Clarkesworld Citizens

Patreon has decided NOT to implement the awful fee structure they proposed! (If you don’t know about this, don’t worry. It’s not happening anyway.) In the last few days, we lost about six months worth of gains at Patreon. It’s been brutal, but totally understandable. I was vehemently opposed to the changes and made sure to let them know about it.

I’ve worked with Patreon for four years and have come to trust people in the company. This last week was a total aberration and I’m planning on sticking with them. I’m less trusting now, but willing to give them a chance to earn it back. Some of our supporters might not feel the same way and I totally understand that. Several have asked that we provide an alternative, so for the last few days, I’ve been working on a new monthly subscription and pledge site:

https://clarkesworldcitizens.com

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that people who are already supporting us leave Patreon, Amazon, etc. There’s value in having a third party handle the support and all that. However, it pays to have options. It probably would have saved me a lot of headaches this week if I had this in place then. Regaining that lost income will be a challenge, one that is compounded by a $500/month increase in my health insurance premiums that starts next month. Augh.

Back to work!

Using Discord

I recently added a Discord server to all of the Clarkesworld Magazine Patreon rewards.

Some of you are probably wondering just what that means. Discord is group chat software. It supports both text and voice, but at the moment, I’ve restricted it to just text. After you download the app to your computer or phone and have set up an account, you can link it to your Patreon account and they will automatically add you to our group. (Assuming you’re a Patron.)

The server is still in its infancy, but we have a few “channels” (chat rooms) set up:

  • General (all-purpose, if something dominates discussion we’ll make a separate channel for it)
  • Rejected Because (I’ll be posting reasons why some stories have been rejected by Clarkesworld here. No story/author-specific details.)
  • Recommend a Story (Read something good? Let me know. I also work on anthologies and The Best Science Fiction of the Year, so I’m always looking for new stories to read.)

Always happy to have more people join the discussion!

Nebula Awards Weekend Patreon Panel

I attended the Nebula Awards Conference in Pittsburgh this past weekend and had a great time. Since Patreon was unable to send someone this year, I volunteered to help them out by hosting the Patreon panel. I was very pleased that Cat Rambo and Merc Rustad were able to join me.

The panel was scheduled for thirty minutes on Friday and drew a good-sized crowd. We wanted to make sure we had time for audience questions, so my fellow panelists and I spent just a little over half the time talking about our experiences and sharing some things we’ve learned from creating and managing our Patreon pages. As expected, the audience had lots of questions and I suspect we could have easily filled an hour on the subject.

A week before the panel, I asked (via social media) authors and publishing professionals to share their Patreon pages and some of their own tips. I promised the crowd was that I would share this information here on my blog as post-panel resource guide. Hopefully you’ll find inspiration among the things that others have said and done.

As I said during the panel, I’m more than happy to answer questions. Feel free to comment here or to email me directly.

Panelists’ Patreon Pages

Neil Clarke – https://www.patreon.com/clarkesworld
Cat Rambo – https://www.patreon.com/catrambo
Merc Rustad – https://www.patreon.com/mercrustad

Other SF/F Writer Patreon Pages

Aliya Whiteley – patreon.com/aliyawhiteley
Alma Alexander – patreon.com/AlmaAlexander
Amy Roth – patreon.com/SurlyAmy/posts
Benjamin Cook – patreon.com/talefoundry
Carmen Maria Machado – patreon.com/carmenmariamachado
Carrie Cuinn – patreon.com/CarrieCuinn
Catherynne M. Valente – patreon.com/catvalente
Charlotte Ashley, Andrew Leon Hudson, Kurt Hunt – patreon.com/archipelago
Dawn Vogel – patreon.com/historythatneverwas
Don Sakers – patreon.com/ruleof5
E. Christopher Clark – patreon.com/echristopherclark
Gareth L Powell – patreon.com/GarethLPowell
Heather E Hutsell – patreon.com/HEHutsell
Hugh J. O’Donnell – patreon.com/hughjodonnell
I G Hulme – patreon.com/heavenfield
Inda Lauryn – patreon.com/user?u=2707160
Jeremy Zimmerman – patreon.com/bolthy
Jerry Seeger – patreon.com/jerryseeger
John Mierau – patreon.com/servingworlds
Judith Tarr as – patreon.com/dancinghorse
Kameron Hurley – patreon.com/kameronhurley
Lev Mirov & Aleksei Valentin – patreon.com/levandalekseicreate
Malcolm F. Cross – patreon.com/MalcolmFCross
Marlee Jane Ward – patreon.com/marleejaneward
Mary Robinette Kowal – patreon.com/maryrobinette
Mur Lafferty – patreon.com/mightymur
N.K. Jemisin – patreon.com/nkjemisin
Rivers Solomon – patreon.com/riverssolomon
S.A. Barton – patreon.com/sabarton
Sarah “Neila” Elkins – patreon.com/Neila
Seanan McGuire – patreon.com/seananmcguire
Tim Pratt – patreon.com/timpratt
Tobias Buckell – patreon.com/tobiasbuckell
Tonya Liburd – patreon.com/TonyaLiburd
Tristina Wright – patreon.com/TristinaWright
Woelf Dietrich – patreon.com/Wo3lf
Yoon Ha Lee – patreon.com/yhlee

Tips and Thoughts Collected from Everyone Above

  • Patreon isn’t a place you go to be discovered. Your target audience is people already familiar with you or your work. Promote your page via your blog, social media accounts, mailing lists, podcasts, or whatever other means you reach your readers. You don’t need a large audience, but if you are just starting, it’s best to hold off for a while.
  • Before you launch, look at the pages of people like you. A little research goes a long way in understanding how to present your case for supporting you and determining what kind of goals and rewards you should use.
  • Like anything else, marketing is key. This isn’t a particularly strong suit for most of us and we’ll often lean towards less marketing to avoid what we feel is too much. On social media, keep in mind that most of your followers will miss casual mentions. It’s best to stagger promotions across several days and times to reach a greater variety of your readers. It might seem like too much to you, but only 1-2 times to them. Just don’t make it the only thing you push out in any medium.
  • It’s not easy for everyone and probably more work than you think. Getting into a routine can be very helpful. It’s good to set expectations in the description of your campaign.
  • You can set your Patreon page up so people support you on a monthly basis or per-creation. Per-creation supporters can cap the amount of support they give in a month, so make sure your rewards make sense if they cap at a single payment. Monthly accounts provide you a more stable income, but require you to be reliable. If you promise a story each month, you have to stick to it or you will lose supporters. If you are per-creation and don’t do anything that month, no one is charged.
  • Use smaller goals at the beginning of your campaign. Never underestimate the value of stating just how close you are to a goal, particularly if you’ve chosen one that will appeal to a wide range of your audience.
  • When setting goals or rewards, remember to include your time in determining the dollar value. Goals don’t always have to result in more work for you. It can be about what you get. It’s good to remember that people are supporting you to see you succeed and not just to get stuff.
  • When setting rewards, don’t undersell yourself. Create one tier higher than you expect anyone to give. We’re our own worst judges when it comes to how much is too much.
  • Try to keep your reward system simple and straight-forward. You don’t want to confuse potential supporters or complicate the fulfillment process. Rewards don’t have to be physical. For example, a $1 reward of having your thanks is quite common.
  • Digital rewards can be distributed through Patreon, but keep in mind that a new supporter at that tier gets access to all previous tier-locked posts. This works fine for someone doing a serialization, but can be problematic for something more like a magazine where the back issues are being sold. In the latter case, you’ll want to distribute those rewards directly. Fortunately Patreon provides downloadable patron information that should make this easier.
  • Keep in mind the amount of time reward fulfillment can take. If something becomes particularly popular, you don’t want it eating up all your writing time.
  • Physical rewards can be problematic in any crowdfunding system, particularly when international supporters are involved. It’s always best to place information about additional shipping costs directly in the reward description to avoid confusion later. In addition to the shipping and product costs, remember shipping supplies aren’t without cost either. It is very easy to lose money (or time) by missing something when setting the price for physical rewards. Be careful.
  • Engage your community in the creation or revision of reward tiers and goals. Make them a part of your process. They often have great ideas.
  • Don’t be disappointed if your Patreon page grows slowly or even declines once in a while. Lots of people are having financial issues. It’s the number 1 reason people provide me when they stop supporting my page.
  • Patrons are charged at the start of the month. Expect a quick drop in your displayed dollars and number of supporters as it isn’t unusual for cards to be declined. Patreon will contact these people over the next few days and some will be fixed. I wait about five days and then email those people a polite email saying we don’t want to lose them (or have them not receive their rewards) and include a link to Patreon’s how to fix this page. Unless it’s a physical reward, I always provide that month’s reward even if the card declines. Have trust in your supporters. Oh and don’t send that email through Patreon. Email them directly. If the problem isn’t fixed by the end of the month, they will be dropped the next month, but oddly enough, still listed as declined in your overall Patron list. It just doesn’t try to charge them anymore.
  • Communicate regularly with your supporters. Patreon has great tools for this. Encourage reader feedback and respond. Be willing to experiment with some of those ideas and yes, sometimes they can fail. Stop doing those things and try something else. Just be up-front about it and everyone will be fine.
  • Try to offer updates and rewards that relate to things you do day-to-day, i.e. access to the actual work you are creating. It’s easy to offer special blog posts or content created exclusively for your Patrons, but in practice the extra work can feel like it’s pulling you away from making the content that your Patrons are supporting you for in the first place. Be authentic, do what you enjoy and experiment with your art and communication with supporters.
  • If you are sharing original stories, keep in mind that many publishers consider this using up your first rights, meaning you can’t sell it as original elsewhere. You can still sell it as a reprint. Also, make sure you are aware of the procedures for submitting to the various year’s best anthologies and most of them probably won’t see it otherwise.
  • It doesn’t have to be new stories. You can share behind-the-story information, pieces from works-in-progress (be careful about first rights issues), or share out-of-print stories or even novels, though the latter is better serialized over the course of months. Writing tips and process notes are great too.
  • Have fun. If you are not having fun, you are doing something wrong.

Two and a half months in

I’m now just a bit over two and a half months into my new life as a full-time editor. Aside from a couple of knock-down colds, things have been moving along rather nicely. One of the big worries I had in going full-time was healthcare. Nearly five years ago, I suffered a major heart attack and the fallout from that continues to require a bunch of prescriptions and regular visits. In short, I require a better-than-average healthcare plan.

I had been on the upgraded plan my former employer offered as an option, but when I resigned, COBRA, financially, was not an option. (Seriously, who can afford those insane rates?) I did a lot of research and ended up with a decent silver plan via the ACA, but the costs are still significant and all on me. (My wife’s employer does offer a plan, but it’s the worst one I’ve ever seen.)

To cover these new expenses, I’ve been taking on short-term projects–ebook design, consulting–but that’s not stable income and it makes me nervous. Having a reliable source of income for this has been on my to-do list, but now it’s moved to the top.

Over the last ten years, I’ve directed money from new Clarkesworld or Forever subscriptions or Patreon pledges towards different projects that have ranged from adding more stories to creating an equipment budget for the podcast. Now I’m targeting healthcare.

As a funding goal, healthcare is anything but sexy. It’s not something I expect to see people rally around or get excited about. Adding new content? Sure, that gives a pretty tangible and easy-to-sell consequence. Insurance, well, you know… Still, it has to be done if I want to continue down this path.

At present, I’m sending a target of reaching this goal of July 12, 2017–the fifth anniversary of my heart attack. It’s an ambitious deadline, but one worth going for.

If you aren’t already a subscriber or Patreon supporter, here are the links I hope you’ll be interested in:

If you’re already a subscriber or supporter, thank you! You’ve made it possible to get this far. If you want to help further, share the above links or leave a review on our Amazon subscription page–good reviews there help encourage new subscribers. You’d be surprised by how much of an impact it has.

Take care,

-Neil

Frankly, Mr. Shankly, or perhaps Dear Madam Barnum

This past Friday, I resigned from my day job and career of the last twenty-eight years. My last day will be January 31st, but I might be doing some part-time/consulting work for them until they fill the vacancy. I could probably write an entire blog post about why I’ve done this—and I still might, someday—but that’s the past and I’m more focused on the future at the moment.

I’m quite excited—and a little terrified—by the prospect of taking the leap. There are a bunch of uncertainties, like healthcare costs and filling the income gap between Lisa’s new job and my old one, but we’re close enough to give this career switch a try. As some of you know, this has been a major goal of mine since my heart attack four years ago. At age fifty, and after ten years working part-time, I’m finally going to be a full-time editor!

Naturally, my first priority has to be those uncertainties I mentioned: income gap and insurance. As I see it, I have a few things to target:

  1. I’ve altered the Clarkesworld Patreon goals to include direct salary and healthcare expenses. Would be nice if it was that simple, but I figure it’s worth putting out there.
  2. I’ll be pushing the digital subscriptions a lot more and investing a little in marketing in hopes of bumping those numbers up a bit.
  3. Now that I’ll have time, I can increase the number of anthology projects I do. I’m in the process of drafting pitches for my current publishers, but I should have extras if anyone else should be interested. I’d really like to do another original anthology sometime too.
  4. I also have the Year Nine and Year Ten Clarkesworld anthologies to wrap up. That should be a lot easier to accomplish now.
  5. I need to be more proactive in seeking advertisers for Clarkesworld. Even a small bump here could be significant.
  6. While there’s still a gap, I’ll also try to expand on the ebook design work I do on the side. It’s mindless, but I find it relaxing and it helps pay bills.

I’m getting this shot at chasing a dream thanks to Lisa, my amazing wife. I also have to thank Sean and Kate for having my back, my boys for keeping me on my toes, my parents for their support and inspiration, my publishers for their faith in me, and everyone that has ever subscribed, donated, or become a patron of Clarkesworld.

Let the adventure begin!

PS. If you don’t understand the title, you might want to do a little musical research.
Frankly, Mr. Shankly
Dear Madam Barnum

New Mailing List

I’ve launched a mailing list for people who want to keep up with information regarding Clarkesworld, Forever, and other short fiction projects I’m involved in. At present, the volume should only be 1-2 messages per month.

If you sign up before midnight on the 20th, you’ll be in the running for a free StoryBundle gift code for the VanderMeer Mix Tape bundle they are currently selling.