But! Tacking on an extra fee to every. goddamn. pledge. A fee of 2.9% + $0.35 per pledge.
For a $1 pledge, this is a total of $1.38.
If you’re a patron of ten people for $1 each, that means you are getting that 38c fee x10 even though only one transaction actually goes through on your end (taking $10 out at the start of the month). In that example, that person supporting ten people is now paying an extra $3+ a month than they’d budgeted, so are they likely to then delete three pledges? Probably and I don’t blame them.
Of that $1.38, Patreon is taking home 43c on that transaction while I get 95c, so let’s be clear: this is not about benefiting me, a creator, but about Patreon lining their pockets. I absolutely support people getting paid and covering operating costs, but all this is doing is punishing microtransactions and people already giving all they can.
A glance at their support Twitter page is nothing but “oh, we’ve really carefully considered this and have been experimenting with patrons and creators before implementing it site-wide”. (And you know what? They probably did and decided the sacrifice was worth it.)
Let me be explicit here: I was not consulted. I was not warned. In their months of “careful” consideration, I don’t know a single Patreon creator or patron who was aware of these discussions. Instead it’s hitting right before the holiday when money is already tight and folks are already rethinking their support.
Yes, I have already lost significant patronage and it hasn’t even been twenty-four hours, nor has it been implemented yet. And I do not blame any patrons in the least if they chose to delete their pledges to me or their account on the entire platform–I will have to rethink what I pledge to as well.
What This Means for EVERYONE
To continue to be explicit here: I cannot continue publishing urban fantasy if I lose my Patreon income stream**. It is not sustainable for me.
When I mentioned above the sacrifices I’ve had to make since recovering from being sick, it comes down to what I write: for-pay projects that will at least cover my time and add a little profit, or urban fantasy that does not break even. I cannot maintain both. I cut back for-pay projects last year to write and release Oblivion, Solomon’s Seal, Odin’s Spear, Ashford’s Ghost, and soon Zheng’s Tomb, and although I’ve had a small boost to my Skyla Dawn Cameron-related income, there has been a drastic decrease in my overall income as a result of this shift in focus. With Patreon continually increasing and giving me room to publish more, the expectation was that I’d pick up more readers as I released more books and eventually Livi etc would be sustainable.
Beyond that, the books of mine that you read are not just things I do for money: I bleed on each and every one of those pages. I pour everything into them, and it’s writing these stories that keeps me alive when I really, really don’t want to be. For all these years, I have survived my brain trying to kill me because of writing.
Should Patreon not reverse this decision, or if I don’t find a workable alternative readers will follow me to, I cannot see continuing. My beloved old dog was just diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and she needs an additional medication, putting her meds up to $200/month now. I have to start focusing on writing the things that will allow me to take care of her and my bills.
Please, Patreon, do not do this to creators. It is going to affect the smaller independent ones tremendously.
Patrons, if you chose to delete your pledge, I understand. And you know what? Do so without guilt, because money is the only thing that speaks to large companies, and if they lose your dollars, maybe they’ll change their minds. I also encourage you to drop them a line with your opinion.
I am continuing to investigate alternatives and will post an update if I’m able to move elsewhere. Otherwise, Livi #3 will be out next year and…well.
* I suspect if I wasn’t editing, that might make a difference, but not much I can do about that since it pays the bills.
** Not to add salt to the wound, but I was finally, finally feeling able to go back to Zara after the Exhumed piracy debacle and making it a Patreon reward, and now that definitely isn’t happening.
So why am I offering these Patreon-exclusive stories to drive up membership at the platform when they’re going to act in ways that negatively impact my income? At least for December, you can read Tales from Alchemy Red: Prey for a buck. I might yet add Resist.