How well do fantasy books sell?

ESSAY

Established among artists in the USA, the Patreon crowdfunding platform is still a niche existence in this country. Can it also offer additional income for German-speaking fantasy and SF authors? Markus Mäurer took a look at Patreon ...

A book market in crisis

The book market is in crisis. Many of its players have been claiming this since there was a noteworthy book market, but the crisis is currently noticeably affecting publishers and authors. In issue 135 of the Feather worldthere are quite a few who report shrinking advances and canceled advertising budgets, or even of being treated only as copied titles.

Even before the current crisis (6 million fewer book buyers since 2010, but with the same turnover, even if the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels is currently seeing a turning point), it was difficult for authors to make a living from writing unless they are a bestselling author, and there are only a few of them. Anything below this in the sales figures is called the midlist. Midlist authors sell well enough to be regularly published by publishers, but not so well that the champagne corks pop. Who z. B. receives an advance of 5,000 euros for a book, has to write at least two per year in order to make ends meet. Usually there are other projects running at the same time, such as B. translating books.

If these tight margins shrink even further, but the time to write is also getting scarcer because you have to take over the marketing, for which the publisher is actually responsible - many expect a presence on social networks - you have to the authors, who actually want to concentrate fully on writing, come up with something. If the author no longer receives enough fee from the publishers, she must contact her fans / readers directly. The authors are often the only ones in the books' exploitation chain (from literary agencies and publishers to freelance graphic designers and bookshops) who cannot make a living from their work.

Patreon in the USA

In the USA, Patreon has established itself as a source of income for authors for a number of years, but it is slowly spilling over to us (there is no German version of the site yet). In contrast to crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter, no specific projects are financed by the swarm, but the author himself. Whoever likes to read him or her can simply transfer money to him / her, as patrons or patrons once did with artists to have. The income from this is practically used to finance writing time.

And on Patreon you will not only find self-publishers, but also established, award-winning authors who appear with major publishers. N. K. Jemisin (Broken earth) z. B., who quit her permanent position in 2016 to concentrate fully on writing and has since won three Hugo Awards in a row for the best novel. In the meantime, she no longer advertises other patrons (i.e. paying / donating cartridges), as she gets by on $ 5,000 a month, which she receives from 1,400 patrons. So she actually managed to get a full-time income through Patreon that allows her to focus entirely on writing.

At this point I should mention that (midlist) authors in the USA receive significantly higher advances compared to Germany, but are also likely to have significantly higher living costs. There is no social security fund for artists there. B. takes over the employer's share in health insurance and other social contributions. Often US writers have no health insurance at all because they simply cannot afford it.

Jemisin explains why her writing work (back then on the Broken Earth trilogy) could no longer be reconciled with a full-time job, why this double burden was on her health and caused delays in the publication of the next volume. She sets her goal: $ 2,000 a month through Patreon; and explains how she came up with this: $ 1,600 rent in New York plus $ 400 for health insurance through the Freelancer Union. A goal that, thanks to her great books and the growing fan base, she has clearly exceeded. For their patrons there is not only the knowledge that their next book can appear on time, but also short stories and preliminary chapters from manuscripts in progress.

But there are different concepts of how to handle Patreon. At Jemisin, their patrons pay monthly. At Kameron Hurley z. B. per short story. Which means she gets $ 4,165 for every new short story at 1,033 Patrons. Which is well above the fee what English-language short story magazines pay. You get a maximum of a three-digit amount. Hurely still has a permanent position and therefore doesn't get to write that often.

German-speaking authors at Patreon

In Germany, most authors either write part-time or keep themselves afloat with other freelance jobs such as editing and translating books. Since all of this is not well paid for, more and more German-speaking authors are discovering Patreon for themselves. For example the team of authors Judith and Christian Vogt.

They published their first books in small publishers such as Fantasy Productions, Ulisses and Feder und Schwert. 2018 appeared with The 13 drawn her first novel with a major publisher, Bastei Lübbe, where Judith's solo novel Roma Nova appeared and just the sequel The 13 drawn - the wrong city. Knaur publishes her novel in October Wasteland. Christian Vogt is a physicist, Judith is a trained bookseller and some time ago she started her own business as a freelancer, which means that, in addition to her own books, she also works with novels from the Warhammer-Universum translated into German. If you work alone as a freelancer, you can make ends meet with your fees. But if you have a family, things get tight.

In her article Patreon as a "basic income"? Judith describes that it is not an "unconditional basic income", "A Patreon is an obligation that must be met - because Patrons can in principle cancel their“ subscription ”at any time. In addition, no one gets lost“ just like that ”on a Patreon -Page and throws money on it every month. For a good running Patreon you have to work and advertise ".

The bailiffs have been with us for a short time, as they are carefully observing the changes in the book market firsthand and are noticing how difficult it is for traditional publishers to cope with the digital transformation, the changed reading behavior and the competition from Netflix and Co. They see Patreon as an opportunity to break away from previous dependencies at least a little and to create some freedom. But they have very modest goals, currently these are 300 dollars per month (approx. 260 euros), of which they have so far reached 207 with 48 patrons.

Christian von Aster is already much more established on Patreon, whose monthly income there is currently 1,513 dollars. The busy author has recently published some novels like The bronze book or The orc eater published by Klett Cotta, but also regularly publishes anthologies and writes non-fiction and children's books. Anyone who has ever seen him live knows what an entertaining rampage pig he is and thus has the best prerequisites, in addition to his good networking in the scene.

This is not for everyone and for everyone. Those who prefer to write alone in a quiet little room and shy away from contact with their readers and networking could have a hard time with Patreon. And the better known you are, the greater the chances of success on Patreon. The musician Amanda Palmer has z. B. just over 15,000 Patreons, but does not publish the amount of their income. Since the minimum amount for patrons is $ 1, you can work out how much they have to be at least. There are also many podcasts and multi-person projects among the most successful Patreons. Such as B. the gaming podcast To a beer by Andre Peschke and Jochen Gebauer, which with 2,960 patrons comes to 15,000 dollars per month.

Most of the fantastic authors I've discovered, such as B. Anja Bagus, Janika Hoffmann, Claudia Rapp, Laura Dümpelfeld, Lena Falkenhagen or Sachsa Dinse are still at the very beginning when it comes to income from Patreon, but if you have to calculate as a freelancer or part-time with a tight budget, everyone can do so, no matter how small Amount will be helpful. And if it is only enough to cover the travel expenses for cons or the like.

It seems to me to be helpful if you still have offers that go beyond mere writing, such as a podcast or a YouTube channel. The latter operates z. B. Liza Grimm, who already has 29 patrons. Image and sound simply bring you one step closer to the fans and have a more personal effect than purely written texts.

But Patreon not only offers the authors of short stories and novels an opportunity to finance their writing time and running costs, but also projects that, due to their niche existence, cannot be financed elsewhere. The art historian Dominic Riemenschneider z. B. operates under the title Art History Fantastics a project in which he compares art, architecture and social developments such as religion in fantastic works (films, books, etc.) with real works of art, architecture and our history in the form of articles and videos. To this end, he has set himself precise funding goals and also explains what he will do when the respective goals are reached. Are z. B. Reached $ 150, there is under the title Art of the Week weekly a work of art from a fantastic work that is presented. Right now it's at $ 50.

Conclusion

Writing has always been a difficult job to make a living from. In Fantastik it was even more difficult due to the niche existence, even if a lot has happened for German-speaking authors in the wake of the peoples fantasy boom in the noughties. But the boom is over and the book industry is in crisis across all genres, and it is becoming more difficult for fantastic authors to make a living from writing. Patreon offers at least one possible alternative. Generating additional income, however, also involves a lot of additional work. As in the publishing industry, only a few will manage to earn a sufficient regular income, but if this is done in addition to the fees, something can come together. As a basic income, it seems unrealistic to me at the moment for 99% of all authors, but it could at least offer a nice extra income. Here everyone has to weigh up whether the income from any patrons is in an acceptable ratio to the expenditure on additional material that is created for his patrons.

There is a list on Twitter under the hashtag #patreonde with many German-speaking authors who are represented on Patreon.

Addendum: After some hints, I should point out that the income from Patreon could be regarded as income generated by a website, and therefore you have to register a business (see this legal notice for Youtubers). Most of them should not come into a relevant area in terms of taxation (see also the linked video). It should also be mentioned that you are of course dependent on the whims of a US company that could arbitrarily block accounts, such as YouTube or Facebook. Since there is no German branch, there is also a certain degree of legal uncertainty. You should definitely not rely on this income alone, and take into account that it could suddenly break down.