Kameron Hurley is busy. Aside from authoring The Stars are Legion, The Geek Feminist Revolution essay collection, as well as the God’s War Trilogy and The Worldbreaker Saga, Kameron Hurley has developed a dedicated audience and a knack for winning awards. Some of these include the Hugo Award, Kitschy Award, and Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer.
In an interview with Hurley, she shared, “I create short adventure stories that deliver folks to new worlds.” Having earned multiple degrees in history while studying in far stretches of the world (Alaska and South Africa), it’s clear that Hurley’s adventurous spirit manifests in her writing.
Needless to say, Hurley is a revered figure among writers and story-lovers alike. But here’s the surprising challenge that Hurley was facing: her award-winning talent was not translating to dollars in her pocket. Hurley explains:
“My first three novels ended up with a publisher that stole everybody’s royalties and nearly went bankrupt. They still owe me around $8,000. That was a real wake-up call about how I needed to be smarter about the business end of the creative work. I began to look at my work the way that publishers look at it, and consider how I could make more money with each project. I enjoyed writing short fiction and wanted to level up in that area, but most magazines pay very little for short fiction — a few hundred bucks at best. With novel contracts and a day job, I couldn’t justify writing short fiction.”
So Instead of waiting for publishers to stop threatening her livelihood, Hurley sought a new frontier. She took the key to her unwritten stories and handed it to the people she trusted most: her fans.
I turned to Patreon, which allowed fans to directly subscribe and get stories in their inbox every month, starting at $1. I offered other rewards as well, talking directly with my fans to see what they wanted and understand what drove them to subscribe.
In this new business model, Hurley and her top fans join together in a community that provides them both with valuable rewards. Hurley earns a sustainable income each month, and her readers stay intimately connected with her work. Here are 3 ways that Kameron Hurley is using membership to change the path forward for writers everywhere.
As Hurley explained above, there was no traditional avenue available for her to make a living from writing short stories. The industry was influencing the way she packaged her work and received payment.
“Publishing can be especially frustrating because novelists are only paid out a few times a year. Our advance checks are generally split out into chunks, so you get some money when you sign the contract, some when you turn in the book, and some when it’s published. Royalty payments only arrive twice year, so you see a lot of writers using credit cards to get by to the next big check. While some have found great regular income from self-publishing, most of us are only making a few hundred dollars a month that way, at best. With Patreon, you can go directly to your fans and give them the things that they want.”
With a community of monthly subscribers and a suite of tools to help reach them, Patreon changes the way that work is distributed. A creator can release smaller, more frequent projects. In return, patrons receive more of their favorite stories.
This is what Hurley said when I asked what patrons get in return for their membership: “They get more stories! Patrons also get a lot more insight into the process behind creating a story, as well as a sense that they are a part of the creative process. At different levels, patrons also receive exclusive work, such as chapbooks, flash fiction, and lots of video content, that folks who don’t subscribe to my Patreon ever see. The biggest thing I’d hear from fans is that they wanted more work from me, but I just couldn’t justify turning down better paying freelance work to create it. Now I can.”
I also share works-in-progress for my novels, and deleted scenes, which only subscribers get.
In addition to the extra content that Hurley is distributing to her patrons, she is also rewarding them with special insight into her creative process. Her $2 patrons receive a draft chapter, her $3 patrons receive a real-time writing video, and her $5 patrons receive a video of Hurley walking through each month’s story and explaining her writing process.
There are two reasons to share your creative process through Patreon. First, preparing these rewards for patrons doesn’t take time away from creative work. In other words, if you’ve never made t-shirts for fans, why spend time learning how to sell t-shirts? Why not dive deeper into the work you’re _already doing _and share it with your top fans?
And here’s the second reason why this strategy is so clever: A large percentage of Hurley’s readers are also writers. Beyond buying her stories, Patreon allows her fans the infinitely-more rewarding experience of learning how she writes. This intimate view into the creative process is new to both writers and fans. Hurley agrees:
“It’s a truism that many readers want to be writers. There are also a lot of fans who are simply curious about the creative process, so providing content like the real-time writing videos where they see me putting words onto a blank page in real time shows them that writing is just work like any other. It’s not really magic; yes, anyone can do it. And that’s actually a valuable thing for two reasons: 1) it shows that writing can be learned, and 2) it demonstrates that writing really is work. A magic fairy doesn’t come down and do it for you. That last bit is especially important today, as so much creative work is devalued as somehow not being ‘real’ work, or work worth paying for.”
Pressure can crush the creative juices. Would you rather get paid for a project and hear “I believe in you” or get paid and hear “Don’t mess this up”? With the membership principles of Patreon, a creator’s progress is driven by love and supportive feedback from patrons. Here’s how Hurley explained it:
“In addition to the monetary support from patrons, there’s an emotional support component, too. Because these are my biggest fans, they understand when I skip a month, and they connect with and respond to pieces that may be difficult or still raw, and that helps me make better stories. Certainly knowing that there are nearly 700 people who care enough about your work to support you every month is super motivating!”
Want to say hey? Reach out to Kameron here: