Should Authors Add a Paypal Donation Button to Their Sites?

| Posted in Blogging |


One of the great things about being an independent author in this day and age (the e-publishing era) is that you have a shot at making money, maybe even making a living wage, if you have enough books out and they sell moderately well. But for every author making a living there are a thousand more (at least) who can only count their earnings as hobby money. Some indie authors might never even make back their start-up costs (editing, cover art, etc.). And, lest you think the latter is a problem only for self-published authors, there are plenty of traditionally published authors who never earn out their advances and get a deal for a second book.

For those interested in a way to potentially make a few more dollars, Paypal makes it easy to add a donation button to your site. Through them you can even accept credit cards. For those who don’t love Paypal, there are also various WordPress plug-ins that allow you to take “micropayments,” in the form of donations or fees for content (i.e. you could publish a short story or extra on your site as a blog post, give away the first 20% for free and then charge 50 cents or 99 cents or some such to folks who want to read the rest).

But, you’re wondering, do these buttons work? Does anyone actually donate?

I haven’t tried it personally, so I can only share anecdotal evidence from my old job. When I worked as a news/non-fiction blogger, I made money from affiliate links and selling advertising (sort of a magazine model for a business), and I did know of people in the industry who had Paypal donation buttons on their blogs. Most said that few people donated and that their income from that source was insignificant.

But…being an author with a blog is a different scenario, especially if you write fiction instead of non-fiction. Most likely, your blog is designed to attract potential readers who will buy your books, and those books may be your only source of income. As most readers know, traditionally published authors only take home a small cut of the sales price of a book, and even indie authors, who get to keep a bigger cut, have to be selling quite well to make pay-the-mortgage type earnings.

In short, readers who enjoy your stories may be more inclined to donate than folks who simply follow a news blog. Even though you’re charging money for your novels, you may find that some of your fans value them highly and would like to see you earn more than two or three dollars per book.

Here’s one example of such a case, where I had a nice reader, KA Rowell, email me and ask if a donation button was something I’d consider as an author. She gave me permission to post her comments:

“…reason I’m writing is to suggest that you consider adding some kind of patronage button on PayPal…Personally I would have been willing to pay hardback prices for EE3–and I never pay hardback prices!–and would be happy to make up the “difference” between what I paid and what I would pay with a PayPal button. And/or if you want to vet the idea in front of your crew, this might be a nice topic for an e-publishing article. (E.g., does putting a paypal “donate” button on your website look too mercenary? Could it alienate some readers? General pros/cons? What is the likelihood of it actually creating additional revenue?”

“I also wonder about related opportunities for creative fundraising using these buttons. Over the holidays I was at a Starbucks with two tip jars, each with a sticky note attached: one read “Blue Christmas” and the other read “White Christmas.” White was “beating” blue by a handy margin–one-dollar bills were spilling from the sides. I wonder if you might use a similar (book-related) strategy, e.g. asking people to “vote” for Sespian vs. Sicarius? Or to “vote” for their favorite character? This might be a strategy for other authors too, particularly if there are (small?) factors that might go one way or another in the sequel. Maybe (?) it would have some of the charm of those old “choose your own adventure” books, and it’s an interesting opportunity for e-book authors, since the turnaround time is often so much less.”

Lots of interesting ideas mentioned there!

As for whether I’ll do this myself, probably not on my website in general. I am a little intrigued by the idea of having people “vote” for a minor story point by donating one way or another, but I think I’d only do that as a for-charity type event. Or perhaps I could make it so people who donated a certain amount (enough to cover book and shipping costs for me) would get signed paperbacks out of the deal.

Personally, I’m not that comfortable with the idea of accepting random donations (though I certainly appreciate that there are folks who’re willing to offer them because they enjoyed my stories). As with the kickstarter campaigns (where people can crowd-fund projects), I think it’s fine for others, but it’s just not for me. I’m also in a position right now where I’m selling enough books that I can cover my editing and cover art costs with money left over, so there’s less incentive to try donation systems.

That said, I’ve seen other authors do it (I’m not sure as to the degree of success), and it’s actually built into (there are donation buttons on each book page, and part of the proceeds go to the site for covering hosting costs and part go to the author).

I would be curious to know what readers think of the practice. Are donation buttons a good idea?

And authors, what do you think? Have you tried a donation button and had any luck with it?

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Comments (23)

The idea is a bit alien to me. I thought about advertising to make a little from my blog, but in words of Mark Zuckerberg, “Advertisements aren’t cool.” So I’ve tried to build a business plan not involving monetizing my Blog. I am all ears though if this has worked well for anyone however.

For good or ill, advertising only works well on consumer-information type blogs. If someone’s looking up information on a home gym and there’s an ad for a home gym in the article, then they might click and buy. Authors don’t usually blog about anything with a commercial bent.

Authors who run book blogs might have a little different of an experience (you can review books and put affiliate links in the text, but books are such low-priced items that you don’t make much from the 4-7% commission at Amazon). Of course, you can always make money selling overpriced ads to indie authors desperate for exposure (this being trendy right now, heh).

I have to wonder if web ads are effective in this day and age?

I know a few years ago, they were the best way for a site to make money, but now, depending on your web browser you have plenty of options to “adblock” away unwanted ads.

I signed up a free forum for a development team to communicate, and had no idea there were banner ads for months, until I finally logged on with my phone!

Do people still make money of those things, or has it just become “standard” so sites still include them?

I still make money from Adsense on my old sites, so, yes, folks make money that way. Text-based ads, especially ones placed close to the content of the page, tend to do better than banner ads simply stuck up in a header somewhere. I don’t know what percentage of people use ad-blocking browsers, but I do know the majority of my visitors use Internet Explorer, so I suspect it’s still a minority of people that think to go out and look for such features.

Interesting post! I, too, would be hesitant about adding a Paypal button to my blog, but I did do the Kickstarter thing for my (first) novel. It paid for the editing, cover art & design, and assorted other startup costs. I was quite pleased with how it worked out (would still be saving up money otherwise) but can see how it wouldn’t be for everyone.

I always appreciate it when authors have a ‘donate’ button, but I’m more ambivalent to holding actual fundraising events. I recently saw a thing on Scalzi’s blog saying that he once sent a letter when he was a youth to one of HIS favorite authors asking if he could send money, so I know it’s not just me who has the impulse to thank authors in cash for their writing.

One consideration is whether you’re using your blog as a business space vs. an artist’s space. Artists solicit donations all the time in an effort to be paid for work that is hard to monetize and I know of at least one who has enough of a fan community that, if he asks, they will provide enough donations to put a down-payment on a house. I think business spaces try to keep transactions on a more product-based exchange.

I think, however, it’s a personal decision about your blog space. Some authors have a prominent donate button and point out how much time they spend blogging advice for others in an effort to encourage donations, and some – if they have one at all – never point it out and it just sits, innocent, waiting for people with both the whim and the pocket money.

Thanks for the thoughtful response, Alii!

That’s a good point about whether you’re treating your books/blog as an artistic endeavor or as a business one. Of course, service-based businesses will often have tipping options (especially when employees make minimum wage, and many authors make less than that), so I suppose I could see an author adding a donation button and thinking of it like a tip jar.

I’m more inclined to say, “Just tell a friend about the books if you enjoyed them.” When people tell me they did that, it means much more than $5 would. But I do understand that things are different for different folks.

From my own experience as a blog reader and from my reading on the topic, it looks like it’s the people who ask for donations or reviews who are more likely to get them.

All my stories have a closing page along the lines of “How’d you like it? Please review; that’ll help other readers find books they like.” When I compare my sales numbers to the number of reviews, I have a higher reader-to-reviewers percentage than I’ve heard reported to others.

I have a simple “donate” button on the sidebar for my serialized novel. No donations, but some folks do buy the e-book version.

I’m considering following what I’ve seen on some pro authors’ blogs and adding a “donate” button in my blog signature. I know that signature has gotten me to donate to Kris Rusch and DWS, before.

Ah, yes, I’d forgotten that those guys have donation options on their blogs. So there’s an example of authors who have been in the biz for a long time making use of the feature.

I was just thinking about this today because I’m reading an excellent book I downloaded for free and wanted to “tip” the author. I think maybe having a virtual tip jar for specific free items you release would be a good idea. I think a general “donate here” button in the sidebar is kinda tacky, but that’s just me. I’m sure it works for some people.

I think a non-offensive donate button does no harm, and I think the idea of letting readers vote on something by donating (especially if it’s only a dollar or so to vote) is a very fun idea. If you are stuck on a character name for an upcoming story, you can let people vote for their favorite, and the proceeds will help fund the project.

Have a reason you need the money to be donated, like you need to raise X number of dollars for cover art, or editing, etc. If people know WHY you need money and it’s not just going to pay for the author’s movie night out, then they are more likely to donate. Especially if it means they’ll get a book they want to read out of it.

I know I’d donate it if Lindsay couldn’t release the third Flash Gold novella until she raised enough money for production costs.

I see that subtle hint that you’re waiting for FG3, Cathy! 😉 *leaves blog and runs off to work on stories*

I know in the gaming industry, Kickstarter is starting to pick up steam, I have personally backed a dozen or so projects and am working on a project that might utilize kickstarter to get financing when the time comes to go to print.

I see a number of benefits of KS and have seen projects that were so popular they had to double or triple their print run to meet demand and they ended up with plenty of extra to use as capitol for their next project.

I see this as the “indy” buisness model of the future. If you have a great idea, instead of selling it to another company, you just put together a proposal and pitch it to the consumers themselves, who get a chance at a less expensive version with bonuses, such as autographs or limited edition items.

I see no reason this couldn’t be used to help Self-publish a novel, and can already see the pledge levels: Low: Cover Art Bookmark + “Deleted Scene”, Mid: Book + Bookmark+ “Deleted Scene”, Mid-High: Book + Cover Print + Bookmark + “Deleted Scene” (physical items all signed), High (This is a low availability pledge, Local only probably): Dinner with and hand delivery of all “Mid-high” items by the Author.

And that’s a pretty standard type of thing, but it would likely work if you have a small fan base. You would have a couple devotees who might go for the high, a lot of fans who would go for the mid-high, while other parties can choose to buy the book through KS or just help out, even if they are not 100% sure they want the book.

I can honestly see that working, especially if you keep your costs low and your promotion high.

I honestly can’t say enough about the potential that kickstarter offers.

I just hopped on KS and found this:

A fiction novel that has met it’s goal, with a couple days to spare, and had a very similar pledge set up to my suggestion ($1000 = Dinner with the author when she comes to your town!) and a idea that was mentioned in Lindsay article ($5k = name and backstory of secondary character in the sequel.)

To me this is “proof” that for an independent self publisher, KS is a definite possibility.

Thanks for chiming in, Tim! I’ve also seen Kickstarter campaigns work well for authors (though I’ve seen it fail too). Here’s a lady I interviewed last year who made it work:

She had a fan base built up (thanks to a web serial) before she threw the project up there, and I imagine that’s key.

I tried kickstarter, but it didn’t work out. But, I added a Donate button to my website this week and sent an update to everyone who pledged on Kickstarter. I basically let them know that I was continuing the project and that they would be rewarded for doanting, just like on Kickstarter. (I got a $5 donation today!)

Yes, I have and no, it didn’t. I tried two approaches, just plunking a donate button in the side bar and at a different time posting the first few paragraphs publicly and the Read more… tag would take readers to a pay 50 cents to read the rest page. Both were dismal failures.

But then I am a non-fiction author, and it seems we don’t get the fanatical support the novelists enjoy.

I can see it working for fictional short stories by really good authors, but for gardening articles or how to install a new kitchen sink – not so much.

I’ve micropayed TA Pratt for more MarlaVerse novels. And because anyone who had their covers done by Dan Dos Santos… well, I like the characters and I like the cover art.

I think calling it a donation is a misnomer. It implies charity when in my case, it really isn’t. It is a bribe or microfunding or even a tip, but it isn’t charity. Writing is someone’s job. If they aren’t doing it well, it is possible that they might not get paid or lose money. There are authors who I would fund if they take a while between books, as an investment to seeing the book come out (like Patrick Rothfuss. I’d buy t-shirts, posters, raffle tickets or whatever else it took to keep him writing.) Then there’s the other side where the author didn’t do a very good job… And I want the last half hour and my money back.

I don’t know about the donation button, but I think Kickstarter is an interesting concept. The successful ones at least seem to provide a worthwhile, tangible reward for those that contribute.

It was intriguing to read this and all of the varying responses. Something to file away for later.

To keep someone writing who I wanted to read more of, I’d probably donate. I have donated in the past.

For myself, I’d tell them a review or recommendation would be more valuable. 🙂

I have a donation button on each of my ten blogs and in two years I’ve gotten exactly ONE donation (of $20 or $25).

Personally, I would be against a donation button on my site. But mostly because I’d feel guilty for not providing those people with some extra content. So instead, I’d rather offer an ebook on the subject the blog covers that the readers could purchase. Blogging is something I do for free, to help others. I have other ways to make profit.

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