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?