Takeaways From the NerdCon: Stories Money Panel

I think my favorite part of NerdCon: Stories was the panel titled “The “So How Do You Make Your Money?” Panel.” (Second-favorite part? The New York Neo-Futurists’ performance of Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind.)

Of course I was going to be interested in a discussion on careers and money, and of course I was going to be very interested in reporting back to you on what I learned.

The first part of the panel discussed the importance of family. Several of the panelists said that their careers were in part possible because of a spouse who was also bringing in income; others mentioned parental support, both emotional and, in the early stages of their career, financial.

This is the sort of thing I often hear at these kinds of panels, and I do appreciate the acknowledgement, even though it seems unfair to those of us who are working without that kind of support. I have a supportive family, and my parents’ own creative work helped me in many ways that I am directly aware of (learning how to practice a skill, for example) as well as a few ways I probably don’t even realize.

As for the supportive spouse, well… good partners don’t necessarily grow on date trees. Maybe I would be better served if I spent less time on my work and more time scrolling OKCupid for a partner whose income, when combined with mine, could double our mutual resources — but you and I both know that idea sounds ridiculous. Women already often sacrifice their earning potential for the sake of a partner and family; I’m not about to do that before I even find the partner.

Then Hank Green said that if you want to be successful making art on the internet, whether it’s novels or YouTube videos or whatever, you need to “get obsessed” with two things:

1) Your work.

2) The platform on which your work is hosted.

As soon as he said it, I was all oh wow, I have a lot of studying up to do on Patreon. It made so much sense. The people who are successful on YouTube or Kickstarter or Patreon or Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing or wherever may get their initial success by the quality of their work (and/or by their network of friends and supporters), but at some point you want to become an expert in the service you are using to earn your money.

Hank Green said that part of Vlogbrothers’ success came from both Green brothers being passionate about their work and good at what they did, and the other part came from learning how YouTube worked and keeping up with YouTube’s frequent changes.

I’ll admit that I barely studied Patreon at all before l began writing my novel The Biographies of Ordinary People through the service. I don’t know, for example, how Patreon chooses which projects to feature or which creators to interview. I don’t listen to the Patreon podcast — but you can bet I just added it to my podcast app.

I don’t know if there’s research on what types of Patreon rewards people prefer. I don’t know if there’s an optimum date/time to send Patreon emails, or if there’s a way to track whether Patreon emails are opened. I don’t even known how my Patreon emails appear to their readers, which is a huge oversight on my part and which means I need to begin supporting my own Patreon just so I can see, from the user’s point of view, what my messages look like.

If Green had said “you need to learn what to do to get the most clicks,” we would have all felt a little grossed out. But he didn’t say that. He said we needed to become experts in our own platforms, which feels right. I have worked hard to educate myself in the business of freelancing and online writing. Why shouldn’t I educate myself in the other tools I use to bring in income and grow my career?

The last big takeaway had to do with the idea of saying no, which I’m going to write more about this afternoon because it came up so many times during the panels I attended. In this case, it had to do with the idea that the people who pay you money will like you less if you say yes to everything. If you say no sometimes, they’ll start to see you as someone they need to consider and accommodate if they want you on board. They’ll value you more, as counterintuitive as that sounds.

And that’s applicable to all of us, whether or not we’re in a so-called “creative” career.

Photo credit: Kate Ter Haar

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