So Let’s Talk About Patreon…

In the last few weeks, I’ve been getting occasional comments and e-mails suggesting I set up a Patreon account, which is a sort of patronage model where a “patron” sets up a monthly donation to a “creator” because they like what they’re doing and want them to continue.

And I have mixed feelings about this, and want to talk about it and get y’all’s thoughts, so here goes…

Point The First: It’s awesome that people want to throw money at me! I am terribly grateful and flattered! Please don’t think I object to that, because woo, hoo, no way, people want to give me money, not a complaint! Trust me!

And I understand that there’s a kind of thing here–a commenter said it very well, actually–which, to paraphrase, is “I’ve bought your books, I’ve bought as much art as I want/can fit on the walls, how do I keep giving you money to keep doing awesome stuff when you’re out of stuff to buy?”

And this, too, I totally understand–one failing of that whole “1000 true fans” thing that went around for awhile was the fact that a lot of creators don’t have $100 worth of new stuff available per year. (There were a lot of other failings, if you ask me, most significantly that it defined “true fan” as “person with disposable income” and I think that’s kinda bullshit. I have fans who cheer wildly for my successes who are scraping by working two jobs, and I resent relegating them to “less-true fan” status even in theory. But anyway.)

So yeah, I can see that if somebody wants to support the Ursula Vernon Experience, there’s limited venues. I mean, I put out two kid’s books and maybe one self-pub a year. That’s…err… well, at current royalty rates, I get $5 a year if somebody buys all three. You can back the Digger Kickstarter (and OMG, so many of you backed the Kickstarter! Still wowed!) but how often do I do a Kickstarter? I don’t even paint that many originals any more, because I’m so busy with illustrations for Dragonbreath, and if you’re out of wall space, it doesn’t matter anyway.

But then we get to…

Point the Second: Owing people things scares me.

People suggested Kickstartering Cryptic Stitching (both the StoryNexus version and the future Twine) and my knee jerked so hard in the other direction I about dislocated my hip.

Because, thing is, if I take money for a specific thing, I have to do that specific thing. And I have to do it well enough and fast enough that people don’t feel ripped off–or that I don’t feel like I’m ripping them off. And if it’s different, in the end, then what they thought they were getting, what if they hate it? What if I am that Awful Person Who Took People’s Money And Made A Crappy Product With It?

This is why I’ve tried to get away from commissions, because the stress about killed me.

Now, I think it’s awesome that people are trying to find ways to make sure that I have the money to Make Cool Stuff and they want to contribute to Getting Cool Stuff Made! I am thrilled that you think I make Cool Stuff! That is awesome!

But there is a voice in my head–no, not in my head, a voice that lives under my breastbone and whispers to me like Sweetgrass Voice, saying What if you can’t deliver? Everyone fails eventually–that’s not poison, that’s life. When you fail on your own time, it doesn’t matter. When you fail with other people’s money, that matters.

If CrypticStitching2.0 never gets made, say, (and lord, I hope it will!) people will be disappointed and I’ll be bummed, but nobody paid me for it, so it’s just a cool thing that I wanted to make that didn’t work out, not a thing that people have a right to expect. Particularly not a thing they have a right to expect on a specific timeline.

At the moment, I owe the following to various sources, either because they’ve paid me or by verbal contract:

1 book cover
2 sketchbook illustrations
1 commission when I get around to it (they’re being very nice about that)
5 Digger podcasts (one is in the bag already, but needs remastering)
7 convention appearances in the next year, 5 of which have attendant art shows and 2 of which require me to write speeches.
1 book fair appearance, with corresponding talk
3 children’s books written
4 children’s books illustrated, at approx. 150 per, so 600 illustrations. (Over the next three years. Only 300 of them are this year!)
4 children’s book covers
Couple of RPG illos for that one cool thing
2 single panel comics

This is kind of a lot. And by that I mean, I just clutched my chest and had to breathe into a paper bag for a few minutes, because holy crap. (And I wanted to get a self-pub anthology out this year, too! Yikes! What was I thinking?)

The children’s books don’t weigh on me as much, because that’s my job and it’s less of a weight and more of a getting-up-and-going-to-work thing. But otherwise, that’s all stuff I have to get done. Some of it fairly soon.

I don’t think I can add anything else to the pile without going barking mad. CrypticStitching is awesome because I don’t owe it to anyone, it’s just a thing I do for love and because I want it to exist, but the moment it becomes something I have to do, the whole dynamic shifts.

Which brings me to…

Point the Third: What are you paying for, anyway?

If someone wanted to throw money at me with Patreon, in support of…err…”Ursula does vaguely entertaining blog stuff AND a couple podcasts AND writes books AND draws pictures now and again AND spends a lot of time obsessing over mulch,” I have no inherent objection to that. But I start to fret a little over the notion of whether people are getting their money’s worth.

I mean, say you’re giving me $5 a month to make the world a slightly odder place. And one month I’m on fire. I put out something like CrypticStitching, which is $25 bucks of entertainment value!

Does that mean we’re cool for the next five months? If I have a bad month and all the blog posts are just “Can’t hack life, busy, talk later” are you getting your $5 worth? If I post a painting, is that worth it? If I get into a fight about SFWA and you’re tired of reading about my outrage that I’m tired of feeling, do you pull your funding?

What’s a patron entitled to? I know somebody who’s doing an icon set a month, which is cool, but we all know it ain’t gonna happen here. I might get two months done and then I’d want to run screaming into the night. If you’re a big fan of KUEC and we have to stop some day because our internal organs have been reduced to pencil shavings, will you be sad and want your money back?

Would it be a better deal if you got my self-pub stuff free if you were a patron? (I could maybe manage that…)

Point the Third Point Five: There’s one element of Patreon I find weird–the way they talk about connecting to creators via their specific forums or mailing list or whatever. It makes it sound almost like the patron gets a backstage pass. And there I start to feel really weird, because believe me, there is no backstage to this outfit.

There’s not even a front stage.

Actually, I think I’m crouched behind a cardboard box with a sock puppet.

So if people buy into this notion that somehow being a patron gets them extra-special access to yours truly…um…there’s nothing extra-special TO access. You’ve got the maximum level of access right here, via blog comments and e-mail. (And feel free to comment! I will even comment back if you have a question I can answer! I hope everybody knows that–I had multiple people saying “Wow, I can comment and you answer!” about the CrypticStitching stuff, and I want everybody to know that’s not unusual–I really do talk on the blog! And on Twitter!)

I am not more me in other places than I am here. There is no hamster behind the curtain.

I don’t want anybody to get the impression that the secret to getting my attention is money. I mean, don’t get me wrong, if you wave a thousand dollars at me, you will have my attention, but it will not be a better Ursula or a more clever one. It will probably be a slightly paranoid one going “Why is this person waving a thousand dollars at me!? Is this an FBI sting?”

Point the Last: All this makes me sound like I’m horribly opposed to the Patreon model, or the patronage model in general, and the thing is, I’m really not. I actually think it’s a really awesome idea to have an easy and convenient way to support people who you want to keep creating stuff. And, in all modesty, this sort of thing actually works really well for people like me, who dabble in a dozen different things and give half of them away for free on-line.

I think those of us on the internet who are kind of…mm…you know, Makers of Random Cool Stuff…are great use-cases for patronage systems. I may not want to buy any particular thing from an artist, but I may be delighted at what they do and want them to keep doing it and want to kick a couple bucks toward them to keep them able to do it. And that’s fantastic!

I’m just not entirely sure that it’s a good idea for me, and I want to make sure everybody knows what we’re looking at in terms of what you get for the money…

So hey, let’s talk! What do you guys think–both of Patreon in general for supporting creators or in specific?

  • reply Martha Crimson ,

    I think I’d prefer to se a paypal-button on the websites of artists I like. A donation could be rewarded with a desktop background or a text picked from previous works (I wouldn’t mind getting Sings-to-trees over and over again :P). I’d be as stressed as you by a third party setting up rules I don’t know if I can follow. In a way I got the feeling the people behind Patreon hope to make money on fans’ love for their artist, but it may still be a valuable service in cutting work. Facebook made it easy to interact online and thrived on it, so I’d keep an eye on Patreon to see where it’s heading.

    • reply Kettlesmith ,

      I think the problem is that the patreon system is set up to imply future benefits, kinda like Kickstarter. A lot of your fans (okay, sample size one) want to thank you monetarially for things you have already given us, like the blog. Love the blog. Or Cryptic Stitchings. I’d buy some Nex to contribute, but not feeling the love for FailingBetter’s lack of support of the game engine. So, the question is how do I tip some money your way? You’re not selling t-shirts any more (at least not ones I’d buy). Nor are there tea mugs*. I understand that branding things is a thankless job, especially with your back catalog, but I do miss Ellen’s offerings. (Thanks to Ellen for having done this, I understand her need to stop, too.)

      We’re looking for more a tip jar. Maybe an antacid jar for KUEC. A “wow, great free thing, feel our appreciation” jar! On the flip side, I get that you will feel like a hack if the tips slow down. And need to not make the artist more neurotic.

      * Always need more tea mugs. Big 15 oz ones.

      • reply C. S. P. Schofield ,

        I think there’s merit in the Tip Jar idea. I tend not to hit them myself, stemming from years of too little money and too many medical problems, but I’m trying to get over that. And you have certainly given me a great deal of free content over the years. I did buy the Digger books (before the Omnibus), but the little bits and pieces you post are vastly entertaining, even if you never follow up with full stories.

        You owe me bupkis. Please do whatever makes YOU feel comfortable and happy. And, please Gods, productive.

        P.S. I love your off-the-cuff world building. The short word-sketches that you put with so many of your art pieces are endlessly charming.

        • reply kiwipolish ,

          I’d been given to understand (which does not mean this is in any way true whatsoever) that there was a Patreon model where fans signed up to give money per published… thingie, and not a per month thing. So no one owes anyone anything, because if the fan is paying money it means something has been published, and if the creator does nothing for six months that just means no one pays them any money.

          Like I said. Not sure if true. Take it with a grain of slat, or maybe a giant salt boulder.

          • reply Kith ,

            This was my understanding as well.

          • reply Amy ,

            I’ve been following you since oh…. the cow tree-frog days. Not just your art, but you, because your blogging and snippets of stories cheer me up. (Wow, this sounds totally stalkery. I promise I don’t know where you live… Or at least not in more specific terms than N. Carolina. Wait, this isn’t helping, is it?) Ok, back to my point. I’ve been under a financial crush for… My entire adult life, really… So I haven’t bought a lot. And I haven’t attended many cons. And yet, I would totally love to toss a few bucks your way every now and then. Maybe it’s when i find a moment to relate some quote from eight years ago and make a friend giggle. Maybe it’s I’m pondering a new bird in my neighborhood and realize than I’ve been slowly absorbing a side hobby by osmosis. As an artist, I hate the stress of a commission. I’d rather send you tips for a thanks of things that randomly occur to me than an expectation of some reward from you.

            • reply Kim ,

              I’m going to use another artist as an example, one you happen to know (and I spot your sock puppet box reference, and those should not be underestimated as I think that kickstarter went pretty well).

              I love the work of KB Spangler/Otter. As a matter of fact, she linked to you and that’s how I got hooked on your blog (and KUEC when I have time). I’ve been following her webcomic for years, at least 5. And some of her blog stuff, and now I’ve picked up digital divide and maker space and I’m reading those. I’m about 1/3 of the way in to digital divide (just got them today actually) and I feel like a VIP. Having followed her disaster house blog, there are some hilarious references in there to water damage and french drains and the engineers trying to figure out what to do with the pool.

              Over the past 5 years I’ve gone from a high schooler who asked for a webcomic pin for her birthday to a professional with that disposable income to spend on the things that entertain me. My ability to pay has changed, and my spending reflects that. The time I’ve invested in reading her blog and following the comic makes me far more willing to drop money on that kickstarter or buy that novel. And if someone put a blog behind a paywall I’d never pay to read it.

              So back to your situation. I love your art. I find your blog and other works very entertaining. And I now have the disposable income to spend on things I don’t exactly need. But I don’t think I’d do a subscription. I would buy a set of those valentine’s cards you put up last month. Or a tea mug, or a keychain, or maybe a t-shirt.

              If it’s economically feasible for you to merchandise some of the art you already have as things other than just prints it might help those of us who want to support your stuff doing financially. And if it’s anywhere near possible I’ll take a winged dick keychain for certain.

              • reply Darla ,

                Me? I come here for the flavor. I love the art. The prose makes me giggle and sigh and all the stuff it’s supposed to do, all with the special Ursula Vernon twist. But I come HERE, to this blog, because I know I’m going to see a little piece of honest-to-goodness Human Who Makes Cool Random Stuff.

                If it were possible to have a “more real” Ursula by waving money at her, it would invalidate the whole reason I enjoy your blog so much, I think. The Cool Random Stuff is a bonus for me, and from what I’m reading here, a lot of us feel this way. We come here because we know that we’ll see real thoughts by a real person – a person who, from all this way in Internet Land, seems pretty nifty. Often those thoughts are funny, or sweet, or whatever. But they strike me as never being anything other than really the way you feel when you type them.

                I buy the books whenever I can. As a single mom of a not-quite-teen who just happens to be carrying 18 hours and going ridiculously in debt so I can teach music for a living, that’s not as often as I’d like. A tip jar? It’s a great idea, and lots of folks would use it. But for me, I’d rather have this blog be the avenue for knowing that something new and cool is available to buy for the boy’s birthday (or mine!), and enjoying the heck out of the time between.

                Oh – and Azazelbunny (spelling is wacky, I know) prints would never hurt my feelings (I have wanted that bunny demon for YEARS)…

                • reply Alex ,

                  “Say you’re giving me $5 a month to make the world a slightly odder place”

                  I realize this goes entirely against what you’re saying here, but the first thing that leapt to my mind was “for $10 a month, can we make it twice as odd?”

                  You have a fastinating way of coming at the universe sideways. I was just re+eading Nine Goblins and loving it just as much.

                  • reply S. Hopkins ,

                    I am also one of those embarrassingly long-term fans that has been following your art– and you– from the Elfwood Days. (ELFWOOD. I think I was fourteen…) I have your blog bookmarked, and have read Digger so many times that I’m surprised the site still lets me in. I am one of those struggling stragglers that never quite seems to have enough money for a book when I remember they’re on sale, or has a big medical bill come up in the middle of saving money for something I really want, like an Omnibus. Times are hard. We all know. We all feel it.

                    That said, I am very much for some sort of system by which your fans can say ‘thank you for doing YOU’ in a monetary manner. I can’t always afford a book, but there are times I can and do want to toss ten dollars here, fifteen there at you directly, and as was pointed out– that’s as good as buying six or nine books. The idea of this is not payment for a service rendered, or a hope of compensation in the future. I simply appreciate all the hard work that you do, understand that money /helps/ with the most basic of human needs, and would like an avenue to contribute to the creative force et al that is Ursula Vernon when I’m able to. You do a LOT of hard work, and there should be further avenues to let you keep living the life you enjoy and have the financial support to do so.

                    I don’t know anything about any of these systems which you could use to provide that, but the desire for some way to contribute to you directly is definitely desired, no creative-obligation strings attached. As you pointed out, obligation is the silver bullet of creativity- all that is wanted is a way to gift to the cause, as it were.

                    • reply Heidi ,

                      I love love love Patreon.

                      I was never one to pay individual amounts to individual content creators (mostly webcomics, for me) through their individual pages. I think, in part, this was just laziness and an ignorant lack of recognition of the value they provided me, but in part there was a sort of, “But how? How much? Can I give to THIS one but not THESE 99 others? That’d be shitty… but I’m not a millionaire… AACK!” And then apathy set in and I never did it.

                      Now, though, I have maybe 5 or 6 artists I support at $1/month, and I feel very happy about being able to do that in an all-in-one-place, easy-to-recognize-charge sort of way.

                      As to the matter of what you provide… speaking only for myself, obviously, and with clear recognition that there are folks out there who would feel ‘entitled’ to ‘more’ — let’s just call them dickbags for shorthand — I believe that the value you provide already exists right here and nothing else would be necessary.

                      I love your blog (and your art and your writing and your existence, at the risk of sounding stalker-y), and I would be very, very happy to be able to pay you $1/month, in a system I’m already using, to do nothing more than what you already do. (Including the four-mile-long retellings of fairy tales AND the two-word-long ‘Burned out.’ posts. Including con season and its requisite sabbaticals.)

                      I just really like the trackability that Patreon affords. I don’t really care about any of the ‘extras’ and only glance cursorily at most of them. I don’t use it for the extra content. I use it to contribute in some tiny, tiny way to the content that’s already providing me pleasure.

                      The lovely thing about that mindset is that I’m ecstatically surprised when I do get an extra that’s exciting. (Dickbags EXPECT more and are therefore difficult to please. I expect nothing and am therefore an amnesiac puppy when something happens.) Example: Mary Varn (of NPC Comic) sent out little collectible cards to everyone who supported her in the first few months; when I received this in the mail, I was *panting* with excitement and telling all my friends about how wonderful webcomic artist Mary Varn is. So, for folks like me, if you ever DID add something extra for just Patreon backers, you would receive an additional rush of immediate happiness from our direction, but if you DIDN’T ever do any extras, you’d still get the steady stream of contentment.

                      I hope you choose to do it, but I also understand if it’s too risky, either psychologically (“Now they give me money! I must give them mooooooooore!”) or just logistically.

                      Annnnnnnnnnd I waited ’til I’d already written this to check ahead and notice that you’ve already decided to do it. HOORAY! (Gonna post anyway, just for encouragement that I don’t expect any additional stuff in return, for my part.)

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