How many people have a donations set up? If so, do you think it was worth doing?

I've had a bit of a boost in readers lately and keep thinking about adding it but I'm really torn. For some reason it just seems really cheeky asking for actual money, but it might just be the way my head works because I don't mind other people asking for donations...

I have a donation button on my site, but I've only ever recieved one donation. On the other hand, I've heard that some of the more popular writers here recieve more than that, so wether or not it's worth doing probably depends on how much people like your writing, I guess? The larger your readership, the more you'll benefit from a donation option, I'd have thought. Asking for money never really bothered me, but then I'm broke, so I can't really afford not to.

I have received a few, but not a massive number. My observation is that the people who successful with donations provide something extra for a certain amount of donations.

Personally I don't because I don't have extra time to write. Wildbow, Meilin Miranda, Alexandra Erin, and M. C. A. Hogarth have been quite effective at it, however. They've each provided extra updates per week with a certain number of dollars.

I'm currently pulling in about a thousand dollars a month via. donations. I think it was worth doing.

For those who don't know, when certain donation totals are reached, I release a bonus chapter on a Thursday. [Edit: Jim mentioned this] In truth, I'm somewhat behind - there are only so many Thursdays, and I can't do every Thursday without burning out. To top it off, I've been slow at times to adjust to increases in the readership, leading to one donation causing multiple chapters to enter the queue.

I started off at a $75 target, then scaled the target amount up to match the size of the readership and amount of donations. It took two months, I think, for the first target to be hit (and the chapter was okay, but not fantastic) - but the second donation chapter blew people out of the water, and things picked up after that. It currently sits at one thousand dollars (having scaled up to 120, then 200 in 2012, 300 in early 2013, and later 600 and $1000) - but part of the reason for the last two totals was actually to slow things down, as my story is currently in the ending arc.

Writers doing work for free is actually a pretty contentious subject in the writer's community, though this typically comes up in terms of doing work for magazines or journals. Some view it as a way to hone their abilities, get feedback and build up a resume. Others feel that writers are underpaid as a rule, and writers doing work for nothing (or next to nothing) puts writers as a whole in a bad position. It's like trying to fix the minimum wage in America - you can't have McDonald's workers striking, because there's an endless supply of people willing to take that $7.11/hour wage.

Now, of course, serials are different in the sense of working for free. But I do think that Greyworld's attitude is a symptom of what the second group is talking about in that debate I referenced. Generally speaking, writing doesn't get a lot of credit. It's fairly common knowledge that if you aren't a NYT bestseller, you're not going to make any money writing. It's viewed as easy, lackadaisical, a hobby more than an actual job. Speaking for myself, when I talk to people (acquaintances, family members, whatever else) about my writing and my goal of writing full time, I very frequently get the 'But what do you -really- do for work', 'Do you have a fallback plan' or [in response to my talking about some good donations I've received] 'How can someone pay that much?'

No. Excuse my french, but fuck that. Fuck that, fuck that, fuck that. Writing is work, and anyone who's got a serial going knows just how much of a grind it can be. Speaking for myself, I put 50 hours a week into the writing, minimum, on top of everything else I need to do in order to get by. I've written 1,550,000 words in 2.5 years, averaging 80k+ words a month for the last year. And I'm doing it all because I'm fighting like hell against these preconceived ideas. I want things to be different so I'm butting my head against the wall until they are.

Writing is a gamble, because you don't know how something will take off until it's done (this is helped some with collaboration with editors and other writers, or the serial format) and it's an investment, because you're putting huge amounts of time and effort into something that only (maybe - see the gambling bit) pays off further down the road. Serials, again, help, because they let people help to support you along the way. Regardless, there's so much luck involved, and there's only so much you can do in terms of raw work, compared to everything that's based on luck and the kindness of others. The only way around this is to do more raw work and to maximize your opportunities for luck and good fortune.

Let me elaborate on what you're fighting against. The average self-published author makes $500 off their book. That's a pittance. Authors who've appeared on Amazon's bestseller lists can made $10k. The ones you're thinking of, like Stephen King or J.K. Rowling? They're in a whole different ball park (I'd say something about J.K. Rowling's experiment in writing under a pen name, but I don't want to stray too far off message here).

Published authors still get a pretty bum rap. You go through the rigamole of jumping through hoops, get it past the slush pile and past the editor's desk. Then you get a pittance of an advance and at the end of the day you're told you need to market your own work yourself and that you won't get much attention from an editor or copy editor. And when all's said and done, your book title, genre and ISBN # are put in a catalogue for major booksellers to pick from, lost in a massive binder of pages in plastic sheaths, one line among thousands of black text on white. In short, you're essentially trading away 85% of the earnings for little more than the publisher's name on the spine and inside cover. Maybe you get a better deal with smaller publishers, but you lose out on distribution. Now, there's reasons for this, and I totally, 100% believe that editors and copy editors and all of the other individuals in publishing houses deserve to get paid as much as writers do, and I believe (a little cynically, yes, but sure) that there's a degree of legitimacy lent to you if you do have that publisher's icon on your book, but the publishing industry is sort of dying, and that means less funds, which means less going to the author and lower quality works, which hurts the publishing industry in turn.

Now, I don't want to sound entitled, because I love my readers and I adore the people who've been donating. If I could meet them in person, I'd give each and every one of them hugs. But expecting to get paid for your work should be status quo. I've put in a hell of a lot of effort and done my best to be pretty professional about this whole endeavor, treating it like a nine to five (in my case, a nine to 2am), and I've been lucky enough to have my readers respond as if I were that individual, donating in kind. I gotta say I do sort of agree with the one side in the debate I mentioned before, in that I think writers (and people as a whole) should have expectations that writing is rewarded for the work it is. If and when that happens, then we get better works and we get authors who aren't getting the equivalent of 5 cents an hour.

And while I'm putting in 200+ hours a month, I'm making less than minimum wage. Others who can't put in the time are, as stated above, only getting a handful of donations. But we're approaching a new era, I think, where people can support the things they want to support, with kickstarters and the like. The middleman is becoming less necessary and we're seeing more successful works that come out of fanfiction or online fiction, and successful works that get kickstartered or serialized (with, of course, varying interpretations of success).

Acknowledging donations is a part of acknowledging this new age and being a part of it. I wouldn't be embarrassed (and am not embarrassed) at all about soliciting such. So long as we keep putting out good work and so long as we're patient and persistent and focused, I think things will get a lot better.

Whether you've got big dreams or whether you're a hobbyist or experimenting by putting in 500 unedited words a month, I think you have to leave the door open to being valued and rewarded for your effort.

I think that if you can, do. If you normally put a ton of money into your serial, you should make at least a small percentage of that back, so that bankruptcy isn't a complete issue. Also, while it is asking for money, if your readers are big fans of your serial, they might not see it that way; they'll see it as paying to read your story, similar to buying a book at the bookstore/on Amazon. If they want to, they could find any book they want on the Internet for free, but they want to pay for it so that the author doesn't quit writing, since they wouldn't be making any money.

I would put a donation button up, but it's not quite legal, and I don't want to get arrested/fined/any of the other nastiness that comes with doing illegal things, so I've chosen to not do it.

Thanks for the opinions everyone. Wildbow, I've certainly heard people voice the similar opinions. I do view my writing as a hobby rather than a potential career or anything like that, but I guess there is no harm in putting a collection hat down for people if they feel like it.

alex5927, I wasn't aware of any legality issues. Is it around declaring income?

I honestly don't know, l just read about it on the terms page of paypal donations, and it says that its illegal for a minor to solicit monetary donations without providing a service/good in return, and I don't question it.

It looks like PayPal don't do donate buttons unless you are a registered charity...? Or I'm missing them somehow!

They had another thing, I don't remember what it's called, they might have closed it down, but I specifically remember it saying something along the lines of "In accordance with internet laws, you must be a legal adult to solicit money over the internet without providing a service." Honestly, it's not that big of a deal for me (all of my grandparents are loaded, and I'm their favorite), but it would be nice.

Gotta say, it's been a pretty stellar month for me, as Worm approaches its conclusion. I've just cut off the donation incentives, which may hurt me in the short term. Can't keep offering incentives or the bonus chapters will run on for twice as long as the conclusion did.

As I do cut things off, though, I sort of clarified a thought I'd had while typing the huge ramble/rant above. I think the reason the incentives work isn't just that people want the content. I think a part of it is that people don't want to feel like they're throwing their money into an empty void. By having some incentive, you create a kind of feedback, a way of assuring people that the money has been received and is having an effect on things.

It's going to be interesting to see if I get less donations in the short term, with no incentives offered. In equal measure, I'd be interested to see if there was an upturn for anyone who offered a very minor (but concrete) incentive to donators - a sketch at the end of the month, a name drop in story, or something of the sort.

I know this is off-topic, but I have to ask: is Worm getting an ebook release? Because I can't seem to get completely into it on my laptop, and its awkward reading it on my iPad, because the lines go just iff the edge of the page. I really, REALLY like what I've read (kinda reminds me of Watchmen, which is awesome), but I can't completely get into it if it's difficult to get into if it's awkward to read it. Honestly, I would pay $10 per arc if you did that.

Yeah. A few years off, though. I want to do a thorough edit, and I'm doing that edit on the side while I pursue my next project(s). I'm wanting to do a print release as well, but that's hellaciously expensive, so it might be contingent on a kickstarter or a series of kickstarters.

Needing to be a registered charity to use a donate button seems odd since you are providing an entertainment service as a serial writer. Out of curiosity, what do you consider a decent readership boost? I've thought about putting up a donate button just for the hell of it. What could it hurt?

I prefer reading my fiction in print (old fashioned I know!) so I really hope you get the time/energy to do that kickstarter in the near future, Wildbow! I'd be so happy to have a copy of Worm on my shelves. :)

And I never equated the donate button on a website being like begging for money because you are giving away entertainment and your hard work for free. It is so common in webcomics though so maybe I'm just used to seeing it.

Define a readership boost? Not sure who you're talking to or what you're referring to.

On the subject of 'what can it hurt' and the charity label thing, some warnings/tips...

As I understand it, Paypal won't make a fuss about the nature or label your account up until you earn a certain amount. 5k or 10k, I think. Once that happens, they're going to temporarily prevent you from withdrawing/moving that money (so keep an eye out, and manage that money carefully!) and they'll ask for some details, less about charities and more to link your paypal account to a bank account or credit card. It's a little sleazy on one level, because they have a tendency to freeze accounts (and reap the interest) - but it's also for their protection (because they become liable if someone promises payment, cuts and runs, and this happens with some frequency). Once you do this, you become a verified account.

They want to cover their asses, basically, and they don't want to lose money. If you're anticipating some pocket money in the order of $20-50 a month, I wouldn't stress over it.

If and when they do freeze your account, they'd also freeze your bank account. For this reason, I highly recommend not linking paypal to your main bank account. Have one on the side for business, and move money out of paypal and into other accounts with some regularity (having your account frozen with $500 inside is far better than having your account frozen with $6000 sitting in there).

I have had my bank account frozen once, but it was my bank and not the paypal that did it, because the IP address I was doing online fund transfers from was (while secure) a rotating IP address, and others had been using that same address for illegal transactions (drugs?).

I just couldn't help myself, I have to say this, it's a pet peeve of mine: unless the person was being extremely stupid, they weren't using the internet or a bank to pay for drugs/deposite drug money. I come from a family of (reformed) criminals, and I know that you never use the internet or the bank for those types of transactions, because if you put in enough money for them to actually look into it, you're already caught; they won't be able to find where the money came from, and by that point, no matter what you say, you are getting arrested. Same if you withdrawal large amounts of money, except if you have neither a check book nor debit/credit card, you might be able to say that you like to pay for everything in cash, although that would require an inconpetent investigator, as they would then ask why you have a bank account in the first place.

They probably stole someones identity, and then got caught.

Again, I'm sorry, but I have a problem with pointing out things like that. As I have said before, I'm an ass.

Wildbow I think krazydiamond was referring to my comment about readership boost, in which case: hit 500 views a day and the odd maximum of 1500.

@ Alex - it was what the person from the bank told me.

@ Greyworld - congrats.

I was referring to your comment Greyworld. Congrats, that is awesome! And Wildbow, thank you so much for all the information. I still consider myself a newbie in the serial writing field, so all knowledge and tips are welcome and appreciated. :)

I use a donation button for my serial tips, and haven't had any trouble. Remember though, whatever you call it on your site it's still income as far as the IRS is concerned, and you have to declare it at tax time.

Like Wildbow, I make good money off my serial. And I think it's important to give people the option. Even "free" content takes work to produce and post, and as the internet makes all the lines more fuzzy between product categories, it's our responsibility as artists to make it clear that art is still important enough to merit compensation. We have a window here to shape the emergent culture. Let's make it a culture where people don't think anything of tipping someone $5 for their "free" entertainment because it made them happy that day, rather than a culture where people think they're entitled to free art because artists like to do it and would do it anyway.

I feel very fortunate to have attracted a readership that feels strongly about compensating artists--but they also tell me that I've helped them come to that viewpoint by making it clear how much art matters to them.