Guest Post: Michael Grey on Patreon vs Wattpad

Hey, you!  Yeah, you there with the hair, come here!  You reading this?  Great….

…now I have your attention I am potentially one quarter as successful as I was publishing my writing on Patreon, and all I had to do was be a bit rude.  Sorry about that, but it was a necessary example which will be apparent why as you read on.

But first perhaps I should back up.

Hi, I’m Michael!  I write stuff.  Mainly fiction.  And I’ve been published in print, online and in audio.  All those were short stories, but like many writers I had something substantive boiling away in the background – a fantasy epic called Brood Parasites which would need several instalments to be told.  However, the prologue needed telling before I got to the main story.  But mainly to myself.  You see, I needed to cement the world in my own head before I began to cement it into the reader’s. 

So I decided to serialise it online, because why do something alone in private when you can do it in public and potentially fail spectacularly, right?

Enter  Why, Patreon?  Well because it was getting more and more attention and very much seemed to be the next big thing for artists. For those who don’t know, is a an on-going crowd funding site for creative types; artists put up their work and ask backers to donate a certain amount per month or per piece in return for that output and the warm feeling they helped create what they loved.  I wanted to be a part if that – not the getting paid part, but the sharing part.  But that turned out to be much, much harder than I anticipated.

I started off with my project site and proposal.  It’s still there if you would like to take a look.  It was an open invitation for anyone who likes good fiction to join me on the serialised journey of my characters together the readers and I would decide the fate of my characters.  In return for $1 per month I would deliver three to four chapters a directly to the in boxes of my backers in the ebook file of their choice, would forward them a free copy of the finished e-book when we finished our journey, and even organised for a talented voice actor friend of mine to narrate audio chapters.

“Build it and they will come” the man said.  So I built it.  And they came.  Well, four of them did.

I’m no natural marketer, but I tried to educate myself and hit upon the ways open to me to generate some attention; social media, increased blogging on my own site, invitations to guest blog.  I even tried Facebook advertisements, with some interesting results.  $50 netted me two campaigns for when the first two audio chapters were released on YouTube, and the numbers were impressive; nearly 14,000 views between them, around 7,000 engagements (where people actually click on one of the links), 3,000 plus likes.

And the follow through?  Nothing.  Nada,  Zip.  Zilch.  Not a single new backer.

After four months and eleven chapters I decided the project wasn’t realising it potential, and it was about this time that I was made aware of Wattpad – a wholly more appropriate setting for the project than Patreon – and after some hard thinking decided to pull the plug and shift the project across, with the promise to my four backers (bless ‘em) will still get the free ebook when Brood Parasites is completed.

“But why did you fail to get readers on Patreon, Michael?” I conveniently hear you cry!  Well, I think there are four main possibilities.

Firstly, and perhaps least likely, is the direction of Patreon itself.  Its type of delivery really benefits visual and audible art.  Comics, videos, music, drawings…. The immediate and pleasing to the eyes and ears.  Just a quick glance at the site will show the whole top five earners are podcasts.  Which is not to say that fiction doesn’t feature, but you have to drill far, far down before you read any project dedicated just to fiction.

Another potential is the search system.  I think the idea and the delivery of Patreon is great, really I do, but the search system sucks harder than a tidal rip.  It’s clunky and it returns project with the already successful to the top, with not option to change that.  The obvious result is the already successful projects get preference.  Which obviously makes business sense to Patreaon – the already big projects are big for a reason, so why not try for the obvious pay day?  But little minnows like yours truly really do get the short shrift.

Now to the first of the real probables; money.  Patreon is there to pay the creators.  Great!  This is a fantastic concept we should see more of!  But on the other hand people going to Patreon are expecting to have to pay, or can even be put off of going there exactly because of that.  “But wait, weren’t you also publishing your chapters for free on the site?”  Well yes I was, but I think we also have to take into account that people are basically good and honest, and there are people who, even when given the opportunity not to pay for something will feel some guilt when they see the dollar sign at the top and also that other people are paying for what they’re enjoying for free.

Another issue I had was the lack of traffic oversight.  I had no idea how many people were reading my work.  There could have been 5,000 people reading each chapter and I would never know.  In fact, let’s just assume for the sake of my fragile ego that’s exactly what happened.

And then the second probable – Brood Parasites just isn’t that good.  Believe me, no writer worth their salt ever thinks their work is worthy of anyone’s attention, so I don’t know how I could judge this possibly objectively.  It could be, let’s just leave it at that.

So now I’ve begun again and moved on to Wattpad.  There are still difficulties getting readers on there, but the big difference is people going to Wattpad know what they’re in for – free fiction.  And best of all the traffic data is great and I can see in detail how many people are reading which chapters and even where they’re from.  I have no idea where those 5,000 readers per chapter went, though. Maybe they didn’t get the memo.

Anyway, my experience with Patreon has made me appreciate more just how difficult it is to get your work out there.  I wouldn’t tell anyone not to use it – clearly it can be done – but I would say that unless you can bring an existing reader base with you it may not be the best place to begin.  Getting paid for your art is a fine goal, but first you have to find people who like your work well enough to pay for it is the trick.  Want a quick example?  Well you could read what I was trying to charge for on Patreon here, but I want to make this clear – it was cost you nothing.

Thanks for reading.


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