An Interview With Author Katie Li
A couple of years ago I joined a Twitter chat in hopes of meeting new people who shared my love of writing. Katie Li, author and curator of newsletter “The Beautiful Worst,” is one of the creators I met through that Twitter chat. Then I subscribed to The Beautiful Worst because her content focuses on creatives in all walks of life. Instead of being bombarded by ads, I was reading plays and researching artists I wouldn’t have known about if not for her newsletter.
I began sharing collage work on Instagram and Twitter as part of a 100-day challenge to develop a daily art habit. When Katie expressed interest in showcasing some of my work, I was overjoyed!
After that newsletter edition came out, I mentioned collaboration in the future in an email to Katie, and I joined her Patreon. When I created a Patreon page myself, she and another became my only two financial supporters. I pitched an interview to Katie to discuss how her campaign drives purpose, time management strategies and how she addresses potential supporters. Getting the “green light” from her gave me the push I needed to pitch the idea for doing an article for this blog, giving the interview and working with the editor. I’m Rose Ketring, and I am pleased to bring you Katie Li’s perspective on Patreon.
Hello, Katie. I’m so excited to visit with you today. Before we dig into your experiences, please tell me about your background as a writer.
With my writing, I’ve always been a self-starter and willing to experiment. I began my training as a Theatre Major at the Boston Arts Academy, then designed my own course of study in Creative Writing and Contemporary Literature at Hampshire College. I was fascinated by the ways writers played with form or broke conventions, so I began my career as an author modeling others becoming empowered to publish their own work and build their own audience.
After the release of my first book, an experimental novella called Somewhere In Between, I wanted to find a way to stay connected with my readers as I was writing, not just after my books were published. I loved the idea of crowdfunding–but Kickstarter was for individual projects, and at first Patreon seemed inaccessible to writers. It felt like Patreon’s monthly and “per thing” subscriptions were better suited for musicians or comic artists–but after doing some research, I developed a campaign plan that felt doable. I’ve been running my campaign for the past year. It’s an on-going process to refine and experiment with Patreon’s platform, but has become a vital part of my production process. I regard my Patrons as my core supporters–and I trust them with initial feedback and support as I prepare my work for wider audiences.
How do you categorize what will be on Patreon, on your blog, and in your newsletter?
I launched each of these projects with a purpose in mind, and I told my audience right away what to expect. For example, when I started The Beautiful Worst newsletter, I let subscribers know that it would be distributed every other Tuesday and would feature artists, authors, and other internet sundries—but nothing too political. I didn’t want it to be a repeat of things that people would see in their Facebook newsfeed.
I created similar constraints when launching my blog and Patreon campaign. Having these rules accomplishes a couple of things:
- You make a promise to your audience and you build trust with them over time as you keep that promise.
- You create guidelines for yourself so you don’t get overwhelmed.
Once I knew what I was going to share, collecting, curating, and creating content became part of my workflow.
The other thing I consider is access. With the zine, I feel like it’s a privilege to be invited into someone’s inbox every other week. I try to honor that trust by consistently offering good quality content. With Patreon, I’m the one offering my audience access into my writing life, so I may share things more candidly than I do on my blog, which tends to be more polished.
I’m planning on going back to the blog’s original purpose as a place to share my thoughts on writing, reading, publishing, and other issues related to the media, diversity, and representation. The plans still seem a bit too broad, so I’ll be in touch with my followers soon about what they’d like to read.
How could one just starting their Patreon decide on their purpose and then explain that in the intro?
Before I launched my campaign, I took a step back and looked at the big picture of my career. I had been working as a writer for 5 years and it was a good opportunity to reflect on my past experiences and plan what I wanted to accomplish in the future.
I asked myself:
- What are the projects I want to complete?
- What do I want to learn how to do?
- What kind of community do I want to cultivate?
- What can I reasonably offer?
- What sounds the most fulfilling and fun for me and my audience?
Patreon campaigns are unique to each creator, the nature of their work, and their relationship to their audience. What crowdfunded creators have in common is a certain amount of trust and vulnerability with their audience. My best advice for your intro is to be honest, realistic, and enthusiastic about your campaign.
How do you decide on rewards?
As I was planning my campaign, I tried to create reward tiers that would be unique and appealing, but also fit into my workflow. Something to keep in mind is that if someone wants to fund your campaign, they may want a specific reward–or they may simply want to help and will offer what is within their means. The most important thing is to be honest about what you want to accomplish, and be sure it’s something that you can deliver to your audience.
You do so much writing and seem to be on social media quite a bit. How do you divide up your time among all the things you do?
It’s definitely a balancing act. I use a planning system (a Day Designer and a Daily Greatness weekly planner) to organize my projects and set my daily schedule. I also use an app called Planoly to schedule my Instagram posts. If I’m not careful, social media can easily cut into my writing time, so I have another app on my phone called Moment to track my daily screen time. There are various deadlines that I juggle between my projects, but I try to make sure that every day I write, read, and hopefully share something with my audience–even if it’s just a quick photo on Instagram.
Have you asked your audience for what they want to see? If no response, how do you deal with answering that question?
I do! Every so often I’ll check in with my audience for feedback–whether it’s the zine readers, social media followers, or my patrons. There are times when I don’t get a response, which can be a little discouraging, but when that happens I presume that “no news is good news,” and I’ll continue with the way I was doing things. But, I find that if you consistently tend to your audience—asking them questions and replying to their comments—they will talk to you.
How do you approach potential supporters?
I recently read an interview with Cheryl Strayed where she describes success as asking, “Have I done the work I needed to do? Did I do it as well as I could? Did I give it everything I had?” and answering “Yes.” Everything else–making the bestseller list or being absolutely ignored–Cheryl describes as “things that happen to you.”
I keep her sentiments in mind as I write and share my work. My strategy is to write as well as I can, to finish what I start, and to share consistently. If I’m sharing a particular project on social media, I’ll include a call-to-action, or I’ll remind people every so often about the different ways they can check out my work. But I think it’s really important to not become a spammy salesperson.
That said, if there’s someone I want to collaborate with or who shares an overlapping audience with me, I don’t hesitate to reach out and ask them if they want to work together!
Thank you for sharing your experiences. Do you have any final words you would like to add?
Being a writer is unique because it’s not only a career and a craft, but a lifestyle. We’re getting ideas, making connections, and learning about stories all the time–not just when we’re sitting at our writing desks. We need to find and maintain the daily habits that nurture our creativity, including self-care and other hobbies, and to set production goals that are realistic and sustainable. I think that’s important for every writer to keep in mind–regardless of whether or not they are sharing their work on Patreon.
Raised by martial artists, Katie Li grew up with fascinating stories and an eclectic cast of characters. She continues this tradition in her work, writing fiction and narrative non-fiction about personal transformation and unlikely possibilities. Her work has appeared in The Huffington Post, Bitch Flicks, Write From Wrong, Xenith and was performed by the Boston-based theater company, TC Squared. Katie was previously co-organizer of Social Artists and Writers and assistant editor at Novella-T. Her first book, Somewhere In Between, is now available digitally and in print.