Patreon, Conventions, and Why I Do Them Both

I’ve had a few people ask me how my Patreon campaign is working out for me, and my response is always pretty much the same. “It’s great. It brings in a little extra money each month, it lets me have more direct contact with some of my biggest fans, and it funds some of my convention travel. I can’t ask for much more than that.”

And that’s the deal. That’s the broad brushstrokes, thousand-foot view description of it. This post is about the details, because some folks have asked. BEWARE – there’s a lot of information here about how the sausage gets made as far as the life of a struggling midlist writer. If you just want to read cool books and don’t want much behind the scenes crap about finances and all that other stuff, click on one of the buttons at the top of the page, buy one of my books, and enjoy!

Still here? That probably means you’re either a real fan of mine and are counting on me to say something hilarious (probably unintentionally) or you’re a writer and are interested in the business side of things. So here we go, down the rabbit hole.

Patreon is a fundraising platform that allows creators (me) to connect with fans (you) to create ongoing funding streams for long-term projects like webcomics or podcasts, or series of other projects like music videos, or just support the creator with a monthly pledge to keep doing what you’re doing. Since I release new work almost monthly, I set my Patreon account to be a monthly funding source. This allows my fans and patrons to support me, and in exchange they get perks, kinda like Kickstarter rewards. My fans get early access to the stories, and they get the stories for free. So if you know you want to read everything I write, and you want to be the first one in your book club to read it, you can pledge to my Patreon and get it via email before anyone else.

So on the one hand, why would anyone pay for that from me? I don’t really know. I have a dozen or so patrons right now, some of them I know personally, some I’ve met once or twice, some I’ve never met. Could be they feel like they get more joy out of reading my work than the cost of the book. Could be they see me at conventions and really want me to continue to be able to travel and amuse them at cons, so they help fund that travel. Could be they just have more money than sense and want to support the arts in a more direct fashion than their local arts council allows them to do.

How much do I make? It varies as pledges get added and dropped, but it ranges from $75-100 each month. This year, that has so far totaled $947.44. Not an insignificant sum of money, but not rock star numbers, by any means. What does an extra thousand bucks a year mean to a midlist author?

For me, it means I go to Connooga and Con-Gregate. Straight up, those two conventions would not have made it onto my list in 2015 were it not for the extra money from Patreon. And I love both of those cons, and I sold like gangbusters and Con-Gregate this year. But they’re smaller shows, and I am guaranteed to lose money by attending those cons, almost no matter how well I sell. So without Patreon, those are two conventions in 2015 that would have been on the chopping block. For 2016, it would be Arisia and MystiCon, two shows I’m very excited about attending, but without Patreon money, wouldn’t be able to afford.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the convention circuit, just let it be known that I could be out of town every single weekend working a convention somewhere, and I am out of town about once a month doing a con. And I lose money on almost every single out of town convention I’ve ever done.

Want to take a second for that last sentence to sink in?

Want me to say it again?

I lose money on almost every single out of town convention I have ever done.

Wanna know what’s worse?

I’m better at selling books at conventions than 75% of authors out there. So most of the writers you see at conventions, unless they are listed as “Guest of Honor” or “Special Guest” are paying for the privilege of being there, knowing that it’s money we’ll never see back. So when people ask why I don’t run Facebook Ads, or do a lot of paid advertising, it’s because my marketing budget consists of convention attendance.

I’m a numbers guy, so here are some rough numbers –

Connooga – one of my worst cons of the year, sales-wise. I love the show, I love seeing all my friends, I love seeing my Tennessee fans, but I think after 2016 I’m taking a year off from the show because I’ve been there too many years in a row. The attendees have all my books, which means they aren’t buying anything at the show. If I give it a “breather year,” then the attendees have more time to be excited about seeing me again, and they’ll buy more stuff.

2015 Sales – 19 books totaling $230

Book Costs – $142

Net sales – $88

Hotel – $200

Gas – $60

Food/Booze – $150

Net for Convention – (-$322)

What could I have done to reduce costs? I split the room with my assistant and another friend. I don’t currently pay my assistant, so I should at worst cover his room. And my other friend picked up the tab for Congregate 2014 when I was out of work and really needed that help, so this was my payback to him. Going forward I could split the room, but after two people, three max, you see a point of diminishing returns on rest v. savings, so the most I would save there is $100. I could split the drive and gas costs, but food costs money, and I network over meals and in the bar, so those expenses aren’t going to budge much. I already travel with a cooler and sodas and Pop-Tarts for breakfast, so $150 for food and booze for three days is pretty damn good. Being super-frugal, I could reduce expenses on this show to where I’m only $200 in the hole, but that’s probably the best I can do.

And Connooga is just used here as an example of a small to mid-sized show that costs me gas, food, and a couple nights in a hotel room to do. You could change the year and substitute JordanCon, MystiCon or any of several other conventions into this slot. The point is, if I have to have a hotel, I have to either sell like a boss, or I lose about $200 just attending.

So let’s look at a con where I sold like a boss – Con-Gregate. I moved a ton of books at that show this year, a marked improvement over the (1) I sold in 2014. Here are the numbers –

2015 Sales – 37 books totaling $479.00

Book Costs – $287

Net Sales – $192

Hotel – $200

Gas – $30

Food/Booze – $150

Net for Convention – ($-188)

Same cost-saving measures here could have gotten me very close to breaking even. Or I could have sold more books, but most authors will tell you that selling close to $500 in a weekend is pretty damn good. In fact, Con-Gregate was my 4th-highest grossing show of the year! After a few years of doing this, the only way I can be in the black on a show at the end of the weekend is if I don’t have any hotel costs associated with the show. And even that doesn’t always cut it. By my reckoning, I lost $50 on MonsterCon this year, and I drove to and from Gaffney each day to do the show. I also spent more on food than I should have there, but there were extenuating circumstances. In other words, I wanted to.

Overall, I spent about $400 more than I made in 2015 on conventions, and that doesn’t include leftover stock, which I have tried very hard to keep to a minimum. So if I lose $500 every year (extrapolating and guesstimating moving forward), why do I keep going to conventions?

Well first, I love conventions. I love meeting fans, I love converting people to become fans, and I love meeting other writers and hanging out. I also really enjoy being on panels and pontificating about things I may not really know anything about.

Secondly, this is what I consider my marketing. I don’t do much direct email marketing right now, I don’t do much paid advertising, and I do limited swag, so this is where most of my marketing money goes.

And Patreon allows me to do it. If not for Patreon providing funding, I couldn’t have afforded to do the West Virginia Book Festival, which was a lot of fun, and my biggest sales show of the year.

So if you like seeing me at conventions, and want me to come to one in your area, hit me up. I’m always interested. ┬áHere’s the 2016 Schedule – Tentative. I haven’t gotten confirmations on guest status as all of these yet, so everything is always subject to change until I arrive.

January 14-18 – Arisia – Boston, MA

February 19-21 – Connooga – Chattanooga, TN

February 26-28 – MystiCon – Roanoke, VA

March 2-5 – SouthEastern Theatre Conference – Greensboro, NC (completely different life, but if you’re there, we can hang out!)

June 3-5 – ConCarolinas – Charlotte, NC

June 17-19 – HeroesCon – Charlotte, NC

July 15-17 – Con-Gregate – High Point, NC

September 1-September 5-DragonCon – Atlanta

October 27-30 – World Fantasy Con – Columbus, OH

November 18-20 – Big Fandom Greenville – Greenville, SC

That’s nine conventions, not counting one-day signings and appearances. And we’re not into 2016 yet! So thanks to everyone who has given to the Patreon, I would never be able to plan this much travel without you!

 

 

 

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