Creator of the Week with Monica Byrne
Meet Monica Bryne, an American playwright and science fiction author who turned her passion into a career.
Location: Durham, NC
Patreon Page: www.Patreon.com/MonicaByrne
Q+A with Monica Byrne
Patreon: **Describe, in your own words, what it is that you create:**
Monica Bryne: I make novels, stories, theatre, essays, protest, and visual art. But if I find myself alone with the right sort of person, I say I’m a servant of the other world.
How did you get your start as a creator?
MB: Until age 24, I wanted to be an astronaut, and did all the “right” things–worked for NASA, got a pilot’s license, and went to MIT for graduate school. But I was really unhappy. I might have loved the work once, but at a certain point, it felt like I was trying to stuff my foot into a shoe that was three sizes too small. My greatest joys were what I did for “escape”–reading, performing, and writing–so I decided to take those seriously instead of making myself do something I didn’t really want to do. Once I did, I was so much happier.
If you could be any ocean creature aside from a dolphin or a shark, which would you pick and why?
**MB:** I’d like to be a plankter (singular of plankton). It’d be lovely to just get carried along the water column and see the sights, all the way down. What a ride.
At what point did you decide to develop your creative passion into a business?
MB: Since October 2016, when publishers didn’t want to sign up for my next novel trilogy until all three volumes were finished. I’m still planning to publish the traditional way, but it was a big wake-up call: I can’t rely on big corporations for my income. So then, it was a choice between going back to a day job or making my Patreon my primary source of income. I decided to push for the latter.
What are three tactics you’ve used to grow your audience over time?
- Kindness. Just be nice to people! It’s so easy. When people respond to your funny tweet with appreciation, thank or acknowledge them. When people write you to say how much your work affected them, thank them. And don’t take your patrons for granted. I’m bewildered by creators who never write or thank their patrons, or literally say, “Here, have this thing I couldn’t sell.” Why would you want to support a creator who only deigns to give you their castoffs? Put your patrons at the center of your creative model, not the fringe.
- Boundaries. This may sound counterintuitive. But when I hear “grow your audience,” I don’t think just in terms of numbers (though marketing departments might want me to). I want an audience that appreciates my work but also respects me as a person. As a woman, I’ve gotten followers, usually male, who test or cross stated boundaries, and I have no problem telling them to back off. A conventional marketing view might not want me to “alienate a fan,” but it’s actually a cost-benefit analysis: how much emotional (and therefore creative) energy do I want to spend pretending to smile and laugh when someone tells me how I should look, act, write, or think; or keeps trying to ask me out on a date? None. So I end up with an audience of awesome people, who know that when they pledge to fund my work, they’re not buying access to me like I’m a hotel room. They’re entering into a relationship of mutual respect.
- Surprises. I like keeping my patrons guessing. What am I going to do next? I don’t know! I work in all media! So I try to surprise them on all fronts: HERE’S a new story, and HERE’S a pretty picture, and HERE’S a weird home video, and HERE’S a sober meditation on politics, and so on. The surprise-ness is part of the creative practice.
What has been the most effective monetization method for you the last year?
MB: My goal is to make a living entirely as an artist through Patreon, which for me would be $3000 a month. Right now I’m at ~$2200 a month, which is terrific, but it takes about $800 to run the Patreon and its rewards, so that’s more like $1400 take-home each month. I’m making up the difference through art commissions, and I also opened up for speaking and consultation. It’s still touch-and-go, though. Making it to $3000 would mean I could stop worrying.
When was the hardest time in your creative career, and what do you wish your present self could’ve told your past self during that time?
MB: January 2009. I was sick, sleep-deprived, and felt like I was losing my sanity in a hotel in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. I was supposed to be there to research a first novel, but I felt so lost and directionless and homesick that I couldn’t see how anything good, much less a whole cohesive novel, could ever result.
I wish I could have told myself: Keep eating. Keep sleeping. Have faith. These miserable experiences will transform themselves in your heart and mind in ways you can’t imagine, and much more quickly than seems possible right now.
Of course, in time, those experiences in Ethiopia became the backbone of my debut novel The Girl in the Road.
When did you decide to launch on Patreon, and in what ways has it affected your creative goals?
MB: I launched on Patreon in June 2015 for a very specific purpose: to write a culture column after a frustrating kerfuffle with Wired. Because that post got a lot of press, a lot of people signed up immediately, which was very gratifying. But after a few months, I found myself in the same position I’d been back in grad school: I didn’t love what I was doing. I’m made to write fiction and memoir, not journalism. So I went back to my patrons and said, I’m truly sorry, but I have to go back to what I love, and I hope you’ll stay. I was expecting to lose at least half of them; I was delighted when almost everyone stayed! This goes back to what I was saying above–I enter into a relationship of mutual respect with my patrons. Both sides act in good faith, and it shows.
When times are tough as a creator, is there anything you continue to come back to, something that keeps you going and keeps your eye on the prize?
MB: The certainty that there’s nothing else I want to do. If I try to do anything else, I’m miserable! I’m made for art.
In the year of 2017, how do you feel it is important to stay current as a creator and respond to what’s going on in the world?
MB: I’m not comfortable prescribing how other artists should respond to the events since the election, but speaking for myself, there’s no question. I have to radically reorient myself and my work. I believe we’re facing a straight-up fascist administration for the first time in U.S. history. Now, all of my work will be a form of nonviolent resistance. I just cut a new Patreon videowith footage from the Women’s March, and I’m launching a pledge drive starting today, so that I can get to $3,012 so that I can finish the next novel, The Actual Star. It envisions a far more sane, peaceful, and beautiful future–one we can get to. I’ll be sending excerpts and behind-the-scenes updates to all patrons during the writing process. And that’s just the beginning.
If you could collaborate with one creator, dead or alive, who it be?
MB: Ava DuVernay. She’s my ideal director for a movie adaptation of my novel The Girl in the Road. I just have to figure out how to get her a copy!
That’s all, folks! Want to say hey? Reach out to Monica here: