I think I'm starting to alienate people pretty heavily

I asked a couple old journalism mentors if they’d contribute “$2 or more” to my patreon and they didn’t respond but they responded about other things, which I’m interpreting as them not willing to lend dignity to the subject. I feel like trying to get money for patreon has turned me into a promotional machine and it’s doing me more harm than good because I’m trying too hard to promote myself. In the same way that I hustle for articles, I’m also hustling for donations and it’s probably back firing.

This is me talking to a journalism mentor who suggested a job opening. In the first paragraph, I compliment him on his latest article. Then we talked politics at the newspaper we both write for. Then I slipped in the patreon in paragraph 3. He didn’t respond to paragraph 3.

I didn’t know there was such a thing as conservative high schoolers outside of a few fringe folks who’s parents were conservative. Young people are always idealists but perhaps the 60s or 70s were different? I’d like to see a column on if there was a young republicans club or so.

I talked to XXX and he said they’d throw my hat in the ring but I have no idea. I think it would be a great fit for me. In the interim, I decided to turn down an article from the FCNP I think I would have liked to do because my friend told me to guard my value and I didn’t want them to trash a piece I wrote and only pay me half because I thought it was newsworthy. I felt I needed to withhold articles as a bargaining tactic, do you think that was effective?

Do you have any suggestions for whether people might contribute to my patreon? I figure that news outlets are asking for donations but that money doesn’t filter back to me and I feel like I argue my case well.

Here’s an example of an email. Is it too alienating? Some might feel it’s too much to ask people you’ve interviewed but a lot of people compliment me on articles I’ve written about them after reading them:

As you know I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing you last year for the XXXX XXX XXX bout your wonderful sheet music collection.

The article I wrote about you was one of hundreds I’ve written over the past decade spread out over three dozen publications http://www.muckrack.com/orrin-konheim).

The newspaper industry has been on various forms of life support throughout my entire tenure and the news industry has taken a significant dive in the past 18 months that has only gotten worse with the Corona Virus.

At a time when people are watching the news more than ever to be updated on the Corona Virus and to expose corruption (studies show that government corruption runs rampant without a firm press), I am committed to spreading awareness for the importance of news and pay it forward through the creation of a group on facebook (with 60+ members) which helps other journalists network and find their footing.

Few of my publications can afford me a living wage as a freelancer anymore so I am asking for donations through patreon to supplement my work so that I can deliver quality news to the community in addition to blogging on the film industry and youtubing. Any little bit helps, you can refund at any time, and you will hopefully get value back in terms of promotional help as delineated through my tiers.

My patreon is currently at http://www.patreon.com/okjournalist.


Orrin Konheim"

I think that’s pretty normal behavior on their part to not respond to it. People tend to have negative reactions when it comes to someone sweet talking then asking for money/favors. Not saying that’s necessarily what you’re doing, but I can see how someone might interpret it in that way.

If you don’t want to alienate people while still trying to promote yourself, you can do that passively. Include it in you email signature. Or include your website in your email signature which has its own link to your Patreon. Post it in your Twitter/Insta/etc bios. Stuff like that.

Regardless, I don’t think it’s worth alienating friends or contacts because it seems like you’re begging for money. I think a common misconception people have is that Patreon = instant success, rather than bunkering down for the long haul. Most people who gain a lot of success with Patreon are ones who already put in a ton of work building a following elsewhere. It’s not an easy thing to do, but if your eyes are only focused on the green, you’re gonna have a more difficult time.

You’re asking for money from someone you wrote about? There’s some people who might misinterpret that as an attempt to buy coverage. Logically, it’s not, but it might still rub them the wrong way.

Why aren’t you asking your readers? I went to your Muck Rack entry and your own blog and didn’t see a link to your Patreon page. You don’t have to be pushy, but it’s hard to follow a link that isn’t even there.

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I don’t find either letter to be alienating at all. I like that you put the mention of patreon at the end of each letter, not the beginning or middle. I find that when I write to clients, I try to forge an emotional connection by writing more personally regarding our common ground and interests, what impassions us both and what we both would love to see happen in our respective communities or around the world. Then I provide them with an offer they cannot refuse AND which makes them feel powerfully involved and respected. Make your clients feel special, connect with a uniting, powerful cause and then ask for money. I hope this helps.

Hey, Orrin. Yeah, I think you might be alienating people. I, personally, would never ask one specific person to pledge my Patreon, the way you do in that email. I would consider asking specific individuals point-blank for their support to be rude, because it puts them on the spot; if someone did that to me, I’d think they were being rude, and do my best to look past their having done it. I most definitely wouldn’t pledge their Patreon campaign.

When I kicked off my campaign, I made a general announcement to my readership explaining what I was doing, what Patreon was, and asking anyone who wanted to see more of my writing who had the wherewithal to pledge; since then every piece I publish (all my patron-supported work is public) has an explicit call for patrons at the end. Nobody gets put on the spot, but everybody reads the requests for funding.

If you’re having trouble attracting patrons, maybe the solution isn’t asking individuals that way. Maybe it’s in getting your value proposition in front of more readers, or improving your pitch to your readership, or improving the quality of your offerings.

But I don’t think “hustling for donations” is going to work out well.

Do you have a readership? Like, aside from your patrons, do you publish somewhere you control where you have a body of regular readers following you?

I am a journalist who publishes in a lot of other publications. I’ve attempted to ask editors to plug my patreon. A number of them have said no.

All in all, I’m not doing horribly. I have 17 patrons and one new one this last month for about $53 a month, I think.

Here’s my work:

I blog a lot, I don’t think I have a lot of loyal followers there, but I have been using Medium a little more.

I sometimes try to write stuff on FB

Okay, I have some suggestions! I gather from your Patreon page and your descriptions here that what you are trying to do is get patrons to pay you, in a sense, for work you are already doing elsewhere anyways: either works for hire that are commercially published (and for which you are paid by the news outlet) or blogging you are doing otherwise uncompensated. That’s fine, that’s what I do (as a matter of policy, I make no patron-only content - my patrons don’t just pay me to write but for me to make my writing publicly available to all).

But to do what I do, you need to change your concept of what you’re offering just a tad. In an important sense what your patrons are paying you to do is be you. So you need to provide your patrons with… you. Better.

In particular, if someone is paying you to do your thing as a journalist and a blogger because they feel you do important work and have a valuable voice, presumably they don’t just feel that way in abstract principle. Presumably they want to read what you write.

You don’t make that easy.

If somebody wants to follow your career – and get what they are paying for – they have their work cut out for them, because your works are all over creation: You seem to have different content in your Patreon posts than on your MuckRack profile (which at least points to your Medium), and is completely different content on FB?

I invite you to conceptualize what you are doing with Patreon to be to providing your fans with a way to keep up with your writing. I propose that you need (and I do mean need) to think of your patrons as fans of your work, and you should be in the business of cultivating your fans. And you should think this because the simplest way to make sure you don’t have any fans is to assume you don’t have any and act accordingly.

There needs to be a place on the internet – it could be Patreon, but I don’t recommend it – that is your home online for your fans. This online home needs to have several properties:

  1. ALL of your writing has to be at least linked there. Someone who is your fan should be able to have a simple, convenient, easy-to-follow blog-like compilation of everything you’re up to in one place, so they never have to wonder if they’ve missed something you’ve written, which of course, because they’re your fan, they will want to have read.

It doesn’t have to be published in full there, but if you post or publish anything anywhere else on the net, you inform your fans by having a meta post, “I have a new article in the NYT! Check it out: Best Pizza-Carrying Rats of the MTA” or "Over on FB, I go off on a bit of a rant about how Emacs is Better Than Vi. " or whatever.

  1. You must have sufficient control of the platform that you can have a prominent indication on the main page and all relevant pages that you have a Patreon and this is patron-supported content, and suggesting people who like your content become patrons. Which I think means MuckRack is not the platform for this, because it doesn’t look like they let you do this.

  2. It probably should have some sort of discussion forum. (Ideally with great moderation tools - a reason right there not to try to use Patreon itself for this.). You want your fans to be able to interact with you, so you can keep them engaged as fans.

You then drive traffic to this central hub site, through which your fans can follow you, and then you will have a population from which you can solicit patronage.

Because here’s the thing. The way you get patrons is that some of your fans decide to become patrons, so you have to have fans before you can have patrons. And the way you get fans is that some of your readers become fans, if there’s a way for them to do that. It’s a two-step “conversion” process. You have to convert readers to fans, and then you can convert fans to patrons.

To me, it looks like you’re having trouble because you’re trying to convert readers to patrons, and that skips a step, which is why it’s not working so well.

If you cultivate a population of fans, by providing them with a place to congregate and engage in the activity of being your fan, you will find it is way, way easier to get patrons. You will be able to address your fans as an audience, requesting patronage from them as a group, rather than trying to ask individuals.

This is what Patreon’s own advice about “engagement” is all about. In the Patreon crowd-funding model, unlike Kickstarter and Indiegogo, patrons don’t fund works, they fund creators. So you need to have a coherent identity, and you need to give the audience a way of interacting with that identity, and you need to interact with your audience from that identity. That is what fostering engagement is all about. Patrons pay to be in relationship with you, not just read your stuff, and certainly not just give you money to do creative projects.

You, as a non-fiction writer, want the relationship with your patrons to be that they are readers of your writing. That is totally feasable, in the form of them being fans of your writing. If you give them that, then you will have a population among which you will find patrons.


So I think the best thing to do is more posts like this?

Also worth noting, MuckRack has my mission statement, my list of publications and all the places I recently published. One of the Mediun pieces is actually SlackJaw which is a different publication but normally people see a recent list of places that has more diversity. I started posting on Medium, but Montgomery County Magazine and a couple of others are expected to post some work of mine soon.

Where specifically do they have a place to comment and engage?

I assume that things like my anatomy of a pitch (https://www.patreon.com/posts/anatomy-of-pitch-45082624) or Q and As about journalism or letter to other journalists give people a bit more of a behind the scenes look?

I also try to keep in touch with my patrons and be like is there anything I can do for you?
I try to offer a small amount of promotion or feedback on pieces they write.

I have “Follow me on Patreon!” as my signature on the email account I use for art-related interactions. I don’t ask people to support me, unless I’m doing it in a subscriber email blast. I ask them to follow me—because I think once they do, they’ll want access to all the patron-only content I post in among the public content during the month.

So I think the best thing to do is more posts like this?

Kind of, but no. Closer, though!

The first problem with that is when I click through to it, I see a list of things you describe yourself as having done, none of which are links to follow. My point is you want to make it easy for your fans to read your stuff. Presenting them with a list of things you pitched but which they can’t read is just frustrating to them – it puts them in the position of a kid with their nose pressed to the candy-store window.

(You can have something like that, but as its own post, and framed as “Thank you patrons! Because of your financial assistance, I was able to…” Don’t do that too often, because people don’t pledge your campaign to be thanked. They pledge your campaign to get more good writing to read. Keep the focus on your core value proposition.)

Now, after that, you do have a list of things with links. And that’s good. But it would be better if every link was its own little post. You don’t have to say very much. (You might want to take a look at my Patreon page for one example of how it can be handled. Click through on a couple.) You shouldn’t do anything anywhere of any possible interest to your readers without notifying them. (Note: my Patreon page is NOT my home, and has only a subset of my posts. My DW journal is my online home, and where I drive traffic. That is where my fans follow me.)

Third, you’re using Patreon as your platform to do this, and that may not be what you want to do. You might want to be doing this somewhere else.

Where specifically do they have a place to comment and engage?

I’m unclear on what you’re asking here. If you’re asking where those platforms you’re already using have for comment and engagement: they either don’t, or maybe your don’t want to use what they offer. You want something you control.

If you’re asking what platform I recommend, I’m not sure what would work for you. Maybe you could use your Medium space that way; I’ve not checked out their moderation tools recently (I seem to recall they were dire when Medium first came out). I’m using Dreamwidth, which is maybe too informal for your style?* Some long-form non-fiction folks like WordPress, either the hosted solution at WordPress.com or running their own WP blog on their own site complements of the free code at WordPress.org.

I assume that things like my anatomy of a pitch (https://www.patreon.com/posts/anatomy-of-pitch-45082624) or Q and As about journalism or letter to other journalists give people a bit more of a behind the scenes look?

I’m not even thinking about what you post. I think you need to focus on where you post and how. You need to have an online home where your fans can come to find you, and have ready access to all your writing, in convenient reverse chronological order.

I also try to keep in touch with my patrons and be like is there anything I can do for you?
I try to offer a small amount of promotion or feedback on pieces they write.

These are great and fine things to do. But the most important thing is that you make it easy for fans to read what you write, and to keep up with your writing. To succeed, you must proceed – and behave – like you, yourself, believe that people want to read what you write because you are the person who wrote it and they like your voice, and that the best service you can do them is make it easy for them to keep up with all your writing work.

I mean, as a journalist, you’re used to the idea that the news outlets you pitch and sell to have their own readerships. To do Patreon, you have to develop your own readership. Kind of just like if you were to be your own one-journalist news outlet.

(Which, by the way, is something that at least one journalist just went and did: https://universalhub.com/ AdamG isn’t on Patreon, rather he’s using Paypal subscriptions, but you can see how easily he could be doing this.)

* Historical note, which may be illuminating. I’m a Livejournal refugee; I started on Livejournal back when, for English speakers, it was basically a public/social diary site. But at the same time, the Russian users were using it as the platform for independent journalism. Because it supported longform and commenting (with good moderation tools) and was a social networking platform, it was great for journalism and essays (and fiction; for a while there, it was the site for fanfiction). Dreamwidth is a fork of Livejournal, and a lot of us jumped ship to DW from LJ when the Russian government started pressuring LJ because of how much independent Russian journalism hosted. But DW has never had the social power of LJ; it’s not as easy to get an audience there as it was. Medium tries to be what LJ was, but it really completely lacks the social life that LJ had, that was why it was so vital.

Edited to add: I just had a thought. I wonder if you might benefit from setting up shop – having your home base be – on Reddit.