Friday, July 7, 2023

Talking Shop: Royal Road and Success • By Eric Dontigney

So, Bruce mentioned to me that some people were asking about how I managed to make a go of turning a web novel on Royal Road into a (relative) Patreon success. I’ll warn you now that if you’re here looking for a recipe you can follow to duplicate what I did, you’re probably going to be disappointed. There are some steps you can follow, but there are also parts of the process that nobody can account for. So, let me start with the things that you can conceivably duplicate in some way.

Know your platform. Royal Road caters to a pretty specific crowd, although I understand that the exact crowd/crowd tastes do slowly evolve over time. At the moment, Royal Road heavily favors cultivation and LitRPG novels. I figured this out the hard way when I started testing out an Urban Fantasy novel and got almost zero traction. I also have a space opera ongoing on Royal Road (Rinn’s Run) that is showing some signs of life after 30+ chapters and some crossover readership from my Unintended Cultivator novel. The takeaway here is that different web novel platforms cater to different audiences. You can either find one that caters to the audience you want, or you can write a novel that at least somewhat caters to the audience that exists. I went with option B. I started writing and posting a cultivation novel.

Something else that you can at least partially control for is the cover. You need a cover that conforms, at least a bit, to the expectations of the audience. I went out and found art that has at least some surface similarities with some other popular titles in the cultivation field. I don’t know that the cover helped, but I suspect that it did. Get or make yourself a cover that at least superficially resembles the covers of similar kinds of books. It helps people put your book in the right mental box. If you’re thinking that your book is for everyone, take that idea out back and beat it to death right now. Your book is not for everyone. It can’t be. It’s for a particular audience, which means you need to meet some of that audience’s expectations in terms of the look and feel of your cover.

Speaking of meeting expectations, most web novels are genre novels. Genre novel readers have expectations about the use of tropes and genre conventions in the book. There is some wiggle room there. You don’t have to use every trope or every convention, but you must use some of them. In other words, if you’ve never read any cultivation novels or LitRPG novels (or whatever genre is popular on a specific platform), you better go out and read a few dozen of them before you try to write one. I just happened to have read a bunch of cultivation novels, so I knew some of what I was getting into.

Now, Royal Road has made it pretty easy for you to connect your Patreon page with your Royal Road account. Sadly, connecting those accounts is going to be the easier part of the process. When it comes to Patreon, you have a lot of decisions to make, and I can provide only general guidance. Patreon functions on a tier system. Each tier needs to offer one or more benefits to the patron. You also get a LOT of flexibility with how much you charge for each tier. What benefits you offer at each tier level will do a lot to determine how much you can reasonably charge for those tiers. Ultimately, that pricing is something you have to weigh for yourself. It’s on you to decide how much you think those benefits are worth. Then, you test that assumption against what people are willing to shell out each month.

Now, we come to the parts of the process that make it difficult-to-impossible to duplicate. When I first started posting Unintended Cultivator, I was averaging two chapters per day for a total of around 3000-4000 words per day. And I was doing it 7 days a week. I’ve since modified that to posting one chapter per day on Royal Road (most days). Here’s the thing, I still post two chapters a day over on Patreon…7 days a week. Right now, I’m averaging about 3500-4500 words a day. I also have the luxury of treating writing fiction as my day job. I’m in an exceedingly tiny minority of people who can say that. Even among writers who can and do treat it as their day job, 4000 words a day is a pipe dream for most of them. Beyond that, doing it 7 days a week isn’t sustainable for most people. Yes, I’m kind of a freak because that writing pace doesn’t bother me, and I don’t mind writing 7 days a week. While I can’t prove that my writing pace contributes to my overall success on Patreon, I’m willing to bet that it does. After all, my upper-tier Patreon audience can say that they get an entire 100,000+ word novel in June. Now, if you can duplicate that writing pace, and maintain general writing quality, and not go absolutely insane from working all the time, I say go for it.

The next thing that you cannot control for is simple luck. I got lucky, plain and simple. The right people read the early chapters, recommended the book, wrote reviews, and gave it ratings. All of that let the book get onto the front page of the site. That got the book in front of a lot more eyes. That, in turn, exposed a lot more people to the existence of my Patreon page and prompted people to sign up. It all happened organically without me paying for advertising or really doing much of anything beyond writing a lot of chapters. Having that happen makes the book and my experience kind of a unicorn. Granted, there were a lot of factors at play, but they all had to come together just right for that “success” to happen. 


Eric Dontigney is the author of the highly regarded novel, THE MIDNIGHT GROUND, as well as the Samuel Branch urban fantasy series and the short story collection, Contingency Jones: The Complete Season One. Raised in Western New York, he currently resides near Dayton, OH. You can find him haunting obscure sections of libraries, in Chinese restaurants or occasionally online at

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