I’ve been thinking a lot about my Kickstarters and Patreons. Especially for my personal work, as opposed to Mad Scientist Journal. But the same issues plague both.
In the past, Patreon has seemed ideal for smaller projects that had value for backers individually. This was especially true once I split MSJ into its own Patreon. For the magazine, which produces a lot of content, the monthly model seemed ideal. But for my own projects, which I’m not as prolific with thanks to my tendency to over-commit, I opted to re-frame the content as just shorter pieces, offered up as paid content. Books, instead, deserved their own Kickstarter.
Kickstarter has its foibles, but I felt like it provided a way to build awareness of our stuff. Patreon has mainly seemed like a good way to raise funds if people already know about you. It doesn’t hurt that three of our four Kickstarters were Staff Picks by Kickstarter.
But as I look at actual money raised, I’m less confident about my choices. So here’s some assorted numbers. These are kind of broad strokes, and I probably made some mistakes, but they at least get in the neighborhood.
For the Kensei sequel, The Love of Danger, I set a goal of $1,000. I wasn’t sure that would cover everything, but picking these numbers is a balance of “what we need” and “what we think we could raise.” And I felt confident about $1,000, and figured I could eat the rest. We did a bit better, raising $1,633. How did that compare to what we made?
Kickstarter’s Cut: $139
Backerkit’s Cut: $16
Just the Book: $188
Hand-Shipped Signed Books: $412
Kensei 1: $50
This comes out to a total of $1,999. A loss of $366. The swag (patches and and stickers) were designed and produced by Etsy vendors. Which means we supported artists at a reasonable rate. But it also means that it cost a bit more than something designed by some rando on Fiverr and printed by some large print shop. The art costs also covered the cover for a serial that was unlocked as a stretch goal. The editing was done by a third party because I wanted someone with a particular set of skills for this.
As for sales after the fact? The book netted about $35 in the last year. Kensei netted about $40 over the same time period. Which isn’t shabby, especially since Kensei is lower priced and doesn’t get a great royalty cut on Amazon (because of pricing thresholds for Kindle books).
In contrast, I make about $55 per thing on Patreon after they take their cut from my $60 of pledges. If I do a four-part serial, I’ve got $220 in my pocket. Paying an illustrator for an ebook quality cover costs me $100. If I put out a short story I get $55. If i bundle it with some older stories and add a cover, I’m at a loss of $45. If I decided to publish the next Kensei sequel through this model, with each chapter being a paid item, I could even pull in about $2,200 for the full novel. Even paying for art and outside editing, that would still be over $1,000 profit. If I switched back to a monthly format and released weekly, I’d break even. And I wouldn’t have to print books and ruin the post office’s day.
This results in the lowest level patrons paying $20 (spread out in 20 $1 chunks) for a book that would retail for $3 normally. There’s some argument to be made that some backers aren’t purely driven by the benefit they get. But from my Kickstarters, I’ve seen a trend toward getting their money’s worth. Having higher tiers can encourage benevolent backers to pick something more, but we’ve gotten better results when that higher tier is something people want.
There’s also the question of who is backing my Kickstarter. Of the 82 backers for the Kickstarter for The Love of Danger, 46 were people I knew to some degree. (Friends, family, people we’ve published through MSJ.) That’s about 56%. In terms of money, $1,290 of that came from that same group of people I knew: 80%.
Compared to my Patreon: 11 of my 12 backers on Patreon are people I know: 92%. $59 of my $60 of gross pledges come from those people: 98%. So most of those funds are basically me just hitting up people I know for money for my book.
While the 36 total strangers backers only pledged 20% of the total amount, it’s still 36 more readers that appeared out of nowhere to back this book. Kickstarter is built toward making it easy to find projects you’re interested in. People stalk that.
Patreon…? From talking to others who are successful there, they had an audience before they ever showed up there. I haven’t met anyone yet who tried to bootstrap themselves up through Patreon. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen. I just haven’t met them yet. I want to meet them. And eat their secrets.
So what works better? Lose money to build an audience? Or labor on in obscurity supported mostly by friends? I’m not doing this as a regular job, but it would be nice to not constantly lose money. But hell if I know what the best way to go forward is.