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I signed up for Patreon a few months ago, but I didn’t actually become anyone’s patron until a few weeks ago.

Patrons provide things and get stuff in return, depending on the context, but it’s different from just buying and selling. The Medicis and later the King of France patronized Leonardo da Vinci, much as the Papacy supported Michelangelo and many other artists and writers. In modern life, the wealthy might patronize artists in much the same way, and in US politics many corporations patronize elected politicians, providing wealth in exchange for legislation amenable to their interests and votes. So patronage has survived the centuries in a variety of ways. (I’m an academic who loves definitions and examples–bear with me, dear readers.)

There’s plenty of history, too, of more humble folks offering their contributions to the arts and culture. Throw a bit of change to your street corner musician and you’re a patron of a sort. You’re giving incentive to someone to practice their art. And in that spirit I decided to support Kameron Hurley’s Patreon account, which exists to fund her short-story writing. I’ve written about her writing a few times on this blog before. I’m a fan, and I want to do what I can to encourage her to produce more art.

To be honest, I didn’t quite know what to expect from my pledge. She made a video, which helped explain things, and so I took the plunge. I became a patron.

What I learned is the setup works out like this: I get charged my pledged amount via PayPal every time she publishes a short story. There are a number of levels of support, each of which unlocks a different incentive. The part I like is that there’re also collective goals. Currently the 200+ patrons have contributed enough to unlock one short story per month (or so) and a digital download of the year’s stories at the end of the year.

Cool.

So that’s how it works.

The stickier bits: as a patron (even a wee one), I have a special connection with an artist whose work I want to support. Her patrons get access to her stories before anyone else and can put comments (spoiler-free of course, folks).

I could see this idea developing further, to becoming an alternative to what I call the Amazon model of digital distribution. You get the basic model for X amount of support but there are unlockables, add-ons, special thingies that you get to enjoy before anyone else.

A hundred fifty years ago, this was the norm for writers like Dickens, Austen, and Wilde. Old editions of their work list their subscribers–who put up money before publication. And in the short story I got from Kameron Hurley on May 1st, lo and behold there’s my name at the end. And (fanboy moment) there’s a bit of a thrill in that.

The first short story, “The Light Brigade,” was entertaining, mildly disturbing, and thought-provoking in the best tradition of speculative fiction. In other words, it was a Kameron Hurley story.

I hope these thoughts on writer patronage has given you some food for thought. Leave a comment with your own thoughts or experiences around Patreon and other services like Kickstarter. Whatever you like of course.

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