Patreon Policies for SFWA-Qualifying Markets

As previously discussed, Patreon is a great new thing where fans of a creator can directly fund an artist's output, be it writing, podcasts or videos, poetry, music, essays, blogging... anything, really. It's an interesting model, and one I'm taking for a test-drive my own self. (Hey, maybe join my Patreon? $1/month for a short story! It's a good time, I promise!)

For writers, this raises an interesting question regarding rights. If you've posted something on Patreon, does it count as a first sale? Would a short story market ever consider something that had been previously posted on Patreon?

I decided to find out. I collected some contact information from the short story markets I care about most -- the ones that qualify you to get into SFWA. (Ambitions, I have them.) I omitted a few markets, mainly those that were invite-only, plus Highlights because it was impossible to find contact information. And then I send out this email on April 10:

Hi!

I'm conducting a poll of SFWA-qualifying short fiction markets to find out their policy on works previously sent to an audience through Patreon. I'm planning on collating the responses I receive into a blog post so that information is out there in the public domain.

Patreon is a fairly new online service that allows your audience to directly support your work with an ongoing pledge. So for example, my patrons can pledge $1 for each short story I write and send to them. Someone else might use the Patreon service for podcasts, videos, critical essays, comics, etc. It's a little like Kickstarter, except the fundraising is ongoing rather than one-time.

Patreon posts can be locked, so pieces aren't really published for a general audience. But there is a monetary transaction in place, so it's not precisely the same thing as posting to Critters.org or Absolute Write for a beta read, either.

My questions for you are:

Does a short story sent to Patreon backers count as a previously published story for your purposes, and would you accept such a submission?

Do stories have to be locked to patrons only for you to consider a piece? (I'd assume so, but it's worth asking!)

Is there a particular cutoff line after which a Patreon story is considered published in your eyes? What if there were only five Patreon backers, or ten? What if there were a thousand?

Does this policy also apply to other works, like poetry or illustrations?

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions, and do let me know if you need any clarification or other information before responding. I look forward to hearing from you!

I figure two weeks is long enough to wait for answers to come in, and by now I have a fair number of them. The result is mostly no, though a few markets will consider a Patreon-released story as a reprint. Here are the market-by-market responses:

Apex Magazine: No. Says Cameron Salisbury: "Considering that the author has been paid by their patrons for rights to read the story, first rights have been relinquished. It doesn't matter if 1 person paid for the story or 1000. We require first rights. So we're not paying 6 cents a word because the story has been previously published.

"Stories published to online locked groups like Critters are not considered previously published. 

"These policies also apply to poetry and nonfiction."

Buzzymag: Yes, as a reprint. "It would be deemed as published and we do accept previously published work, subject to the rules we have posted for such work."

Beyond Ceaseless Skies: No. Scott Andrews says: "Yes, to me, a story sent to Patreon backers would count as previously published.  No, I would not accept it at Beneath Ceaseless Skies, because we don't publish reprints.

"To me, it's not that money might have been paid, or the number of Patreon backers who received it; it is that the story was presented to an audience.  That to me makes it published.  (On Critters.org, the difference to me is that that is presenting the story not to an audience but to beta-readers.)"

Clarkesworld: No. Neil Clarke says: "Quite familiar with Patreon. We're using them ourselves. ... I'd call that published and the end of your first rights."

Cosmos: Yes, but don't submit. Cat Sparks says: "Cosmos is not currently accepting unsolicited fiction submissions. I was not aware of Patreon & will have to give it further thought, but theoretically if a story was locked to patrons only I would not consider it to have been previously published."

Grantville Gazette: Yes. Says Rick Boatright: "Policy is  simple, we don't care."

Lightspeed: Yes, but as a reprint. Such a post would have to be previously locked to viewership for patrons. Says John Joseph Adams: "Even if I'd just be considering it as a reprint. If it was freely available online elsewhere I probably wouldn't be interested in reprinting it in Lightspeed. (I wouldn't mind that for an anthology, but since Lightspeed is a digital magazine with an online component I tend to avoid reprinting works that are already freely available online elsewhere.)"

Nature: No. Says Colin Sullivan: "I think the idea of Patreon is interesting, but at the moment I can only view it as another potential publication outlet for a story. As that boils down to another "place submit" a story, I feel that if a piece appears through Patreon that constitutes "previous publication", which means such a story would not be eligible under our present submission rules."

Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show: No. Edmund Schubert says: "I'd have to say that anything that appeared online, in any way, at any time, would be considered published, and would not be of interest to IGMS."

Strange Horizons: Yes, provided it was locked to patrons. An Owomoyela says: "In general, we're interested in first publication, not first payment – distribution to a closed group, as with a password-protected website or a restricted mailing list, doesn't count as publication for our purposes.  So, we would accept a submission for a story originally distributed to a closed Patreon list." But also note that poetry policy may be different, and: "As of now, we don't have any policy in place to define publication through a platform like Patreon. We may find ourselves refining a position in the future, especially as platforms like Patreon become more established, but practically, so far, it hasn't come up."

Tor dot com: No. Irene Gallo says: "I would say that falls under self-publishing and would disqualify it as an original story for us. 

"I'll add that each of our stories, while free on the site, are also available whenever ebooks are sold, globally.  So our authors are making royalties from them above the initial flat fee. (Because the stories are free online, we do not consider the initial fee an advance, they begin collecting royalties right away.)"

So there you have it! If more responses come in, I'll update this post to reflect it. And meanwhile, if you run a market, please do feel free to comment here to lay out what your own Patreon policy is -- any genre welcome.

I'll just add one more thing -- as a Patreon creator, I'm up to $104 per story in fairly short order. That's already competitive with any market paying a semi-pro rate. I'd love the wider readership and chance at acclaim that come with publishing in a magazine like Apex or Lightspeed, don't get me wrong! But it's entirely possible that by this time next year, submitting to a market that pays even full pro rates would net less dollars in my pocket than Patreon does. It's going to be interesting to see how this all shakes out in the next couple of years, huh?


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