How to Reward Your Faithful Fans By M. C. A. Hogarth

How to Reward Your Faithful Fans By M. C. A. Hogarth

One of the most common refrains I hear in writing is ‘don’t put all your eggs in Amazon’s basket—protect yourself by diversifying your income stream!’ and this is instantly followed by the advice to ‘go wide’—which is to say, make sure your books are available at other retailers. 

Other, poorly performing retailers. Other retailers that barely make you enough money to buy a few groceries, and that won’t save you if the Amazon pipe gets cut off. 

Diversify is, indeed, great advice. But your backup plan shouldn’t be Kobo or B&N, or the libraries that need to realize you’re in the Overdrive catalog before they can spend money on licensing your books. The answer to the Amazon monopoly is subscription services like Patreon. With the caveat that, as in all things business and life, the answer right now may not remain the right answer eternally, your best bet to protect your income is to build up a patron base to supplement your retail audience. 

What About Newsletters? 

You’ve heard that you need one, over and over: make sure you build your newsletter base! Absolutely, do that. Multiple avenues to reach your readers are paramount, because even the superfans who are subscribed to every social media account, newsletter, subscription, and chat server involving you will somehow miss one of your announcements at least once. We’re all inundated. Give people as many ways to learn your news as possible. Your newsletter should be your most basic communication tool, and the free one. But don’t neglect subscription platforms. Some of your readers want your extras and are willing to pay for them—in fact, want to, in order to support you. Keep the newsletter for your casual fans and build a new venue for the ones who want to take it to the next level. 

Okay, but Which Platform do I pick? 

Ostensibly, you have many choices: Patreon, ko-fi, Locals, Subscribestar, Substack, etc. But Patreon is the Amazon of subscriber platforms. They pioneered their way into having both market- and mindshare, because they got there first and they’ve been there longest. The majority of the patronage-style audience is locked up on Patreon and they don’t want to move: they’re invested already in multiple creators, and they don’t want to add a new bill to their stack just because you don’t like some of Patreon’s attitudes or practices. Your superfans will follow you wherever you post, but if you opt out of a Patreon, you’ll miss out on the money from the larger number of people who are casually into you. It’s one of those ‘grin and bear it’ situations, just like Kindle Unlimited’s exclusivity requirement. If you have time and mental energy for only one subscription platform, my advice is to pick Patreon. If you can handle more than one, then have Patreon as an adjunct to whatever you’re doing elsewhere. You can always duplicate the content on all platforms (which is what I do). I wouldn’t recommend more than two platforms, though, because of diminishing returns. Try to build your audience in one place, and keep a second in pocket as a backup, and Patreon should be one of the two. 

While most platforms attempt to duplicate Patreon’s model, there’s one exception: substack, which is more a newsletter replacement than a patron platform. You set a single price for substack’s subscriptions (different from other patron platforms, where you can offer multiple subscriptions and lock specific content to those monetary incentives). If you’re looking for the simplest possible in and the least possible overhead, you might want to look into substack as your sole offering. 

Fine, Fine, But What Do I Offer People? And How Often? 

Once a month is the minimum I’d recommend for communicating with your patrons. Once a week is better. Most platforms allow you to do advance scheduling, so if the thought of keeping on top of the weekly slog intimidates you, pick a day and book the next month, quarter, year’s! posts in advance. Whatever keeps you moving. 

As for what you can share, here are some popular incentives: 

  • Cut scenes – Scenes you wrote for a story but later edited out. 
  • Bonus scenes –Things you wrote specifically for your patrons, either at their request or because you are just that awesome at predicting what they want more of. 
  • Blooper reels – If you’re into non-canonical funny stuff, you can write and share some silly extras! 
  • Sneak peeks – These would be early glimpses at scenes from stories you’re working on currently. 
  • ARC Group reads – Not for everyone, but this reward is popular among my readers; I put up a google doc of something I’m about to release and people can comment on it and read one another’s comments. This creates a book-club-like atmosphere, where people not only find your typos and continuity errors before you hit print, but they also get to communicate with one another about things they like or found funny or moving. 
  • Prewriting or research – If your work requires you to do research and you discovered cool stuff, share it! And if you decided before you could write a specific novel you needed to do a little writing first, to cement your understanding of the characters or events… that’s good fodder too. Worldbuilding notes also go over well. 
  • Access to group chat – Discord servers (or similar things) are popular, and gating them behind subscriptions keeps the troll population down. 
  • Early cover reveals, or early audio edition reveals – If you have art to share, or snippets of a forthcoming audiobook, those are great gifts; I’ve also offered audiobook auditions that led me to choose a particular voice actor, or production notes I’ve sent those narrators on how to pronounce various words or names, or how the characters should sound. 
  • Merchandise incentives – Do you have shirts, mugs, keychains, signed bookplates, etc? Give readers a coupon to buy those at a discount, or early access to things that you have limited inventory of so they can get the goodies before other people do. 


    There are other, more time-consuming/planning-heavy options: 

  • Serialization – Some writers like to livewrite books and post them, chapter by chapter. If this style of writing works for you, it’s a great patron incentive. 
  • Book downloads (in advance of KU, if you’re using it) – You can also offer free copies of any ebook you’re about to release; note that you’ll have to plan for its effects on your launch week sales, and if you’re in KU, you’ll have to remove access to the books after they go live at retail—no ‘I just joined and you offered this book last year, can I get a copy’ stragglers. 
  • Other formats (visual, audio, video content) – If you love drawing, recording podcasts, or producing video content, this is another good bonus for subscribers… but one I recommend only to people who enjoy doing it. Otherwise it consumes too much time, and creates too much stress. 


    These are only the most common content choices writers use for patron platforms—the only limitation on what you can give your subscribers is your time, your effort, and your imagination. Pick things that are specific to you, if you can; I love creating constructed languages for my aliens, so I sprinkle my bonus content with language lessons, pictures of alien alphabets, and recordings of me reciting conlang poems. You might love cooking… if so, share your recipes, your gustatory adventures at various restaurants, and your reviews of fine wines, coffees, or teas. Do you sew? Patterns, photos of projects in progress. Like guns? Tell us about it! 


    Warning! And Opportunities! As Usual, Hand in Hand 


    If you’re looking at this and thinking ‘wow, this could easily take over the time I use to write new books,’ you’re absolutely right. You’re not going to be able to avoid managing your time aggressively to juggle posting at least once a week, to one (or more!) platforms. Having said that, though, your subscriber base will grow in proportion to your effort, and if one of your goals is to ensure you aren’t totally reliant on Amazon for your income, then it’s in your best interests to treat your subscribers as a potential source of at least half your revenue. I’ve known writers who can live off their Patreon revenue, and everything that comes in after is just a bonus. A giant one. Start out by assuming that you want to grow your subscribers to the point where you aren’t reliant on royalties, and you’ll be building yourself a nice backstop for when the ebook market changes and you’ll need alternate avenues to reach your readers. 


    Have any ideas for cool incentives? What are your experiences? Please share in the comments! Let’s all learn from one another! 

17 thoughts on “How to Reward Your Faithful Fans By M. C. A. Hogarth

  1. A cartoonist I like (someone, maybe on Instapundit, linked to his Gettr) got booted from Patreon and a few other platforms. I imagine that I would suffer the same fate if I went with Patreon, especially once my stories get going and some of the content becomes objectionable to a certain sector of the online populace. So I started posting on Substack (that is where my current favorite writer posts, and where the aforementioned cartoonist also ended up).

  2. I did some heavy investing in a newsletter and actually managed to gather a significant quantity of people. Then, 2.5 years ago, I got ill (all better now). I haven’t been able to do a damn thing about marketing in the mean time, but I still have the list on ice in my newsletter service.

    I’m not that far from first release of the first 3 books of the new series (a few months). Any advice on how I should structure my first announcements to my “haven’t heard from her in almost 3 years” newsletter-subscribers-in-aspic? This is my one chance to keep them from automatically hitting the delete button on first re-contact. I need that core of subscribers for the release momentum, and for whatever I can do to get the newsletter engine going again…

    1. I was kind of in this boat with the Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales I participated in last year. Hadn’t talked to the mailing list (originally accumulated via Instafreebie/Prolific Works) in a while, but needed to talk to them again. I made it a point to link to both the sale and separately to the book I was including (which was a first in series that stood alone pretty well), in the hope that that would jog their memory. I didn’t do any reintroducing apart from that.

      1. I wouldn’t say it was a gangbusters success, but it produced results comparable to the period a couple of years before, when I was in free book giveaways constantly and notifying the list accordingly.

  3. I’ve been seeing a slow shift towards Subscribe star and Ko-fi at least in the art community. (For the ones I see, Patreon seems to be secondary and most are diversifying from gumroad or twitch, but it’s an interesting point that the fans seem to be more willing to shift from Patreon than from Amazon).

    I’m going wide, personally, because I’m new enough I CAN. I am not yet locked into anything and so am taking steps so I don’t become locked in. In some ways it has less to do with thinking I’ll make lots of money at Kobo, and more to do with if I go Amazon exclusive, I close off things like book funnel and sending things out in a newsletter and KEEPING them there. Going wide is more than just Kobo and Barnes and noble… I’m trying to put my eggs in as many baskets as possible, that way I stand a good chance to already being on whatever DOES take over from Amazon.

    For other things you can add writing wise: World building. There’s one world building site that actually integrates your tier levels in Patreon. They’re looking at other platforms as well. If you’re the kind of person (as I am) who does poems and songs in their world, those are good extra perks.

    1. Part of the reason people are moving off Patreon is that Patreon went woker a couple years ago and started censoring creators.

  4. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do email marketing for the simple reason that I hate it. The first thing I do when I open my email every morning is delete every email that looks like marketing, mentally cursing those people who are cluttering up my inbox and potentially causing me to miss an email that’s actually important.

    And yes, I know I’m not necessarily typical in this regard, and that other people enjoy getting email news from their favorite authors, but the mere fact that I’m thinking, “If I got this email, I’d send it to the trash unopened” is probably going to keep me from doing it right.

    As far as Patreon is concerned, it feels like it’s not where I am right now. If I’m having trouble getting people to pay for my actual books, why would they want to pay for the stuff that I decided wasn’t good enough to put in my books.

    1. For me, the fear with Patreon/similar services is me failing to deliver in a timely fashion. I’m only just starting to get the hang of routine blogging via my Weird Wednesday posts, and until I get better at that, I don’t see any point in me participating in this type of subscription service.

  5. That actually sounds really cool. Even from the fanfic thing there were a number of neat cool scenes that just didn’t fit with any of the stories and got dropped.

    One I really missed was a bit how the girl (short) would stand on the cabinet doors to get stuff off the top shelves until her guy (tall) saw her doing it and asked her please just ask him to get stuff she couldn’t reach. She doesn’t think it’s necessary (her old boss did that all the time, and he must have weiged twice what she did) but humors him. Plus she likes the view.

    I really loved the dynamics between them in it, but there was never a good spot to use it, so it ended up on the cutting room floor.

  6. I need to bookmark this article for the (hopefully near) future. I am lucky enough not to need an income from writing in order to live…unless things get very, very bad…but it would be nice to reach an audience.

  7. It’s surprising how many fans do want to give creators money directly. I intended to use my Substack as just a free email list. I only enabled the paid subscription option because “why not?” But a few fans are giving me money.

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